Customer research for better product-market fit


Achieving successful product-market fit requires customer/user research. Here's how to do it.

In this guide, we'll cover:
  • How customer research differs across product phases
  • Setting goals for your research
  • What to keep in mind as you're conducting user research

Customer research during the product design and development process

Once you’re developing your product, you’re no longer learning about your customers from solely a macro and general perspective in order to understand who they are. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, you’re aiming to uncover their understanding, perception, and experience using your product, even in its prototype phase, so that you can improve it as well as analyze your data to develop a user persona. 

You don’t have to conduct this research yourself, necessarily. If your budget allows and this is not your skillset, there are options. If you’re designing the product yourself or hiring a freelance designer, you can hire a freelance user researcher or user research agency. If you’re working with an agency or studio to develop your product, in many cases, user research is part of the design process (though you should clarify to make sure). In all cases, you should have a good understanding of not just the importance of customer research, but how it’s used to develop a great product.

There are many ways that you can conduct customer research, including:
  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Looking at data such as an NPS (net promoter) score or usability metrics 

Some of the questions that need to be answered, specifically when it comes to the product, include:
  • How satisfied is the user using the product?
  • What is their behavior using the product? Do they complete tasks with ease, with difficulty, or not at all?
  • Where are they confused?
  • Do they understand the product’s value?

Goals of customer research 

While you’ll have conducted customer research prior to starting to develop your product, the goal during this phase isn’t just to learn about your customer in order to define your market and determine who they are to reach a sizable enough TAM; it’s to align your product to their needs. That makes this phase of customer research more practical. The questions you ask and the data you look at should lead you to insights on:


Is the messaging clear and compelling? What’s confusing? You may have all the right features, technically speaking, but if your messaging is not quite right, that could impact understanding, behavior, and adoption/usage of your product. 

How to fix it: Reduce jargon, observe how people actually speak about your product, work with a copywriter and/or UX writer


Does the product provide enough value at the price point it’s being offered at in order to justify and instigate a switch from the customer’s current solution? Does your customer understand the pricing model? You may need to test different prices at this stage in order to have the data you need to make a decision on how to price your product to achieve product-market fit.

How to fix it: Test different prices as well as different pricing models (subscription, freemium, etc.)

Value proposition

Is the value proposition of your product aligned with customer needs and expectations? Are the benefits clear and desired? This one may be more difficult to uncover because if the value proposition isn’t quite right, customers may not be able to identify it and instead focus on other tangible aspects like the features of your product. It’s also closely tied to messaging because the language you use to describe the product could impact their understanding of its value proposition.

How to fix it: Observe what catches your customer’s attention (i.e. what they speak positively about, what they spend time reading on your website), have them to rate/order various value propositions based on what’s most important to them, test your messaging


Is there something that’s missing from your product’s features that’s necessary to achieve product-market fit? Have you made incorrect assumptions about what’s urgent and important, and what isn’t? You may need to reprioritize (including deprioritizing) features based on what you discover about what’s most important to your customers.

How to fix it: Survey customers to determine their most urgent needs, re-assess the market and your competitors to understand where there’s a gap in features

Tips for conducting customer research for product-market fit

Consider different customer segments

While you may have in mind who your primary customer may be, you will want to conduct research with various customer segments. This can help you hone in on the specifics of who your customer is and why your product will serve their needs specifically. You may even discover an opportunity and end up changing your primary customer segment. 

Many companies do this when looking to expand, like Mountain Dew, which initially was a soft drink for mountaineers. The product broadened its market to become a beverage for extreme sports and now, in its current iteration, 40 percent of its marketing budget is now targeted towards online gamers. Another example is the invention of the automobile—the primary target market when the Ford Model T was launched was initially assumed to be men, but as it turned out, women became a major driver of vehicle sales as women started to achieve mobility and independence outside the home. According to in a 2019 study, women make up 62 percent of new car purchases in the U.S. You never know where your customers will lead you, or where your research will lead to other customers.

Maintain an unbiased approach

Speaking of unexpected findings, what other assumptions have you made so far about the product and your customer? This could be things like facts, behaviors, and willingness to purchase. Make a list of these assumptions upfront so you can be sure to test them instead of getting caught up in confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” 

There are many ways that bias impacts research, so it’s worth reading up on the various ways that bias affects how we conduct and interpret research. To start, when framing questions, present them objectively. Also, make sure that within your target segment, you include testers, respondents, and users that are diverse and truly representative of the market, not just one homogeneous portion of it.

Be open to listening and changing your mind about your product 

When you aim to maintain a non-biased approach, you may find that your customer research validates your assumptions, or negates them. And you may be faced with challenging decisions: continue with the work you’ve already done or explore a new path based on your research? 

If you’re taking the lean startup approach, you’ll see why it’s helpful and even business-critical here: prototyping before launching and keeping features as minimal as possible in early stages makes it much less likely that you’ll spend time and money developing a product that runs out of money, or steam, before you’re able to achieve product-market fit. Why? Because you’ll have tested, revised, and tested again all the way through. Be open to what feedback and data tells you; time spent now could be time saved later.

The “Sean Ellis” test: How would you feel if you could no longer use [product]?

There are a lot of things to consider when conducting customer research. One question that you can come back to as a good general measure of product-market fit is known as the Sean Ellis test, named after the author and founder of GrowthHackers. The question is: How would you feel if you could no longer use [your product]?

This question is useful because it strips everything back to the core feeling that signals product-market fit and that will drive product growth. If the answer to this question is indifference, you may need to go back to the drawing board regardless of what else is working and what people say they like. 

On the other hand, if the answer to that question is disappointment or even outrage, congrats and keep going. The customer research doesn’t stop when it comes time to test your product in the usability testing phase.  
If you're doing it right, product research is an ongoing, never-ending part of your product development plan, and a core—perhaps THE core—element of that is user research. Here's your checklist for customer research for better product-market fit:
  • Do I have a clear way of conducting user research? Will I do it myself, use a third party, hire a contractor, etc.?
  • Am I clear about the goals of my research, and how my research methods align to those goals?
  • Am I biasing myself? Are there customer segments I might be missing?
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