Customer development · Customer Interviews

How to do customer interviews when the customer is an 800-pound gorilla?

Kevin Lentz

October 20th, 2014

We are in the Customer Development phase, and I'm working to set up customer interviews.

We will be a new publisher of sorts, but before we build it, our number one question is to find out if the large brands and manufacturers would have any interest in advertising on our content.  So customer interviews.

But how does one do customer interviews with enormous companies, ie, Coke, Pepsi, Toyota et al? 

I've gone through my LinkedIn contacts for referrals, but came up largely dry. I'm not even sure who inside the brands makes that kind of call. 

More specifically, how do you go about finding the person responsible for online advertising strategy and how can we get a call? 

Rob G

October 20th, 2014

welcome to entrepreneurship...welcome to sales. the answer is "figure it out". is your product targeted at consumers or businesses? the examples you gave imply consumer goods. Even with a product and market traction and industry expertise it is tough to get time with decision makers in large companies. Without all of those you must get very, very creative and tenacious. there is no magic wand. The first thing you need to do is be very clear on your value proposition and narrow your prospect list. Trying to be all things to all companies is out of the question. Do your homework on 1 or 2 prospects and understand them inside and out. This typically means you have industry expertise already. Without that you road is even steeper. Clearly articulate what you think is your value prop to the company (overall - not their customer yet -you don't know their customers yet). Then find someone, anyone in the company who will take your call. I'm not going to do your 'creative thinking' for you, but some examples are: 1) if you can't identify who makes the online ad strategy decisions then find out who they report to or work with and go talk to them. That's likely product management and sales. 2) build a champion, i.e. figure out who gets brownie points for trying something new. that might be a product owner, national accounts sales person, sales VP, etc. Sales people are often sympathetic and they also know from first-hand experience what it's like to be in your shoes - trying to penetrate an account from scratch. they also answer their phones now and then.  Ask them if they were in your shoes how would they penetrate their own company. they can help you, but don't waste their time. clearly articulate how you can help them - i.e "we can help you sell more stuff" (that's a guess). More revenue is almost always at the top of the C-suite list. next comes cost reduction and risk reduction then comes community (feel good). Sales, and most of the C suite are always interested in selling more. Look to build a champion - if you have a compelling story you can find a coach who wants to make a name for him/her self and take a risk. If your story is not compelling enough then you will have to make it more compelling - figure it out. 3) find people via LinkedIn who used to work for the company or 4) find people via LinkedIn who currently sell complimentary products/services to them and pick their brains. I am not a marketing expert by any stretch. Corey B above has expertise in marketing and he says you need to go talk to the big agencies, but they won't let you talk to their clients. sounds to me like the ad agencies are likely your competitors. You can either re-think your go-to-market strategy and provide a solid value prop to the big agencies and talk to them or go around them. You have to get creative and you have to know their business and you have to have industry expertise.

Corey Blaser Sailor. Mormon. Entrepreneur.

October 20th, 2014

I have been in marketing for more than 14 years and have worked with quite a few large brands. The big brands (and the medium sized ones too) use agencies who choose their channels.

To get any traction you will need to get into groups like BBDO, Wieden + Kennedy, Grey, Ogilvy, The Martin Agency, TBWAChiatDay, etc. And you will never be able to pitch to their clients. Period. But they might listen.

But be warned though, they are somewhat closed to new platforms. They have been burned in the past and are not super thrilled about gambling with their customer's budgets. If they don't perform, they get replaced. I'm not saying it can't be done, but prepare yourself for a hard road and make sure your pitch is well practiced and targeted at them and what you can do for them and their clients (i.e. ROI.) It needs to shine!

Good luck. :)

Shingai Samudzi

October 20th, 2014

Is there a specific verical you are after or are you looking to connect based on company size?

Tim Stutt Founder and CEO, Advisor to Early Stage Startups

October 23rd, 2014

Call all your friends and colleagues and FOF / FOC.  Offer it for FREE for a period of time. 

If it's valuable they'll talk more and share more.   If it's not then look at your product.

As long as the technology works for smaller companies, start there and move up the chain.

Dan Kaminsky Executive Producer, Spice DNā, Digital Content Specialist, Video, Web & Social.

October 20th, 2014

Fair to say that is one of the million dollar questions.  Certainly it would be nice if representatives from big companies made themselves available weekly for customer discovery meetings.  Obviously that is not going to happen.  Short of having any direct contacts you will have to rely on cold calling.  Without a working model it's hard to get people's attention.  On the flip side, if you do get a meeting and someone tells you they love the idea that doesn't guarantee you have a client once you are built.  So, you either wait to get those meetings or you take a leap of faith with your product.  The joy of being an entrepreneur!