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Choosing the Right Beta Sites

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For many vendors, the phrase “beta testing” has taken on another meaning: beta has become an early availability program for customers—and I think this is a strategic mistake.

The key word in the phrase “beta testing” is not “beta,” it’s “testing.” If you look up phases of testing in a technical dictionary, you’ll find Alpha testing is defined as testing of a release candidate by vendor employees on customer systems. Beta testing is defined as testing of a release candidate by customers on customer systems.

Testing is necessary but it’s primarily a Development concern; don’t confuse it with early availability. Both Alpha and Beta refer to validating the product’s capabilities; use an invitation-only launch to validate the product’s promotion.

The key is this: early customers must represent your key personas, otherwise their feedback has no meaning. A product for school teachers may also have value for facilities managers but a beta test or early acceptance program comprised only of facilities managers will not give relevant insights.

Your best candidates will be patient when they encounter problems. They are inclined to give you extensive feedback. They will speak favorably about your efforts to others—including your potential customers.

By engaging with a select group of representative customers, you will learn which features to emphasize and what messages resonate. You’ll learn more about the impact of the problems you solve so you can refine your pricing model. You’ll learn how they talk about the product so you can leverage that in your promotions.

Alexander Obenauer, Founder of Mindsense, explains,

Keep iterating on the language using how ideal users and customers think about your solution, so that it clicks for the next person a little bit faster each time.

Don’t involve sales people in picking the ideal beta sites or early availability customers. Sales people always want to sell the newest thing (and also demand that it be totally bug-free). And too often, they will try to sell to clients who do not fit the profile and are not inclined to be patient or helpful.

Your ideal client must fit your persona and problem definitions or the market feedback is worthless. Alpha and Beta testing is about validating the product development and design. The invitation launch is about validating the components for successful product delivery.

Excerpted from Turn Ideas Into Products, available from Amazon in print and Kindle format. Get more information at

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