We all do it. We let the fear of the unknown keep us from risk-taking and improvement. I’ve been particularly aware of it over the past several years, both at work and in my life outside of it. Every so often, I see smart, go-getter types come up with excuses and reasons for not moving forward with new and scary things. When it’s not me, it kills me to see such seemingly close-mindedness to trying new things.

And yet I’m guilty of it too. It’s funny, because I love learning new things. I love solving problems. I don’t understand people who aren’t the same way. Until recently, I’d managed to fall into the same trap when it comes to one thing in particular: customer development.

My fears have been a.) that my outreach will seem like a sales pitch b.) I’ll send one too many emails c.) I’ll reach a potential user just before we implement the one feature that would make or break the tool. All three of these reasons led me to (maybe subconciously) deprioritize outreach activities until recently. It was always about needing that one more tweak before sending the email.

Then, after hearing and reading many stories about similar struggles and subsequent failures, something clicked. If I let my fear of seeming “salesy” or reaching out at the wrong time only keeps us from being able to build the tool that people need.Since then, we’ve taken the following steps:

  • Added customer development cards to the backlog, and prioritized them.
  • Expanded the metrics page to get more insight into organizations’ usage.
  • Scheduled time on weekly for emailing new account owners.
  • Implemented Live Chat powered by Zopim.
  • Started planning a beer and pizza session at a local coworking space to learn more about startups’ needs related to continuous improvement.

Within a few minutes of pushing the chat feature to production, a “ding” sounded. My heart raced, but not for the reason I would’ve expected. I wasn’t worried that the person on the other end might have found a bug; it didn’t occur to me. I was just so excited to actually talk to someone about Sensei.

The feedback and conversation during that first chat was awesome (Yes, we’re making sure data is saved to make it easier when you have to go back to a previous step.). He loved the concept, and offered up a list of features he’d love to see. The insight from the handful of users who responded to my email proved equally great. Yeah, there were a couple of unsubscribes after that first ping, which always breaks my heart a little, but that’s okay. I’ve got to keep trying. I’m passionate about our product, and so I’m addicted to customer development and discovery.

I feel like a teen waiting by the phone for her crush to call (or text, I suppose). I constantly check the Zopim dashboard to make sure I haven’t missed a question. We’re A/B Testing subject lines to learn what type of messaging people prefer.

Emailing still makes me nervous. The fear that someone will become irritated by the frequency (as I do) or mistake it for being too “salesy” still exists. But the messaging is always honest—customers opinions and questions are really important. This isn’t about selling, it’s about learning. And that’s what I’ll continue to remind myself whenever my own nervousness threatens to keep us from learning more about our customers and their needs.