Traditional approaches to market validation suggest a weeks-long effort conducted by a team of market researchers, but the ever-increasing pace of innovation makes this timeframe unrealistic.
By the time you’ve completed an eight-week market validation, circumstances may have altered so dramatically that they invalidate your results.
But with a strategic combination of online surveys and in person interviews, you can dramatically shorten the cycle of market validation.
Shorter cycles mean less wasted time and effort, as well as more current data.
What is Market Validation?
Put simply, market validation is a means of testing your product concept against your target market. It’s a way of selling a hypothetical product without incurring the overhead of completely building it.
Most market validations consist of a series of 15-30 minute interviews with people who fall into the demographic you believe will be buying the final product. Interviewers are trying to get beyond simple, “Do you like this idea?” questions to decide if people would really buy something.
Some experts dictated a minimum of four weeks (and an average of six weeks, with eight weeks being common) to complete a market validation study, depending on the number of interviews and the size of the research team.
But startups have slashed these times. People like Jim Semick, Founder and Chief Strategist for Product Plan, are using lean startup methodologies to encourage potential entrepreneurs to complete their market validation within a 54 hour period.
This time frame is probably a bit too extreme for most businesses, but by combining the traditional interview-driven approach with lean principles and online surveys, you can get meaningful data in a relatively short time.
Foundations of Successful Market Validation Studies
Whether you’re going old school, super lean, or using a combination approach, you can’t conduct a successful market validation study without these three key components.
1. Strong Understanding of Who Your Customer Might Be
Note that I didn’t say, “who your customer IS.” You’re going into this research project to test assumptions, and your market is one of those assumptions.
In order to effectively reach the appropriate audience with your survey and interviews, you need to know who to reach out to.
But you should be open to the idea that the people who you think need your product may not be interested.
On the other hand, there’s no need to get too specific early on; there will be time to refine your market as you go on.
Consider these questions if your customer is a business:
- What kind of business?
- How big or small is the typical business?
- What market are they in?
- What’s the title of your buyer?
Again, you’ll be validating these ideas through your study, but you need a place to start.
2. Solid Strategies for Getting in Touch With Your Market
Once you know who might be buying your product, you’ve got to get in touch with them to administer surveys and interviews.
Where do they hang out, both in the digital and physical worlds? Are you already active in these spaces, or will you need to pay for placement or approach influencers to help you? Will a personal appeal or an incentive be more likely to encourage their participation?
If you begin by administering online surveys before conducting interviews, you can quickly and efficiently narrow down the pool of potential respondents.
A survey can help you identify people who are willing to talk to you in more depth, and also collect valuable demographic and firmographic information that can help refine your target market later on.
3. Plans to Get Actionable Data From Your Audience
Once you’ve identified your market and gotten in touch with them, you want to ensure you’re getting data you can act on.
For the purposes of a market validation, this means you want to know whether or not these folks will buy your product.
If it’s in the early stages, you may just want to get a general feeling of “like” or “dislike” for the product’s direction, but as your product nears a sellable state, you want to know if it’s valuable enough to your target market that they’ll actually buy it.
This is where in-person interviews become an invaluable tool.
I recommend continuing to input your qualitative interview data into the same tool you used for the initial surveys. This allows you to take advantage of its data analysis capabilities and connect the dots between your quantitative and qualitative stages of research.
Sample Questions for Your Market Validation Study
The quickest way to get at the heart of people’s problems during both a quantitative survey and an in person interview is to ask, “What keeps you up at night?”
It seems simple, but this can be a revelatory question.
Even if the answer has nothing to do with your product, you can get ideas for how best to communicate with your market.
Some other good options for market validation questions include:
- Why? (Plan to ask this one a lot during interviews.)
- How do you do that [solving the problem your product is meant to solve] today?
- How do you know you’ve had a successful (day, month, year)?
- How do you feel about… [your current solution? a feature? the price?]
- What’s the most frustrating thing about… [the current solution? a feature? your day?]
- If you solve this problem, how much money will you save or make?
- Who is responsible in your organization for implementing products or services in this space?
How Many Market Validation Interviews Do You Need?
If your product is targeted at the B2B market, 20-30 in person interviews combined with about 200 surveys can give you accurate data.
Consumer products may require hundreds of interviews before you have a data set you can act on with confidence.
However, if you’re simply looking for directional data to tell if you’re on the right track, you can conduct just a handful of interviews and move on. Once your product plan is entering its final stages, then you can return to your target market to conduct a full-fledged market validation study.
After the First Validation: Testing Value Statements
Trying to validate your market AND test your value statements simultaneously will muddy your data, because people may respond one way to your value statement and another way to the product itself.
But once you’re comfortable with your target market you can do another round of research to fine tune your positioning.
Distribute another online survey that starts with your positioning statement, then simply ask, “Do you see value in this [product/service] for your organization [or for you, if it’s a B2C product]?”
Offer a scaled response instead of a simple yes/no radio button, and see where the responses fall.
Continue to fine tune your marketing messages until you’re getting an overwhelmingly positive response.
Don’t Succumb to Data Overload in Your Market Validation Studies
It’s tempting to want to talk to as many people as possible during a market validation study, but this can quickly become a drag on your release schedule and a drain on your budget.
Follow Jim Senick’s advice. Conduct multiple short studies rather than one lengthy one, and consider the minimum amount of data you can act on with confidence:
“Successful teams get just enough information and data to make decisions. And then they make them. I like to adhere to the 80% rule -- get just enough (valid) information from customer interviews and other sources of data and then make a decision. In the end, you will never get to 100% certainty, and getting close will eat up an inordinate amount of time.”