How To Conduct Primary Market Research

How to conduct primary market research can be best explained by a statement made by Steve Blank, a key player in the Lean Startup movement, “There are no facts inside the building. Get the heck outside and talk to your customers”. That is the mentality of a lot of big research and development groups is what customers have got to do with the products they eventually want to buy. Things are changing so much in our world today, especially when we look at user innovations that come from individuals instead of big companies.

Why do primary market research?

  • To understand your customer.

That doesn’t happen by just talking to the customer on the phone or going to visit them; we’re going to give you a number of tools at different stages in your organization to get to know your customer better than anybody else. Customer intimacy is critical to success.

  • Google’s not enough,

You can do Google research on products and services, but that’s not enough to understand your customer, it may be a starting point. In today’s world of disruptive innovation, there may not be any Google data on what you want to do.

  • Validate market

The purpose of doing primary market research is, first of all, to validate you are in the right market.

  • Validate the end user

The end user that you have picked and built the profile; that they’re the right end user and that they actually have pain and urgency.

  • Pain points & urgency

You want that validation of pain and urgency when you go out and start to interview your potential end users.

  • Identify a persona

Then in the process, you want to begin to identify a persona. All of this information is going to be used to learn and iterate our solution; that solution that you are passionate about solving a problem.

How To Do Primary Market Research

How do we do primary market research? You need to listen and observe your customers a lot. This doesn’t have to be a multimillion-dollar project like what they do in the big companies with their primary market research. There are two ways to look at; qualitative process and quantitative process to do primary market research.

Qualitative Research

When it comes to qualitative research, there are a number of methods;

  • Detailed interview.

We want to go out to interview people and then dig down deep into those discussions to understand their pain and the urgency; we will look at some questions on how to do that.

  • Immersion

You could even immerse yourself in the actual activity. It’s very important on your team to have one of the end users that you’re going after. You should have somebody that’s actually living the pain and the urgency or find somebody that will become part of you.

This is someone we call a domain expert that immerses himself or herself in that event. Domain experts are very valuable because then you don’t have to go five steps to get to zero. You already know what’s going on.

You’re looking for a solution from real-time realities, versus I think this is an idea, and you don’t even know the dimension or the problems that are in that arena.

Quantitative Research

When it comes to quantitative research, there are a number of methods

  • Observation

Another method is to do observation just to watch people buying products and how they take action and what kind of things that they do to make that purchasing decision.

  • Digital experimentation

You can do a lot of different kinds of digital experimentation with questionnaires and AB testing and things like that online.

An example of a qualitative-quantitative process is of a lady that wanted to sell pillows to college students. She went out and wanted to create the best pillow for college students leaving home to go to college. She went in and observed people buying pillows at Bed, Bath and Beyond one of the retailers in the United States.

She watched them pick pillows and look at pillows and pick them up and put them down. And they finally pick one up and walk towards the cash register. Then she moved from observation to a detailed interview with qualitative research.

She stopped them and asked them why they chose those specific pillows. It turns out that the majority of the people that bought the pillow bought that, because of the packaging, it had nothing to do with the quality of the pillow and no college students bought the pillow because they didn’t have any money. The two main points of their business model were a great pillow to college students, which were both invalidated through the research. This is why it’s so important to learn how to conduct primary market research.

Startup Style Market Research

Here are startup-style primary market research steps. They will help you understand how to conduct primary market research.

1. Determine assumptions about your market

The first thing you want to do when you’re doing startup-style research is to determine what assumptions you’re making about your market. The assumption that this person had made is that college students would buy pillows that were high quality and they invalidated both assumptions. What assumptions are you making about your market about the reason that they would buy your product or your service?

2. Select open-ended ended questions

Then select open-ended questions to interview them;

3. Define characteristics of the beachhead market to interview

Then you want to determine the characteristics of the beachhead market that you want to interview. You need to go back to your end user profile and ask who those people are and where do I find them?

If you interview people, not in your beachhead market, that don’t align with your end user, who cares what they think, they’re not the ones that are going to buy your product. You want to be interviewing people that you think are the right ones. The whole purpose here of the primary market research is to validate these are real potential customers.

You’ve got to figure out who those are from your end user profile, and where to find them and go interview those people because you’re trying to validate that they’re the right end users.

4. Interview 50 to 100 people (face-to-face if possible)

You want to interview 50 to 100 people; I can hear you now say that’s a lot of work. Entrepreneurship is hard work, failure is harder. That is why you want to do the interviews for 50 to 100. It takes 100 to really start getting to statistical analysis.

5. Interpret results

6. Look for End User Profile patterns

You want to look for these end user profile patterns, what kind of people seem to have the problems that your solution will solve, and they’re in a pain to solve it.

7. Learn and adjust hypotheses

Then you want to begin to learn and adjust your hypotheses, the assumptions that you made with that information.

8. then rinse and repeat.


By the way, primary market research is going to go on forever, we may do different kinds of it at different stages of our development, growth, and scaling of our company. You are never going to stop doing this if you want to stay close to your customer.


Things to think about with primary market research

  • Mode of Interaction = Journalist, not advocate

The mode of interaction is a journalist, not an advocate. You are not trying to sell your product or your service; you are just trying to understand the pain of your customer. You’re going to use words like;

  • Tell me about the last time you did z.
  • Tell me a story about something.
  • You said x Tell me more about it, why or why not?


What is the most important thing to get right in the startup? Investors will tell you the team, an engineer developing the product will say the product, and the marketing person is going to say the market. Ultimately, the most important thing that matters in your startup getting it right is product-market fit. You’re only going to get a perfect solution for your market if you know your customer better than anybody else does, and that’s why it’s so important to do your primary market research and understand how to conduct primary market research.

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