How to Use a Product-Market Fit Survey to Measure PMF

Article by:
Maria Arinkina
13 min
How do you ensure that your product or service aligns with customer needs? One way to find out is to conduct a product-market fit survey. Find out what it is and how to use it with examples of PMF interview questions.

It often goes something like this in business: step 1 - build a product, step 2 - improve it. And although this might seem uncomplicated, there are many variables in the equation. The market can shift, the target audience's needs may fluctuate, basically, anything can change at any time.

If you don't manage to stay sharp (constantly analyzing, doing market research, and reevaluating your priorities), you won't be able to adapt the product and deliver exactly what users need and want to buy. Not to mention that all of your collective efforts invested in building a product could be a complete waste if you miss the mark in terms of product-market fit and end up with an offering no one needs.

How do you identify which problems need solving? How do you find out what has to be done or changed to satisfy the users? One of the most obvious ways to obtain such knowledge is to ask your customers directly. Surprisingly, this method is often neglected, although many of the answers are right there lying on the surface, waiting to get your attention.

The bottom line is that the significance of product-market fit shouldn't be underestimated, and feedback is one of your biggest allies. Let's learn more about how to approach a PMF survey. We'll additionally provide examples of product market fit survey questions that you can ask during user interviews and handy tips like which tools to use.

What Is a Product Market Fit Survey?

First things first, let's define what a PMF survey is. In short, it is a method used to measure product-market fit and understand whether the product meets customers' expectations and whether the market is large enough for the product to have a chance for success. "Sean Ellis Test" (a.k.a. the "40% Test") and more detailed questionnaire surveys are applied to assess how satisfied users are with your offering and help you discover ways for improvement.

Product-Market Fit Survey Definition

Importantly, the method implies that you have an existing target audience to ask. Such a survey is generally made up of various PMF interview questions (that are open-ended, multiple-choice, or both). They are intricately formulated to evaluate the level of customer satisfaction, client loyalty, how dependent clients are on the product, the product's traction, and perceived value.

As you see, the customer's perspective is in the spotlight in this case, and their responses directly determine the final product-market fit score. Essentially, Sean Ellis states that the more people reply that they'll be disappointed if your product stops existing, the better the score, indicating that your product-market fit is strong (and vice versa), the threshold is 40%.

Who's Sean Ellis? He is a renowned growth hacker and entrepreneur who had a central role in the early days of such products as Dropbox. He came up with a simple and effective way to measure product-market fit with the target market using a basic customer survey test.

What Are Some PMF Survey Benefits?

Taking the time to ask the target audience PMF survey questions can result in multiple advantages. After all, lack of market need and not having product-market fit are among the main reasons for startup failure.

Major Product-Market Fit Survey Benefits

Naming a few things that make such surveys a valuable tool for business:

  • allows to gather customer feedback;
  • helps determine the product's effectiveness from the users' perspective;
  • lets you assess how the product aligns with the market;
  • makes it possible to ensure that your product addresses a problem and is relevant to the audience;
  • results in gathered insights on what to improve (e.g., which feature tweaks are needed or even the necessity for a business pivot);
  • leads to more informed business decisions (including such fundamentals as product development, the startup marketing strategy, and others).

In brief, if you haven't reached product-market fit yet, a survey can help you determine the paths to get there optimally. And if you're planning to scale, the survey may provide insight into whether the time is right, allowing you to mitigate time, effort, and investment-related risks. 

Whom to Send a Product Market Fit Survey To

Although this is an effective product or MVP testing method, you wouldn't want the results to be skewed. Therefore, you have to be picky regarding your choice of respondents. So, to whom should you send the product market fit survey?

Here are some criteria to keep in mind when selecting the group of people to participate in the interview. Ideally, the sample should include those who:

  • are existing customers engaged with the product, service, or company (e.g., are part of your startup community);
  • know the offering's essentials (such as the core features);
  • used the product or service a couple of times (for instance, at least twice);
  • used the product or service recently (e.g., in the past few weeks).

Selecting such participants who are actively engaged with your product and have a genuine interest in it will let you get less biased and more relevant replies.

How Many PMF Survey Responses Do You Need? 

As you might have guessed, evaluating the largest number of survey responses that you can get is considered a best practice. This way, you'll boost your chances of getting a relevant and significant result, as a response rate of 5-10 replies is not enough to see the full picture (these opinions might simply be too biased).

So, how many is enough? On average, aim to get about 40-50 responses. If you manage to collect more when running the product market fit survey, that's great. Either way, emphasizing quality instead of quantity is integral at this point. As we've mentioned earlier, all respondents have to be involved with the product and "relevant" to be included among the interview participants (otherwise, their opinion might not be as valuable to you).

When to Send a PMF Survey

So, when does it make sense to hold a product market fit survey? It can be applied at various points of the product development life cycle. Here are a few common scenarios and use cases:

  • Survey for a new product or major feature update — it is possible to try to run such surveys before a new feature release or prior to an update that drastically changes the previous product version. In this case, you can apply a slightly altered version of this method to evaluate how to best approach the launch and if you'll solve the potential clients' problems. Apart from trying to validate feasibility and learn about the market size, it can also be used to gauge customer interest and ensure a smoother release.

  • During product iteration — holding PMF surveys after MVP launch or when a product is already released is a classic use case, as this tactic lets you gather feedback from existing customers on what to improve. This way, the survey helps identify your weak spots, leading to a continuous iteration of the product.

  • If there's a downfall — if you notice a tendency of lowering sales, very slow growth, or other regression, a survey for testing product-market fit can clarify many unknowns.

  • When looking for funding opportunities — as you seek business or startup funding, it is wise to have a clear understanding of where you stand in terms of product-market fit, as this may be your leverage while pitching to investors.

  • When scaling — even those who have managed to achieve product-market fit can apply such surveys when scaling startups or products. This allows for getting the target audience's point of view, identifying expansion opportunities, and thus making more strategic business decisions.

How to Time the PMF Survey

As for the timing of the survey, there is no one-size-fits-all approach as to the specific time of day or day of the week to send the survey, this depends on the product. However, the general best practices include:

  • aligning the survey timing with the target audience or segment peculiarities and when they are most active (e.g., from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesdays);
  • ascertaining the survey is sent after the customer had a meaningful interaction with your brand (i.e., that you chose relevant respondents who recently used the product, hence, they can provide accurate feedback). 

Certainly, measuring product-market fit isn't a one-time task. To ensure optimal results, it is recommended to do so regularly and systematically, as this way, businesses can stay tuned on the current changes, assess their product-market fit, make tracking the improvements an ongoing process, and react timely.

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Sample Product Market Fit Survey Questions

The classic question that the Sean Ellis test puts focus on is "How would you feel if you won't be able to use the product any longer?" and offers several reply options:

  • Very disappointed
  • Disappointed to some extent
  • Not disappointed (the product isn't really that useful)
  • I don't use it anymore.
Sean Ellis Product-Market Fit Survey

If at least 40% of the respondents pick the first answer, stating that they'll be upset if they don't have your product at hand, this is a sign of strong product-market fit. Those companies that exceed the ​​threshold are doing great.

Certainly, the Sean Ellis Test described above is just one PMF survey approach that might not be universally applicable. It makes sense to modify the questionnaire according to your audience, industry, and needs.

Other Product Market Fit Interview Questions

What else can you ask? Here are some things you can inquire about during a PMF survey.

Reasons for Using the Product

You can ask questions like "Why did you start using our product?" and "Which problem does it help you solve?" to find out which challenges have led your customers to use your product. There is a chance that you don't know about some.

Product Features

You can also ask about the features or offering details that your customers value most or what they think is missing. For example: "Which product feature do you use most often?" or "Which feature should be added to improve your experience?". Replies to questions of this kind can clarify which aspects to put more effort into and what to place an accent on in terms of marketing, your value proposition, and unique selling point. Moreover, it can assist with feature prioritization, and supplement your product development roadmap plan with functionality the audience anticipates.

Customer Acquisition Channels

If you aren't sure how your target audience found you, learn about the most effective sources by asking, "How did you find out about us?". This could be an open-ended question or one with predefined answers (such as a friend referral, an ad, listed channels like Instagram, etc.). The responses can highlight which channels are bringing you most of your clients so you can better focus your marketing activities and overall efforts.

Referrals

Word of mouth is a highly efficient popularization and brand awareness tactic. Hence, you can get insights into whether your existing customers are spreading the word about you if you ask, "Have you ever recommended this product to others?". This question allows you to evaluate customer satisfaction and aids you in segmenting your audience into such groups as "promoters" or "advocates". Plus, it can hint at the necessity to work on a loyalty program or other ways to urge existing clients to become an important part of your loyal customer base by making referrals.

Competitors

It can also be handy to know which competing solutions your target audience knows about and considers using as an alternative to your offering. You can ask questions like "If our product becomes unavailable, would you use some other analog? If yes, which one?" or "Have you used other alternative products? What do you like/dislike?". This can shed light on some competitors you might not know about or that deserve additional attention. Possibly, by investigating their product, pricing, and marketing, you'll get a more in-depth understanding of how to make your offering more attractive.

Follow-up Request

Thanking the person for taking the time to answer your questions is a good tone, yet you can also ask, "Do you mind if we follow up via email if any clarifications are needed?". This will grant you permission for staying in touch and continue communicating with the respondents outside the survey.

Note that any close-ended question in a PMF survey can be followed up with open-ended ones to request more information or opinions. You can even run A/B tests to find out which wording resonates best with your customers, thus positively influencing the response rate.

Either way, this is an extremely valuable opportunity to learn more about the customers' needs and pain points and use this knowledge to grow your business.

How to Conduct a PMF Survey

Where do you start if you decide to conduct a product market fit survey? Follow these instructions to get the process off the ground.

How to Conduct a Product-Market Fit Survey

Step 1: Begin by clearly defining what you'd like to test. Yes, the overall PMF survey aim is to determine how close you are to reaching product-market fit, but is there a specific question that needs answering? Why do you believe now is the right time for this?

Step 2: Then, formulate the product hypothesis statement. The product market fit survey should help you validate an assumption and learn more about the target audience; therefore, having a clear hypothesis can make the process more organized.

Step 3: Next, outline the important parts of the experiment you'll run. In this case, this implies such survey fundamentals as:

  • who you'll interview (define the target group and list the respondents);
  • the channel through which the interview will be conducted (for instance, using an email send-out as the channel, a pop-up form directly inside your product, or by holding one-on-one in-person interviews and recording them);
  • the time frames (for example, two weeks);
  • what will measure the success or failure (e.g., a specific percentage of those who chose "answer A" over others can be the metric or threshold). 

Step 4: Work on the questionnaire, ensuring that the size is optimal, as you wouldn't want to burden or bore your respondents. Finalize the questions, making certain that there are no duplicates and that the chosen format for each question is optimal (for instance, that you need an open-ended question instead of a simple multiple-choice one).

Step 5: Prepare the questionnaire form or the other format you've opted for. As a side tip, it might be a good idea to offer something in return for spending time on the questionnaire, like a promo code.

Then, use the selected channel to run the product market fit survey, ascertaining that you've made all the necessary tweaks to help you track metrics, collect data and the results. You can use special survey tools to facilitate the process.

Step 6: Once you've hit the survey deadline, proceed to processing and analyzing the collected results. This could imply counting up the percentages of responses, reading the detailed replies to the survey questions, or viewing the interview recordings. Then, plan your further actions. We'll explain the latter step in more detail next.

How to Analyze the Product Market Fit Survey Results

When you've collected a decent amount of data, it's time to evaluate the responses. To recap, the Sean Ellis Test is closely tied to the 40% benchmark.

How to Calculate the Sean Ellis PMF Survey Score

To calculate the Sean Ellis PMF score, use this formula:

PMF score = (the number of "very disappointed" responses ÷ all responses) x 100

If you have 40% or more survey replies indicating that users will be "very disappointed" if your product ceases to exist, it looks like you're on the right track. This is a green flag, however, it doesn't imply that you can let loose and do nothing. Stay sharp and try to figure out what else can be improved or what you can additionally offer to boost customer satisfaction even more.

On the contrary, companies that struggle with product-market fit usually don't hit the 40% mark. If very few people care if the product suddenly becomes off-limits and the percentage of dissatisfied users is high, then the team is still far away from achieving PMF. Hence, the offering needs more work, and this includes making amendments, grooming the user experience, adding features, revising the marketing tactics, and other activities aimed at enhancing the product.

Perhaps it is also a sign that it's time to collect more qualitative feedback. With comprehensive explanations, detailed requests, complaints, and suggestions from customers, you might make vital discoveries or even the necessity to shift focus to something else.

Therefore, you don't have to limit yourself only to the Sean Ellis Test. Of course, your survey could consist of more than one question, and you can use other additional open-ended and close-ended questions (we mentioned them in the previous section) to get more detailed feedback.

To analyze the overall PMF survey results:

  1. Calculate the Sean Ellis PMF score.
  2. Count the response percentages for multiple-choice questions.
  3. Look into the individual answers to open-ended questions.
  4. Try to cluster or group similar topics, patterns, mentions, suggestions, or insights.
  5. Log the results to return to them later, compare, and refine consequent surveys.
  6. Make conclusions based on your findings.
  7. Based on what you discovered, prioritize and plan the actions that need to be taken to optimize the offering and improve the situation (e.g., create new buyers personas, set specific tasks with deadlines and assignees, and mark the OKRs and KPIs that can help you outline the goals and measure success).

Remember that such surveys shouldn't be your only source. There are many other indicators to keep an eye on to ensure your decisions are optimal, including the Net Promoter Score, lifetime value (LTV), and others.

Tools to Use for a Product-Market Survey

Are there pre-built templates or a simple workflow you can use to handle the PMF survey process? Certainly, there are some tools that can be applied to speed things up and bring you more tangible results, here are several ones to consider:

  • Google Forms (one of the simplest options for creating forms for free);
  • Typeform (helps seamlessly build surveys to collect feedback);
  • SurveyMonkey (another popular tool for creating and distributing surveys);
  • PMF Survey (a free tool to run the Sean Ellis Test);
  • Hotjar (can be used to make surveys to understand user behavior);
  • Zoho Survey (a tool for making surveys and sending them to users).

There are many other analogous PMF survey solutions available, some of which offer additional functionality, for instance, for assessing heatmaps and clickmaps, holding one-on-one interviews, and other customization. Therefore, shop around to find the feature set that best suits your needs.

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PMF Survey in a Nutshell

All in all, such surveys are a valuable framework for product-market fit evaluation that can be a great indicator of how close you are to the target. By obtaining answers to product market fit questions, you'll gauge the level of customer engagement with the product and how satisfied they are with it. Not to mention that you'll get insights into the areas for improvement and what to prioritize, which will guide you towards data-driven decisions and concentrated efforts that'll boost your offering and make clients happier.

If you need a hand with developing a product or scaling a released one, Upsilon is a reliable tech partner that can help you build and improve your product. We believe in the agile approach and have assisted many of our clients in achieving their business goals. So feel free to browse our MVP development services for startups and team augmentation services for growth-stage businesses and reach out to discuss your needs!

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