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In every business you finally reach a point when you don’t know what to do next: how to improve the product? If to improve it at all? What needs to be polished? How to develop? And finally how to prioritize your tasks? 

If you don’t know what to do next then you need contact with your users or clients – your target group. They know exactly what you should do next, what is needed to improve their work with your product or service. 

You need to get close to them and look through their eyes. I know, easy to say, but what exactly should you do? You probably think that market research is the last thing that can help you do this. You couldn’t be more wrong! There isn’t any better way to build a relationship than to ask somebody for advice, tips and some suggestions. Giving your time and attention is the strongest glue, especially that users of your product are experts on it which can additionally emphasize their sense of importance and attachment.  Let them speak up, talk with them honestly and directly. 

But if you care about the ‘truth’ don’t bother meeting in person. Nobody likes to say that something is low quality, doesn’t work as they expected or basically they don’t know how to use it. If you don’t believe me, do try meeting some of them in person and then online and ask the same questions. I am 100% sure that the results will surprise you. People love to be nice and they really care about having a nice atmosphere in a meeting which, sorry to say, mostly doesn’t help in market research. It’s great to know what is awesome, for sure, but that information will not help you discover the desired path of development, will it? 

The clue to getting honest and relevant feedback is to create as comfortable situation as possible. If your product works online then let your users stay in the situation where they mostly use your product: from their home, pubs or work. I wouldn’t bother about turning webcams on, but some people like it. In my opinion, there isn’t much difference between meeting in person and using a camera. Respondents prefer to write because then they feel safe and can control the whole situation. That’s why I recommended using online chat interviews, that work similarly to instant messengers which people are used to these days.

During the interview honestly talk about your hesitations, ask about a ‘wow’ moment, what and how can you do better, different, what your users need more, how can you make the product fit them better. Be natural. Let them talk to each other. Sharing opinions can reveal the issues that you didn’t think about before. You don’t have to prepare a long script of questions. You can ask a few general questions (like mentioned above) and just read what comes up and follow the discussion. Don’t judge any answers like: this is awesome, interesting or so on. It’s great that online you are invisible, so if you eliminate your reaction to a minimum you can gather valuable data., Just let the participants speak and read what they write carefully, almost as if you were not in the room  They are talking with your brand, not with you as a person! Give them space and just learn about their needs.

You don’t have to do hundreds of these interviews. It’s mostly enough to do 2-3 interviews per cohort to learn enough information that should help you to make a business decision. If you invite 3-5 people per interview then you need to recruit between 6 and 15 users. If after 3 interviews you are still hearing about new ideas, do not stop there. Run the interviews until all topics are exhausted and the conversations seem repetitive. 

You can recruit users to interviews in the same way that you are doing it for questionnaires, ie. on your Twitter, Facebook page or in newsletter. I personally really recommend rewarding the participants with access to beta-tests or free access to paid options or premium accounts or just give them vouchers for buying an e-book or anything else from online shops. Think about something that your target group loves, something that refers to your product.

Anonymity is the strongest advantage of online focus groups. As a result, you can gain really direct, honest feedback. They combine the best features of two other popular research methods – survey’s anonymity and traditional focus group’s discussion.

Steve Jobs noticed that “it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It’s true that it’s hard to test ideas if you cannot show anything. At an early stage of product design, you can learn about many different ways of understanding of some problems, but not about the product per se. However, to grow a product that already has its existing userbase, but not necessarily achieved market fit yet, online focus groups are a great method to gain knowledge of how to prioritize the next steps of its development.

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Good luck with your online interviews.