Prototype Challenge: What have you learned?

No, no, not what have you learned from the Prototype Challenge… but what have you learned about your brand new prototype? Your fresh idea? Your next big thing?

In first creating your Want Ad, then building your prototype, then split testing your choices, and then performing long interviews, you’ve learned quite a bit.

What do you do with what you’ve learned? Don’t take it at face value.

I’ve discovered time & again that taking my “learning” at face value always ends in failure. Eighteen months ago, I was in the middle of developing a program on productivity & action. It was only after carefully examining who my customer was, what she wanted, what barriers were in her way, that I embarked on executing my strategy.

In the middle, I executed part of this strategy: a survey. It was a well-crafted survey. I concentrated on the customer’s experience. And then I checked the results. There were a few things that were very surprising to me. Surprising enough that I questioned my initial strategy.

And I changed course.

That in & of itself was not the problem. The problem was that I took the results on the surface, the most obvious interpretation. I didn’t stop to think, “Why are my customers expressing this desire?” What are they really saying? What’s causing them to interpret their own experience in this way?

In the end, the program was well-received but didn’t have the impact I had intended. After running it twice, I realized the error I had made and pulled the plug. Yes, the experience taught me a lot about what to do differently in the future but if I would have examined the feedback I received more carefully, I would have made different decisions and possibly salvaged the work that I did.

Changing strategy is great. Not thinking beyond the face value of the feedback you receive? Not so much.

What’s the remedy?

Ask why. Why did your potential customer respond the way she did? Why do her current circumstances cause that kind of feedback? Why does she use the language that she uses? Why does she think a missing feature is really important?

Every time you find something surprising, ask why. Allow your inquisitive mind to dig deeper, to understand more fully.

Then ask what the root cause is. The “likely cause” rarely is. What is usually the cause of the discrepancy is a difference between a fundamental belief you have and a fundamental belief that your customer has. Your job is to figure out what that difference is.

Once you’ve figured it out (don’t be surprised if it takes more testing), you can choose to change direction, adjust your product, or market to other customers with different beliefs.

Where to start?

I tend to start examining feedback by focusing on the most unexpected results first. Did you have a strong opinion that seems to be contradicted by your customer testing? Start there. Ask “Why?” questions until you get down to the core belief that informs your customer’s reaction.

From there, I work my way back out of the feedback until I get to the feedback that confirms my assumptions. The question here needs to be, “Am I missing something?” Did I let bias creep in? Or did my customers legitimately confirm my opinions? Be ruthless. And then pat yourself on the back before getting back to vetting more feedback!

After examining your feedback, you’ll want to form new hypotheses and validate them.

What’s important is that the data tell a compelling story…
— Eric Ries, Startup Lessons Learned

Testing & gathering feedback is a never ending process. Think those million-dollar launches are a done deal? Nope, they’re still collecting data, analyzing customer feedback, and looking for telling stories even as they rake in the cash. Each email, each sales page, each call to action is a new opportunity to validate what they’ve learned in the email, sales page, or call to action before.

The process of creating a prototype or minimum viable product is really about understanding that you never have “finished” product. Your product or service can always be improved. But you can’t start making those improvements until you put out an initial offering and start gathering feedback.

Where do I go?

Once you’ve examined your feedback thoroughly, it’s time to figure out where you’ll take your prototype. Is it time to add additional features? Launch it to your email list? Build out a bigger, better version?

That really is up to you. There’s no perfect way to move forward. But here are three ways you might choose to go:

Adjust your product. Likely, your feedback will show you that there are some adjustments that needs to made in your product: more this, less that, a little something different. At the least, you’ll be ready to add a new feature. Each small adjustment you make is a big step towards learning exactly what it will take create the offering of your (and your customers’) dreams!

Change direction. You might realize your customers are asking for something completely different. Maybe the need you perceived wasn’t as strong as you anticipated. No problem. Now you have more data than you had before to create a new offering that will resonate more.

Find new customers. Maybe you got conflicting information from the group of customers you got feedback from. Chances are you missed the mark with your ideal client but discovered a new “market segment” (group of people willing to buy) to investigate. Continue to gather feedback & adjust your prototype but gear it towards this new group of people.

And finally…

If your prototype wasn’t designed to make money in its first iteration, it’s time to start making money. One thing that is nearly impossible to test without putting up the “Buy Now” button or actually asking for the sale is: Will people pay money for this?

As soon as absolutely possible, which is always sooner than you think, start asking for money. In a world where a minimum viable product could be as simple as a blog post or free teleseminar, you might not make money from Day 1. But you need to make money from Day 2.

Take what you’ve learned in this prototype challenge and start making money today!

Download the Day 5 worksheet here.

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