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OK, we’ve covered the three ideation pathways that can help you generate ideas that fit within a proven specialization framework, and we’ve discussed introspective validation. Now onward to the first of three extrospective validation approaches. (BTW, if you’re like “what the heck is this guy talking about”, I’m continuing a series that started here.)
The three extrospective validation methods are:
- Pure research validation
- Marketing validation
- Sales validation
These are ordered in rough order from least to most effort. You may choose to focus on just one of these validation methods, or you may combine several of them. Let’s discuss how you might deploy these methods later, after I’ve walked you through what they each look like.
Pure research validation
The most lean method available is pure research validation. It’s lean because you don’t have to build anything. You’ve got your idea, which perhaps came from one of the ideation processes described earlier in this series, and you use research alone to validate that this idea will be met with demand from the marketplace.
If the idea is for a service offering, you don’t build the service offering. You use research alone to validate it first before you build anything. Same for a product idea.
Will research alone be sufficient validation for an idea? Well, ain’t that the $10,000 question!
It might not. And that is the reason why there are three extrospective validation methods. Because there may be times when you’re not confident in the results of your research, and you want to layer on additional validation methods.
But if you’re less risk-averse, and you want some validation but don’t need much validation before you build and ship, then research validation alone may be sufficient. It depends on you and the context you’re in.
There are two primary research-based validation methods: watering hole research, and interview-based research.
Watering hole research
Ah, our old friend the watering hole. You’ll remember this from an earlier article in this series. It’s both an ideation and validation tool.
Now, if you already used watering hole research to generate ideas, then those ideas aren’t 100% pre-validated, but they are further along towards validated ideas because they did not come from the Land of Bad Ideas (aka inside your head rather than from the market). I mean, yes, you can get bad ideas from other people, but if you are in a watering hole and notice a pattern of multiple people saying “this sucks, and I wish there was a solution to this”, then you’re at least not inventing an idea literally nobody has ever thought would be valuable. Instead, you’re responding to things a group of potential clients found painful enough to complain about.
Now, we have to temper this with the fact that watering holes are typically online, which means they are subject to the dynamics of the Internet, which translates to: “People say a lot of shit, especially online where they are more anonymous and the cost of shit-talking is less than IRL. Action is what matters.” But again, the overall point here is that inside your own head, like in some sort of dream state, the laws of “marketing physics” don’t apply, and you can come up with ideas that would never escape the gravitational pull of reality; ideas that you could never find clients or customers for.
So to repeat myself a bit, if your previous ideation sourced ideas from online watering holes, you probably won’t use watering hole research to validate those same ideas. It would be mostly redundant.
But if your previous ideation sourced ideas from your previous client work, or that ideation led you to a vertical that’s new to you, then watering hole research might be a useful validation method.
The second research-based validation method uses interviews, based on either a modified customer development process, or a modified Jobs to be Done process.
There’s more effort and social risk involved in interviews, but they can yield richer, more nuanced results. The effort comes from reaching out to strangers and asking them to speak to you, and the social risk comes from the same source. But again, the payoff is a richer, potentially more valuable set of data, and in some cases the relationships you build during the outreach and interview process can lead to early client relationships.
If you want a nice introduction to how you might validate an idea using interviews, read Cindy Alvarez’ book Lean Customer Development. You’ll have to modify her questions a bit depending on what you’re looking for, but 80% of her process works just fine for doing this kind of interview-based validation.
After completing this form of validation, you either move directly to sales validation, or if you are more risk-averse you might use marketing validation as an intermediate validation method.
I’ll talk about marketing validation tomorrow.