Dealing with risk-aversion in a product launch

Beta Tests evaluate the customer satisfaction with your product by guiding targeted users through a product tour over a period of weeks. Your product should be complete or nearly complete at this time, with testers focused on assessing the entire customer experience with the product.

Real People, Real Environment, and Real Product are the three R’s of Beta Testing, and the question that arises here in Beta Testing is “Do Customers like the product?”.

Alpha test goals
Beta test goals
To evaluate the quality of the product
To evaluate customer satisfaction
To ensure Beta readiness
To ensure Release readiness (for Production launch)
Focus on finding bugs
Focus on collecting suggestions/feedback and evaluate them effectively
Does the product work?
Do customers like the product?

Best practices

Set clear objectives in advance

Beta testing is only effective if clear objectives are set in advance. It’s critical to predetermine what “success” is, what’s “adequate” and what represents a failure or the need to go back to the drawing board. These measures must be established before testing—not “on the fly,” which can result in rationalizing the feedback rather than critically evaluating the success of the beta test itself.

Decide a Strategy

Know what you’re trying to learn with the test. Identify product areas that are 1) feasible to test in the time that you have available, 2) a priority for your core stakeholders, and 3) will have a significant impact on the customer experience.

Create a Plan

Select the top five to ten product areas from that list and develop a test plan. Use the product areas as topics, write corresponding activities that outline what your testers need to assess for each one, and know-how they’ll send you feedback. Put a schedule around it so you’ll know before it starts what you expect to get and when.

Recruit (the Right) Testers.

Break down the defining characteristics of your target market. Identify required demographics, technographic, and geographic limitations. Divide those traits into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Use this as the basis for qualifying testers.

Consider your ideal customer profiles.

First and foremost, the beta users need to be chosen based on formalized key customer criteria. In other words, they need to be ideal customer profiles. Feedback from non-ICPs could lead you down the wrong path to building features and enhancements that don’t solve your ICPs’ problems, which can be very costly both in time and money for your dev team.

Collect Quality Feedback.

Focus on maintaining a steady flow of feedback through tester interaction. Manage and filter that feedback to keep it organized. Use feedback scoring to pull high-priority feedback to the forefront.

Keep long-term customer acquisition in mind.

Having multiple user groups is key. Your defined target audience is key. However, as you expand to increase that audience, you need to ensure you’re testing with various user groups outside of your defined audience for long-term customer acquisition strategies.

Aim to reflect our heterogeneous society.

The testing team should reflect our heterogeneous society and should test under real-world scenarios over a time continuum. The testing team should encompass the spectrum of genders, cultures, ages, socioeconomic statuses, education levels, and physical and mental constraints within given communities. These considerations will prove to be critical when designing high-impact, market-ready products.

Ensure you’ve got a broad test base.

You can’t effectively beta test your product if you’ve got a skewed panel to work from. Don’t fall into the trap of only working with the early adopters, as they’ll never give you a true picture of how your product will be used in the real world. On the other extreme, try to ensure your product is scrutinized by those clients you will be pitching.

Ensure testers understand the goals.

Make sure that your testing team clearly understands the testing goals and knows how to test your product. Also, don’t forget to make a detailed plan and set a deadline. Carefully study feedback, and never neglect negative reviews.

Get diverse feedback, and get it early.

In enterprise software, it is important to have a set of customer advocates involved throughout the process who can provide guidance based on real user needs. Beta tests should involve user groups outside of the ones represented by advocates. In general, try to get feedback from a diverse group, and get it as early as possible.

Turn to your ‘power users’ for insights.

Find the right community to participate in your beta testing. When you have a community of knowledgeable beta testers, you can always turn to your “power users” for their insights, as they often know your product and industry well enough that they can provide feedback on the details while keeping the bigger picture in mind.

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Scattering your testers’ attention across multiple objectives can ruin your data. Testers will naturally uncover issues along the way, but quality insights come from a balanced, guided focus. Resist the temptation to hodge-podge your goals.

Shuffle your beta tester cohort often.

If you use the same set of users to test all beta features, you may start getting false positives, where your beta audience loves the feature but the general public doesn’t (or vice versa). Unless you want to do a detailed analysis of individual results or you’re just aggregating results, you may even want to open the beta program to your entire audience.

Make the exercise frictionless.

Beta testers are giving you their most valuable resource: time. As a result, ensuring the whole beta testing exercise is as frictionless as possible is critical. Empower your testers with easy ways to share their feedback by providing well-defined instructions for them to focus on to perform quality testing.

Set guidelines based on common critical use cases.

Based on the complexity of the product and market, there can be more or fewer variables to take into account. One important factor is identifying the common critical use cases for the market and assessing that against the beta users. Beta testers often follow the beat of their own drum. Set guidelines and expectations so that the result is a positive outcome for the development of the product.

Implement continuous feedback mechanisms.

Beta testing shouldn’t be a phase. Especially with emerging or new technology, you need to implement a variety of continuous feedback mechanisms. I highly recommend an advisory board as a way to get a good spectrum of knowledgeable and engaged target end-users. You always need a good mix of both enthusiasts/early adopters and skeptics.

Use Your Great Results.

Build your discoveries based on your data. Rank your issues in order of prominence. Tailor your data storytelling to your stakeholders.

Offer incentives for real engagement.

Beta testers need to be incentivized to actually test and think about the process rather than just going through the motions. Prizes, cash, public acknowledgment, and other gamification techniques can get you there. Public recognition is often better received than cash.

Additional reading