Startup experts tell us to get out of the building, do customer interviews, and see how real people deal with the problem we’re trying to solve.  And that’s good advice.

But customer interviews are time consuming.  And it’s hard to get up the guts to do them for fear of rejection, lack of time, or even laziness.  What’s more, we tend to reveal our desired outcomes — so that people tell you what you want to hear.   (Unless you make them put their money where their mouth is!)

So it’s easy to get customer interviews wrong, or worse, not do them at all.

Find Big Signals with Quick & Dirty MVP Landing Pages

Make no mistake, you’ve got to do the research.

But I’m a proponent of starting with quick and dirty research on more ideas at a time.  Build a bunch of cheap, temporary products (smoke tests / mvp landing pages) to probe for the strong signals that get generated when lots of people have the same problem.  And when you find a strong signal, bring the product into focus with increasingly granular experiments designed to find out one thing:  Can I get paid to solve this problem?

The trick is to observe people searching for a solution.  I can’t think of better place to passively observe people searching for things than the internet.  It’s a data-rich environment.  It’s a real marketplace.  And you can ask questions after you’ve observed a genuine reaction to a problem.  So you don’t have to worry about the experimenter’s bias (that can contaminate the results of face-to-face customer interviews even before you’ve proven a problem exists).

Search ads and landing pages work great for this.  It’s a cheap combo so you can run a lot of them.  And you can ask questions after they click on your call to action — the moment a visitor has validated that they’re looking for a solution to the problem.

Don’t spend a long time testing one idea.  You don’t need a lot of clicks or sign ups.  Here’s what you’re looking for:

  • 30% or more of the people who click on your ad are also clicking your landing page button.
  • 20+ people click your landing page button in 2 hours

If that doesn’t happen, move on to another variation or a completely new idea quickly.  But if you can get these kind of results, you’ve found a big signal that’s worth looking into.

Get Your Target Market to Buy

If you’ve detected a problem that’s generating a strong signal, it’s time to find out if you can sell a solution:

  1. Survey the people looking for a solution to find out who they are
    • For B2C, ask about gender, household income, and maybe marital status, number of children, home ownership, ethnicity, education, interests, etc.
    • For B2B, ask about job function, position within the company, industry, and company name
  2. Watch those people react to the value proposition of your mvp landing page with UserTesting.com.
  3. Get over your objections and observe the reaction of people in your target market face-to-face.  Get out of the building.  Schedule a Google Hangout or a Skype call.
  4. Refine your value proposition based on what you learn.
  5. Build your sales funnel and start optimizing it.  If you’re selling online, this is a website where people can buy from you.  User test it.  Advertise it.  Measure clicks on the buy button.  Repeat until you’ve found an optimal pricing strategy.
  6. Try to get paid for providing a solution using whatever resources are available to you.  Do it manually, but make it feel automatic to the customer.
  7. Prioritize automating parts of the process based on what makes good business sense.

I’m using this method every day to develop products people want.  And I have to admit it’s a continual learning process.  What have you learned?

Path to Profit: Find Big Signals, Then Focus on Getting Paid by
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