Find Early Customers In Forums

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

“Communities already exist..think about how one may help a community to do what they want to do.”
Mark Zuckerberg

As a rule of thumb if you cannot find a forum (broadly defined) that has already collected a chunk of your prospects–a target rich environment–then one of three things is true:

  1. You are in a nascent market where there is little agreement on the terminology or problem definition: people have the problem but don’t realize that there are others like them. This is the least likely situation.
  2. You are not using the language or terminology that your prospects are using to describe the problem or their needs. You are failing the “shibboleth test” (see Judges 12:6) so you cannot find them on-line. This is less likely Unless no one on your team has relative domain or industry expertise.
  3. You haven’t looked hard enough. This is the most likely situation. Ask your current prospects what magazines, trade shows, on-line forums, etc.. they consult to compare notes with peers and find out about new solutions.

We spend a lot of time looking for communities of practice devoted to the problems our clients’ software or services target. Forums are a great way to find early customers.

Implications for Hiring Your First Sales Person

I mentioned the “shibboleth test” in HiringA Startup’s First Sales Person

There is also a shibboleth effect: you may not be aware of how people in a domain use certain words in a way that is very different form their everyday use or understand jargon or terminology that only has meaning in the industry. You may mispronounce words, use a term the wrong way, or misunderstand someone. This will put a prospect very much on edge and suggest that you don’t know what you are talking about.  Sometimes there are dialects, especially in a very early market, and people from different companies or traditions will use different words to mean the same thing. So you also have to appreciate that and not try and correct the prospect.

Ordinarily we suggest people start with something they know pretty well, and then branch out.  Now, the other way to do that is to bring somebody else onto the team that knows the domain you are going after really well.  So, just to be clear, I am not saying that the entire team has to have deep domain expertise, but if no one on the team does, it can be very hard.

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