Growth September 3, 2020

What's the best way to get professionals within B2B SaaS companies to do a 30min discovery call?

Lisa Jiang @feefifofisa

Hi! Wondering if anyone else is building a product for B2B SaaS companies and has found good techniques to source interviews from professionals working in this industry. I'm specifically looking for Engineering Managers and Product Managers, if there happen to be places dedicated to those roles.

Has anyone found specific communities that these professionals might use frequently or are particularly vocal on? Or even a community of people who are comfortable with phone/zoom mediums versus just online chat?

Things I've tried that have worked fairly well are:

  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator
  • Conferences specific to the space

Things that I thought were great ideas but didn't work well:

  • Blogs written about the problem I'm trying to solve
  • Quora / Q&A spaces

Thought this would be a great space to brainstorm ideas with others!

  1. 8

    One of the tricks that Jason Cohen recommended was to reach out to people on LinkedIn or cold email and offer them their hourly rate in return for their time.

    He found that you get high response rate because everyone appreciates that care but no one ends up charging money.

    Here is a post that talks about it more:
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.reddit.com/r/sweatystartup/comments/cjz53h/how_jason_cohen_got_30_customers_before_building/

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      Quick follow-up, how do you mitigate for situations where people do end up charging their hourly rate but you can't afford it?

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        In my opinion, You can do it in batches. Reach out to 20 people. See how many people take up on your offer and mention an hourly rate. If people do mention hourly rates and you can't afford the rate then I would be honest and tell them that "That's higher than what I can currently afford and will reach out to them in the future".

      2. 3

        Definitely do not use that approach unless you can afford it. Otherwise it would be a double negative reaction I think

    2. 1

      Thanks for the recommendation Mirv! This is such an interesting approach. I've never heard of it before, but I'll try it out and let you know how it goes!

  2. 2

    My advice is:

    1.) Make sure the prospect is EXTREMELY relevant to your product, and they can see why you've picked them (eg. "I saw your awesome multi-step form featured on hackernews and am building a tool to automate what you've achieved")
    2.) Have a mutual contact in common introduce you or failing that....
    3.) Offer to reimburse them for their time (eg. $50-100)

    Few more tips:

    • If you're genuinely reaching out to get feedback, don't expect sales. You're investing in your product, not marketing.
    • People are way more accustomed to Zoom calls since Covid. "Hopping on a call" isn't a big ask anymore - use that!
    1. 1

      Thanks Harvello! I really like that frame of "investing in product". That's the reason we've kept this customer discovery / research phase distinctly separate from any sales. It's been a lot more fruitful to learn quickly from a bunch of people than to secure a handful of customers

  3. 2

    Ahh, the sheer amount of emails we all get asking us to hop onto a call for something with little in return.

    In my experience, I'll only hop onto a call (sales or discovery) if it's incentivised (i.e cash/voucher reward) or if I have a relationship already with that person.

    I appreciate that's probably not what you want to hear, it's not a quick/cheap thing to do, but I'd focus time on building important relationships. In communities such as this one.

    1. 1

      Thanks Thomas! I think things that we don't want to hear are often things we actually need to hear, so I appreciate the candid response. It seems that relationship-building is very much the right theme!

  4. 2

    Hi Lisa, what worked for me (I had a B2B company in the past) was relationship. A good network.

    Way more than cold calls, cold email, blog articles.

    Out of ~100 meetings (cold calls/cold email) we ended up with 0.

    Within our network though, we ended up with 4 big companies.

    1. 1

      Thanks Leo! Would you be able to expand a little on the relationship piece? Was it fostering old relationships or were you able to find creative ways to build new ones?

      I've gone through many ideas in the past and now have gone through many iterations of the current idea. So I feel like I've exhausted my network in terms of conversations and people I've asked to learn from. So now I'm trying to figure out how to expand beyond my network of people I've already probably asked one too many questions to

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        It's was former colleagues that moved to another company. I knew them well, as we had worked together for more than 3 years.

        Then, I got a phone call from one of them requesting a project. I talked to him and rather, offered to deliver a product.

        I have written some of those stories in my newsletter.

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          Really fortunate that you were able to start off with a sale/reframe to a product from a consultant role

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            Yes! About my future? Don't know. One thing I know though is, I want to work with some form of social entrepreneurship. Doing what? Don't know yet....time will tell

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          Cool, thanks for sharing Leo! Interested to hear when you figure out what you'll chase in the future

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            This comment was deleted 22 days ago.

  5. 1

    Our team at Securicy has had some luck reaching out to folks during virtual networking events and conferences, when people are already open to meeting new people and talking! A lot of the online conferences have some kind of "networking" tool that helps attendees message each other and connect if there's some mutual interest.

    1. 1

      Thanks! I've been trying this too recently, and it's worked fairly well. I think it's just been much harder to figure out who's actually open and willing to talk at these events, since you can't see people in person. How have you been figuring out who to reach out to?

      1. 1

        For sure, you can't always know who is open and who is just checking things out. For us, it's based on our personas - what kind of person we've found is typically interested in our product and experiencing the problems that we can solve.

  6. 1

    I get lot of cold messages on Linkedin like this. I pretty much ignore 99% of them. One thing that will really catch someone's attention is to go personal and find out what challenges they face? If you can add value, they could take your discovery call.

    It worked for me.

    1. 2

      Thanks Suddan! It's really encouraging that if the topic is about a challenge someone faces - they're much more willing to respond. Those are exactly the people I need to connect with. It's so important to find the people who are looking for a solution, because then it could be a mutually beneficial relationship where I'll eventually help them with their problem

  7. 1

    Hi @feefifofisa love this question! Engineering and Product Managers are busy, getting them to commit like this is a non-trivial task. Other comments here regarding networking are true and it's definitely easier if you have active relationships, but those run out at some point too.

    Do you mind if I ask you to expand on this a little bit?

    It sounds like you are looking for sources for new people. Are these people leads for sales purposes? Or are you wanting to interview them for research purposes?

    Once you've found someone, how confident are you that you nailed the messaging for how to get them to commit their time? What's in it for them?

    1. 1

      Hey Harris! Really appreciate the clarifying questions, so thank you. I'm very much at the point of "running out", which is why I'm trying to find other sources for conversations.

      I'm interviewing people solely for research purposes right now. I don't have a solution/product yet, but I do have a problem area I'm learning as much as possible about and narrowing more with each conversation. I spend about 80% of the conversation understanding current workflow, different situations they run into, and ways they're solving things now. I spend 20% of it talking about some of my ideas/hypotheses to get their feedback to validate or invalidate them (if it's a shorter call, I skip this entirely). The goal is eventually being able to offer a solution to solve this problem, and I suppose that connects to your next question of "what's in it for them".

      When it was the larger problem space, I couldn't promise that I'd have a solution specifically for their problems; it was a lot more reliant on people's goodwill and wanting to help. I think as I get a more specific customer segment, the likelihood that I will be able to offer a solution increases. So the draw is now more realistically "Does this problem resonate with you? I'm trying to solve it. So if you help me I'll be closer to solving it for you, and you'll be one of the first people I loop in when I figure it out."

      For a little more context, this was my post within Indie Hackers to see if anyone was interested in talking: https://www.indiehackers.com/post/looking-for-engineering-managers-who-spend-a-lot-of-time-on-project-management-8ee7096ead
      Would also welcome feedback on how to frame it correctly (along with thoughts you have on all the above) if you have any!

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        Hi @feefifofisa pardon the delay of game, expecting a baby soon and things are a bit hectic :)

        As you're looking to connect with net new people, I would continue to go with tools like LinkedIn and direct email, if you're finding traction.

        My general recommendation is to focus heavily on targeting, and really what you want to start doing is understanding which part of the market you are helping. Your sample size is small so it won't be statistically rigorous per say, so I suggest testing wildly different hypotheses to see the engagement you get back.

        You want to figure out if there's some trend of specific opportunity you're interested in by industry, company size, product category, stage of development, etc.

        All leads are not created equal and at this stage you want to see if you can find a way to get repeatable sales!

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          CONGRATULATIONS HARRIS! That's so exciting, and I'm really happy for you! Also amazed you're able to find the time to help out on IH as well.

          Really interesting tactic to also use this as a hypothesis validation opportunity as well. I've been solely using conversations themselves to narrow down on customer segment, but it makes so much sense that just looking at numbers on response rate is also really telling. Thank you!

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            Thanks so much :) Good luck and keep us posted!

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        Hey, I glanced at your IH post you linked and wanted to provide some feedback.

        When you look at that post, do you notice that it's all about you and what you get out of someone engaging? You're essentially asking for a favor. A good marketing channel won't rely on favors.

        The way I recommend to find these calls is summarized here, but I'll put it another way:

        You should be providing value to prospects first, and get them to talk to you second.

        Here's an example with doing this with cold email:

        "Hey, I'm working on helping product managers solve X. If that's you, here's <free, VALUABLE content that actually helps them solve X>. Let me know what you think!

        • First Last

        PS: I have additional resources like this for people who ask (completely free). Let me know if you'd like me to send them your way!"

        The idea is that you try to form a relationship by helping someone first. Then you either get a response from them asking for the additional help (you could consider it a lead magnet), or you follow up and hopefully learn why it wasn't useful, which will usually give you amazing insight into why a customer might not care about your product.

        Here's an example of me using this strategy in the IH community. I want you to notice two things:

        1. The lead magnet / call-to-action at the bottom of the post, which creates inbound leads for you to talk to who are mostly willing to chat.

        2. The contrast between your IH post you linked to in the comment above, and this one. Which one brought value to people, and which asked for a favor?

        1. 1

          Thanks for the feedback Kevin! I've never thought about it this way - up until this point, I've had the mindset of "I have to rely on the goodwill of others since I don't have a valuable solution to offer them right now".

          But re-evaluating, I've done enough research in this space that I actually do have frameworks or stop-gap solutions that could be helpful in the meantime.

          Thank you for the examples too! I often find that I have a different understanding than what someone is advising when I actually execute, so seeing concretely what you're talking about is so so helpful.

  8. 1

    I have found networking to be the best option, I have not had a lot of success talking to people online especially in larger companies.

    Linkedin seems to work well when posting content compared to a self hosted blog. But content on Linkedin seems to attract other consultants more than your actual target audience.

    Asking for referrals has worked well for me when you have a happy customer. They tend to know other people in the industry. But that comes after you have a product.

    1. 1

      Thanks Pras! Interesting that LinkedIn actually attracts people who might not actually be the right people - that's also something I'm trying to avoid, false learnings from conversations that aren't actually part of my target audience.

      Do you have suggestions on top methods for networking? Or proxies for them now that everything is virtual? I think what I'm struggling with most is being able to network without as many industry events going on.

      Will definitely keep referrals in mind once we have customers!

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        We are also struggling with the new normal at the start of the whole pandemic people were more open to taking zoom calls and connecting. We got to them through a mix of Linkedin sales navigator and old connects and references from old connects. But over the last few months that has changed, people not as ready to take a zoom call/call. There is too much uncertainty so people are not ready to commit unfortunately and I think the customers have also realized that so they are not getting on calls as much. But honestly the most successful mode of connecting with people has been a network. So if you do not have anyone on your team that is from that industry you might want to get someone with that profile, it tends to be easier connect once you have someone like that on your team.

        Let me reiterate that this has been our personal experience and the industry we are targeting(manufacturing) has been hit bad in different ways, so your mileage might vary.

        I am curious, how has B2B discovery worked out for you? Personally I do not think we asked the right questions or we were doing something wrong. Most people we talked to were positive and gave us interesting ideas but when it came time to buy they did not sign on the dotted line and this was even before the whole pandemic.

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          We were also asking the completely wrong questions in the beginning. This led us to build an MVP that people had said they'd 100% pay for, but, once it was built, they weren't even using as a free beta.

          One major problem with our initial conversations was that we were asking users to summarize their problems too much. We would ask things like "what are the most painful parts of X for you?". This gave us a very limited view and pointed us to problems there were a ton of products on the market for already. We ended up just picking a problem we saw pop up a few times, creating a solution for it, and then testing that. We then realized it was way too generic - we didn't have a differentiated enough insight to really make a difference.

          So then the major change was to be specific. It's been a lot more effective to ask people to talk about their workflows and how they do certain tasks. We've been able to pick up on some common trends across people within a very specific segment. Then within that, we've been able to ask more targeted questions to understand each piece more. This has felt far less random, because we're not just randomly picking trends/patterns we see.

          I think the biggest mistake we made before is thinking we understood people and their problems even though we hadn't dug far enough down. We thought we were ready to build way too early and weren't patient enough to understand people. Another mistake was assuming people fully understand where their problems are. I'm still learning, so haven't gotten to the new solution stage yet. So I can circle back on how this fares with respect to signing on the dotted line in the future!