Lean and low-cost tools for customer validation

Customer-Validation

One of the burning questions for startups is how to validate their market assumptions. Have you ever asked yourself why so many products fail to create impact, even when they were launched by established and successful companies?

This often happens because companies are pushing products to market without designing and testing if they’re generating true value for users.

There is no magical way to validate your idea with real customers, especially in B2B situations, but you can organize a lean and low-cost approach to testing, that will help you do it faster. Here are three steps and some valuable tools to help you with this process:

  1. Define Your Product or Concept in Clear Terms

Defining your main assumptions is a simple starting point. Just write down the key questions that you need to test:

What problem are you solving? So many entrepreneurs get blinkered by thinking Product First: develop and launch it, and then they become puzzled about product traction. Always tackle the problem first! Be very clear about the problems your solution is addressing. Don’t think about features: think about tasks or chores that users will do while using the product: “Buy a train ticket” opposed to “faster way to choose operator”. Only then you can validate whether customers see them as problems, and whether they’re problems worth solving!

Who is the customer? Don’t use word as “millennials” or “internet users”. Be specific and concrete! For example, if it’s a B2B: Which types of companies? What is the average size of a company in this market? What is the purchase process, and how many roles/decision-makers are involved?

How does your product solve these problems for potential customers? Only after you have clearly defined the problem and potential customers can you start thinking about possible solutions. Now you tie the value of your product’s characteristics directly back to your customer problems. How does solving their problems make their life better? Does it help them save time? Does it increase their social status? Will they feel happier?

  1. Get out of the office: start talking and recording

Interviews are a powerful and affordable tool to better understand market needs and to validate your assumptions, but don’t hit the streets right away talking to strangers! Pen, paper and a pair of ears will get you far, so use your network to reach potential users:

Prepare a script, but be willing to listen and learn. The Script should include both open and closed questions, adapted to your target customers, but be ready to listen and avoid interpretations. Explore what needs your customers have at the moment and listen twice as more than you talk, at least!

Search for facts and not opinions. Don’t ask “would you” or “will you”. Ask how many times did you use that product in the last month or when was the last time you bought it. Ask questions that lead to learning how often the customer tries to solve the problem and how much are they willing to pay. “Why” is the most important question you should ask. Don´t take the first answer; Dig deeper by asking why. People will show their true motivations and allow you to navigate closer to the truth. Try to master the Five Whys technique for getting to the underlying reasons behind a customer’s motivation.

Always, always, always follow-up. By taking the time, the potential customers is already engaging and willing to learn more about your solution. In B2B particularly, show that you mean business from day one, and be prepared to follow up with more information about yourself and the product.

  1. (Get) a Demo

Demos should be based on early findings and allow users to get a sense of real working solution. Design an experience where customers “use” the product and you collect the maximum amount of validated learning about them with the least effort.

Webpages allow for metric collection and inexpensive A/B testing. A simple landing page and some budget for online ads can give valuable information, so you should let visitors know what you’re doing, and then spark some interest: A clear value proposition that interests people (what problem will you be solving?). Make use of that interest by giving them a chance to know/do more: A notification form with a bright call-to-action button, or a tab to subscribe.

Use available free tools for Prototyping:

  • QuickMVP Tool to test your ideas
  • Optimizely Optimization platform for websites and mobile apps (A/B testing etc.)
  • QuickMVP Tools to test your ideas
  • Marvel APP a free prototyping and collaboration tool that lets designers transform their files into interactive, sharable prototypes viewable on any device
  • Instapage Build fully functional landing pages on the fly
  • Proto.io enables users to create fully interactive mobile app prototypes
  • UI Faces Generate sample avatars for user interfaces
  • Balsamiq Wireframing tool
  • Moqups A webapp to create and collaborate on mockups, diagrams and prototypes.

Choose a (catchy) name: Also, you should make sure to find a company/product name that resonates with your customers. Find an available name for your brilliant idea by using services like The Name App, Naminum, Wordoid , Lean Domain Search. These tools can help you narrow down the options.

Conclusion: Customer validation can be tricky, and never forget that liking your idea is not the same as buying your product. The holy grail of perfect product-market fit is perhaps unachievable, but trial and error can take a long time and drain resources. So, take the lean way: gather data and conclusions as soon as possible!