Surveys Are Not Customer Validation

This weekend I was coaching at Asheville Startup Weekend and noticed how many teams were relying on surveys as their “customer validation”.

While surveys can be useful during customer discovery to understand the problems of potential customers and how your idea might solve their problem, they don’t validate that you have a market. They only suggest that a market may exist for a solution like yours.

To validate a market, you must have potential customers give up something of value in exchange for the hope of your solution.

Potential Customers

Talking to your mom, friends and business advisors can be useful to eliminate truly bad ideas. But unless the person you’re talking to has a decent chance of paying you money for your solution, they are not a potential customer.

Potential customers are the only people who count when looking for customer validation, since your business will survive or fail based on who pays you, not who likes your idea (or who tells you they like your idea, even if they don’t).

…Must Give Up Value…

Value can be personal details, time, reputation or money. Money is the ultimate validation.

If a person does not give up something of value, you have not validated that person as a potential customer. Clear and simple. Surveys almost always fail this test.

…In Exchange For…

The exchange is critical. If the exchange is not for your specific solution, you haven’t validated the customer.

People might agree to spend more time with you for social reasons, to give back to the community or because you’re fun to talk to. Exchanging time is only valid as customer validation when the person giving up their time is doing so to move closer to buying your solution.

And only after they know what your promise is. Giving up time for an initial interview or giving up contact details before hearing your pitch are not valid exchanges in the context of customer validation.

…The Hope Of Your Solution.

You may not have a product or service to exchange. But you can provide hope.

Even if you have a product or service, most customers won’t receive its benefit until after they purchase it. Sales & marketing deliver hope that those benefits will be received.

You give hope by showing you understand a potential customer’s need and how to satiate it.

Hope fuels desire. If no potential customer desires what you are presenting, and hopes to one day purchase it, you have no customer validation.

Where Surveys Are Valuable

Surveys don’t provide customer validation. But they do help with customer discovery: identifying the needs and identities of potential customers.

But you know what’s even better than surveys? Interviews.

Surveys restrict you to a fixed set of questions. Interviews allow you to explore a potential customer’s answers and gain far greater insight.

To learn how to do customer interviews right, check out:

Special thanks to John at Asheville Startup Weekend for introducing me to the Mom Test, and for inspiring this post.

1 comment

  1. Jeff Lehner says:

    I’m having images of Cuba Gooding Jr screaming “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!” for some reason! ;o)

    Glad to hear you were able to help out at this year’s Startup Weekend. I was unable to participate but I’m sure Chad and his crew did a great job.

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