The term “beta customer” conflates three categories of people who are using your product in a way that’s not healthy for your long term business prospects if you are selling to business users, in particular early adopter or pragmatic enterprise users.
Quid Pro Quo
- Beta Tester: someone you pay to evaluate your software and provide written feedback and perhaps an oral debrief.
- Beta User: a friend, acquaintance, or friend of a friend doing you a favor using your product. You can ask for an oral debrief or a written feedback but remember that they are doing you a favor.
- Early Customer: someone who believes that your product will help to solve a problem or meet a need and who you believe has a reasonable prospect of deriving value from your product. If they are evaluating your software they may not have paid for it yet but the expectation is that they will pay if they achieve a satisfactory outcome in a given period of time that is mutually agreed to.
Testing Your Product:
- Beta Testers are anxious to test your product to the extent that you are paying them.
- Beta Users are willing to test your product to return a favor or barter for a future favor.
- Early Customers are anxious to see if your product will produce a better result than the existing alternatives that are available to them. They are not anxious to “test” your product. If you are wise you will ask them for data or otherwise attempt to verify that your software will meet their basic needs before you make it available to them.
- Beta Testers like to report bugs because it’s proof of their value and that they deserve to be paid.
- Beta Users like to report bugs because they are concerned about their impact on your business reputation and potential customers’ experience.
- Early Customers normally don’t like to report bugs and tend to restrict themselves to ones that they want fixed. As far as they are concerned the best outcome is that they can get the results they need with the software as is. If they are “documenting bugs’ they are having a service interaction that is unsatisfactory. More fundamentally, they are not pointing out “technology problems’ as much as business, relationship, and reputation problems.
None of this is to imply that you cannot launch experimental offerings for current customers or new categories of prospects, but it’s a part of managing your business in the same way that altering any other aspect of your engagement or service delivery process would need to be managed.
If you are selling to business you cannot adopt the same attitude that a Google or Twitter has in providing a free service to an audience that they plan to monetize: you want your product to be a better alternative than anything else they can afford at any point in time that they are using it. This does not mean that it has to be perfect, just better for the metrics and results that your customers value.
“Your brand is the promises that you keep.”
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