The Role of Beta in Product Launch
Software companies traditionally use a Beta program to expose the product to more rigorous testing by customers. Depending on the nature of the product it may be thousands of beta testers or in the case of enterprise software it might be a more tightly controlled number.
What’s often overlooked is the valuable market feedback that should be obtained and acted upon during a Beta program. That’s why Beta programs should be co-managed by development and (product) marketing. Each group brings a different perspective to the party that can ultimately result in a better solution that will generate more momentum at launch.
The Problem with Beta Programs
The problem with beta programs is that most are half-baked excuses for beta programs and here’s why:
- The size of the beta testing population is not large enough to get any meaningful feedback
- The duration of the beta program is arbitrary and too short, lacking specific milestones
- The beta program is run by Development and Marketing is left on the sidelines
- Gathering feedback isn’t a proactive process
It goes something like this. Development is pressured to get the product finished. Company practice is to run a beta program. Afterall, if a beta program is conducted then Development is off the hook because real customers used the product before is was released. Three customers actually give feedback and they are customers that have been using the product for years and tell you what you want to hear. The Beta program runs for the minimum required 4 weeks. The product ships and the larger population of customers complain that the features suck and don’t make any sense.
The Purpose of a Beta Program
The purpose of a Beta program is to get early market feedback on your product. It does not relieve you from the responsibility of doing a quality testing job. From a testing perspective the Beta program gives you an opportunity to test your product in “real world” environments and identify problems that can be addressed before you ship. The real value in a Beta program is to get customer feedback on the usability of the product, performance, perception of value and usage patterns. All of which help refine the message, positioning and pricing.
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