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Market Research for Product Managers. It Never Stops.

Posted by Janna Bastow
November 18, 2014

Most product people would agree that the key to success is a product that fits someone’s needs like a glove. But market understanding is a complex beast. Here are a few pointers for helping you to master your market at every stage of product management.

Find a product/market fit

The lynchpin of market understanding is the product/market fit. You can claim that your product has reached this point when:

it has a set of customers excited enough about the product to pay for it, where payment can be in money or time.

Before you commit to building anything at all, you need to know if you’re solving a problem that customers really have. And should you find out that you don’t, it’s time to pivot. Although this can be hard to admit to when you’re personally invested in your solution, it’s best to be aware of your product’s viability from the start than further down the line – when it’s not just your ego that’s invested, but resources too.

Alex Osterwalder, author and founder of Strategyzer, has come up with a nifty value proposition canvas that helps you to map your solution to your customer’s problem, step by step.

This mapping should be based on everything you know about your target market. And when you find a hole in that knowledge it’s time to go and collect some research to fill the gaps.

Falsify, not validate

When you’re getting started on market research, remember that you may already have existing resources to turn to. Rather than jumping to create your own studies that address what you think you need to know, see what lies in research that has already been conducted, either by other teams in your own company – such as marketing – or external research that you can get your hands on free or cheaply. It’s important to take an honest look at the data from several different sources, and not just seek out snippets that support your plans and ideas.

After some exploratory research to help define your product ideas, conducting your own research to validate them is a key component of the lean method. A product manager’s bread and butter in market research is getting in front of real customers, and listening to what they have to say.

But Roger Cauvin has issued a caution on the validation concept to help you avoid bias in your interactions with users. As a general rule, product managers who search to validate a particular idea will tend to find it. Instead, the principle of falsification promotes that you should be able to prove your beliefs to be false, as well as true. Cauvin suggests focusing in on your prospective users’ real and past behavior, rather than hypothetical behavior of the future.

Once you’ve established that your problem is real, you need to address the big question of price. This is how you falsify assumptions that your product offers real value to the market. But getting an accurate idea of whether prospective customers are really prepared to part with money or time for your product isn’t straightforward. Rob Johnson wrote this article on asking questions around pricing to help product managers get to the heart of genuinely probable behaviors.

Be continuously testing

For the product manager, market research certainly doesn’t finish at the product/market fit. You should be continually testing your products to make sure that they continue to meet your market’s evolving needs. There are many different ways in which you can integrate customer interviews and user testing into your product management processes. One technique that I’ve used in the past and found to be effective is to build testing into my team’s schedule as a regular activity, no matter what’s going on. This way, you’re more likely to discover authentic flaws and opportunities in your market offering, than when you pursue user testing in a reactive fashion.

I set up a regular time slot (for example, Thursday afternoons) for testing. Each week we had to recruit participants in exchange for some pizza and a small sum per head; and the product and UX team had to find different things to test. Some weeks this would involve a ready, clickable prototype, but other times this would be a concept or even a napkin drawing to walk test participants through. It is the consistency that makes the difference and the mind-set to test all the time, not just when you think you have something to test.

Embracing market research into the heart of your processes is the best way to develop products that will bring customer satisfaction and continued business success. If you take note of these tips for solid market research, your products should never fall prey to opinion bias or mislead customer feedback again.

If you’d like to learn more about how ProdPad can help you collect user feedback and qualify the business case for new product ideas, you can get in touch with us here or sign up for a 14 day free trial yourself.

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