3 Affordable Ways to Market Test a New Product or Service

Before you spend money to market a new product or service, make sure it's going to sell.
A paid focus group or a small group consisting of volunteers is an easy way to test your products on customers. (Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock)

As a small business owner, you don’t get paid just for showing up. You earn revenue by producing products or services your customers want, at a price they’re willing to pay. Fail to do that and you could be out of business. That’s why market testing is so important.

Market testing means what it sounds like: Testing a product or service (or even a marketing campaign) on a small number of potential customers to get feedback before you launch. It can save you from spending money on launching something that’s bound to go bust and also help you avoid a misfire that could harm your business’s reputation.

Market testing research can tell you a lot about:

  • Demand for your product
  • A viable price point
  • Who your customers would be
  • What they think about your idea
  • What sales and marketing approaches will work best

Here are three smart, affordable ways to do it.

Send a survey to potential customers early on

Bryan Trilli wanted to create a business that would fill unmet needs, so he emailed former colleagues and associates a survey to find out what some of those needs were. “The survey was about sales and marketing, trying to figure out what were people’s pain points, what would help them generate more leads,” he said.

Trilli followed up with respondents and ultimately built his company, Optimized Marketing, around what he learned. It’s been improving leads and sales for a range of companies for more than six years.


If you want to test an idea instead of a product, try sending a survey to potential customers. (Photo: Georgejmclittle/Shutterstock)

Of course, a survey doesn’t apply just to coming up with an idea for a business. It’s also a good way to test the market for a new product or service you have in mind.

“If you want to be scrappy, you can lean on your own networks of people for a testing audience,” said Craig Bryant, founder of We Are Mammoth, which creates software and other digital solutions for clients. “Frankly, in the early iterations of a product I think that’s the right way to go. In the beginning, keep it lightweight and keep it friendly.”

Digital survey tools such as SurveyGizmo and SurveyMonkey make it easy to build a survey, send it to your target audience and analyze results, whether you’re a one-person shop or part of a team.

Related: Create a Customer Survey to Generate Results You Can Use

Test your product or service with a small group

Ideally you’ve done your homework, so you have a sense of who your customers might be, and you’ve estimated a pricing sweet spot. The next step is to test your product or service, and the price, on a small group. If your product is expensive to produce, present a stripped-down version.

If you can afford a focus group, terrific. There are plenty of firms that will organize and host one for you. But if not, mine your personal and professional network for volunteers, Bryant advised.

“Once you have a product idea, try to spend the least amount on the most valuable features, build a prototype and find some customers.”- Craig Bryant

Digital products can be easier to roll out, test and refine. Two tools Bryant recommended to build a digital prototype and get feedback on it are Invision and Design Sprint.

Do A/B split testing

A/B split testing compares two versions — of a product, a product landing page, a Google ad, whatever — to find out which one’s more successful.

“If you have a new idea for a product, you can do split testing to find out your cost to generate a lead. You can also very quickly iterate if you learn your pricing is off, or your product is off, and continue to test,” said Trilli.

Check out Unbounce’s e-book on the subject, “The Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing”. It walks you through the process, from why you should be testing to what you should be testing and how to use the data.

Pinterest has an A/B testing platform, Trilli said. Just figure out what you want to test so you know what results to track (clicks, repins, conversions, etc.). Other tools, such as Visual Website Optimizer, test A/B versions of your website. You can test different product images, prices, promotional wording and more.

Related: How to Develop a Pricing Strategy for Your Small Business

Again, if you’re low on bandwidth or short on expertise, seek assistance. “For the most part, if you’re a baker, realtor or small business owner, get some help from a testing expert so you can focus on doing what you do best,” Trilli said.

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