3 Stages of the Product Validation Process Where You Need User Feedback

by
Heather Tipton
Content Marketing Manager

According to Gartner, the global SaaS industry will grow to a massive $172 billion in 2022. The industry is growing at a rapid pace, with new products introduced every day while investors continue funding new and old products. In fact, venture capitalists invested $48 billion in SaaS in 2020 alone. However, not every SaaS product is destined for success. With so much competition in every niche, the only way for you to distinguish your product is to continuously improve its current features and introduce exciting new features.

When thinking about a new product feature, you want to make sure it solves an actual problem for your target market and that they’re willing to adopt the new feature. To get there, you have to validate your idea for the new product feature.

But the product validation process doesn’t just stop at the first stage. After you’ve validated your idea, you move on to the development and release stages, both of which can benefit from continuous product validation. Collecting user feedback at all three stages of the product lifecycle gives you valuable insights and data to improve your product feature and increase its rate of adoption.
Stage 1: ConsiderationDeveloping new features is costly. The average base salary of a software developer in the U.S. is over $118,000 per year. Freelancers charge anywhere between $50 to $250 per hour, depending on the job. It may take anywhere from weeks to months to build the feature and the costs add up. That’s why you have to validate your idea before investing resources into it. You can do so by answering the following questions:

  • Does the new feature solve a specific customer (or user) problem?
  • Does my target market face that problem?
  • Are they willing to adopt the new feature?
  • Will this new feature help increase user engagement, customer retention, and/or conversion?

Surveys and interviews will help you find answers to the first three questions. To collect user input, set up an online survey and promote it to your target market through social media groups, forums, and relevant newsletters. Choosing the survey response scale and the right target market is key here. The good thing is, you already know the target market, as they’re people who already use your product, i.e., your existing customers. The survey response scale can be a simple five-point Likert scale where the respondents agree or disagree with your statements.

Let’s say your idea is to introduce a feature that helps users live-streaming their videos on YouTube through your SaaS product. You can craft a number of statements about the proposed feature, ranging from the direct ‘I would like to live stream my videos on YouTube directly through xyz platform (your product)’ to the indirect ‘I record the video sessions through xyz platform and upload them later.’ Surveys can give you hard proof in the form of quantitative data that’ll allow you to go from ‘a lot of our customers would love this new feature’ to ‘65% of our customers would.’  

You can also explore the user’s willingness to adopt a new feature by setting up interviews with some of your most active and engaged customers. Interviews are a great way to validate your idea and learn about problems your customers are facing with your product. This is especially true in a B2B setting, where you can interview your main points of contact and learn if their organization faces problems your new feature will solve.

Interviews work best for in-depth answers because you ask open-ended questions and let the interviewee talk about their experiences. This allows you to explore uncharted territory and learn about issues you may not have considered earlier. When it comes to interviews, prepare a number of open-ended questions related to the problem you’ve set out to solve. Using the example from earlier, you can start with ‘how many times do you log in to the product?’ and work up to ‘what do you think would be a better way to log in?’

As for the fourth question—the new feature’s ability to increase user engagement and/or tap into new markets—you can use keyword and market research tools such as Google Trends. If keywords related to your new feature are going up in volume, it means user interest is on the rise and the market may be willing to give your new feature a try. If the search volume is going down, it means someone has already solved the problem you set out to solve. For example, if your idea is to introduce video conferencing as a new feature in your product, you probably should have done it in March 2020.

Source: Google Trends

In short, look for evidence to prove that your new idea is worth pursuing and collect data. Once you have enough data to analyze, you’ll know whether or not to go ahead with the new feature.

Stage 2: Development

At the second stage, you may be tempted not to follow the continuous product validation process and just focus on development. After all, you conducted surveys, did your market research, interviewed a group of core users, and decided to develop the new feature. During the development stage, gathering more data to validate your idea may feel like overkill, but it’ll help you build a better product.

In the first stage, you were evaluating if the new feature is worth building. In the second stage, as your team builds the feature, focus on customer expectations. By sharing wireframes, prototypes, screenshots, videos, and even blogs about the new feature, you can get valuable customer feedback during development. With this feedback, you can improve your new feature and even pivot and take it in a better direction.

Companies in the video game industry, especially smaller developers on Kickstarter, validate their products during development all the time. Since video games take months, and sometimes years, to develop, validation during development also serves as a user-engagement and marketing tactic.

And that’s not all. Continuous validation helps them make improvements to their product on the go. For example, AurumDust, the developers of the Ash of Gods video game series, put out some scenes from the game, received user feedback, and immediately went back to the drawing board to improve the cinematics of their game.

One of the early sketches shared by the developers. (Source: Steam)

They even asked for feedback on the revised version and continued to improve it until they got it right.

Follow the example of video game developers and keep your users engaged in your product validation process as you build out new features. The feedback during development will help you shape the way the new feature looks and works and keep it in line with user expectations.

Stage 3: Release

This is the most common stage for product validation, especially via beta testing. You provide a select group of users with access to the new feature, get their feedback, and go live once you’ve sorted all the kinks. However, the product validation process shouldn’t end here. Collecting user feedback after going live with the new feature will tell you whether the feature meets the needs of the users as intended. You can also identify areas where it fell short of expectations and continue to improve it.

For example, Netflix has a section called ‘continue watching’ where it lists all the movies and shows you watched in the past. Some users complained about how they were unable to remove shows they didn’t want to watch from this section, so Netflix gave them the option to do so.

Source: Netflix

It was continuous product validation and listening to user feedback that enabled Netflix to improve a heavily used feature.

Continue to collect feedback from users at this stage with periodic surveys. Your customer support team is a great source of information as well. They can tell you exactly what your customers struggle with and even help you find ideas for new features. Look to user reviews, Reddit forums, LinkedIn groups, etc. for additional feedback. Doing all of this is a part of the continuous product validation process that’ll help you improve your product.

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