Launching a new product can be exciting, energizing, stressful and anxiety-inducing. What if it fails? What if it’s a huge success? Both ends of spectrum can be overwhelming. Fear of the unknown is powerful, causing many entrepreneurs and product teams to second-guess themselves.
One of the best ways to move confidently toward a successful launch is to assess market readiness before you make your go-to-market move. In the B2C realm (companies who market their products for personal use), assessing readiness is extremely difficult. Not only is talking to potential buyers at scale a logistical challenge, but even focus group and third-party surveys play a mediocre role of gauging consumers’ authentic emotional connection to a new product’s value proposition. Participants might not know what they want before interacting with a new product, or hold back on constructive criticism so as to not hurt your feelings with negative feedback, or they might simply exaggerate their enthusiasm.
But with products marketed to businesses (B2B), there are fewer segments and prospects to engage compared to the consumer market, and it’s easier to understand potential buyers from a human-centered approach. Because of this access, the B2B marketplace provides a unique opportunity to glean valuable insights directly from potential buyers.
To help determine market readiness and future success, ask your team these five questions:
- Does the problem we’re trying to solve generate an emotional response?
When I was working on launching Reflektive, 100 percent of the HR leaders I spoke with had the same problem: everyone disliked formal performance review processes. And current performance management solutions were not solving the problems they were experiencing. They were ineffective and painful, and that came through clearly in their descriptions of their day-to-day challenges. We asked questions, listened and observed responses with empathy by applying design thinking popularized by Ideo as inspiration to quickly envision, prototype and iterate on the solution. Real stories from in-person conversations proved that the pain was real.
- Is the problem bad enough for buyers to want to change the process or experience?
Change is difficult, even when staying the course is more painful. It’s familiar and comfortable—even when it’s uncomfortable. If the problem you’re addressing isn’t enough to entice buyers to change, you’re likely addressing a “feature level” innovation, which may not be a viable new business opportunity. If the problem entices change, then a whole product innovation is likely with possibly a disruptive business model behind it. It must create significant, new results not just incremental improvement. Our initial research for Reflektive, both qualitative and quantitative, suggested that people were ready for a change and expected new results. We responded by applying organizational design practices to identify dysfunctional aspects of the traditional performance review process and realigned them to fit contemporary business realities and needs—to create a product that works for today’s connected workforce. Now we provide a product that helps to create more organizational agility, enabling companies to be responsive to market changes and internal feedback, and to implement change because it makes business sense and not just for the sake of change.
- Is the emotional response to our product genuine?
The best way to determine potential is by emotional response and ranking. People will often tell you they like something because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But emotional response is often difficult to mask—it’s either there or it’s not. For example, if someone says, “that’s interesting” and their physical response is minimal to none, one can deduce that interest is low. Ranking can help to understand interest and propensity to buy. Give prospective customers a way to rank what they like about the product and what they don’t, coupled with emotional response. High ranking and high emotional responses are strong indicators of demand and customer success.
- Is there budget for our solution?
Even with a huge problem, overwhelming emotional response and a strong desire to change, if a large segment of your target audience can’t afford the solution, then your risk goes way up. No amount of desire can overcome a product that is too expensive to buy and too costly to sustain. This is where the software-as-as-service (SaaS) model offers tremendous value for a very large addressable market. Selling a SaaS solution for HR teams and employee success initiatives is far less risky than building a product that requires manufacturing and distribution facilities for a niche market. Understand your risk to benefit curve—at some point the risk will be too high.
- What does your gut say?
Making data-driven decisions is important but you should also trust your gut. If you and your team have applied a human-centered approach, your gut will be more in tune with real demand. But at the end of the day, luck and timing can be huge factors in success. Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time while also having the right solution.
Knowing when the market is ready requires carefully assessing a number of factors, some of which are difficult—if not impossible—to quantify. And, even when all of the signs are seemingly pointing to a positive outcome, it’s difficult to forecast specific results because markets can be unpredictable.
From my experience—and in just 50 words—success comes to those who truly know their audience, execute consistently and flawlessly on delivering the product, and have an outstanding team behind them. Being passionate and relentless in the pursuit of solving a big problem for customers is the needed edge in an environment of constant change and industry disruptions.
Rajeev Behera is CEO of Reflektive, an innovative, real-time performance management company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has raised more than $42 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Reflektive provides performance management solutions of choice for over 300 of the world’s best places to work including Pinterest, Protective Life, MEC, Instacart, Ubisoft, Nutanix and more. Follow Rajeev on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rajeevbehera