Idea Validation: Problem, Market demand

Cold Calling

Gauge interest from prospects with whom you have no prior contact

Illustration of Cold Calling
Run a Cold Calling play

Also called: Canvas Calling

Difficulty: Easy

Evidence strength

Relevant metrics: Jobs ranking, Pains ranking, Gains ranking, Conversions

Validates: Viability, Desirability

How: Research relevant people with whom you want to gauge an interest to buy, work together, or give feedback. Prepare your pitch before calling and be ready to adjust it from call to call to better your success rate.

Why: Create an audience or network if you don't have one. Getting a result from cold calling is hard, so convincing just a few to meet or talk is a win and in many case enough to qualify validation.

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

Before the experiment

The first thing to do when planning any kind of test or experiment, is to figure out what you want to test. To make critical assumptions explicit, fill out an experiment sheet as you prepare your test. We created a sample sheet for you to get started. Download the Experiment Sheet.

Cold calling as a high hurdle

Of all sales techniques available, cold calling is many times viewed as being the least popular as cold calls are often seen as a pain for the recipient – an invasion of privacy and a waste of time. Because of this, many consider a significant result of cold calling as an extra valid proof as there are quite a few barriers that need crossed.

Don’t ask for the sell up front

Selling your product (getting paid) through cold calling is hard. It is a rare case that strangers willingly offer you their money for your product having only been exposed to your product vision for minutes. Instead, it makes sense to lower the barrier of the commitment you are asking for: 10 minutes of their time to listen to their problems and needs or a sample of your product delivered without cost. The hope of this tactic is to get a foot in the door and pave the road for a larger commitment further down the road.

The skepticism surrounding Cold Calling

Before delving into why cold calling can be a valuable lean product experiment, let’s acknowledge the skepticism that surrounds this method. It’s no secret that cold calling has faced criticism, and here are some of the key reasons:

  1. Most people dislike unsolicited calls, even those involved in sales, making them hesitant to engage in cold calling. Even sales professionals themselves can be annoyed when they receive unannounced calls.
  2. Cold calls can disrupt people from their ongoing tasks or activities, leading to frustration on the part of the person receiving the call.
  3. Outdated and questionable sales tactics are still prevalent, which can contribute to a negative perception of cold calling.
  4. In an era dominated by digital communication, cold calls might seem inefficient. The process of preparing for a call, reaching a decision-maker, and following up consumes a significant amount of time.
  5. The effectiveness of cold calling is finite, and when it ceases to yield results, generating new leads becomes a challenge.

Why Cold Calling works as a lean product experiment

Now, you might wonder, why would anyone consider cold calling as part of a lean experiment in market validation? The answer lies in the unexpected benefits that this method offers, especially for product teams.

  • Immediate feedback. One significant advantage of cold calling is the immediate feedback it provides. Unlike emails or social media messages, which may go unanswered or remain buried in inboxes, phone calls elicit instant responses. Within seconds, the tone and responses of the prospect offer valuable insights. This rapid feedback allows product teams to adapt their pitch on the spot, addressing the prospect’s specific needs and objections. This adaptability is crucial in refining a product’s value proposition and gaining a deeper understanding of the target audience’s pain points.
  • Direction of the conversation. Cold calling also allows the conversation to be steered in the desired direction. Product teams can adjust their approach based on the prospect’s responses, guiding them toward the key benefits and features of the product. This flexibility is essential in the lean experimentation process. It enables teams to gather critical insights into prospect preferences, objections, and expectations. By actively shaping the conversation, valuable data can be collected to inform product development and marketing strategies.
  • Personal connection. Despite the prevalence of digital communication channels, nothing can replace the power of a personal connection established through voice. Whether it’s a phone call, a video meeting, or an in-person interaction, real-time conversations carry a unique impact. Through vocal nuances, pronunciation, and authentic dialogue, a genuine rapport can be established with prospects that transcends the limitations of text-based communication. This personal touch can be instrumental in product validation, as it helps build trust and credibility in the brand, making prospects more willing to discuss their needs and provide valuable feedback.

Why use cold calling to validate product-market fit?

The method is aimed at directly engaging with potential customers or partners to gauge interest or gather feedback.

Cold calling serves as a proactive method to establish initial contact with potential customers or partners, often without any prior relationship. The technique allows for immediate feedback on the product’s value proposition and market interest, albeit with the challenge of low success rates typical of unsolicited outreach.

By evaluating the response rate, conversion rate to desired action, and the effectiveness of pitch adjustments, organizations can refine their approach to cold calling, improving their chances of engaging prospects successfully.

After the experiment

To make sure you move forward, it is a good idea to systematically record your the insights you learned and what actions or decisions follow. We created a sample Learning Sheet, that will help you capture insights in the process of turning your product ideas successful. Download the Learning Sheet.



To test willingness to commit, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick cold called limousine drivers in San Francisco found via Google search. Out of 10 drivers called, three hung up, some listened for around 45 seconds, and three were willing to meet. Three out of 10 agreeing to meet validated his commitment hypothesis.

Source: From cold call to $17 billion startup: How Uber got started with sales calls!


Zenefits leveraged email outreach as a lean experiment. They sent cold emails to potential customers, gathering insights to refine their product based on real-time feedback, pain points, and customer needs.

Source: How did zenefits use cold email to get initial clients?

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

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