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Customer Validation

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She loves me; she loves me not … she loves me; she loves me not …..” 

This old expression was how some timid souls decided whether to pursue the affections of a schoolmate who caught their attention. Yep, just pick a daisy, start plucking pedals while alternating between “she loves me” and “she loves me not” and let the statement linked to the last pedal plucked be the choice. No customer input needed. The decision’s made. Simple!

Many times, business owners choose to use a similar strategy to launch products or even start a business. They have a great idea, they “know” customers will love it and as they “pull the last pedal” – usually a conversation with a friend – and the decision is made. It’s settled. The customer will “love me.”

Sound a little far-fetched? Not really. Without researching and validating customer needs and preferences, businesses essentially do the same thing, risking all they’re investing on a gut feel or chance itself. Successful businesses don’t leave their product development and customer relations strategy to chance, they research and validate.

Customer validation is the testing and gathering of feedback from potential customers to ensure that a product or feature solves a real problem, meets a real need, and provides real value. It’s a critical step in product development that can increase success in the marketplace and save time and money because potential issues and roadblocks are revealed early in the development process. There are several methods for conducting customer validation, including surveys, interviews, user testing, market research and analytics.

Customer Validation Process

Customer validation typically occurs during the product design process, after the initial research and ideation stages have been completed. The earlier you begin, the better — and you definitely don’t want it to happen after you’ve started designing the product. Here are some steps to help you get started.

Step 1: Define your target audience.

This involves creating a detailed profile of your ideal customer, including their demographics, psychographics, and other relevant information. It’s a vital part of the customer discovery process, which involves asking many questions about your users and their needs.

You can use various techniques to help you turn all this data into something understandable. User personas, for example, are a great way to represent your target audience accurately.

You’ll note your assumptions and develop a hypothesis as part of this stage.

A hypothesis allows you to test the underlying beliefs and assumptions that drive your product development. By testing hypotheses, you can validate or invalidate assumptions, avoid investing in unnecessary features or products, and ensure that resources are used effectively.

Step 2: Select your validation methods.

There are several options to consider. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. The choice of method will depend on the specific goals and constraints of the project.

Surveys are commonly used to ask customers a basic series of questions about your product or idea. You can run them online, via email, or in person, and they can help you gather large amounts of data quickly. But they’re not without their limitations: low response rates and biased results are common, and the feedback is on the more basic side of things.

Top tip: When conducting surveys, it’s important to use questions that allow customers to provide detailed responses rather than just checking boxes.

Interviews involve having one-on-one conversations with customers about their needs and experiences. Interviews can provide rich, qualitative feedback that surveys cannot, which can help you identify new insights and opportunities. Conversely, they are time-consuming and resource-intensive and may not represent your entire target audience. They work best when combined with surveys.

Prototype testing involves creating a functional version of your product or feature and asking customers to interact with it. This can help you gather feedback on the usability of your creation before it’s fully developed.

A versus B testing is commonly used in web development. It involves testing two different versions of your product or feature with a subset of your target audience to see which performs better.

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a version of your product with just enough features to provide feedback for future development. Launching an MVP, you can quickly test your assumptions in the real world, validate or invalidate your hypothesis, and iterate on your product development.

Step 3: Gather and organize.

Once you’ve selected your validation methods, it’s time to gather feedback from your target audience. You’ll have a lot of data at this stage, so make sure you organize it well. If customer interview is the method chosen, here are some tips.

Tip #1

No pre-conceived ideas.

Bring an open mind and take comments literally. Don’t try to interpret. If the response is not clear, ask the person to “please explain that a little further”.

Tip #2

Recognize the natural communication ratio.

You have two ears and a single tongue. Listen twice as long as you speak. Remember, you came to listen and learn.

Tip #3

Seek the facts. Mine for objective data, not just subjective opinion.

Avoid opinion questions like “Would you ….?” or “Do you think ….?” as much as possible. Instead, ask questions that will draw out an objective response.

Ask questions like “When is the last time you ….?”

Tip #4

Use the why3 inquiry approach.

When you do probe for personal preferences, be sure to get to the underlying “why” behind them. Piggyback, or stack your “why” questions to help probe a little deeper.

Tip #5

Don’t bias customer input with your own “clarifications”.

Bring an open mind and don’t try to “interpret” comments. If the response is not clear, ask the potential customer to “please explain that a little further.”

Tip #6

Maintain connection with input providers.

Get permission to return with additional questions as analysis and development progress. If a significant pivot is required, new validation interviews may be needed.

Tip #7

Ask for referrals

Personal networks can help expand your interview pool. Ask “Who else should I talk to about this?”

Step 4: Analyze the feedback.

After gathering feedback, the next step is to analyze it and identify key patterns and insights.

You can use various data analysis techniques, such as clustering or regression analysis, to identify patterns and trends. You can also use visualization tools, such as charts or graphs, to present the data in an easily digestible format. Some analytical tools you may want to use include:

Data cleaning. This includes removing duplicate data, correcting errors, and ensuring the data is consistent. The cleaned data should be organized into a format that is easy to analyze, such as a spreadsheet or in your diagramming tool.

Descriptive analysis. This involves summarizing the data to understand key trends and patterns better. This can include mean, median, and mode for numerical data or frequency counts and percentages for categorical data. This analysis helps identify critical patterns and trends in the data and can serve as a starting point for more in-depth analysis.

Inferential analysis. This is the use of statistical techniques to draw conclusions about the population based on the sample data. This analysis can help project managers determine the statistical significance of their findings and make data-driven decisions. Some standard inferential techniques include hypothesis testing, correlation analysis, and regression analysis.

Visualization. This is an essential tool for presenting data in a way that is easy to understand and interpret. Visualization can include charts, graphs, and other visual aids that can help project managers identify key patterns and insights in the data. Visualization is also helpful for presenting findings to stakeholders and other team members.

Actionable insights. Do something with the knowledge you’ve gained. Review and update earlier decisions about the product and customer delivery/service. This refining processes is a critical part of your competitive “win” strategy.  This could involve tweaking the design, changing the messaging, or even pivoting to a new product entirely. Using a data-driven approach, you can be confident you’re making the right decisions for your product and customers.

The process of customer validation is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that should be repeated throughout the product development lifecycle.

To iterate and improve your product based on the insights gathered during customer validation, here are some key steps to follow: Customer validation is a crucial step in ensuring the success of any business venture. It allows project managers, entrepreneurs, and product developers to refine their offerings and create something that meets the needs of their target market.

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