How To Incorporate Qualitative Data Into Product Development: A Step-by-step Guide

Developing a product can be hard. Even if you have a simple idea, it can take anywhere from 2 to 10 months for that idea to become an MVP someone can use to solve a pain point. The best way to cut down that time drastically? Guide your process with customer feedback.

Easier said than done, though. Quantitative data is easy enough to learn from, but qualitative data that comes from your potential customers can be difficult to untangle and often quantify.

Today, we’ll show you how you can easily use qualitative data when developing your product.

The Use of Data Research for Product Development

Like all good decisions in life, those revolving around your product should be based on facts rather than gut feel. And unlike your high school research paper, there is more at stake here than your science course grade.

When developing a product, you’re likely investing thousands of dollars of your hard-earned money. Or even worse, of your investors’ money. Each decision you make has to be guided by research rather than intuition.

Qualitative data is one asset you can use to make impactful decisions rather than using the spray-and-pray approach in product development.

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What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is any research where you gather insights from your customers that cannot be measured practically in numbers or rather quantified and combined to give a complete picture. In other words, the data that you get is rich, descriptive, and tells a story. For example, a customer interview is an example of qualitative research.

Qualitative research is on the opposite side of quantitative research - measurable data such as votes you can get from a feedback tool. As we’ve written before, both types of research are important. The main advantage of qualitative research is the depth of insights you can get. On the other hand, analyzing this data and making conclusions from it takes more time and effort.

Qualitative Data Collection Techniques

Collecting qualitative data takes many shapes and forms. Depending on the time and resources you have, you can try one or several of these techniques to get product feedback during your development.

In-Depth Interview / User Interview

Probably the most common and most effective type of qualitative data collection - the user interview. The principle is simple - you gather a list of questions, sit down with your (potential) customer and talk about how your product would help solve a pain point of theirs.

Beware though - an interview is the easiest part of the process. You then have to analyze the data you have collected in an audio recording, which requires transcription, summarization, a thematic word analysis may be, or another method of your choice - making it a lengthy process.

Focus Group (in-person, online)

A focus group is a group of customers that share a certain trait. For example, they’re all managers in companies with 100+ employees sharing insights about a product you’re creating. Since they’re carefully selected out of your entire customer base, their insights will be more valuable and impactful.

Asynchronous Online Bulletin Board

An online bulletin board is a great idea if you like building in the open. You can use a tool such as FeedBear where customers can leave ideas for product changes and improvements. Other customers can respond and you can add a quantitative element with upvotes to rank what’s most wanted.

Ethnographic observation (in-person, digital)

Perhaps the most indirect method, observation lets you take a look at how certain groups are behaving in your product and what kind of decisions they’re making. Beware though, as there is always more beneath the surface than meets the eye. One of the rules to make it successful is to keep your bias aside when making an observation.

Task-based Usability Interviews (moderated and unmoderated)

Apps like UserTesting have been around for a while and they provide massive value to business owners and product teams. Create a task for a group of customers and watch them respond - e.g. testing a new feature. If you’re still in the early stages with no real customers, this can be a great way to gauge user opinions before getting your first actual customers.

Surveys and Forms

Thanks to many online survey tools at our disposal nowadays, asking customers a question has never been easier. Simply launch a survey and display it on your website (or in an email, on social media…) and ask your customers about the improvements you can make to your product.

How To Incorporate Qualitative Data Into Product Development

Now you have qualitative insights, but how do you use them? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.

Identify the jobs the users are trying to do (JTBD)

Jobs to be done is a common concept in SaaS product development. Essentially, these are the tasks your customers are trying to complete with your product. Using qualitative research, you won’t have to assume what these are and in many cases, you’ll get surprised.

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If JTBD are different than what you anticipated, you can develop new features to move in the right direction.

Uncover the customer journey toward your product

Many times, people start using your product for completely different reasons compared to what you anticipated. With qualitative research, you can determine what makes a customer start researching a solution like yours, all the way down to pulling out their credit card when they chose your specific product.

This is also a handy way to learn about your competitors and what made your customers choose you over them so you can create even more of a competitive advantage.

Provide information needed to design a quantitative product testing

Qualitative research is the first step to gathering customer feedback. Unfortunately, you can’t make critical decisions based on qualitative research alone, precisely because it’s not measurable.

Using the qualitative feedback insights, provide the information necessary to do quantitative testing. For example, based on customer interviews, tell your product team that many customers complain about a complicated back-end. You can then run surveys to determine how hard it is to perform certain actions there so you can get quantitative insights you can act on.

Explain findings from quantitative product testing

Once you have quantitative data, you have everything you need to start testing. For example, your CES survey tells you that most customers find it hard to use live chat within your app. Based on research, you’ll know that 80% of customers have this problem and you can get to work.

Best Practices for Quality Research

Just setting out to do qualitative research is wishful thinking. You need a plan and this is a set of steps that will help you get there.

Create a Strategy

As we’ve discussed above, there are numerous ways to run qualitative research. Determine the method that would best fit the results you want to achieve and then create a strategy to run that qualitative research.

Set a Limit for Your Research

Determine how long you’re going to run your research and how many insights you want to get. In reality, you can collect qualitative feedback all the time, from the moment you launch your product until you’re well into millions of dollars of annual recurring revenue.

Avoid Using Your Favorite Customers

You probably have a list of your best customers determined by some criterion. For example, the longest paying customer or the customer that helped you launch a feature out of beta. These are not the customers you want to interview or do research with because they will most likely be biased with their feedback.

Instead, grab from your entire customer pool and make sure your sample is varied. You want all the data, not the data from a skewed sample of a few of your teacher’s pets.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

The more open your questions are, the more valuable answers you’re going to get. The more you force a customer to talk about a certain topic or angle, the narrower their answer will be. Remember, you have to be a moderator, not a dictator to get the best insights. Keep your questions open, such as “What do you think about our onboarding flow?” rather than “Do you find our onboarding too complicated?”

Final Thoughts

Qualitative research can be an amazing source of feedback when done right. While it does have some flaws, it’s inherently the best way to make informed product decisions. All it takes is some elbow grease and time and your qualitative research can help your product skyrocket in terms of users and revenue.

And if you’re wondering how to get started on this path, try out FeedBear. Our feedback tool blends qualitative and quantitative feedback in a way that lets you capture important insights - fast. Sign up for your free trial today!

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