How to “Get Out of the Office” (Part 1)

If you have decided to venture on this rollercoaster called the startup journey, you have likely thought in general about your idea, imagined what success looks like for you and your company, convinced close friends and family of your idea, and maybe even started certain iterations of it.

At this point in your startup’s early lifecycle, you have likely heard repeatedly that you need to “get out the office.” As the saying goes, early entrepreneurs suffer from iterating, and not actually speaking to customers. All of this has proven true to us, but we struggled with the same question you may be thinking: how do I get out of the office? I remember literally thinking, “Where in the world would I drive to?”

This is how I started (remember, we are B2B so it would differ in a B2C environment):

(1) Think about who your target customer is. This not the person, but the organization. Maybe they are startups. Or maybe colleges. Or perhaps advertisers.

(2) Reach the highest approachable, relevant person on the food chain. This takes some intuition, as well as a bit of luck. Don’t search for the President if you are trying to offer a new cleaning solution. But don’t reach out to the janitor either. When you reach a bit over the level of the ultimate decision-maker, sometimes you will hear crickets. But other times you will get a forward, or even a response with the right person copied. Once this happens a few times, you will have a better idea who your actual target customer is.

(3) Don’t mention the sell. As much as you want to, don’t mention the sell to this person yet. Instead, focus on saying you are trying to get feedback or advice on a tool to help improve their (fill in the blank). You will be surprised how often people don’t mind sitting down to offer advice. It will also increase the chances of a response.

(4) Email. Then, Call and Email. (Obviously, this is if you can find their information) First start with your introductory email. Keep it concise and to the point (remember you are just one of a million emails they will get). Then hit send and wait a few days. You may start to worry that they won’t respond. Don’t worry. They won’t, but it sets the stage for warmer interactions later. A few days later, call the contact (they won’t answer) and leave a voicemail referencing your earlier email and interest in getting coffee. Tell them you will email them too to ensure they got your message. Finally, send another follow-up email right after you leave your voicemail — of course, referencing your earlier contacts. This will be the email they respond to.

You now have someone you can “get out of the office” and connect with. That is, unless you don’t have a phone number or email. This used to be a problem, but now it’s much easier. Take the title you want to reach out to, and add it into LinkedIn (along with the company name). You should then begin to see these contacts. If you purchase a Premium LinkedIn account, you can even email them through there. One thing I’ve found is that LinkedIn messages tend to be responded to much more often than emails.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about what to do once you’re in the meeting.

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