Recently I was exploring a concept for the real estate market. The idea was basically Nestio before I knew Nestio existed. I tried various customer development methods. First I sent 15 cold emails to local real estate agents but got only one response. I even offered to write an article about one agency for free but was met only with suspicion.
Finally I thought I would try something different. I decided that I was just going to walk into a few agents off the street and see what happened. Initially this seemed like a terrible idea to me. I was convinced that they would consider a cold walk-in rude and inappropriate. I was convinced I would be told to bugger off or come back when I had scheduled an appointment. I tried it anyway though and the results were quite different than I expected.
I called into 5 businesses, 4 of them were willing to speak to me then and there. No problem at all. I told them my ideas, they told me what they thought and I learned a lot.
I was receptionist blocked only once. I explained my situation and told her that I had some business ideas that I wanted to validate. She took my number and told me she'd pass it on to her boss. An hour later, he called me and we had a massively open and helpful 45 minute discussion.
Now I realise that I have a sample size issue which reduces this post to little more than anecdote. However, I do still think that there are things to be learned here. A cold walk-in does have some advantages over a cold-call:
I can see the person I'm talking to. I can study their reactions to my mini-pitch and glean information which I wouldn't pick up on over the phone.
They can see me. It's harder to end a face-to-face interaction than a phone call. This lessens the chance that they will end the conversation before it even begins.
If you're going to try this, there are a few tips I picked up:
Be prepared. My assumption before I started was that the best I would manage would be to schedule a few appointments for a later date. It turned out that I presented then-and-there in 80% of instances. Be ready to go.
Tell them you're not trying to sell them anything very early in the interaction. This should help to relax the contact and make them more open to discussion.
Go in at a quiet time of the day. It's only natural that people will have less time to spend with you at busy times of the day. Make sure you're working around their schedule as much as possible. Early Friday morning would probably be a good time for example.