Once your product testing is complete and full functionality has been delivered by your development team, you have the option to conduct a beta program to have customers review the entire product experience. Beta programs enable you to collect customer feedback on the functionality of your product. They are also an excellent way to receive customer endorsements on a new release prior to its launch.
While beta programs are useful for collecting feedback, they should not be used for the following purposes:
Before beginning a beta program, outline the goals you want to achieve. Do you want customers to provide feedback on a specific part of the product? Do you want to approach a certain segment of your target market? What questions would you like the beta process to answer? Establishing your goals in advance ensures that you choose the right customers and ask them to focus on particular areas.
Arrange a set time period for this program (e.g., one month). Like most people, beta participants are motivated by deadlines. Having regular check-ins and a defined timeframe in which to provide feedback will elicit better results.
The beta program, which is run by the product manager and supported by the engineering team, consists of three phases.
1. Choosing beta customers
Similar to the process of understanding market problems, it is key to accurately represent different segments of your target market (or a single segment, depending on your beta goals). Choose your beta customers accordingly. Ensure that you have enough customers (three to five) from each segment to identify trends in your data.
Example:Company XYZ produces a product that alleviates knee pain. It expects two types of users for their product: young adults who have torn their knee ligament, and seniors who require knee replacements. Company XYZ needs to ensure they include beta participants from both groups.
Beta programs offer advantages for your organization and your customers, and you must clearly explain the benefits to both. Your organization will receive feedback on functionality and suggestions for how to improve the user experience, and possibly endorsements for your product. Your customers will get to see the product first, and have a hand in the final product that goes to market.
Create an agreement (signed by your organization and the customer) that outlines their responsibilities. The agreement could include the following points:
2. Collecting feedback
Lay the groundwork so your customers are prepared for the beta program. Train them on the new functionality so that they understand it. Provide them with sample scenarios and documentation so that they know what is expected from the beta experience.
Have a call with each beta site weekly. It can be done as a group but keep in mind that reticent customers might not provide feedback as readily as in a one-on-one setting. Ask them about their experience: what worked, what didn’t work well and what questions arose while using the product. These trouble areas provide indicators of where implementation can be improved. Ask open-ended questions to allow the customer to give the widest range of feedback, and record their responses in depth.
3. Analyzing and implementing feedback
Collect feedback and analyze trends to identify what to improve about your product. Then make those changes . Do not engage in beta programs if you do not have time to implement changes. Failure to listen to feedback can bear negative consequences. Customers may withhold endorsements and be less willing to participate in future.
If you implement the changes and receive good feedback from customers, you will be on the way to securing a successful launch and happier customers.
Cooper, R. G. (2001).Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch(3rd ed.) New York: Perseus Publishing.
Daniels, D. (2010).Beta Testing. Launch Clinic. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.launchclinic.com/beta-testing/
Dunford, A. (2010).Beta as a Product Marketing Exercise. Rocket Watcher. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.rocketwatcher.com/blog/2010/01/beta-as-a-product-marketing-exercise.html
Khan, S. (2010).Building a Better Beta. Pragmatic Marketing. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/magazine/4/3/0605sk