The Startup Marketing Customer Outreach Methodology

smoothbutterOnce you are ready to begin your deep dive in to “Voice of Customer” research, following a methodology will make the process smooth like butter.

To keep yourself from screwing this up, here’s a blueprint.  This is a shitton of work, but it is the right work. It will make your job easier in the future.  As my father likes to say, “Work smarter, not harder”.

  • Create a list of questions to ask your customers [The “how to” for question creation is listed here].  The primary purpose is to:
    • Determine if there really is a pain that your product is solving
    • Determine if there is willingness to pay and why or why not
  • Find a list or database of your potential customers, unless you can walk in and talk to them.
  • Define your outreach schedule and get started with your first phone call.  Assuming you don’t make contact and can’t begin your conversation on your first call, here’s what I would do.
    • Day 1 – Send email. Call and ask to schedule a time or leave a message
    • Day 3 – Forward previous email with a polite “ask” to schedule a call
    • Day 4- Leave a message
    • Day 6 – Send final email [examples of all of these below]
  • Use a spreadsheet to keep track of who you’ve contacted and when, and who needs follow up.
  • Prior to the scheduled call, paste all of your questions in a new document for this call’s note taking.
  • Thank them for taking time to speak with you.
  • Explain why you’re calling and what they can expect from the call. People like knowing what they’re walking in to.
  • Ask your questions.
  • Take copious notes. Share them with everyone on your team.
  • Thank the person again, and ask if they know of anyone else who would be willing to speak with you. 
  • Write a Thank You note and mail it.
  • Write a Thank You note.  This is so important I wrote it twice. It is perhaps THE most important marketing tactic for a startup.  Warm fuzzy feelings make future conversations much easier.
  • Write a Thank You and mail it.  Seriously.  Do not F this up.
  • Now send a Thank You email.
  • Refine your questions.

The information you gather from these calls will be instrumental, if not crucial, when building and refining your new baby.  Make special note of the language that your potential customers use.  Their phrases, key points, and messaging to you IS the foundation of your product and marketing message back to them.  They will literally tell you how to sell them.


  1. Stroke the ego.  See sample email below.
  2. Use a non-corporate email address.  I was lucky when going through this with my startup. I was a part of a business school startup project, and used my .edu email address.  This increased my response rate by at least 50%.  Don’t fake it and be dishonest.
  3. Establish credibility.  Find something to link to that strengthens your story, and makes your email appear legitimate.  We know it is, but the reader will assume it’s spam.  Link to your Linked page, blog, Twitter, an article explaining what you’re doing, your website, etc.

In keeping with the philosophy that marketing’s role is to create more sales at a lower cost, you now have a list of target prospects who are expecting to hear from you as your product rolls out and slowly starts to mature.

Sample Intro Email

Hi [put their first name here],

I am part of a team working a new project involving [your idea here, phrased in terms they will understand].  Given your experience in this field [quick stroke of the ego], we would really value understanding your opinion on [what is the problem you are trying to solve]. 

Would you have a few minutes this week to speak briefly?  A quick 15-20 minute phone call would be sufficient.  We’d love to hear your perspective.

All the best,
New startup guy/gal

PS – You can read more about our project here. [here’s where you link to build more credibility]

Sample Forward Email on Day 3

Hey [put their first name here],

We’d love the opportunity to hear your feedback on a new project that we are working on.  I’ve included my initial email below for reference.

Is there a good time to catch up this week or next?

Take care,
New startup guy/gal


Sample Final Email [with a twist]

Hi [first name here],

As you’re probably aware, I’ve left a message or two and sent a few emails.  Since I haven’t heard back, I’ll assume one of the following.

1. You’re completely swamped and don’t have time for a call
2. These emails have been landing in your spam folder
3. You’re trapped under something heavy and unable to answer the phone.

If it’s number 1, no worries.  If it’s number 3, let me know and I’ll call for help.  In all seriousness, we highly value your opinion on [insert industry/problem here] and would love to hear it.

Credit goes to Karen Bruce, a former co-worker, for introducing me to this email.  It routinely garners 50% response rates, well above the 2-5% that most cold emails get.


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