You want to build and market products that people actually want. Getting out and listening to the market helps you do that.
That part makes sense, but your mother probably told you to never talk to strangers. And it can feel awkward to schedule market visits, especially if observing people doing their jobs is part of the plan. You’re calling someone you might not have talked to before and saying you want to come to their office and “just sit and watch.” The conversation feels uncomfortable, not to mention the actual market visit.
The good news is that the fear of doing a market visit for the first time often comes from a lack of knowledge about what to expect. Breaking it down into smaller, simpler steps can get you started and make it a little less daunting:
Play the role. Get your team together and role-play making phone calls to set up appointments. Take your hand, hold it to your head and literally say, “Ring, ring.” And when somebody from the team picks up, say, “Hi, this is Jim Foxworthy, and the reason why I’m calling today is …” And you start your little banter. Do a few phone calls back and forth across the conference room table. It feels a little bizarre, but you’re giving yourself experience and demonstrating that this really isn’t going to hurt you.
Write down what you’ll say. Keep it on a piece of paper in front of you or up on the screen. It will make you feel more confident that you’ll use the right words, even if you only use them as a backup plan.
Call someone you know. Talk to customers you already know until you get used to market visits. You get practice setting up interviews and become more comfortable with the actual visits.
Keep expectations simple. Not everybody is going to be able to set aside time for you any more than you can make time for everyone who calls you. You may have to make quite a few phone calls before you get any interviews set up. Once you do, limit it to no more than two or three a day. It might not seem like enough in an eight-hour day, but you want to make sure you have a buffer of time between the interviews to document what happened. More visits can also lead to confusion about who said what. Take a break between each visit to write down what you heard.
Be efficient. If you’re doing a market visit by phone, you can call anywhere. But what if you are seeking that face-to-face interaction? You can do market visits in your own hometown to save on travel time and expenses. Otherwise, don’t worry about where you’re going to go until you get the first person to say yes—and then try to schedule others in the vicinity. When we go to ProductCamps or do other travel for work, we extend those trips a day or so to do visits with people in the area.
Assume a close. You are trying to sell these people on giving you access to their time when you call to schedule an interview. Believing that they will want to talk to you is what sales calls an “assumed close.” Don’t ask a yes or no question; offer choices of yes. Don’t say, “Can I come see you on Tuesday?” Instead ask, “Which would be best, Tuesday or Thursday?”
Remember that there is a lot in it for them. Most people starting market visits are surprised by how little they hear, “What’s in it for me?”
People do want to make sure you’re not trying to sell them anything or take something from them, but most are actually quite interested in talking about themselves—especially when it can benefit them down the road.
I was conducting a win/loss visit with someone who had used a product for 10 years, but then moved on to a competitor’s product. When we did the interview, he brought in five people from his department for two hours. We had to actually stop the conversation, because I had to catch an airplane. Before we left, I thanked him and asked him why he invested so much of his time and his people’s time in a company he had essentially thrown out. He said, “It’s in my best interest to have that guy trying to get my business back, because that keeps competition in the marketplace. This is an investment in making sure that I have the best possible solution and that the vendor I just brought in doesn’t think he has a monopoly.”
Find a buddy. Once I did interviews when I wasn’t familiar with the product area, so I brought along someone with great domain expertise. When we documented what we learned, it was almost like he was in a completely different meeting, because he was hearing and seeing things that were a reflection of his domain knowledge. Also, when one of us was leading the conversation and trying to think about what was happening, the other could just observe the two other people in the room talking. That’s why I suggest doing market visits in pairs.
Start. If you start the process, you’re halfway to completion. And even if you only do one market visit, if you share that call report with the executives in your company, I can almost guarantee that they’ll say, “This is awesome stuff, we need more of this.” Then they’re going to give you the time, the travel budget and the additional resources needed to support the effort.
Take those first baby steps. Make those phone calls across the table with a friend and then call people you know to get that momentum. That’s the most important piece of advice I would offer: Just start.