Beyonce - Why Don't You Love Me Video

Call Your Customers

The most important tool to finding product-market fit is in your hand right now and a lot of founders are too scared to use it.

Pick up the phone and call your customers.

It seems obvious, but every single time I suggest it to founders, they act like I just told them to remove their own liver and serve it to me with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Our churn is really high and we can’t figure out why people are cancelling. Have you picked up the phone and asked them?

We do an exit survey and ask them to select the reason why they’re cancelling. Not good enough.

We don’t have their phone numbers. Ask for it.

Talking to customers on the phone makes me uncomfortable. Get over it.

Maybe we should just put together a focus group. Nice try. Call ’em.

Calling your customers isn’t just for early-stage startups.

This can also be applied to companies who have found product-market fit in one product line but are trying to launch something new.

Last year, I interviewed Jennifer Hyman, CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway, and she talked about decreasing churn in an early version of the Unlimited product line — a clothing subscription  service — and discovering that women didn’t want to use Unlimited for jewelry and special occasion dresses, they wanted “to go to work”.

That revelation was a founder’s ah-ha moment that the product that they were delivering to customers was different than the one they wanted.

At that time, Rent the Runway had a $500M valuation. If she can pick up the phone and call customers, you should be able to also.

Jennifer Hyman talks about about the Unlimited story in this Project Entrepreneur podcast (the section about calling customers as a path to iteration starts at minute 14:15).

You can’t get to product-market fit without information

Most startups already do post-cancellation surveys and/or feedback forms. This is the right way to collect customer exit feedback at scale.

MailChimp cancellation
Credit: Good End-of-Customer-Life Experiences, with MailChimp’s Cancellation Flow

Single-question cancellation surveys provide very broad data about cancellation reasons but don’t allow your customers to give more specific and granular information. Completion rates are often low because most customers don’t want to be rude and don’t have any incentive to provide real feedback when they’ve already decided to cancel your service.

But when you’re trying to understand why a product isn’t working or churn is high, you’re going to have to do a few things that don’t scale. 

You can’t get to product-market fit without information

The first rule of getting customers to pick up the phone and give you their time is to make the email short and the ask easy. The customer doesn’t want to know the full story of your startup and vision (they don’t care as much as you do) and your only goal with this email is to get them to agree to a phone call.

Here’s an sample email you can send:

Hi <CustomerName> —
I’m the founder of <> and I noticed that you just cancelled. I’m trying to make this product better for my customers and I would like to ask you a few questions.
I promise this won’t be a sales call. Can you give me 5-10 minutes of your time for a phone call this week?
Thanks in advance,
Jane Founder

You should be prepared for some level of unresponsiveness to these emails, but when you do get customers to agree to a phone call, here is how you should approach that conversation:

Don’t be defensive

You are probably going to hear some tough comments about your startup. They might tell you that your baby is ugly and over-priced to boot.

This isn’t the time for you to be defensive or hit #beastmode and turn into a high-pressure salesperson to get them to come back. Don’t get focused on the short-term goal of recapturing lost sales.

You want this honest feedback so that you can make your product better for the long-term.

Ask good questions

Binary questions are rarely good or capturing clear feedback. You need more granular data so that you can understand what lies behind the ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Here are some questions that you can use to jumpstart your own thinking around these customer interviews:

  • What made you cancel?
  • What did you initially want when you purchased <ProductName>?
  • How will you get this done now?
  • Will you be using a different product? Which one?
  • Is this something you would pay for?
  • At what price would this be valuable to you?
  • What is one thing we could do to make <ProductName> better for you?

Do it again​​​​​​​

You can’t do this just once and then run off and make changes to your product based on a single point of feedback. You have to do these interviews enough times to develop a reasonable sample size. As you have more conversations with customers, you should start to spot commonalities  in their feedback.

The feedback will uncover common themes of things your customers want, things they don’t like about your product, and things they wish were different. Collecting this kind of intel will help you prioritize changes and even inform broad shifts in product direction.

So go pick up the phone and call a customer.  And while you’re at it…call your mom.

Photo credit: Beyonce — Why Don’t You Love Me?

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