It doesn’t matter if you’re designing coffee mugs or starting a web design boot camp. The sooner you can interact with potential customers to gauge their interest, the better your chances of creating something people will actually want to buy.
“It’s an easy mistake to spend a ton of money on product design and inventory before you figure out if there’s a demand for it,” says Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, a business consulting firm that helps retailers connect with customers and market themselves.
Instead, look for quick, inexpensive ways to get your product idea or prototype in front of your target audience and solicit their feedback. Besides saving time and money, you’ll get people excited about your product before you officially launch it. Here are five ways to ask customers for feedback:
Assemble an in-person focus group
Throw a dinner or cocktail party for friends, family, and acquaintances you trust to share their honest opinions with you. Give them ample time to sample and use your product. Then collect feedback about what they did or didn’t like and whether they’d purchase your goods or services if they didn’t know you.
Beekeepers Nicki Praiswater and Mark Crippen did this in 2016 before launching Lone Star Bee Company, a Houston-based business that sells small-batch, handcrafted infused honey. After creating 30 different varietals of flavored honey, the pair held a tasting party at their home for friends and family and asked guests to rank their favorites. Not only did guests help them choose which two flavors should launch their company, but they also pointed out that their packaging was in desperate need of a makeover. “Once we got those results, we just ran with it,” Praiswater says.
Use social media as an extended focus group
Tell everyone in your online network what you’re working on and ask for their candid feedback. Ask whether the product is something they’d want to buy, what features they’d want to see, and what price they’d be willing to pay. If you’re in the midst of product design and prototyping, share photos of works in progress and ask for votes on which options people prefer. You can also create a Facebook group specifically for friends and followers who’ve expressed interest in learning more about your project and offering their opinion as you develop it.
Create an online survey
According to Entrepreneur.com, 42% of small businesses fail because no one wants to buy what they’re selling. Determining whether there’s indeed a market for your idea before you invest in it is a must. Using tools like SurveyMonkey, SurveyAnyplace, and Google Forms to poll potential customers can help you do so. You also can create a poll on Facebook or Snapchat. Ask your extended network to weigh in on product features, price points, packaging, and anything else you are grappling with. Keep questions short and sweet so your survey is easy for people to complete, Castelán says. “You don’t want to overwhelm them with questions,” he adds.
Embrace pop-up selling
Host a flash retail sale or trunk show. Your product doesn't have to be perfect yet; the idea is to gauge public interest and reactions. Enlist friends or family to help run sales so you have time to talk to customers. Make sure customers can touch, sample, and otherwise try your product. If you don’t want to host your own event, look for similar vendors to co-host with. Or look into selling at a boutique, farmers market, craft show, holiday fair, street fair, or low-cost local trade show.
Since her company's early days, Praiswater has prioritized personally handing out samples at various fairs and events. “That way I can get direct feedback,” she says. “You really need to know how much people like what you’re selling. You always can go back to the drawing board and tweak things. But you can’t just make a product to put on shelves and hope people show up.”
Build a simple website and start selling
If the first iteration of your product is ready to go, put up a simple website and start taking orders. Getting a website up and running requires a minimal investment of time and money. In a matter of days, you could begin fulfilling and shipping customer orders.
Selling your product through your own online store also gives you control over customer interactions. “The benefit of running it through your own website is that you own the customer relationship,” says Castelán. Besides directly corresponding with customers through your website’s contact form or email, you can collect immediate feedback from them. Armed with this firsthand input, you can work on improving your product.
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