In almost every blog post, I read about how the ‘Startup Gurus’ say the most important thing is to “listen to your customers.” In the Startup Genome report, the numbers pointed to companies that listen to their customers increasing their product usage by 400%! As a pre-launch startup, we don’t have customers yet … just future/potential customers. It makes perfect sense to “listen to [our] potential customers.”

Don’t get me wrong … I’m not talking about customer discovery or finding if someone actually needs your product; we already did that for a long time and are still. I’m talking about those first Twitter users who engage with you (or respond to your Tweets, in most cases) or your first blog commenters and even some of those email senders. These are our potential customers and I’m trying to figure out what exactly it means to listen to them.

I tried to set up a survey that I wrote about a while ago and the responses were good, but not enough. We are starting to build our community and I thought about breaking down how we are trying to listen to them:

First Tweeters: Currently (2 AM, 6.11.11), our Twitter account has 609 followers. We are very proud that we are starting to attract the people we are aiming for and I have noticed some of them have really interesting insights:

 Learning from your customers before they are customers

Listening to those potential, valuable Twitter users gives us a preview on what people’s first reaction to our product is. Usually it gives me a clue on how I presented our product wrong and how to present it the next time around. I didn’t get deep feedback from Twitter followers yet, but the conversation itself is extremely valuable for us.

LinkedIn: Currently Yotpo has 41 followers on LinkedIn and I think I got somewhere around 200 Linkedin connections through Yotpo alone. Those users mainly offer their services to help Yotpo along the way. I always hear what they have to offer, but mostly it is not valuable feedback about Yotpo.

Another important segment is my ‘LinkedIn advisory board.’ Some of my connections are people I wish were on my advisory board. I ask them questions about problems I’m facing. These Internet rockstars have a lot of valuable information regarding decision making, but less on smaller problems we have with our product. In my mind they are potential customers, but it is very hard to get from them specific feedback, just very useful advice. I don’t think that falls into the category of “listening to your potential customer.”

Facebook: On Facebook we haven’t found a good way yet to increase and engage with our Facebook Community. Our fan page is at its first steps and we haven’t cracked it out yet.

Email Senders: To my surprise, I’m getting quite a few e-mails each week regarding our future product. Some of them contact us directly, although, again, most of them are service providers. Around 40% of the mails are from actual potential customers. I divided these mails into 3 categories:

“Convince me”: A lot of the mails are from users who arrived at our site from some kind of traffic source and are not sure they want to sign-up on our waiting list. At the beginning, those mails really seemed funny to me and I responded them with a bit of sense of humor.

As I saw the same pattern repeating itself, I started doing 2 things: Thinking of a new slogan and content for our website, because apparently people didn’t think it is that convincing; Also I started working on our explanation video ASAP, because I really felt the urgency. I found out that those people have really good input on our message and marketing plans, but less on the product itself.

“It sounds really good, but …”: These senders are the one I tend to think are the most valuable leads. Not that they took the time to read the stuff we wrote, but they think it through and found something they don’t agree with. Most of these mails have a problem with a fact or some of our most basic assumptions. Usually I refer them to an article/research in that matter (such as “Are reviews improving conversion rates?”) and they eventually sign up to our waiting list. Just a few days ago, I made an article subject list based on those mails. I think they are really good resource for what are our community interests.

“Why are you different from …”: This is the e-mail I dread the most, because it shows that our message is not clear enough. In the video creation process, I take these mails with the companies users think we are similar and try to emphasize how we are different. Based on that alone, we’ve created couple of slides. In general, from these emails I learn how and where we need to differentiate Yotpo from other companies.

Overall, I can say that after I started to analyze the first words of the Yotpo Community I noticed that ‘listening’ is really important for this phase as well. I used to think that these are not paying customers and we don’t have a product yet so how can I “listen” to them? They have something to say about our message/marketing effort and content … this is our product pre-launch. It is just common sense that the feedback will be on that exactly.

Do you have any tips on how else can we listen to our potential customers?