Launching a new SaaS product into today’s marketplace can be a gamble. Global SaaS revenue is expected to be worth around $370 billion by 2024, making this a mature market—and, therefore, a fiercely competitive one. There’s always room for new entrants, but they have to be laser-focused on what they’re offering and how to differentiate themselves from competitors who may be more established and well-known.
Amid the excitement of developing a new product, some companies neglect to ask for feedback and opinions on what they’re developing. In many cases, this results in software being launched that isn’t really tackling a pressing need, and services being introduced that clients aren’t willing to pay for. If you don’t know who’ll use the product you’re developing, the answer is likely to be “not enough people.”
Happily, there’s a way to gauge everything from potential market share to desirable software features and USPs. It involves sitting down and interviewing the people who may one day be your customers. SaaS user interviews are increasingly popular as a way of validating ideas, and they can be equally important for startups or established firms seeking to improve/diversify their product offerings. These interviews are especially valuable at the ideation and product development stages.
First things first
Before we consider how to set SaaS interview questions and conduct effective research, let’s define the concept of a typical SaaS user interview. This differs from customer interview examples in that your audience probably won’t be customers—yet. If you’re a startup, that’s logical. Yet established companies will also learn as much talking to non-clients as they will from quizzing their double opt-in marketing list. User interviews may involve customers of rival brands, independent experts, or impartial observers happy to share their thoughts.
Next, let’s dispel the myth that asking SaaS interview questions is expensive. Yes, there are plenty of firms out there who’ll request a large sum of money to handle it on your behalf. Yet that’s often unnecessary. Even a startup on a shoestring budget can successfully follow our guide to conducting and interpreting user interviews. Below, we consider the various stages involved: finding suitable candidates, drafting valid user interview questions, collating feedback, and so on.
What are the main aims of SaaS user interviews?
Depending on where you are in your business’s life cycle, the goal of your user interviews may vary. However, these are some of the goals SaaS providers often have when they invite people to sit down with them:
- Examining the existing market to explore gaps/opportunities/limitations
- Determining whether there’s an audience for the SaaS business you’re planning to launch.
- Establishing what essential, desirable, and unusual/unique attributes you should offer.
- Clarifying pricing: What are prospective customers willing to pay to solve a pain point?
- Seeking advice on design and functionality—is model A more appealing than model B?
What are the stages?
Having established what we’re looking to achieve, let’s turn our attention to the various stages involved. Again, depending on your business’s current state, you may wish to skip one or two steps, or tackle them in a different order. For simplicity, we’ve approached it from the perspective of a company preparing to enter a new market, though most of these guidelines also apply to companies with an MVP or an existing product.
Stage 1: Preparation
This is the hardest stage, because it drives everything that follows—potentially in the wrong direction if you fail to prepare properly.
What are you hoping to get out of this? It needs to be more than just confirmation that your idea is great. Even if it is, examine how customers would like to pay for it (up front, annually, using specific payment vehicles) and why it might outperform existing competitors. Your objectives need to be concise, too. In essence, you want to determine (a) if a proposal is viable, and (b) where it could be improved.
Choose the various parties
To conduct interviews of this nature, you need to be adaptable and relaxed. If that’s not your personality, delegate the task to someone who can put strangers at their ease and improvise when a conversation veers off-script. Sometimes the best insights emerge spontaneously, so interviewees should also be chatty, and ideally drawn from differing backgrounds. Can you get stakeholders involved, such as investors or prospective partners? What about people you know personally? A minimum of five interviewees is recommended. Encourage people to participate with a concise and friendly invitation, offering incentives like a gift card or future discount, but never pressure anyone.
Draft your questions
Having established your objectives and chosen knowledgeable interviewees, you’re now ready to compile questions. Again, this will vary according to your firm’s circumstances, but the answers you want/need must drive the questions you ask. Combine fixed-response and open-ended questions rather than just a yes/no questionnaire or a freeform debate. Clarify what metrics you want to determine—desired functionalities, shortcomings in competitor products, budgets. Keep the list of questions brief but encourage open responses—“tell me about” rather than “do you agree.”
Ask friends and relatives to critique your questions
When you’ve invested your heart and soul (not to mention time and money) into a new piece of software, it’s tempting to seek validation. However, this is a dangerous and misguided approach. Ask people more detached from the process than you are to review the questions you’ll be asking, to identify biased or leading questions. As an extreme example, asking “What would you like this software to do?” is preferable to asking “Why would this software be great for you?”
Stage 2: Participation
You’ve chosen your personnel and drafted up the questions. Now it’s time to get talking.
Put people at their ease and build a rapport
You’ll get more out of interviewees if they’re comfortable. Video calls have their place, but in-person chats offer more scope for interaction and discussion. If you’re meeting in person, pick a warm and quiet room with comfy seats and few distractions. Organize refreshments for each arrival, greeting them warmly and assuring them (a) this won’t take long and (b) their insights are valuable.
Conduct a semi-structured interview
Start with a few ice-breaker questions (“Tell me about your existing software”) to get the interview rolling, then add supplementary questions, for example:
- Why did they stop paying for a rival service?
- How are they currently tackling the issues your software is intended to resolve?
- What persuaded them to install a pop-up blocker?
- You’re here to listen to them, not the other way round, so ask them to expand on intriguing answers. People might answer an upcoming question themselves, so be relaxed about the running order. Always conclude by asking if there’s anything else they’d like to say/share/suggest.
Record each discussion
It’s easier to pay attention to a conversation if you’re not furiously scribbling notes or typing, so ask everyone’s permission to record anything not covered by written submissions. Apps like Otter can (roughly) transcribe verbal exchanges later. Recording also allows you to maintain non-verbal cues like eye contact and nodding, or prompt someone if they’re struggling to think of a word. You can make notes once you’ve thanked them for their time and said goodbye—we’d recommend leaving a gap between one interview and the next for this purpose.
Stage 3: Collating and processing
The last interview is finished, and you have a wealth of completed questionnaires, recordings, transcripts and/or notes. What do you do with it all?
Draft up a summary
Nobody will thank you for having to rewatch eight 45-minute interviews. What they will thank you for is a summary document. If you asked a fixed-response question:
- How many people said X?
- Did any common themes recur during open-ended questioning?
- Do responses tie into any other information streams, such as existing customer feedback (if you’re an established business) or investor demands (if you’re a crowdfunded startup)?
Listen to what you’re being told
If several interviewees give you feedback that doesn’t align with your intentions, aspirations, or dreams, they’re doing you a favor. Better to modify your plans at this early stage than push on with your vision, only to discover they were right, and the public isn’t warming to your new product. History is littered with failed SaaS projects born of hubris and killed by consumer indifference.
What are the drawbacks of SaaS user interviews?
We’d be painting an incomplete picture if we didn’t acknowledge a few downsides. For one thing, it’s time-consuming to source and interview suitable people—and they do need to be suitable. Asking the wrong people will deliver the wrong answers just as much as asking the wrong questions. Yet devising a question list and rehearsing interviews takes time that many smaller companies may struggle to find. Time is one of many hidden expenses often involved in software development.
Bear in mind that interviewees aren’t oracles. They have their own biases and blind spots. The information they provide can be valuable, but don’t treat it as gospel. This is especially true in terms of the confirmation bias we referred to earlier; even if they’re evangelical about what you’re offering, they’re only giving their own opinion. Others may disagree just as passionately.
Advice when you need it most
If you’re inspired—yet possibly daunted—by all this, VeryCreatives is here to help. As a digital product agency, we’ve helped many startups and SaaS providers to progress from a minimum viable product to marketplace success. Find out how we can help you with SaaS user interviews by giving us a call.