All too often when you say to a marketing person or executive something like "Let’s ask consumers for feedback", their minds jump instantly to focus groups and formal surveys. Certainly there are valid uses for both of those tactics, but I’ve found that a few well placed personal questions can net basically the same results for free.
For instance, RightCart.com just sent me a great invitation for discussion via email.
My name is Ryan Garver and I am CTO of RightCart.com. I would appreciate a few minutes of your time to hear your feedback on your experience with RightCart. I can also share with you our upcoming additions and see how relevant these are to your needs.
I would love to setup a time to talk by phone if possible. If there is a good time, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will contact you then–or send your thoughts by email if that is easier.
As always, you can contact us at email@example.com, or by phone at 1(800)704-2192. Thanks for your support of our product–we’re having a great time building it!
[Full contact info removed]
Pretty impressive effort from Mr. Garver. He’s fighting the fear ("What if all our customers call us??") and he’s offering a personal touch (I honestly believe the CTO wants to talk to me, Jake).
Here’s my rules for inviting fans/users/consumers to give feedback or input.
Write the email yourself
Don’t outsource this task, no matter how high on the food chain you are. Get help, ask colleagues for input, but when you write the invitation it’s obvious that it’s honest.
Make it personal, offer up yourself
If you’re not willing to hear from consumers directly, why bother sending the request for feedback? Give you phone number, email address, IM account, etc. Don’t worry, they’re just the people that put food on your table, they won’t bite!
Send to the right number of people
When you’re taking this personal approach, don’t use the same distribution techniques as formal programs. Send to …say 10 people to get initial reaction. Then tweak your email message to clarify any questions or confusion and send to another 10 or 20 people.
Send from your own email account
If you are sending this mail, then make sure you are sending it (i.e. the email address isn’t firstname.lastname@example.org). This personal touch makes it clear that the invitation is coming from a real person, not a marketing agency or internal, faceless department.
Personalize as much as is realistic
Use the user’s name if you know it. Use details about their usage of your product/service if you know it. Spend the time talking to the person, not the generic consumer. It’ll pay off, trust me.