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How to hack customer discovery using virtual assistants

Hacking customer discovery using virtual assistants

Although I now work for a fairly established organisation with thousands of customers worldwide, I still love getting on the phone to customers and talking to them about their jobs, their pain points, their needs, etc.

I try to talk to at least 2-3 of our customers per week, as the better I get to know these people the better job I do at marketing to them.

To illustrate, this week I spoke to 3 owners of regional production companies (customers of one of our products at Dubsat) and they all said their main responsibility was ‘making sure ads get out on time’. As a result of this,  we’ve realigned our value proposition for this product to make it appeal directly to the main thing they care about. Powerful stuff.

Whilst this all sounds well and good, the difficult part is getting them on the phone. These are busy people, and between the missed calls, the voicemails and the callbacks it can be quite time-consuming setting these interviews up.

I’ve been experiencing this pain for a while now, so I devised a better way of doing it using a virtual assistant (VA).

How it Works

Get a list for your virtual assistant to call

You will need to get a list of people for your virtual assistant to call. Because I was calling existing customers, I was able to easily get this list from our product database.

If you’re an early-stage startup and don’t have customers to call on, try the good old phone book. If you’re a B2B startup with a particular target market (builders for example) you should be able to find a long list of them in your area using the Yellow Pages.

Alternatively, try some online destinations like industry-websites. In certain industries (like real estate for instance) everybody is a member of an industry-body and that body usually list their members in a directory on their website. Goldmine.

Find a virtual assistant with some phone experience

I managed to find a great VA through oDesk and she has been amazing. First, you need to create and publish a job which details the work you want completed. My job ad looked a bit like this:

We are a software company with thousands of customers worldwide and are wanting to conduct phone interviews with our customers to learn more about their jobs and how our products help them so we can better market our products and services to them.

We need somebody to contact our customers via phone and setup times where a member of our marketing team can conduct an interview with them and ascertain information for the case study. Your goal would be to setup 1-2 interviews per week and we will pay you per interview (rate to be negotiated with each individual based on going rate in each country).

We are looking for 3 seperate people, one in the US, UK and Australia.

We will provide you with the list of people and you will need to contact them via phone and setup a time for the interview. You will then need to input the interview time and details (Name of person, contact details, etc) into a shared calendar.

From here, you can either publish the job ad and let people bid on it or you can browse the site for freelancers you like and contact them directly.
From my experience, it’s much better to go find people individually as you’ll get a much higher quality candidate by investing the time in finding and contacting the ideal people.

If you find and reach out to 10 or so qualified candidates, you’ll like have 5 or so get back to you keen to do the job. You can take your pick from there.

Negotiate a rate with them

Most people work on an hourly basis on oDesk, but I don’t think that’s the best approach here.

I think the best option is paying per interview scheduled. At the end of the day, what you want is interviews as hours worked drives you no value what so ever, so if you pay per interview then you are guaranteed to get value out of every dollar you spend. Plus if the candidate is successful at this, they could potentially setup several interviews in one hour and make a very good hourly rate.

As a guide, I found paying people between $15 and $20 per interview usually got them excited for the job.

Setup a scheduling system for them to schedule interviews

As they are going to be negotiating available time slots with the interviewee on the phone right there and then, it’s important they have access to your schedule.

I found a web app called ScheduleOnce to be perfect for this. Basically you connect your Google Calendar to it and they give you a ‘MeetMe Page’ which you can share with your VA. It shows them your available times and allows them to book an interview without ever seeing the events on your calendar. Here’s a screenshot of what the VA see’s on my MeetMe page:



All she does is select a timeslot and then input the interviewees contact information into the meeting details section. You then get an email asking to confirm the time and when you do it’s automatically added to your Calendar.

The VA then gets an email saying you’ve confirmed the meeting and logs it as a successfully scheduled meeting and send you the bill.

The result

Instead of spending hours leaving voicemails and calling potential interviewees back, I now get an email a few times per week telling me when my next interview is.

I can now focus my time on the larger projects which deliver much more value for my employer whilst still getting the insights I need to create customer-centric marketing that drives business results.

Aaron Beashel

Just two loves: marketing & surfing. When I'm not in the ocean, you'll find me helping B2B SaaS companies acquire and retain customers.

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