We all go off our gut from time-to-time. We bet on our favourite horse to win the Grand National because we’ve got a good feeling about it. We take the other checkout aisle because the lady serving looks like she scans that bit quicker. And we put a dollop of unknown condiment into our cooking because, somehow, we just know it’ll work.

Although there’s nothing wrong with assumptions there’s certainly a time and a place for them. Losing a minute or two in the supermarket because you picked the wrong queue? Fine. Wasting thousands of pounds of your budget? Not so fine.

Whether you’re bringing a brand new product to market or tweaking something you’ve already got validating assumptions early, iteratively, and accurately can make or break your success.

First, work out the risk involved

If you tested every single assumption you and your team made you’d spend more time testing than doing, so, before you decide how and how deep to test, understand the risk involved.

If the worst that could happen equates to little-to-no collateral damage maybe a bit of light testing will do - if at all.
If the risk of getting it wrong could result in lost customers, revenue and reputation though, safe to say, you’ll want to run a thorough round of testing to mitigate any and all risks.

Know when to pivot or persevere

When you’re too close to something or too passionate about something being objective can be tough and the desperation to succeed can cause you to knowingly wave red flags - but that can be detrimental not only to the product in question but to the company as a whole.

Tip: to overcome any overbearing objectivity barriers bring in a selection of people who aren’t as close to the assumption as you - like colleagues from other areas of the business, customers, or members of the public.

There’s a fine and lucrative line between pivoting and persevering. Pivot too soon and you could miss out on something magical. Pivot too late though, and you could lose out financially, reputationally, and competitively.

To ensure you’re basing your decisions on reliable information make sure you:

  1. Don’t use vanity metrics - for example, just looking at the number of customers or clients who’ve taken out service X could feed you with misleading information if revenue isn’t taken into account too.
  2. Review your progress regularly and align any results with your overarching objectives.
  3. Make use of both qualitative and quantitative data - numbers are great, but talking to humans really is invaluable (we’ll cover this in detail next).
  4. Are ready to act on your decisions promptly. If you don’t have an agile set-up you’ll end up wasting time and money on alterations that could, and should, have come into play a lot sooner.

Get out there and speak to people

You can sit around a meeting table and rack your brains for hours on end but, at the end of the day, it’s the people who’ll be buying your product or service that really matter and the only way to get in their head is by speaking to them - this can be done without spending ¢1,000s on market research, too.

Here are a few outlets to pick, choose or combine from:

1. Internal colleagues

Your BDMs, sales and customer service teams are sitting on a gold mine of information so see if you can find out things like:

  • What do customers say they’re looking for when they call you?
  • What made them turn you down?
  • Is there anything they say you’re missing?
  • What do customers commonly call in about?

It might not always be the case, but you never know, you might pick up some nuggets that are directly related to your current assumption.

2. Contact customers

These are the people you’re trying to win over, after all. Either send them an email, call them up, post something on social media or invite them in for a focus group, and then pick their brains to see if their answers validate your thinking.

If you’re struggling to get the uptake you need, if you can, think about attaching an incentive to it (like a gift card or something).

3. Take to the streets

They might not all be your ideal customer but they’re external, 100% objective opinions nonetheless.

Tip: when you’re collating your research segregate your data so you can balance the results with the source before making a firm decision.

4. Market research

If you’re after large volumes of data hiring a third-party market research company to target your chosen segment(s) might be the quickest and most resource-friendly approach - although not necessarily the most cost-effective.

Create a prototype

Once you’ve gone through a few cycles of testing, measuring and learning you should be left with something significantly more concrete than an assumption: a solid idea that’s been validated with credible research.

With that, you can turn your attention to investing in a prototype and/or Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Prototypes:

  • Are not your final product and might not even resemble it, but they are enough to help you test out their features and functionality;
  • Provide qualitative and quantitative findings;
  • Help you understand the product’s values and limitations; and
  • Highlight useful areas (which could become your USPs) and, most importantly, where improvements could be made.

And remember, to collect robust and accurate feedback a fresh prototype should be rolled out for every new feature or function you add.

MVPs:

  • Are a stripped back version of your product that contains all and only its key features;
  • Usually come after several rounds of prototypes;
  • Test the fundamental elements of your whole product rather than specific areas;
  • Are by no means the perfect end product, but are a truer reflection of it than a prototype; and
  • Will be missing some functionalities, design and features (you should flag this to any potential testers and investors).

Although both prototypes and MVPs cost a bob or two to make it’s important to look at the bigger picture. A tweak here and a refinement there could be the difference between success and failure, and, even if your findings uncover there’s no demand for your idea, the cost will pale in comparison to the fees involved with getting it to market.

Don’t forget though, they’ll only be successful if you actually listen and act to what people are telling you.

What are your go-to tactics for testing internal assumptions? And where do you draw the line for just going with your gut? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.