Testing…. 1, 2, 3 Part II

Alright, so we’ve covered WHY we might want to run a testing program, now let’s talk about HOW.

Ideally, your product development has gone something like this so far:

  1. Get a good idea
  2. Draft a few patterns, sew up some samples, try them out
  3. Change your pattern, sew up a sample, try it out
  4. Change your pattern, sew up a sample, try it out
  5. Settle on a pattern you like well enough, sew up several for yourself using the same materials you plan to use for your “for sale” products, use them for a little while. Abuse them. Wash them in the harshest conditions you can imagine. Drop them. Drag them on the ground. Whatever is appropriate (or, inappropriate) to your product.
  6. Evaluate.
  7. Make any necessary changes.
  8. Sew up a few more and give them to a few friends. Get feedback.
  9. Make any necessary changes.

At this point, you’ve got a product that you’re happy with, that has been satisfactory for you and for a few other people who know and like you. You’re using materials that have held up well to your use. You’re ready to market them!

Right?

WRONG!

This is when you implement your testing program.

Step One: Stop and Think

First, you need to decide who you want to market your product to and what you want to learn from your testing. This will tell you who you want to test your items, and what you need to ask them. It behooves you to take a bit of time and really think through exactly what you’re doing. A haphazard testing program just costs you money and doesn’t provide you with the feedback you need – what a waste!

Take some time to write out who your product is for, how you think you might market it, who you believe will be the main purchasers, how they will use the product, and under what conditions. Write out what you are hoping to learn from the testing. Are you concerned about quality of materials? Comparison to competitors? Fit? Looks? Care? Sizing?

Step Two: Find Testers

My first official “product” that I ever tested was pocket diapers. (I had been selling fitteds for a while before this.) I wanted to know about fit, sizing, materials, and design, but mostly I wanted to know if my diapers compared well to the (few, at the time) others available. Considering this, I wanted to solicit completely random cloth diaper users. I didn’t want someone new to cloth, because I didn’t want inexperience to color their evaluation. But I didn’t necessarily need to screen any more than that, because I wanted a good mix of families who had experience with other pocket diapers, and families who had never tried pockets before.   Some number of years ago, I tested out my Cycle Pads. Not thinking clearly enough, I didn’t screen my testers sufficiently the first go-round, and ended up with a lot of mamas who had never used cloth pads before. The feedback I received was mostly about the experience of using cloth pads, not about the pads themselves. (It was interesting and ended up being useful, as well – but it wasn’t what I was looking for.)

If you’re working on a major improvement or change to a current product, maybe you want to ask current users of that product. If you’re working on a new design of a baby carrier, you might want only families who currently wear their babies in a similar carrier. Alternatively, maybe you want to market your product to families who are not initially attracted to the idea of babywearing, so you want to solicit more mainstream parents. If you’re working on a preemie size diaper, that will obviously affect who you will want to ask.

Now that you know who you want to test your products, you need to find those people. Fortunately, the internet makes this REALLY easy. Unless you’re going to work from your current customer database, you can simply find an acceptable parent-based message board, define what sort of people you’re looking for, and take your pick of the volunteers.

Try to clearly define for your testers – BEFORE you send the product – what you will want from them. Are you going to ask that they use it a certain number of times, for a certain length of time, under certain conditions, etc.? Will they have a survey to fill out, or do you just want freeform feedback? Do they need to pay for the product?

Step Three: Decide Your Policy

Are you going to have your testers pay for their products? The first time I tested a product, I did not have testers pay for the item. 50% of my testers took the free diaper and ran. Yep. Now I have people pay, but a drastically reduced fee – typically enough to cover shipping and at least partially cover the expense of the materials used in the item, so that if they don’t uphold their end of the bargain and provide the feedback they promised, I at least am not entirely out the money that it cost me to get them the product.

I know of some companies who refund the testers’ money after receiving sufficient feedback. And I know of many WAHMs who charge full price for tester diapers, as well.

Step Four: Mail, Wait

Obviously, at this point, you send them the product, then give them a chance to use it. A perfect time to work on…

Step Five: The Survey

What do you want to know? Personally, I always like to provide space to first tell me anything they want to tell me about the product. I always ask for age, gender, and weight of the child, and age, gender, and size of the parent if relevant. Then start on the specifics. What did you think of the fit? Did you like the fasteners? Were there enough options? How does this product compare with others you’ve tried? What brand/type do you usually use? If you could change 3 things, what would you change? What were your 3 favorite things about this? How did it hold up in the laundry? (and how did you wash?) What did you think of the absorbency? If you could choose between the item you tested and a similar item that was purple and made of fairy dust, which would you prefer?

You don’t want to overwhelm your testers, so pick the questions that are most important to you. Keep it to 2 pages with space to write.

I prefer to email surveys out about 2 weeks after the products were mailed out, but I have also printed off the surveys in hard form and included with the products. Some people use the free online survey programs.

Step Six: Evaluate

Hopefully, your testers were painfully honest with you.

Even so, there is usually some reading between the lines. “We had leaking both times we used it overnight, but I really loved it!!”  Focus on “we had leaking” and not so much on “loved it.” They’re telling you there is a problem.

“Never used anything like this before, but it seemed ok.” They’re telling you that they have no basis for comparison, and so they’re not really sure what they think. (think: if you’d never had a vacation before, and then someone took you to… I don’t know… a 3 day BINGO tournament for a vacation, would you think this was pretty OK?)

There are also, of course, outliers. (no, not somebody lying. Look it up.) If most testers said it held up well in the laundry, but one person said it fell apart… it’s probably something unique to that person’s experience. It bears looking into, but doesn’t spell doom for your product. And if one person said they loved the fit, but 20 people said it had big gaps at the legs… probably that one person was the exception, not the rule.

So, bearing those things in mind, read the feedback and take an honest look – do you need to make changes to your product?

Step Seven: Adjust

If you’ve made major changes as a result of your feedback, go back and start this process all over. If not, then proceed to selling your product. Ask your testers if you may use their comments in your marketing, and brag up how awesome your item is!

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About sarahtar

Our Family lives in central Iowa. We are Christians, conservatives, and crunchy granola heads. We love the outdoors, photography, and lindy hop. Turn ons are people who are polite, honesty, and really good root beer. Turn offs are mean people and people who make my life more difficult.

Posted on May 25, 2012, in Business. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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