December 11, 2011
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 Meetup.com 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:
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:
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. :)