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Innovator outreach and interview tactics

TL;DR

Heads-up: get ready to do a lot of outreach.

    If you want to conduct 50 meetings in 90 days and you have an average positive reply rate of 4%, you’ll need to contact about 1,000 innovators.

Turn on your listening skills.

    During calls with innovators, the prospect should do at least 60% of the talking.

In the previous Field Guide article — Define a GTM framework with innovators — we dug into how to identify innovators, design partners, and early majority users to get critical insights about your product. Once you know the profile of the innovators you want to connect with, it’s time to start your first outreach campaign. 


Use Crunchbase or Slintel and filter for the criteria you developed following the framework outlined in Define a GTM framework with innovators. Categorize the companies and individuals into innovators, design partners, and early majority. You will be wrong to a certain degree, but that’s expected; just recategorize people as you hear back from them (or don’t) and understand where they fit on that spectrum. 


When you're ready to start reaching out to the list of Innovators you’ve identified, we find it’s best to start with a LinkedIn connection request. Add a note that's roughly the length of a tweet (about 300 characters) that provides context on how you came across their profile and why you’re interested in getting their feedback. This is typically the first step in an outreach campaign that’s a blend of LinkedIn, email, Twitter, etc. We go into more detail on what this outreach sequence looks like and some of the messaging we’ve seen work well in our Outreach Tactics Guide.


To help you understand how well your outreach campaign is going, we’ve put together this simple Modern GTM Sales Conversion Calculator, which is based on open rates, reply rates, etc. The bottom half of the calculator (rows 9–13) are conversion metrics on sales stages, which we’ll cover later. 


One statistic that consistently surprises founders about the outreach process is the number of total innovators you need to contact (who are not already in your network) to hit your goal of 50–100 meetings. 

How many innovators should you contact?

Using the calculator, if your goal is to hit 50 meetings in 90 days and you have an average positive reply rate (i.e., they’re willing to meet) of 4%, that means you’ll have to contact roughly 1,000 innovators. This can vary, especially with how much thought you put into who you think would be an innovator (i.e., having the best target) and how thoughtful your outreach notes are (i.e., aiming better at said target). Either way, it’s going to be more work than most people imagine, so get going!


Once you’re able to land a feedback meeting with an innovator, you’ll want to schedule a 45-minute meeting with them. You can propose an hour, but most will prefer a shorter meeting, and it’s a great opportunity for you to refine your ability to pitch and do discovery in a compressed time frame, especially if some only have 30 minutes. We recommend using Calendly to make the scheduling process easier for both parties, and only send it after they’ve agreed to meet — never as part of a cold outreach campaign. Doing so comes across as lazy and assumptive. 


In calls with innovators, the prospect should do at least 60% of the talking. A classic misstep we see with founders is they land a meeting with an innovator for feedback but spend 95% of the meeting talking about their product and everything it can and will allow companies to do. They'll leave only three to five minutes at the end for feedback from the innovator, which isn't sufficient for quality feedback. 


Remember, the measure of value in feedback meetings is the innovators' perspective on the market, how they currently operate, their ideal workflow, feedback on your product, the competition, etc. You should ask yourself after every call, “what did we learn?”. That simple question helps founders realize when they're pitching rather than doing discovery. 


The general structure of the innovator feedback interview



Here are some of the questions we use when working with founders to interview innovators. Note that these questions are focused on discovering information about the prospect and their company.

    Suggested innovator interview questions


  • What led you to take your current role at [current company]?
  • What were you brought in to achieve?
    • Is that what you did at your previous company?
  • Why is that objective strategic to [current company]’s goals?
    • Have you tried this before? If so, what happened?
    • If not, why not? Why try now? Why not wait six months?
  • How does the business measure your individual impact and your team’s?
    • How would that impact translate to the CXO goals that would show up in a board meeting?
    • Is this something that you track the progress of in 1:1 meetings with your manager?
  • Do you agree with our fundamental belief that [insert your vision/mission statement]?
    • If so, tell us more about your thoughts there.
    • If not, why not?
  • How do you currently solve this business problem or opportunity today?
    • How’s that going?
    • Walk me through your current workflow. What could be better?
  • What was the installation process like for your current tools?
    • How was that experience? Would you prefer a different approach?
  • Who was involved in the decision process for the current tooling?
    • Were you? Did you inherit this stack? Would you change anything about it?
  • You mentioned that [the problem they’ve mentioned] is a current problem, help me understand how that’s negatively impacting the business.
    • Is there urgency to fix this? If so, who is leading that charge and what will they measure to know that it’s fixed?
  • If our product allowed you to [describe an aspect of your value proposition], what would that mean for you?
    • What would that mean for your team? The company?
    • What would it allow you to do?
    • Why would you want that feature?
    • How are you coping without it today?
  • What was the last piece of new tech you evaluated and purchased?
    • Help me understand that process.
    • What role did you play?
  • How often do you work with startups?

In order to identify patterns across your roadmap and GTM, it’s important that you ask 80–90% of the same discovery questions every time you speak to a new innovator. There's a bit of a scientific process underpinning this, so be disciplined in asking the same questions and having a list of which ones you must cover. 


The art comes in with how you ask these questions. Ideally, you ask these upfront when learning about the innovator and their role in the business and then weave them in as you go through your first meeting deck slide by slide. That way, you’re not just rattling off a list of inquisitions at the bookends of a conversation, and the questions themselves are given context by the slide you’re on. Our colleague Sandhya Hegde, Amplitude's former executive vice president of marketing and growth, wrote a great piece on ways to test your startup idea that I highly recommend if you want to get better at this step. 


Tracking feedback

In order to analyze and act on innovators' feedback and enable you to easily share your learnings with the rest of your team, you’ll need a repeatable way to capture and tag the information. We’ve seen versions of this in Jira, Google Sheets, and Notion work well for teams that are just starting out, and when having a full-blown CRM doesn’t make sense yet. As long as you can easily use tags for pieces of feedback (product, pricing, competition, installation path, etc.) and can share it with your entire GTM team, pick whichever tool works best for you. 

The design partner ask 


When do you know it's time to qualify an innovator as a design partner? In a nutshell, when the innovator agrees with your take on the market and they like that their problems can be clearly solved by your product.


If innovators are not interested in becoming design partners, first tell them that’s OK and then ask why not. It’s always helpful to dig into why working with you as a design partner is not of interest, and some of the best feedback can be unearthed here. 


For those who do want to become a design partner, congrats! Tell them the first thing you’ll want to do is sign an MNDA (mutual non-disclosure agreement) with them (yours or theirs, it doesn’t matter at this point), so you can speak freely. This also tests your user to see if they will really champion the project internally, or even know what that process consists of on their side. 


Learn more about working with design partners in Build a sales motion with design partners.


When to transition from interviewing innovators to working with design partners

You'll be ready once you've completed these steps:
  1. Completed 50–100 interviews with innovators
  2. Organized and evaluated their feedback to build your product roadmap and mock ups
  3. Attracted 10–15 Innovators to work with you as Design Partners over the coming weeks, and when your product is ready to test

Read the follow-up to this article: Build a sales motion with design partners


Track how well your outreach campaign is performing with this simple tool.

The Modern GTM

Build a sales motion with design partners

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