I previously blogged about and summarized the Lean Startup methodology and requesting customer interviews. Lean Startup literature make it sound as if customer development is hard work, but manageable. Well, even that is an understatement: even requesting customer interviews is hard! I spent the past month contacting 40 people by phone, email and LinkedIn. Here are the biggest issues I ran into and the biggest lessons I learned while doing customer development in the Netherlands, in a B2B context.

Customer development is hard

Literature makes it sound like thinking in terms of the solution is the biggest danger you need to be worried about. No, asking for interviews is the biggest problem!

People are so hard to reach. Most professionals hide their email address and can only be reached from a team number/address.

Customer development is so slow. Floor told me that this slowness is normal.

Could it be that cultural difference is a factor too? It is said that Americans are more willing to help, Europeans are more conservative and reserved. But according to my Startup School advisor Tyler Menezes, it's very hard there as well. He also said that Americans — especially in SV — are having startup fatigue.

Finding people to interview

I've found that using LinkedIn to search for a job title is the best way to find people. Other ways, such as asking for introductions, is slow and unreliable.

Communications and logistics

Emails must be short. Phone calls must be even shorter. This is hard.

Be vague, but don't be too vague. You don't want people to make up their mind after a short email, but your message can't be too short either.

At first, I preferred phone over email. On the phone, be relaxed and be more concised. Act as if you already have business with the person, that helps with getting past the gatekeeper. Don't defend yourself too much from the get go.

Some people don't want to make up their mind over the phone. They want me to send an email so that think can think things through. They also want me to send a question list so that they can prepare, but in my experience they often end up declining without giving me a chance to deflect their objections. So I want to try to get them on the phone instead.

But the problem with the phone is that it's time-consuming. Most people aren't available for a call immediately, so I have to call back a lot. Even when I reach someone, I spend a lot of time on trying to convince someone. Therefore, I received the advice that maybe I should drop using the phone, and focus going after people who are easily convinced.

My second try involved LinkedIn. This was much faster, and the response rate was about the same.

The advice on proposing a meeting time right away does not work at all. Nobody responded to that. Plus, to avoid scheduling conflict I booked away all proposed times, but then I end up with a full and uncertain calendar.

Some people didn't want to participate because I'm a commercial party. I tried to deflect this objection by emphasizing that my motives are not purely commercial, and that I'm also doing this because I'm interested in the topic and because I want to improve society. But it's too long a story to explain by email, and if I don't get them on the phone then they've already made up their mind.

Providing value

Asking for 15 minutes is apparently an insane request in 2018. Almost nobody is willing to provide that. I got the advice that I need to provide much more value in return. But what is good value?

Here's a passing thought I had after reading How to Get 100 Customer Development Interviews the Easy Way:

Contact people not to ask them for an interview to help me. Contact people to offer experience and advice on the topic – on a voluntary basis (this sounds better than "for free"). After they get value, then ask them wether they want to participate in an interview.