We are excited to welcome guest writer Carlos González de Villaumbrosia to the ProductPlan blog. Carlos González de Villaumbrosia has over 10 years of experience building teams and digital products in the US, Europe, and Latin America. Carlos founded Product School in San Francisco in 2014. Today, the company is the global leader in product management training with 20 campuses worldwide and a live online campus.


What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative data is sometimes referred to as ‘soft data’ and is usually described as the exact opposite of quantitative data: the numbers. Quantitative includes the hard facts; things like demographics, statistics, and other kinds of ‘hard data.’

This form of user research fills in the gaps that hard data can’t. It tells you about your customer’s opinions, what they’re thinking, and how they feel about your product. Modern product managers are often encouraged to be as data-driven as possible, and may instinctively want to turn to the numbers, but great products require both types. You need to know what feelings your product evokes in users as much as you need that full Google Analytics report.

Let’s take a look at what product managers need qualitative data for and how to do it right!

Qualitative Research Methods

The best qualitative research method for your product depends on a variety of factors. Before you set out choosing your method, look at how much time you can spend on it and how many resources you can afford to use.

  • Surveys and forms: An easy and scalable way to collect data.
  • Customer interviews: A good way to get in-depth feedback, but takes time and resources.
  • Focus groups: More time effective than one-to-ones, but less effective than surveys. More commonly used for physical products.
  • Ethnographic research: Observations of your customer’s environment (demographics, geography, infrastructures, culture, etc.) Useful for breaking into brand new markets.
  • App store reviews: Sometimes the qualitative data comes to you!

Smaller startups may only be able to use one or two efficient and cheap methods, whereas massive companies will be able to do much more. If you’re in the former category, don’t spend all of your resources running endless focus groups, but make sure you invest in a proper discovery phase. Finding that balance is a key product manager responsibility!

Read the Customer Interview Tool Box ➜

6 Things Product Managers Can Do with Qualitative Research

1. Back it up with quantitative data

When you’re conducting qualitative research, should you believe every word your customers say? Well, no not really!

Sometimes customers don’t know what they want. They may think that, in theory, they’re willing to pay $12.99 per month for a subscription service. But when the time comes to put in their credit card details, many will hesitate. Abandoned carts are a huge challenge to overcome in eCommerce, as everyone is eager to buy…until the point of purchase.

Many companies, such at Netflix, find that giving customers what they were begging for, barely increases retention. That’s why you need to cross reference your quantitative and qualitative data. If you’re seeing a trend in the answers to your surveys, then back them up by checking the hard data.

The key here is to know which questions to ask. The answer to “do you like this product?” may not be the same as “would you be willing to pay for this product?”

2. Use it to find your ‘Why’

One of your main duties as a product manager is to focus on the ‘why’ of the product. Or rather, making sure that your ‘why’ both solves a real problem and that you’re building the right product for it.

There’s no better way of understanding your customer’s problem than to ask them about it. If you see a problem that needs to be solved, ask your target market questions like:

  • What are the main roadblocks in achieving X?
  • What other solutions do you know of/have tried?
  • What do you envision being the solution for X?
  • Would you be willing to pay for a tool which does X?

To learn how to build your own data-driven roadmap, watch ProductPlan’s webinar:

 

3. Use it to challenge your assumptions

On the flip side, if you’re seeing a trend in your data, you can back it up with what customers are telling you in the surveys. Never assume anything in product! Qualitative data is used to challenge your assumptions no matter where you are in the product life cycle.

For example, you might be seeing that a lot of your customers are failing to use one of your features. You might assume that’s because they hate the feature and you need to redesign the whole thing. But when you go into your surveys, your customers tell you that they didn’t even realize it was there! That leaves you with a relatively simple UI redesign to do, rather than a huge feature overhaul.

4. Use it with your product marketing manager

Marketing needs to be built into your product from the beginning, which means you need to have a close relationship with your product marketing manager.

Together, you create a powerhouse of growth for your company, because you can both benefit from qualitative research. It’ll help inform your communication style with your customers, making marketing significantly easier, and help you build feedback loops into your product.

5. Use it to build your minimum viable product

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a great learning tool, and gets you feedback on what users want. But if you can build it based on user feedback you’ll be one step head! If you start gathering data from your target market when you don’t even have a launched product or a user base yet, you’ll have the advantage.

This exercise will also be vital for finding your product-market fit. A story we see repeated time and time again, is that someone has an idea, they build what they want, and then see if people like it. Sometimes they hit it out of the park straight away, but more often they have to pivot in a different direction.

By using qualitative data to inform how you build your MVP, you’ll save yourself time and resources, making your time to market that much quicker.

6. Use it for post-launch feedback

All the best product leaders know that their job isn’t done after your initial product launch! Once you’ve finished popping champagne bottles, it’s time to find out what people think.

The most common form of qualitative research done at this point is a user-feedback survey, much like those you may have conducted with your MVP. This will help you figure out how well you listened to, and understood, your customers the first time around. Did your product fix their problem? Is it easy to use? Is there a reason some downloaded and uninstalled it within a day?

If you have an app, you’re also likely to collect reviews. Don’t just go off the immediate reviews after launch. Early adopters tend to be quite techy and may have vastly different opinions to users who onboard further down the line. Your reviews are a great source of qualitative information, which you can keep referring back to throughout your product’s lifecycle.

Getting Qualitative Research Right

  • Have a plan. Set out what questions you need the answer to (big and small!) and take stock of your resources.
  • Set a time limit. You’ll always think of other things to ask, but eventually you’ll reach the point where you just need to build. When using qualitative research to build your MVP, or at the start of a new feature, set a time limit for your research phase.
  • Don’t just use your favorite customers. You need to have a good mix. It’s a great ego-stroke to interview people who sing our praises, but you need a balanced mix of opinions.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Yes/No questions usually won’t give you the depth you need. Ask detailed questions that give you plenty of information to work with. Here are 10 great questions you should ask customers.

Read the Customer Interview Tool Box