There are three categories of customers you should be talking to as a Product Manager: Current Customers, Evaluators, and Prospects. If you have an established business, finding Current Customers to talk to should be easy. Evaluators are slightly more problematic, but you can also access them via win/loss analysis. Finding Prospects is always a challenge, but now finding them is easy if you know where to look.
Before you spend hours burning up Google, write down what you are looking for in a Prospect. Are you looking for people who have the same characteristics as your current customer base? People with certain demographics? People with certain responsibilities in their organization (purchase authority, specific roles)? If you don’t yet have a persona for your customers, this is a good place to start. For example, in one of my current projects, I am looking for people that:
- Are thinking about their organization’s IT security
- Have purchase or recommend authority
- Data is critical to their business or loss of data would be adverse, embarrassing, or force disclosure
That means I am targeting CIO’s, IT managers, and Security managers. Great – how do you find them? Traditionally, you meet them at trade shows, or you know them from past lives and keep a deep Rolodex, you have friends of friends, or you pay a market research firm to dig them up for you. Some of those are OK, but in general they are either too slow, too expensive, too ineffective, or just suck. There are better ways to connect with these people.
Everyone is online today, everyone who matters anyway. If you’re a Product Manager working on products to sell into Africa, this might not apply to you – go hook up with the OLPC folks and get them online. There are Billions of people online, and you must find a few needles in a very large haystack. Thankfully, the tools you need are just a few clicks away.
I’ve written about LinkedIn before, in my changing jobs series. In my opinion, there is no better tool for finding and connecting with people for business purposes. Important to this conversation, you can search by title, company, and keyword. To actually contact people you either have to have an direct or indirect connection and be introduced by a friend. If you don’t have any connection through your network, you can use the “InMail” feature to send an email (more on this below). The InMail feature costs money, and you can buy as needed or a monthly or annual subscription. I recommend the subscription, and if you make your profile OpenLink enabled, it allows people to find you easily. I often get contacts this way (aside: if you are a reader, please feel free to connect with me, just click the link to my profile on the right and mention this blog in your connection note so I know who you are!).
Blogs are a wonderful way to find Prospects. Your Prospects read blogs that interest them, and since you grok your Prospects you have a pretty good idea about what they are reading. If you don’t, ask your Current Customers what they read. Go to these blogs yourself and read them, it will serve you in two ways. First, you will increase your understanding of the pain points that your Prospects are having. Second, the blogs you are reading are probably written by a Prospect, but more importantly Prospects are commenting on the blog posts. The comments section is a goldmine for Prospects to talk to – and often times they link back to their own blog or email address. Reach out to them over email (see below).
The business world has long dissed Facebook as a grafitti wall for college frat boys. It is – but it’s also expanded into other audiences that you want to reach into. Facebook has groups that you can join and access members, a great feature for Product Mangers. Take my Prospect example above – I searched Facebook for “Information Security” and it returned more than five highly relevant groups with over 1500 members. Think I can find a couple of good conversations out of that pool? I do!
Twitter is the latest narcissistic social networking tool. The signal to noise ratio is very high, but you can find gems on twitter. Use twitter’s search tool to search on keywords that you think your Prospects will be talking about, e.g. “security.” Once you find someone making an interesting comment, follow them for awhile and then decide if they’re worth contacting.
A Honeypot Blog
Honeypot blogs are blogs that you write for the purpose of attracting people that you want to meet. Don’t start a blog, update it twice, and expect people to flock to you. You need to “get it,” and stick with it. If you start a blog, you need to provide valuable content to the people you want to reach. Your blog must be a pitch free zone. If you don’t know what to do here, first read about it, then consider hiring someone who knows their way around the blogging world. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s that your mistakes get plastered all over the Internet, so you can’t make any.
Once you’ve used these tools to locate a pre-qualified Prospect, you need to make contact and convince them to talk with you. In general, people don’t mind talking to Product Managers, but everyone is busy, and everyone is jaded since they get a million emails per day and most of them are spam. You need to word your first contact very carefully or you will be immediately discarded as a salesperson.
This is the template that I use:
I found you online via <where you found them>. My name is <your name>, and I am a Product Manager at <your company>, responsible for our <your product> products. After reading your posts, I’d like to spend a few minutes with you listening to some of your challenges in <your product’s area, e.g. “security”> and your take on some ideas we have.
This isn’t a sales call; I am in Product Management and am only interested in building products that are interesting to people like you.
Could I give you a call? When would be a good time for you?
I’ve had good success with this and get a 30-50% hit rate of people writing back to me. At that point you need to use your skills as a PM to qualify the Prospect further and decide if this is someone that you need to empathize with and listen to. Be sure to follow up your meeting with a thank you email and send them a hat or t-shirt if you have the budget.
This approach won’t work for everyone. Are all CEO’s and CIO’s on Facebook? No. There are only a couple of thousand of them in the World and every Marketing and Sales team everywhere has it in their goals to target them. The good new for you is that your competition for their time is largely using interruption marketing techniques: banner ads, dead tree mailers, cold calls, etc. If you can find them in their “native habitat,” or better, have them come to you, your chances for success go way up.
One last thing: never, ever, under any circumstances give your contact list to Sales. I hope this is obvious. If you do, and Sales starts pitching someone who thought that they were talking to you in confidence, they will immediately assume that all of the gritty details that they shared with you are now in the Salesperson’s hands. They will resent you and your company. Remember that you found these people online, so where will they go to vent? Exactly…
Good luck and good hunting! I’m also interested in other ways you use to connect with Prospects, either online or off – reply in comments.