Verify your invention’s premise by preparing a questionnaire

On all questionnaires, try to discover why people buy a particular brand of your product category.


Inventors frequently create a product that satisfies their needs without considering what target customers want. Even if you have one feature they want, be sure you aren’t missing other features that customers also feel are essential.

Most inventors have a reason for their invention, which is typically correcting a problem—slipping gears on bikes, removing stains from shirts, etc. But the first question inventors should ask is, do customers agree with that premise?

The easiest way of learning this is to prepare a questionnaire that lists four or five potential problems with the type of product you are trying to improve, then ask people to rate which problem is most important to them.

First, give the questionnaires to a handful of people. Include an area on the questionnaire where people can write in their own problems with the product category, just in case you missed one.

Finalize your problem lists and then give the questionnaire to 15 to 20 people to see which problem area they feel is most important. You don’t need every person to agree with your premise, but a good benchmark is that at least 35 percent of them should agree with it.

On all questionnaires, try to discover why people buy a particular brand of your product category. Ask these two open-ended questions at the end of the questionnaire (usually, it is best to list the five to eight leading competitors right before the questions):

  1. Which improvements or changes would you like to see in this product category?
  2. Of the above competitors, which one have you bought, and what was your reason for buying it?

Crucial features

List all important features of products people use to address the same issue that your product does. Do this even if your solution is dramatically different than the others.

Then ask people to rank all the features in order of which ones are most important to them. Leave a space so people can explain why these features are important.

Your goal in completing this feature analysis survey is threefold:

  • To understand which features are important to people, and which are not. This helps you understand how people use the product.
  • To help you know if you have forgotten an important feature in your development.
  • To possibly delete benefits and cut costs if people think some features are unimportant.

Target one problem

A customer-driven product helps you develop a clever subject line that connects with users.

For example, if you have an earmuff, you might emphasize that your earmuffs are made of wool or fur, or you might concentrate on having a rechargeable earmuff warmer.

But you would have a totally different approach if you learn people don’t like earmuffs because they don’t like the way an earmuff gets tangled in their hair. So look at this as more than how to develop your product; it is also how to promote your product.

Embrace feedback

Many don’t like doing market research. Some are convinced their idea is so strong that it cannot fail. Others are afraid of negative feedback.

Inventors all need feedback. I’ve worked for several companies that constantly introduced new products. I’ve never been on a new project where everything went right. We always had lots of fine tuning and made many adjustments based on customer feedback.

Look at feedback not as a negative but as information that will help you improve your product.