Evaluating a Product Opportunity

You’re scratching a product idea. Not too serious yet, but who knows.

The questions keeps burning though: “is there an opportunity here?” Is there a version of your product idea that’s going to work?

You’ve covered the basics:

  1. There’s a big market. Enough people in that market are doing things around the problem you’d like to solve. Maybe you even know a couple people in that business. Maybe you’re in that business yourself.
  2. You have a way to reach some potential buyers. Maybe you’ve grown an audience, a mailing list, a following on social media. Some potential leads.
  3. You know you can build something. Maybe you can write software (or know someone who does), or you can put a course together or a book. Or maybe you’ve got what it takes to build something physical.

Most Products Don’t Clear This Next Hurdle

Another basic: your product needs to address a hard struggle.

That’s the realization that Andrew Glaser made after creating a product that failed.

He had a product concept. He showed it to people. They “predicted” that they’d buy it. He even won an award for the concept! He thought he had a good idea.

But the product didn’t sell. After swallowing that defeat, he searched for an explanation.

His realization:

“If there’s no struggling moment, there’s no progress to be made. There’s no innovation.”

Your product might be “neat”, “interesting”, “very cool”.

Your product might even save money or create money or reduce complexity. And you might think that makes it a safe bet.

Your product surely makes things “simple”, “fast” and “easy”, three terms that can’t be enough on their own to make a visitor take out their money.

But if your product doesn’t clear the massive gravity well of “I’ll just” statements, of non-consumption, you don’t have a product that will sell. Your product has to be there when people are saying “enough is enough with the old, I need to get moving”.

Getting To Level 3: There Has to Be a Struggling Moment

I’ve written about the three levels that qualify the kind of understanding you have of the buyer:

  1. Not Sharp Enough: Understanding the Role, the Market and The Benefits
  2. Sharp: Understanding the Problem and the Aspiration
  3. Sharpest: Understanding the Situations That Are Ripe for the “Switch”

At Level 2, we understand just enough about the buyer to understand a little about the momentum they’ve got in their search for a solution. If the problem hurts a lot, and the aspiration is strong enough, there’s evidence that the buyer is on the move. Ride that wave.

At Level 3, we understand the moment when people are triggered to get on the move, the situation causing that momentum toward a solution is created. We understand the “switch”: what they’ll leave behind, why they’re leaving that behind, and the job for which they’re hiring the new solution.

Level 2 is just a general feeling that most buyers won’t act on, no matter how hard you try reaching them and selling your product to them.

Level 3 describes the moment when they decide to act, the moment when they’re ready to pull this solution into their lives.

So the goal for your research is to get through Level 2 and down to Level 3.

Tactics for Getting to The Buyer’s Struggles

1. A Pre-Sale (If You Have Something Almost Built)

If you’re in a conversation with a potential buyer, and you’ve got something close to ship, pre-sell the solution to the client right now. In that exchange, you’ll have a first glimpse at where the anxieties are, what’s attractive about the solution, and what they’re defaulting back to. You’ll have evidence of the forces pushing and pulling in their mind.

The good news: during a pre-sale, you might be witnessing a switching moment, giving you that crucial Level 3 information. But be careful: if the person is giving you money out of courtesy or to give you the benefit of the doubt, they hired the product for the job of “helping out a friend”, not for a true struggle.

2. Research into Online “Watering Holes” For Evidence of Struggles

We’ve talked before about the 30x500 technique of hanging out in online forums or chat rooms, finding evidence of struggles and what people are doing to resolve their struggles.

This research takes time, and you might very well change your mind about your product idea (because you’ll find something more concrete or smaller to build.)

But this tactic has an added benefit. Hanging out in forums and chat rooms while in an active listening mode will give you plenty of opportunities to help people out and build an audience. You’ll spot ways to create and publish mini struggle-solvers like articles, videos, guides and even courses, creating a constellation of products around your main product, giving your audience a value-ladder to climb.

This takes time, but it’s like compound interest.

3. Conversations with People Hiring/Firing Alternatives for the Same Job-to-be-done

If your product idea has some real potential, you’ve got a few hundred dollars to invest in research and you’ve got access to people who have used a competing product or has cobbled-together something using a combination of imperfect products, then maybe you could interview them.

We’ve talked about the interview technique before. It’s a retroactive interview, meaning that it focuses on having the buyer re-tell a purchase story that led up to a purchasing decision. You want to avoid posing questions that will get the buyer to use the creative part of their brain (to evaluate ideas or give feedback or suppose what they would do in the future). You want to ask questions that focus on recalling what really happened.

What’s great about this tactic is that you can interview people that either “hired” (purchased) a competitor or “fired” (switched away from) a competitor. Set up a screener questionnaire, offer an incentive to those who participate in the interview, interview 5 to 10 people, and you’ll have some solid aha moments to work from.

And if you find people who cobbled-together a set of imperfect products to get the job done, maybe you can interview them too. Surely there will be a good story with some struggles in there too.

So those are the struggle-first tactics for validating a product idea. With that, you’ll get confidence that you’ve got something solid, you’ll be ahead of the competition because of your deep understanding of the buyer’s true motivations, and you’ll have what you need to create a marketing page that makes visitors say “I feel understood”.

Stay Sharp!


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