When starting a business, a social enterprise or not, your top three activities should be validation, validation, and validation. Once you’ve finished that, then you should revise your approach and then repeat your validation, validation, and validation. And then repeat again.
“Okay, I get it. I went out and I told 10 people about my idea and they all said, ‘that’s great. Go for it.’ But I’m still not making any progress! What’s wrong?”
Getting feedback is easy. Giving useful feedback can take a little bit more effort, care, and attention. This article is a guide to improving the feedback that you get when validating your social impact idea. We will cover what bias is, how to listen well, and how to create a good survey.
Eliminate Bias for Valuable Feedback
To start, what is bias? Bias is simply when people give a disproportionate weight to favor or dislike an idea. When you go to your friend and tell them about this great idea that you have, and then ask them for feedback, you’ve already built in bias into all the parts of that question.
First, they’re your friend. They’d like you. They don’t want to disappoint you. Two, you’ve just told them about this idea. And so that’s fresh on their mind. They see the solution that you’re presenting and it’s okay, this is great, but it’s not like that time to look at solutions or think about alternative ways that they might arrive at that solution.
So the first thing they see is presented and yeah, it makes sense. Probably because you can articulate it well, and you really liked the idea and have some enthusiasm for it. That will come across and influence somebody’s decision about what they think of your idea. But you can influence strangers as well just by leading them with questions that get them to think in a certain way before you ask for feedback.
Now, when you’re validating an idea, you really want to eliminate as much of this bias as possible because otherwise the answers that you get, won’t give you valuable information about how you need to adjust your business idea in order to be successful.
Listen to your Target Customers
Listening well starts with asking open-ended questions about your target customer’s problems. Starting with those problems and understanding those first, before you even present any solutions will give you a much better understanding of what the person is actually experiencing and how painful it is for them to experience that.
For example, if you validate a product idea that solves a particular problem, go and ask somebody who’s your potential customer. How about how they’re experiencing this problem in their life. Get them to really talk about what they struggle with and understand from their perspective how big of an issue it is in their life.
Is it simply discomfort, or is it really painful? And is it painful enough that they would pay something to solve it? How much would they pay to solve it? And only then, once you’ve really understood the person’s appetite for solving this pain in their life, start exploring potential solutions. However, even with these, don’t just propose your idea. Not upfront.
Ask about what things they have tried. Other ways that they have gotten around solving this, get a picture of what their current approach has been. So you know, where their mind is only then when you’ve explored solutions from their perspective you present your own.
And in this case, the more that you can give somebody something tactile that they can touch or feel or video that demonstrates how something is used, give them that full experience as much as you can upfront and then get their feedback on that experience. Don’t ask, “do you like this and would you pay for it?” No. Instead, ask how this changes their experience and explore how that experience could be made better. For example, ask somebody,
“If you were using this regularly, how would that impact your life?”
“What changes would you need to make?”
A good way to get good feedback from somebody is to ask them what somebody else would tell them. For example, if you say, “what would your friend think of this? Would you recommend this to your friend? And what would they say if you showed this to them?”
Sometimes taking themselves out of that equation helps give more objective feedback than what you would get if you just probe them directly. Asking for what other people would say takes them out of the hot seat of being judged for their feedback or their answer, especially if they’re a type of person that wants to please the person that they’re talking to and is naturally hesitant at giving criticism.
Use Open-ended Questions
During this process, ask open-ended questions. And instead of moving on to the next question, continue that exploration with a childlike curiosity, to further understand what their situation is.
I follow a similar process when recording episodes for the People Helping People podcast; I would go out, and instead of writing down ‘here are 10 questions I want to ask my guests,’ I research their story. I listen to other podcasts that they’ve been on. I look at what they’ve been talking about in the news. I try to get a sense of what the person’s experience is and brainstorm what an interesting story would be to tell. Once I know their story, then I just show up to the podcast and let things unfold.
Naturally, having a sense of the story that I’m looking for allows me to guide the conversation. But typically, I’m asking very open-ended questions about the person’s experience and letting the conversation go where it needs to. This is much more liberating than asking one question after another question where the conversation might not be naturally flowing in the way I expected.
When getting feedback from people, being open to getting something different from what you expected will give you the information you need. In the same way, when I’m recording a podcast, I have to listen very carefully to what somebody is saying to catch onto those points where it’s like, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s really interesting!”
They mentioned something which sounds like there’s a lot more behind that. And you really have to be very attentive to pick up on that and enough to stop and dive into that topic in more depth.
Listening well is really a practice of mindfulness, being present with the person talking and listening to them completely without any distraction. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not listening. Show up and be present, and you’ll find you start to really get very good feedback from somebody.
To recap, start by asking open-ended questions about somebody’s experience, especially around a pain that they’re experiencing in their life.
Look at what they’ve already done to try to solve that. And see if you can determine how motivated they are to remove this inconvenience in their life. Pay attention and be open to it to be something else other than what you expect. You might need to change your approach radically. If you’re solving one problem and you hear somebody say, “yeah, but my real problem is X.” Dive into X and figure out what that is.
Quick Tips on Creating Good Surveys
Another aspect of getting feedback is when you’re not talking to somebody directly, but you’re serving a wide range of people. In this case, I would highly recommend going and listening to the people helping people podcast episode with Abel Koury, founder of Compelling Analytics.
Abel took his experience as a marketing professor and launched a company to help organizations collect and use data effectively so that they can tell compelling stories to their key stakeholders, secure funding, and understand their impact for continuous improvement. He stressed how much your questions can limit your results when you haven’t researched the design of your questions from the very beginning.
He emphasized defining questions’ context is very significant in how somebody will receive and react to your question. But he came up with three main points when building surveys:
- Write a survey for the most diverse person who will take it.
- Review carefully the order of your questions to be careful that you are not priming your participant. This means things like demographics typically go at the end, which might influence how somebody looks at themselves in that situation. But it also means not starting with the solution first, which gives somebody a preconceived notion that will influence how they answer questions as they go through.
- Be specific. If you’re asking people to rate themselves on a scale, give them some context to that scale because one being really great and five being really bad means different things to different people. So try to give some context to the scales that you use in your surveys.
If you are developing a survey, I highly recommend reaching out to Abel Koury. He is very knowledgeable and very approachable, and it’s like you’ll save yourself a lot of effort and get much better results. If you use somebody who can be objective about your questions. Sometimes we are so engrossed in what we’re doing that we don’t even see our own bias. So getting an outside perspective, somebody who’s not already deeply familiar with what you’re doing will give you much better feedback when developing good survey questions.
So in this blog, we looked at how we eliminate bias when we’re getting feedback, how to listen well, and ask good questions when we’re going out and validating our idea. And then some quick tips for writing better surveys.
Now go and get to work and go validate your idea properly.