A couple of weeks ago I shared with you a single question to help get great stories from the customers you speak with. Yet many of you work in situations where access to customers can be difficult. While B2C (business to consumer) companies can reach out broadly to the people they serve, those of us who work in B2B situations (business to business) have a smaller population to reach out to. Often our choosers (buyers of our product) are not our users. In many cases the buyer is a senior person, further reducing their accessibility.
Given these obstacles many B2B product teams don’t build regular conversations (feedback loops) with the people they serve. This leads to riskier product decisions and an increase in failed features or rework of already deployed products. When working with these teams, I hear this question all the time, “How do I find people to talk to when I work in a B2B company?” In response, here are 5 ways for you to find people to speak with when there are fewer of them and they are hard to reach. These tips assume that you’re already directly reaching out to your existing customers so I’m not mentioning that in the list
LinkedIn is a massive repository of potential candidates
LinkedIn currently has about 810 million users. Of those, about 310 million are active. Within this massive online database of professionals are many of your potential customers. The search functionality on LinkedIn is extremely powerful and can be targeted to a very narrow set of parameters to yield exactly the user profile you serve and sell to. People are used to being approached cold on LinkedIn. A few iterations on your InMail or contact request note will start to yield a steady flow of people to speak with.
Proxies can fill this gap
If your buyers are senior level executives you may struggle to find exact matches for your target persona. In these cases, consider folks who may not hold the position currently but have held it in the past. Can you find someone who was once the CFO at a large media company? Perhaps they’re retired today or have moved on to a new position. Their experience in that role is still fresh and valuable. It can give you a sense of, not only, their perspective on your value proposition but also how to find others like themselves.
For example, years ago I worked with an organization that catered to the nursing profession. Finding nurses isn’t too difficult. Finding nurses with free time to talk about your cool new digital product is, however, much more challenging. We relied heavily on “proxies” for our customer insight. These were individuals who used to be nurses or currently worked as teachers in nursing schools. They had the experience we were looking for and, equally as important, the time to speak with us.
Conferences are a concentration of your users
If finding one-off customers to speak with in your B2B world is tough, consider attending industry events and conferences. Conferences are a high concentration of like-employed individuals. The amount of access you have to these folks is vast. They’re not at work. They’re there to learn, socialize and broaden their view on the industry. Whether it’s with an official sponsored booth or hallway “pull overs”, you can likely have a dozen daily conversations at each conference. If there’s at least one event per quarter in your industry you can start to build a quarterly stream of qualitative insight and a network of folks you can follow up with in the future.
Bonus tip: If industry events are few and far between in your domain or in your part of the world, host your own event. A couple of years back we were trying to find financial services executives to speak with in Singapore. We had a small network there and these folks tend to be busy. To get the insight we needed, we held a “tech breakfast” for them. We offered a nice breakfast buffet, 2 keynote speakers and a convenient location. We had over 100 people attend and managed to have many valuable conversations. The cost was relatively low so that we were able to hold this event on a monthly basis.
Ride along with the sales team
If you’re interested in hearing about the specific problems your customers are trying to solve, consider riding along with your sales team on their next call. Yes, sales teams are notoriously protective of their leads and existing clients. However, if you set expectations with the salespeople up front and agree on rules of engagement you’ll get a front row seat to a series of customer conversations from which you can glean the challenges your customers face and how current solutions meet those needs.
The call center is the front line of customer feedback
Finally, there’s the call center. This is the first place your customers go when they have a problem. Your customer service reps hear it all. Talk to them first. Learn what they hear most often. Ask them to add one or two questions to their script to see if you can dig deeper into the root cause of the main issues they’re hearing about. Listen in on their calls (they’re used to it). In the best of cases, your call center will allow you to take a few calls yourself. You can use these as an opportunity to learn more about your customers directly from them and to start to identify patterns in their behaviors that may improve your product decisions.
This is a finite list of ways to find B2B customers to speak with and interview. There are dozens of other ways to do this. Is the population you’re targeting smaller than a B2C audience? Yes. Are they harder to find and reach? Yes. Does that make it impossible to gain qualitative customer insight in your B2B world? No. It just means you have to get a bit more creative in how you approach these folks.
What other methods have you used to find B2B customers? Put them in the comments.