How can I convince people to talk to me during market research?

I’m looking to talk to people operating in a specific niche* regarding the problems their facing, etc. with the purpose of finding out if a product I designed solves a real need and potentially identify other product opportunities within the same niche.

I’ve done some preparation for these chats (questions & topics of discussion) and I located online places where the people I’m interested in talking to hang out (forums, facebook groups, etc), but I don’t know how to convince people to talk to me.

What can I possibly tell them to get them on the phone for half an hour? It won’t be a sales call since I don’t want to sell them anything, but I’m not sure of how to convince them that there is something to gain by talking to me; I don’t want them to just waste their time.

I have had experience in their field as a consultant (I designed & implemented software solutions for some clients operating in the same field) so I could possibly offer them some kind of free consultation related to the issues they are facing (e.g. propose existing software solutions that they might not be aware of that can potentially help them)? Any other ideas?

*Although it probably doesn’t matter in this discussion, I’m currently looking for people who make a living off affiliate marketing.

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You will be surprised with the number of people out there, who are willing to have a half an hour conversation helping out a complete stranger, expecting nothing in return. Additionally, people love to talk about themselves, as long as you are a good listener.

Be upfront with them and tell them what you need from them and why you need it and promise them that the call would only take 10 minutes. If they are comfortable at the end of 10 minutes to continue talking to you, you can extend it to 30 minutes or more. But reduce the barrier to entry by starting with only a 10 minute call and giving them a chance to leave once the 10 minutes are over.

Depending on your niche, you could also pay them for their time. This is what Patrick Mckenzie did when the started Appointment Reminder and it worked out pretty well for him.


Having spent hundreds of hours helping strangers in forums, open sourcing stuff, etc. over the years, I can’t say that I will be surprised, but I don’t want to rely solely on that, although indeed people love to talk (or hear) about themselves. :slight_smile:

I really like the 10 minutes commitment idea, and I’ll definitely use it. Offering to pay pay for their time sounds good as well, and it could definitely work in some niches.

Thank you very much for the advice!

I think it will probably be easier than you think…

Script your cold call start and figure out what works… but generally if you are genuine and up front people are willing to talk…

I like Akash’s idea of the 10 minute comittment … I will put that in my bag of tricks but I do a lot of requirement gathering for a large company and getting the info is not a problem…

My biggest problem is getting to the right person… the significant one, the real player, the subject matter expert… So unless you already know who that person is, you will have some phone exploration to do… For me, that is the most difficult part. I am up front about it, hey… I need your help… .here is what I am trying to do and I need guidance to reach the right person… In your case it might be more direct as I think those affiliate moguls are probably mostly individuals…

I wonder in that world though if they would feel part of what you are asking is part of a trade secret or part of their secret to success and that might be a barrier to getting what you need from them… I would just make notes of objections and resistances and address them in subsequent calls…

Now if what you are looking for can be found in many places, it does not matter if you scrap a few in the beginning trying to figure out how to get to them… you see what I mean… however if you only have a handfull…you can’t afford to loose some… so you will need a different more cautious approach…

I guess I would just advise to get to it… do the difficult part… go after them now… talk to someone… don’t over think it… you will find some that are fun to talk to and helpfull…

Let us know how you do…

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It’s easy - just ask. I had the same problem you have, which is overthinking it. The first time I did such market research, it took me about a day of collecting email addresses/phone nrs/job titles from the web; about 100 or so. Then I spend a week procrastinating because I was scared about the rejection, of offending people, of looking stupid, etc. Then I send an email (a single, tailored mail) to all of them, asking for an in-person meeting of about an hour, in which I would show them my idea for a new product and for them to tell me what they thought about it. In about 50% of the cases, I got an email back (either from the person themselves or their assistant) to set up the meeting. Bolstered by that response rate, I cold called the remaining 50%; and over half of those just didn’t get my email or had forgotten or whatever, and were OK with meeting me.

That’s 75% of people agreeing to a one-hour in person interview, no problem.

The hardest part is overcoming those few key moments where you realize how much you’re putting yourself out there - just before you put your mailing in the mailbox, or when you put on your headphones to start cold calling, or just before you click ‘send’. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I used to watch this: and to ‘charge’ myself.

My first few interviews bombed because I had prepared the wrong talk (no plan survives first contact with the enemy and all that) but I got better very fast. Most people said they enjoyed talking to me, because they liked the fresh perspective and to talk about their professional problems to someone from outside their usual circle of colleagues, from a different field. It surely wasn’t because I’m such a great conversationalist… So you do have something to offer them - an interesting conversation.

The product ended up going nowhere but I learned a ton.

BTW I don’t think you should offer to pay. Money makes the conversation a business transaction. It’s not, it should be about two people seeing how they can help each other. Your audience isn’t in the business of ‘being a focus group’. They’re all just people trying to make the best of their jobs. YMMV.


There is a good bit in the ‘Mom test book’ about this

From memory he suggests you should pitch the problem you are trying to solve and rub their ego a little, ie "Hi, I’m Stathis and I’m trying to fix in the affiliate marketing world. I need the help of smart people in the affiliate marketing space who really get this problem and can help me define what a solution would look like. If you had 10 minutes to spare for a chat I’d really appreciate it, hopefully we can bring an end to "

The book is worth getting if you’re doing customer research imho.

I’d personally suggest not offering to pay people. I think you quickly turn it from something they will do to help you out, or because you might solve a problem for them and into something they evaluate based on whether it’s worth the money or not (probably not).

The key I think is that they believe they have a problem they want fixing and believe you can solve it for them. If that’s worth a bit of their time it’s a good sign people might actually pay for it. I think if they don’t think it’s a real problem, or don’t believe you can credibly fix it then you have a problem. But ultimately go for their own personal benefit, ie pitch that you will solve some problem for them. If it’s genuinely a big deal for them I’m sure you’ll get some takers willing to talk about it in the hope you can fix it for them.


Having them commit to only 10minutes at first is GREAT advice.

Also, you could start with text chatting. That’s an even lower level of commitment.

I’d add that if you can’t get people to talk about their needs then it’s bad sign that they may not be AWARE of (or even have) any such needs.

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I agree:

  1. Iterate. Just ASK.
  2. Don’t start out offering to pay. It’s expensive and may bias their answers. Pay as a last resort.
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Lean Customer Development ( has good tips for running the interviews and how to encourage the interviewee how to open up.

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Thank you all so much for the advice. I’m definitely overthinking it (as always); I have to start asking people very soon.

Just analyze the forum posts as such. Observe your customer in the wild.

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Have you had success with this approach? I’m thinking it might be more applicable in some situations than others. For my current business I don’t know that I would have got the information I needed through this sort of passive approach rather than finding people with a problem they were willing to talk about (but hadn’t mentioned online anywhere).

edit: I’m asking out of genuine interest to learn something, not trying to say this doesn’t work :slight_smile:

For my Shopify app I read all customer reviews of all competing apps. Distilled 2 small differentiating features from it I used to get customers from the start (despite lacking a TON of other features). So yes this worked for me.

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This is the approach Amy Hoy teaches.


Before you launch, you’ll interview people who may be potential
customers, but have not yet given you money, and are ergo not customers.
They’ve got no skin in the game, no frame of reference to build on. But
even after you launch – and you begin to interview your customers – the
technique is flawed.

You rely on your interviewees being experts at research & development
— you trust them to identify their own pains with unflinching honesty
and accuracy. To remember, in essence, exactly what they do, all day,
every day.

And to be willing to tell you about it.

And to be able to imagine a world unlike the world
they inhabit, with a different workflow, different tools, different
outlook, different life.

You rely on them to accurately identify the causes of the pains they do identify.

You rely on them to be wholly rational.

They must not care about your feelings at all — to
not be, in fact, the kindly people they must be to accept your interview
request — because they will be too friendly, too supportive, too
optimistic, too nice… which of course results in worthless data.

You need them to be people who always do exactly what they say they will.”

With those odds stacked against you, can Validating your idea really increase your chances of success? Nope.

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Thanks @shantnu, I should maybe have mentioned in my original post that I know this is the approach pushed by Amy Hoy and admitted my issues with it. I think that there is a place for it as a form of research to compliment others such as customer interviews. I was interested to know if others had had success using that approach or if they were just promoting something Amy had said.

My problem with Amy’s post there is that it’s mainly one big straw man argument against customer interviews. I could easily construct a similar straw man argument against doing research her way but it wouldn’t add anything to our understanding of what we’re trying to achieve. To highlight some specifics from your quoted text to show what I mean about it being a straw man argument:

Before you launch, you’ll interview people who may be potential
customers, but have not yet given you money, and are ergo not customers.
They’ve got no skin in the game

This can be true, but is not always the case. Some people actually ask people for payment during the interview process as a way to get some “skin in the game”. Other methods get them to invest something other than cash, such as their time (talking to you, possibly multiple times) or social capital (by introducing you to others). Not perfect, but sadly nothing is in defining a good product to build :slight_smile:

You rely on your interviewees being experts at research & development
— you trust them to identify their own pains with unflinching honesty
and accuracy. To remember, in essence, exactly what they do, all day,
every day

Not true, unless you effectively give them a piece of paper and ask them to describe what they need building or the problems they have. You are meant to be the expert in R&D, part of the skill of a product manager or entrepreneur is to ask the right questions in the right way to get the information you need. Ie “When was the last time this was a problem for you? And when before that?” etc. To clarify that this is indeed a top problem, not just something they experienced recently. Likewise “What does it cost you to solve each month?” Or “How long do you spend on each month?” and then “So how much is it worth to you to have that resolved?” to clarify if this is indeed something they need solving or not really a big deal to them. Again, not perfect and there will be times this fails but again nothing is guaranteed when researching products.

And finally

They must not care about your feelings at all — to
not be, in fact, the kindly people they must be to accept your interview
request — because they will be too friendly, too supportive, too
optimistic, too nice… which of course results in worthless data.

This is the central theme of the Mom test book (I’m not getting any money for pushing it I promise :slight_smile:). That you need to ask questions in a way which doesn’t allow people to lie to you out of being nice. To ask questions in a way that even your Mom would have to be honest to you.

If Amy was trying to say these things are hard so lets look at some alternatives to augment or even replace them that’d be fine. My issue is the straw man approach which tries to paint customer interviews as totally broken and pointless. Customer interviews are a useful way of finding out what your product should be, when done right. Done wrong, in the way Amy outlines they are a terrible waste of time.

Sorry for the rant! I’m happy to be corrected on anything I got wrong above :slight_smile:

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No, Amy is known for using slight hyperbole, but then I guess, to be internet famous, you have to(I dont know. Im not famous :slight_smile: )

The Mom test looks like a good book. My only problem is, he doesn’t give any table of contents, or sample chapter, forcing me to Amazon to read a sample. But the book itself looks good, so I’ll give it a chance.

@stathisg, I know I’m a little late to the party on this one but…

Be careful with offering payment for customer development interviews. If you do, try it in small batches at first. I followed a “script” laid out by Jason Cohen from when he described how he validated his idea for WP Engine. In his case, he said not a single person took his money. In my case, over half wanted to be paid to talk to me. (One wanted $350/hour!) I booked the freebies first and politely declined the rest as I got what I needed before getting to them.

I’m not saying don’t offer to pay… just be smart about it. In Jason’s case he was talking to people who were presumably doing well in business… In my case I was talking to people who were doing well but were very “out to make a buck.” I would say that your case is closer to mine than Jason’s so, again, just proceed with caution.

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Exactly. You can’t afford the really good people, the ones who know what they are talking about. Besides, if you offer money, it turns from a friendly chat to a commercial interaction. And that changes the rules.

The book Mom test recommened by @robinwarren is quite good. I recommend buying it.

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Thanks, very helpful!