Customer Validation: How to Improve Your Product Using Focus Groups

Have you ever participated in a focus group?

If so, you likely weren’t sure what you were in for. They possibly lured you in with the promise of Laffy Taffy, or a few bucks, and now you’re trapped.

You sit down silently with a group of people and the moderator introduces you to Widget A. She want’s to gain insight on your perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards the widget.

Each of you in the room are silently, and mentally, willing each other to admit how awful Widget A actually is. Instead, the silence builds and you’re nonchalantly examining the exit signs in the room, wondering how you can make your escape.

Gather Evidence to Support Your Theories

Fortunately, not all focus group experiences have to be terrible. As a small business owner, gaining customer feedback is an essential component of validating your product or service. If you choose to use focus groups as a method to validation there’s a few things you can do to ensure it’s an effective, engaging and valuable process.

Here are six ways to improve your next focus group, and not a single one of them involves Laffy Taffy.

1. Select the Right People

The people who will provide you with the best feedback are those that are your target market and current customers. Clients who’ve purchased from you in the past, or have declared themselves social media fans, have a vested interest in your success. They’ve demonstrated their enthusiasm for your brand already, and if you continue to produce goods they want, they win.

To entice your biggest fans, consider using a pop-up on your site asking for their help. Pop-ups get a bad rap, but they’re the most blatant and effective way to get your message across. Prospects and customers will be on your site regardless, so take advantage of the opportunity.

2. Decide How to Incentivize  Participants

While offering gifts seems like a guaranteed way to motivate your test group, a lot of people may sign up only for the gift, and present nothing of value to the research.

Unless you think it’s ingenious that Paris Hilton shows up to premieres of movie’s she’s never been in, but still gets goody bags, don’t do this. Instead, look for other ways to add value.

3. Establish your Testing Method

You can conduct one of two types of tests: beta or split testing.

Beta testing is best for brand new products and services. Recruit a few people whose opinions you trust, and expand after you’ve incorporated their feedback. This wastes less of your testers’ time and keeps your reputation cleaner.

In comparison, with split testing (A/B testing) you can create a baseline sample to compare to a variety of single-variable test samples in order to improve response rates. You’ll want to ensure that the single test items are what’s actually producing different results. Small changes can make a big difference. So don’t try to radically change everything at once.

The idea of split testing is that people don’t even realize you’re testing. For that reason, you can and should do split testing regularly. For example, your website pages can always be improved, particularly the checkout and registration pages using tools such as Google Website Optimizer (free) or Optimizely (paid).

 4. Establish a Timeline

Ensure you’ve allotted sufficient time for testing. You don’t have to run it forever … people hate 20-week trials!  Instead make your sample size fairly large. Doing this will ensure your data is more accurate and ease the burden on your testers.

5. Structure Your Questionnaire Correctly

For the love of all that’s holy, don’t ask broad, open-ended questions of your testers. If you want specific information, you must ask specific questions.

Questions like, “How was your experience?” will yield lots of useless replies like, “Super awesome!” and “My favorite part was the free pizza!” These aren’t relevant to your testing.

Instead, ask specific questions. for example, “Did you notice that we’re certified by the Better Business Bureau?” This will easily target the information you’re looking for. If you have close-looped questions, offer very few answer choices. This ensures you’ll have responses that are quick to categorize and review.

And of course, your questions should be brief and simple to understand. If people have difficulty understanding what you’re asking, they’re likely to give incorrect answers. Bad data is worse than no data at all.

6. Push People Past Fear

Society has ingrained in people a fear of offending others. This means some testers will hold back, rather than give you the real dirt because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Avoid this by making it clear that constructive criticism is welcomed. Let your focus group know that you can’t improve if you don’t know what’s wrong.

While focus groups can seem uncertain and difficult to conduct, they don’t have to be. Selecting the right people, asking the right questions, and demonstrating openness to their feedback will improve testing results in the long run. Participants will be glad they can help and grateful that you won’t put them to sleep.

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