When we first started building Copyin we had a problem. We found it incredibly useful but our early users felt differently. We loved that it created a knowledgebase out of our email. The problem was that we couldn’t communicate that benefit to our customers. People were receptive to the problem but (at that stage) not the product.
So we found ourselves in a quandary. We had a product which was valuable to us but not to the people we’d so far shown it to. So did we have a product or a market problem? We didn’t have enough data to know. After all, it wasn’t like we were the only product in our space those people didn’t use - almost none of them used Salesforce or Yammer and they were both successful nonetheless. Was our sample size too small or our product off-mark?
In order to answer this we needed to speak to more people. We knew we could get them from a public launch but we didn’t yet know who we were launching to. We felt it would be a waste to launch while still so far off product-market fit. However we still needed to speak to more people and to different people and we needed to do so quickly.
1. We created an inbound customer development pipeline using our blogs
The first thing we needed was more people. For that we turned to our blogs. Both Rob and I had already had a fair amount of success blogging so we decided to experiment with recruiting people directly from blog posts. We built a small signup form, cached it to withstand traffic and embedded it in the bottom of each post.
This is the form:
(Please do sign up - it won’t take you off the page :)
To our delight, the form worked. About 1% of people who saw it signed up and we immediately increased both the reach and diversity of people we were interviewing. We had enquiries from everyone from CTOs of publicly listed technology companies to administrators of NBA teams and mountain rescue societies. We did all of this without even altering what we blogged about. If we’d written about Copyin or its problem space specifically I’m sure we’d have converted even higher.
2. We immediately followed up on new registrations to arrange interviews
Our goal was to get interviews not signups so once people had signed up we immediately sent them an email thanking them for their registration and inviting them to speak to us.
At first we worded this invitation email in a very softly, softly, manner:
Hi, it’s Peter from Copyin. If you have a moment we’d love to chat to you. We can speak to you when it’s convenient, please do get in touch.
Nobody responded to these though so we changed the text to be much more exclusive with limited availability:
We’re prioritising customers with real pains in this area. If this is you then please get in touch and we’ll book you in as soon as we get an opening. If it’s not then please accept our apologies but we’ll get to you when we can
The latter converted very effectively and about 10% of registrations emailed us back to tell us more about their particular needs. Almost everyone who emailed us was happy to do a phone conversation and we’d spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour speaking to them about how they were currently solving the problems that Copyin addressed.
3. We stopped pitching and started listening
When we first started customer development we made a massive mistake. Instead of listening to a customer’s problems we would instead pitch them our solution What we should have been doing was asking people what their issues were and listening to how we might solve them. What we actually did was wax lyrical about the product and debate with them on whether it really could solve their problems (at the time it couldn’t).
Customer development is a very different process to sales though. Sales is about helping your customer to understand the product. Customer development is about helping the product to understand your customer. Don’t try and sell during the initial exploration.
4. We made sure that the whole team was a part of it
After each interview we’d sent both the transcript and the summary to the the rest of the team using Copyin. Disseminating the research is tremendously important. The temptation as CEO is to yank the product tiller after each and every interview. This leaves the team feeling bewildered as to why the thing they were working so hard on is now so unimportant. Their natural reaction is to stop caring so much in case what they’re passionately working on suddenly gets binned.
Obsessively sharing customer research has three huge benefits. The first is that when you do need to move the tiller everyone already understands why. The second is that it encourages you to discuss product as a team and gives everyone a vested interest. The last one is that you have a written record of what actually happened.
If you don’t give the team access to customers it’s easy to dismiss their opinions as being uninformed. This can cause decisions to be over-volatile and is bad for morale. If they do have the data then they can not only offer valuable opinion but also become a powerful protection against CEO tiller-yanking and over-correction.
5. We used our embedded signup form to test new hypotheses
As you do your customer development you will start to form new hypotheses about what the customers actually want and what their problems actually are. It’s incredibly useful to test these and to see whether they’re correct or just a result of your last interview.
We were able to do this by incorporating three very simple benefits from Copyin back into the original enquiry form and cycled through various features that tested our hypotheses:
- turbo charged mailing lists to better connect your team
- Search-assist to make sure you never answer the same question twice
- Tag, file and edit the email threads actually worth keeping
- Connect to the expertise in your team
- Capture your team’s knowledge
- Know what’s happening
By seeing which phrases people responded to we began to see which things they cared about (and which ones they were prepared to pay for). These phrases also helped drive what they put in the last (most helpful) box which asked them what they would use Copyin for:
We got a variety of answers to this. Early on they were vague and sent by people who (upon interviewing) often turned out to have no budget. Over time and as we improved our positioning we were able to select better and better for people with real budget and more tangible problems.
What people answered to “What would you use Copyin for?”
We’ve got a vastly growing team, with a huge email load. Streamlining this process would be amazing.
Need to track conversations multiple people are having on multiple topics over multiple channels
Populating Knowledge base with relevant content about processes and services.
More Cow Bell
The data was statistically insignificant but it was nonetheless very helpful in understanding which terms appealed to which people (and to which budgets).
It’s very easy for customer development to fall by the wayside and to think that it will “just happen”. It’s not easy to do though and involves being humbly wrong many times in succession. It requires all the pro-active outreach and rejection of sales without any of the highs from actually selling anything.
Done properly though it is incredibly powerful and painful only because it compresses a year of head-in-the-sand learnings into a few short weeks. That much medicine is never easy to swallow.
We found that with the funnel in place the rest followed very naturally. For us, heavy investment in customer development let us go from a product which nobody really understood to one which people now get in a single sentence (create your company knowledgebase from your everyday email) and really want to use.
Discussion on Hacker News >