The Playbook to Testing New Product Ideas
Written by Dave Bailey
Do you want to develop your new business idea? Here's an easy way to test it without spending money or building the whole thing.
This advice isn’t new. It came out of the Lean Startup movement: create a landing page, drive some traffic, and see if it’s something people want.
But the strange thing is that this advice is routinely ignored — even by seasoned entrepreneurs. For an uncomfortably large number of us, product launch is often the first time we learn that what we’ve built isn’t exactly what people want to sign-up for.
Isn’t Talking to Prospects Enough?
When we hear prospects say what we want to hear — namely ‘I love the idea,’ and, ‘I would definitely use this,’ — it might sound like validation. However, the inconvenient truth is that opinions and hypotheticals — usually involving the word ‘would’ — are unreliable indicators of future behaviour.
After hearing an enthusiastic prospect’s report, it’s easy to jump in and create briefs and specs for designers and developers . . . or even pitch decks to show investors. The much simpler idea, of creating a landing page and discussing the product with people who’ve signed up, gets overlooked.
Those who sign up for your product will provide more valuable feedback than those who say they ‘would’ sign up. As we all know, there’s a world of difference between saying you’ll do something and actually doing it.
The Power of Landing Pages
A common misconception is that the purpose of any landing page is to ‘get sign-ups’. But the primary objectives at the idea stage are:
- To reach extreme clarity over the product, that resonates with your target audience.
- To seek out early adopters and involve them in your design process.
Building a landing page takes less than a week. Here’s how I iterate my product ideas, leveraging input from early-adopters, in just a few of days.
1. Generate the Raw Material
Write out, in as much detail as possible, answers to the following questions, adapted from this article by Kissmetrics:
- What’s the purpose of my landing page?
- What, precisely, will my product offer prospects?
- How will my prospects benefit from what I’m offering them?
- What do my prospects need to know in order to buy (or start using) my product?
2. Define a Structure for the Landing Page
Research other landing pages for inspiration on how to structure your information. You might include elements like:
- Hero headline — 3–4 word product mantra
- Hero description — Value proposition
- Summary paragraph — A one-sentence product description
- Sub-headline 1 — First benefit
- Sub-description 1 — Corresponding feature
- Sub-headline 2 — Second benefit
- Sub-description 2 — Corresponding feature
- Sub-headline 3 — Third benefit
- Sub-description 3 — Corresponding feature
- FAQ — Common questions and answers
- Calls to action — ‘I want to [desirable user goal].’
A simpler option is to organise copy into a series of subheaders, like this early version of my CEO coaching landing page.
3. Draft the Raw Copy
Adapt the raw material from Part 1 into Part 2’s structure and then ask yourself:
- Have I given my prospects a good reason to sign up for my product?
- Have I summarised the strongest selling point(s) in the headlines?
- Is there anything I can leave out?
- Will the design support the copy?
This is no place for mystery — clarity is key. Don’t be afraid to fully explain your idea at this stage. Some of the most profitable landing pages of all time are pretty wordy. My old CEO coaching page has over 1000 words and no pictures — and it’s still going strong.
4. Build the Landing Page
You can build a landing page yourself or use online website builders like Wix and Squarespace. Make sure to include a way for prospects to leave their email address, like a button (or multiple buttons) that lead to a form, to ‘sign-up early’, ‘add me to the waiting list’ or ‘get in contact’.
5. Present it to Real People
Get some trustworthy people to explore the page and check to see what they understood and what they didn’t. Ask them:
- What does this product do?
- Who is it for?
- What was unclear?
- What are your questions about the product?
You’ll be amazed at how persuasive FAQs can be. Showing users common questions and answers not only helps you keep the main session concise, it subtly implies that lots of people are interested in the product.
6. Drive Relevant Traffic
Once your web page is crystal clear, get it in front of prospects. Facebook groups are a great place for free traffic. Google Ads and Facebook Ads work too as paid options. Remember that the goal is to clarify the product and reach early adopters, not to optimise for scale.
7. Reach Out to Early Adopters
If your product solves a real pain point for someone, they’ll sign up. Email them back and start a conversation to involve them in the clarification process. For more on what to ask (and what not to ask) see my article on customer interviews.
If no-one signs up, it’s still a success — you’ve learned something important without building the product!
8. Iterate the Landing Page
As you learn from early adopters, tweak the value proposition, clarify the benefits, or include new frequently asked questions. It’s always cheaper to change a product idea when it’s just words on a page.
Start at the End and Work Backwards
It’s scary to release a landing page early. What if someone copies your idea? What if you disappoint some potential users? And perhaps the biggest fear of all . . . what if some people hate the idea? The truth is, if it’s a good idea, all of these will come true. Delaying the inevitable won’t help you in the long run.
Here’s what I think you should be afraid of: spending a boatload of time and money on a product idea, only to find out that people don’t want to sign up for it. To me, there’s nothing more terrifying than wasted effort.
Continue reading about prototyping your business:
- Learn about your customers by asking the right questions. For more information, read our guide to customer interviews.
- Want to build awareness about your brand/ product? Do you ask yourself, how can I market my product? Read our comprehensive guide.
- Running a startup? Learn how to validate your customer needs for increased user satisfaction and sales.
Originally published Apr 1, 2019, last updated Aug 19, 2021
About Dave Bailey
Hi, I’m Dave Bailey and I coach tech CEOs from Series A to pre-IPO. Join 20,000 entrepreneurs who receive my new essay every week.
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