December 11, 2011

Use Quora to find your target customers


We're big fans of Eric Ries and the Lean Startup movement. From Day 1 of Contactually, we've emphasized keeping the product lean and vetting all of our features and product assumptions with actual customers.

However, we discovered something a few weeks into our customer development: we were talking to a lot of the same types of people. And, not surprisingly, many of those potential customers looked like us: young, tech-savvy, and involved with startups. Most of our initial customer development started with friends of ours, and branched out to referrals from there. While some of those referrals were in line with our target customer market, most weren't.

To provide some background, we're building Contactually, a system that helps business professionals 1) prioritize and automatically follow-up with important people they haven't emailed in a while and 2) store all information about their email contacts in a central hub, with the potential to sync everything with their existing work CRM.

After doing roughly 50 customer interviews, we knew that many people were resonating with prioritization of follow-ups and storing all info in a central spot. But, while we'd heard from a few people that they'd like to sync info with their CRM (particularly Salesforce), the majority of our interviews had been with non-CRM users. Maybe Contactually really would be best suited to existing Salesforce users. But how to actually find them?

We tried to identify folks in our existing network. Didn't find many. We experimented with reaching out to CRM-related groups, but no response. Same with LinkedIn. Finally, we tried the last thing we could think of: send cold emails to a few people on Quora and see what happens.

Quora: the secret gem to finding relevant customers

Why Quora? Well, we discovered three big advantages:

    1. Quora is extremely targeted. To find CRM users, we only had to do a few quick searches to find 15+ people that were regularly answering questions about Salesforce, Highrise, and CRMs in general.

    1. Quora users know their shit. We wanted to talk to people that were very familiar with Salesforce and currently using it. We found a full spectrum on Quora: previous users who had moved on to something else, people who currently used Salesforce at work, Salesforce consultants, Salesforce admins, you name it.

    1. Quora doesn't have a message limit system (well, at least we haven't found one). You can only send 5 messages to random people on LinkedIn. limits you to 10 people per day (and as I mentioned, no one responded anyway). But Quora? No limit that we've found. We originally reached out to 15 people in an hour, and have continued reaching out to folks since.

So Quora has its advantages. But we still haven't answered the real question: did people actually respond to my cold emails? HELL YES. Of the original 15 people I contacted in mid-October, 13 responded to my Quora mail, with only one person declining to talk to me. I've spoken to each person for at least 30 minutes, some as long as an hour. And honestly, those conversation were some of the most informative customer interviews I've done so far. They've shaped our product, and validating many of our initial assumptions.

I can't think of one other cold marketing effort that has an 80% response rate, let alone one with such high quality outcomes. How did we get such a great response?

To be honest, I'm not really sure. But I've put together a few pointers I think will go a long way when reaching out to Quora users:

    1. Keep your ask short and to-the-point. No one has time or wants to read a long cold email, so make sure you keep your ask very clear.

    1. Make it relevant and flatter them. I only reached out to users that had previously commented on a Salesforce-related post, and I was sure to reference that post in my email. I also made it clear that I thought they seemed to know a lot about the space, and I'd really like their expert advice.

    1. Suggest some dates/times to connect on the phone. Emails are easy to ignore. But when was the last time someone asked to hop on a quick call to ask your advice? By requesting to connect on the phone, as well as suggested a few times that worked for me, it was easier for someone to take minimal effort to accept my ask.

    1. Realize that no one else is really doing this. When I debated writing this post, I first searched to see if anyone else had written someone similar. Nothing. I even tried to find if there actually is a message limit on Quora - still no info. I doubt many people are actually trying to do this.

    1. Don't spam people. While my emails were cold, they were targeted, well-researched, and relevant. That's the biggest reason for the high response rate. If you're going to do this for your startup, please don't just spam the hell out of people.

Quora is a still a pretty small community, but the expertise density is exceptionally high. It's for that reason that it's perfect for customer development, assuming you're looking for a tech-savvy customer base.

One last point: while we were only seeking folks with which to conduct customer interviews, several of those 15 have turned into actual customers and have already voiced interest in paying for Contactually once the free trial ends. I call that successful customer development. :)