Tips and Tools For Testing Your Startup Idea With Potential Customers
By Emily Reeves
Director of Digital Innovation and Insight Planning at Stone Ward
“Build something your customers want.”
You will hear this said almost everyday of your life as a startup company and beyond. But potential customers may not know they want it or need it until you show them how your product makes their lives easier or enhances it in some way. You have to show them. You have to talk to them. You have to see them interacting with your product.
All of these things will help you make it a better product. As business founders, too often we find ourselves hunched over our computer building something that we like and that we think others will like. But we are too close to the project. Customer insight is an absolute must for (1) improving the product and (2) proving that it is something customers will pay for (investors need to know this).
It can be intimidating to get out in front of your customers and approach complete strangers in coffee shops or on the street. But this is only one way of testing your product and getting customer feedback. Here are just a few tips and tools for learning from your potential customers:
Note #1: Most of these approaches will get the best and most useful results if you have a product mock-up to share. Whether that is static images or a Bootstrap-built site, visuals make it easier to tell your story.
Note #2: Also, though it will be hard, try not lead your customer interviews to the answers you want to hear. The set up you give and the way you ask your questions will influence how the participant responds. If you have someone experienced in research available, ask for help so that you can get unbiased results that you can really use.
- Online surveys to your networks (free). Use Survey Monkey (though you are limited by the number of questions you can ask with a free account, so make them count). Think about data that you can collect and display visually: quantitative data. Include yes/no questions, multiple choice, and demographic info in addition to open-ended questions about your product. Once the survey link is completed, share it on all your networks and beg your friends to share it to theirs as well.
- Online surveys to a defined target audience (not free). Google Surveys is a great tool for reaching broad audiences outside your networks very quickly. Google is particular about how you ask the questions, so this may take some trial and error on your part as you build the survey. And know that each response is costing you money, so you want to make sure you are not wasting a cent on bad questions. Keep in mind too that you have the potential to gather a lot of data here, so you will want to make sure that you are getting data you actually analyze. A bunch of open ended questions will be challenging to analyze if it is just you and there are 2,500 respondents. Trust me on this one.
- Man-on-the-street: your team with a video camera and an interview guide (free). Get out of your chair, walk out into the daylight and down the street. Stop people you encounter and ask their opinions. I have found that it is best to do this in teams of two so that one person can record and the other person can converse. This is hard work because people will start trying to avoid you if they see you stopping others to interview them, so I suggest sending the most charming member of your team out for this exercise.
- Man-on-the-street: nationwide sample (not free). Snippies is a company that gathers customer insights through video across the globe. They have video journalists on staff. All you have to do is give them good direction as to what you are hoping to learn and they can (very) quickly give you video testimonials from strangers testing your product or vetting your idea for the first time.
- Usability testing with your friends (free). This can literally be done with paper layouts of your site or product and asking your friends to tell you what they would do to complete a task that you are asking them to do. You will learn if the design works and they will give you feedback as to whether this is a product they might find useful. And they will likely give you a dozen ideas for improving both the product and design (whether you solicit it or not).
- Usability testing with a defined target audience (not free). With UserTesting.com you will definitely need a live site (though it can be very raw) for users to navigate. You simply provide them with tasks and questions and they complete it. You get a video of their actions along with audio of them telling you what they are doing and what they think about it. And you get it in a matter of hours.
- Gauge interest with a “sign up for more information” landing page (free-ish). LaunchRock allows you to create a website in minutes for your product where people can learn more and sign up to learn even more. Even a non-coder like me can use this site (though if you have someone who can code, they can make it much more customized and therefore, better).
When you pause in intimidation or doubt, remember that people love to give their opinions. Truly, you will be amazed what kind of feedback you get if you just go ask for it.
Follow Emily on Twitter @Reeves501.
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