Beware of early feedback, it’s mostly noise
It’s so exciting to get new ideas and find market problems at the start of the process. The users are engaged and you are doing your best to empathize with their situation and feel their pain.
Based on our experience with market discovery and the feedback we hear from our clients, it’s best to file away initial input and refer to it later in the process. It may be compelling, especially if it comes from a group of very impressive non-customers that your sales team is itching to win over. Generally speaking, this early input will not be enough to formulate a compelling problem statement.
Don’t be discouraged! Collecting input from a wide range of customers – current, competitors and potential – will unearth the true nature of the market problem explicitly, with emotion and provide the value of solving it.
If you are new to this area of product management or have been intimidated by or just overwhelmed with enormity of collecting all of this unstructured data. Good news… There are a lot of tools available that simplify the effort and help make sense of it. The bad news… buyers, and users are fatigued from all the previous input they have provided to your company and your competitors. So, you will have to be creative and more persistent than before when seeking input from customers and potentials.
You know – it’s just qualitative research and hopefully it is an on-going front-end of your lean product management process. The effort to identify medium to long term ideas for new product capabilities may seem more like an art, but there is a process involved. In the “Lean Product Playbook” by Dan Olsen it is described as an iterative cycle that starts with empathy for the customer or potential and results in a proof of concept. The key is to spend most of your time in the “problem space”; empathizing, defining and ideating. Here are a few tips to help you stay in the zone.
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Repeat visits to help refine assumptions
Thinking about this part of the process as an iterative task helps you avoid the data collection and analysis trap. You need to hear what is between the lines; understand the comments, not just capture and tally them. You want to build relationships with potentials, existing customers, competitor’s’ customers, non-customers – who can provide feedback and input from initial mock-ups or design through launch.
Put structure to your raw inputs
There is no single way to distill what you gather because you’re dealing with qualitative, unstructured data. Most of you are very familiar with the wide range idea management software tools, collaboration tools and even the handful of product management specific platforms.
Most of these products have capabilities to address ways to capture, aggregate and manage ideas, product statements, and epics. Almost all of them will need to be tailored or integrated with another tool to give you complete functionality. Most of the companies we know use a combination of tools.
Spending time on selecting a standard tool or tools and getting away from basic sheets and docs will make it easier to share and compare the knowledge you’ve gained. Transferring knowledge and understanding to team members makes the vetting process easier. The goal of vetting is to eliminate every idea or problem statement except the most compelling. You need to pull together a story that’s meaningful and makes sense to your organization.
Overcome the challenge of engaging your audience
You need to be creative because your competitors are also chasing the same people to find out what they want next. So, catch them any way possible! While your target buyers may have survey fatigue, the mechanism is still a powerful and efficient way to gather insight. We have found very good success getting opt-in with a survey and following up with an interview. Research purists will complain that is in reverse order. The goal is to have multiple touches – to keep engaging them as you refine your thinking.
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Why is this important?
Market Discovery is both an art and a science. It’s an imperfect process, but wrestling with the challenges and sifting through the information you collect can yield gold for your organization. Product management teams that build competence in this area are extremely valuable – not a bad reason to become known for orchestrating successful market discovery projects.
At Egress Solutions Inc., we work with leading companies to transform product strategies and organizations. We enable overall product success through Product Market Fit, Market Insight, Win/Loss Analysis, Product Team Assessment and Benchmark. Our engagements provide strategic and execution expertise in the areas of product roadmap/vision, product positioning, sales enablement, go-to-market and lean product methods. Our goal in working with our clients is to help them transition into market-driven organizations.