Landing on a product idea that seems potent is a huge turning moment for aspiring entrepreneurs.
But, this is just the beginning of a long series of actions.
Sure, you might feel like your product idea is worth a lot, but how would you convince stakeholders about the same?
Bringing people on the same page requires concrete proof and a clear vision.
This is where market validation comes in.
Every product idea, SaaS or otherwise, needs to go through some rigorous testing before being developed.
Being 100% sure of your idea before you pursue it is always a good thing.
As they say, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Let’s jump into it.
What is market validation?
Market validation, to put it simply, is how an aspiring entrepreneur can identify if there is truly a need for their SaaS product or service in the marketplace.
When you validate your business or product idea, you get enough insights to understand whether people would spend money on what you are offering.
The earliest it is done in the process of SaaS product development, the better.
This is because market validation ensures that you do not waste your time and precious resources on something that is not gonna make you money.
A market-validated idea also gives investors and potential employees enough confidence to consider working with you.
While the overall approach changes from product to product, there are a few basic things that are common. From validating your idea to understanding how soon you should enter a market, these following questions help you frame the process:
- Does the market for this SaaS product or service already exist?
- What problem will this product help solve?
- How would you find potential customers?
What is a market validation plan?
A functional market validation plan is a set of mechanisms that allows aspiring entrepreneurs like you to get direct feedback from your target market.
The general idea is that you should get insights even before you start investing your time into building an MVP.
A market validation plan will always have the following:
- Follow-up surveys
- Market research and key metrics
This does not mean that the process of market validation stops once you start building an MVP. It continues, and in the post-MVP stage, questions like “How disappointed would you be if this SaaS product disappeared?” can help get a true sense of the market’s need.
What does market validation comprise?
As an aspiring entrepreneur, you would have observed a gap in the market, inspiring you to build a product.
But, the whole process of coming up with an idea is very much reliant on instincts.
Sometimes, instincts can be wrong.
This is why it is always better to have concrete proof that your SaaS product idea has a chance at the market.
A typical market validation framework comprises these:
- Figuring out who the audience is
- Narrowing down on the specific problem
- Polishing the solution statement
- Gauging the true value of the solution
A product cannot be built just for the sake of it. Competitive forces are ruthless, and a product without a purpose is a product dead on arrival.
Where does a SaaS product get its purpose from?
An obvious gap or need in the market.
Most successful products are the ones that fulfill a necessary gap. Be it quenching curiosity (Google Search) or entertaining us (YouTube), these problems are big enough that their markets welcome new entrants even now.
Building on that example, what you want to build could have already been attempted by someone else.
By finding your market equivalent, you can cut your market research short.
Also, do not forget about niches.
Niches are the biggest enabling factor for SaaS products.
A niche is essentially a market within a market. While the actual market of messaging apps is saturated with choices like WhatsApp, Facebook, Line, etc., the market for messaging apps for gamers is not — and that is what Discord monetizes.
Ultimately, you are looking for an obvious problem.
When it is obvious, you would not have to spend too much time warming your target market up.
Once you are done researching and narrowing down your market, it is time to narrow down your customer base.
Not everyone will be interested in your product.
Your true audience, by definition, are a set of people who are really interested in the type of services that you and your market segment offers them.
But, within this, there would be variations.
Take note-taking for example. What works for a student to maintain their homework and timetables — Notion — also works well for project managers.
Essentially, you would need to research and create your user personas.
Where do you begin?
The easiest way is to either host an event or go to one, and talk to the people there.
One-on-one conversations with your potential customers would always reveal a lot of valuable information that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
The purpose of this exercise is also to cultivate deep empathy for the people you are about to serve.
Getting to know your audience and narrowing down their pain points is quite easier than this step.
This is because those already exist, whereas, the solution needs to be created.
It does not exist yet.
Sure, you might have a SaaS product idea in your hand, and you also might have market equivalents.
But both of them are quite vague in nature, and you need to create something specific and value-packed for your audience.
Also, you need something that can give you an edge over your competitors.
How do you do so?
The surefire way to not just surpass your competitors but also win your customer’s hearts is to offer something that others are not.
Called as the unfair advantage, it is one specific feature or experience quality that helps your SaaS product stand on its own.
To do something like this, you would need focused knowledge about a niche.
For example: developing a fitness app that tracks how many miles you run in a day is pretty common.
Developing one that gives runners’ reminders to take short breaks for rest and hydration is not.
It can be said that the unfair advantage comes from offering something that users did not know they needed — but once they see it in action, they cannot stop using it.
Optimized for specific use-cases
Armed with the user personas, you can easily go on to build variations of your product.
Consider this — every website needs a chatbot that welcomes the user and shows them around.
But, not everyone needs all the features that Intercom has to offer.
A high-end SaaS business would need their ‘conversational customer engagement’ tools, but small business and influencers would be better off with a basic version of it.
The possibilities for your product would vary; user personas would show you exactly what you can repackage and sell.
Perceived value of the solution
The success rate of any product, SaaS or otherwise, cannot be accurately predicted.
The perceived value of it can be.
Having an unfair advantage over others already increases the value of your product — but playing with its presentation can help you increase it further.
What are we talking about?
We are talking about marketing it well.
The perception of anything is more important than its actual set of features.
It is not to say that Apple devices have less features, but the on-device restrictions never seem to bother their target audience.
This is because Apple markets the lack of something as a feature as well.
The playbook for how you would present your product to your audience would be unique, but here are a few pointers:
- Create an unfair advantage and then leverage it
- Match solutions with specific use-cases
- Differentiate yourself — Your product might have the same set of customers as another competitor, in which case, unique properties like brand narrative and recognizable design can help you set yourself apart.
- Size of the market — The bigger the market, the greater the value of something that focuses on a niche. This is because generalized solutions are never optimized for uncommon but large use-cases. (Discord, for example.)
How to make your own Market Validation Plan for your SaaS product?
The cornerstone of any sort of validation is its focus on actual facts and insights.
This lets you cut the vague parts out, and optimize every aspect of your SaaS product.
This also prepares you for the ground-reality: your product idea might be unique, but it would not take off if people aren’t interested in it.
After gathering the initial data, you would do the following to make a market validation plan.
Validating your customer base
The easiest and clearest way you can check if people need your product is by doing some SEO-related research.
To put it simply: You answer “are people searching for a solution?”
Google is the go-to portal for everyone when they have a problem, and looking for keywords around your SaaS product idea can help you understand the exact thing they are looking for.
You might be building a fitness app, but people might be looking for something that helps them ‘wind down’ and have a restful sleep.
A thorough keyword analysis would show you two things:
- How many people are looking to ‘wind down’
- How ‘wind down’ and fitness could be interconnected in your own offering.
This is just to confirm that the need exists.
To get deeper insights on why people are looking for such an app, you would need to do something that is as old as time itself.
You would need to directly ask them questions.
Go to networking events. Host one yourself. Conduct surveys and field research to get insights on what is motivating people to search for that particular thing.
The more you do this, the deeper insights you will get.
This would automatically give you enough to come up with your unfair advantage.
Another method prevalent in B2B contexts is customer safari.
Here, you go to where your users do most of their work, and you observe them.
Be it their environment, or a certain gap in their workflow, there would be something that ends up wasting their time — something that you can improve for them.
Market readiness and Product Familiarity
You don’t have to explain the problem
The more your customers know about the problem, the less time you would need to convince them to try your product out.
If you can identify a burning problem during one of the customer safaris, then your prospects would readily buy your solution.
There are 6 stages in the marketing funnel, and awareness is the most important one — if your customers do not even know that the problem exists, then how would you sell it?
That said, your obvious goal is to take them through the other stages of the funnel and get them to purchase, as soon as possible.
One easy way to do so is to build something that users are slightly familiar with.
Product familiarity helps in two ways:
- You would not need to spend your resources educating and making your users aware of the issues.
- You can leverage existing UI/UX principles and existing problem-solving methods.
The difference is in the word: familiarity. You develop something that users can immediately use; not something same as another app.
Similar products: Discord and Slack.
Same products: Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
Same products do not get much headway at all, and it is hard to create an unfair advantage as well.
Expectations of your target audience
When you build something along the lines of existing solutions, you would also need to consider the basic expectations of your users.
If you are building a fitness app, your users expect to have a calorie tracker in some form.
For a messaging app, in-line replies have become a standard feature.
Shipping your product without these features is a big no-no.
No matter how big your unfair advantage, you would need to focus on these as well.
Several Lo-fi MVPs
The whole point of the market validation is to decrease your risk and rate of time and resource loss.
While MVPs are the best way to gauge a market, they do take a lot of time to be developed.
A better way: build lo-fi MVPs.
Lo-Fi MVPs can be anything. From a mere slideshow to an interlinked Figma file, you can put down the wireframes for your SaaS product and see your target customer’s reactions.
There is more to this.
Generally, startups do not work on more than two or three MVPs, as they instead focus on iterating upon the same idea and moving forward.
However, you could build several lo-fi MVPs, to test your specific use-cases or solution variations.
This would give you a better idea of what resonates with your audience.
This would also decrease the number of iterations you make later on.
Lo-fi MVPs also allow you to test your assumptions and newfound knowledge about your customer base and their market readiness.
Testing Product-Market Fit
When your product truly hits upon a burning need in the market, it is said to have achieved product-market fit.
There are a lot of assumptions when you start, and it is better to challenge them on your own instead of being let down by external factors.
MVPs are popular exactly because of this.
The more you iterate and put out, the more feedback you get, and the more you can realign yourself.
Products and services become very successful when they have a high degree of product-market fit.
This also has to do with being smart with your resources.
Instead of building something that does not ‘fit’ well in the market, you can chase an idea that does.
There are a lot of problems out there that need solutions.
The more digital we become, the more possibilities arise to solve every need with an app.
While market validation helps you set the product vision, it is testing your product-market fit that would take you further.
How to bring your product to market?
Once you validate your SaaS product’s market, you will start developing.
But, you would also have to market your product at the same time.
As a general rule of thumb, a go-to-market strategy should be implemented at least 10 months before the actual launch.
This means that your market research does not stop at validation.
Talk in terms that your audience understands
Developing a product that caters to your target market’s needs is not enough.
You also need to let them know that it is made for them.
By now, you surely would have a good grasp of your various user personas and market segments.
Utilize those insights:
- What does your typical customer’s workday look like?
- Why would they need your product?
- What benefits would they get when they use your product?
- What are they losing out on if they don’t use your product?
The last two are quite important, as most products end up talking in terms of what they have to offer — but features are not everything.
You need to craft a proper messaging strategy to explain the disadvantages of unsolved problems.
This is more than just mere awareness — you are creating a space for yourself in their mind.
Audit your product
No one uses every feature that a product offers.
Either your audience is not aware that the features exist, or they do not understand how to use them.
Or, and this might surprise you, the other features might not be as helpful as you think.
What you envision would always clash with the users’ expectations.
A general mistake that startups end up making: not reassessing their features.
The journey of your product does not end at the launch.
And, the expectations and tides of the market constantly change.
Meaning, you would have to constantly re-validate your market.
Re-validation is also how you can effectively market your product — by involving your users in the process, you give them the confidence that they matter.
Once they realize that, they would support your product even more.
Educate, educate, and educate
As said above, people might miss out on exciting features.
This can happen during the initial launch or also when you upgrade your product.
Key to retention is to enable users to utilize the full power out of what you offer.
Retention and marketing strategies share the same sentiment.
Therefore, you can hit two birds with the same stone.
Here are a few things you can do to market your product and educate your customers:
- Conduct webinars
- Create Social media posts that explain aspects of your product
- Host Q&A sessions
- Create a branded community
Building a SaaS startup is quite the strenuous process.
Brilliant ideas do exist, but planning and execution are what make them successful.
Without market validation, it becomes hard for your SaaS product to make a name for itself.
There are too many choices out there, and users do not have the patience to try out every new thing.
Offering them something specific and ideal for their pain points is the only way to go.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, pinning those down might seem like a huge task.
While it is not that difficult, it surely takes a lot of trials to finally land on something that your target market would be receptive to.
You can save yourself time and money by instead working along with a digital product agency.
Digital product agencies have a lot of experience with multiple kinds of products, SaaS and otherwise.
From validating your product idea to creating a go-to market strategy, there is a lot that they can help you with.
Reach out to one of them, and see your idea soar.