Beta tests create relationships, not email lists

Some time ago a colleague recommended Superhuman, an email client in beta. I read up on the product, got very interested, and signed up for their beta. It clearly stated that they are working closely with every new tester, so entry into the beta program might be delayed. I understood this and waited.

and waited. and waited. and then I forgot about it. and lost interest.

Why do companies leave their "door" open in terms of beta test application? I can think of a few reasons:
  1. The company is using the beta test application process as a proxy for customer demand by capturing as many names as possible
  2. The company plans to expand their beta program in waves and needs many potential testers for later stages of the program
  3. The company is aggressively filtering candidates and will likely remove most applicants, therefore requiring a large initial candidate pool
  4. The company is not being smart about their beta program
The first (#1) is often to appease VCs who want to find some metric to determine a company's product market fit. Interesting, but there is a significant difference between the masses who sign up for anything and qualified customer leads. A massive list of email addresses is the top of the sales funnel; unqualified and in need of further customer outreach. Without a well executed beta program and customer outreach, you can't tell the VC whether the list merely represents TAM (Total Addressable Market) or product market fit and high NPS (Net Promoter Score)?

The second (#2) is totally valid, but you have to communicate that clearly to the user during their application process and at regular ongoing intervals. If this was Superhuman's goal, they failed for me by not continuing our customer relationship through regular communication. By not communicating with me post application, they let my interest in the product wane to the point of disinterest and eventually dislike.

The third (#3) is also valid, but again you have to communicate with the customer. If you've reviewed their application and won't use them as a beta tester, tell them that. Otherwise you fall into the disinterest and eventual dislike trap I highlighted earlier. And if you've rejected them without communication and are merely holding the email for use in future marketing campaigns, it is at best a disinterested or unhappy potential customer you will contact in the future.

I think the first and fourth (#4) are likely reasons. In the case of the fourth reason, maybe it is their first beta test cycle and they don't yet know best practices. Maybe the team is overwhelmed and dropped best practices to have any practice. But these are not acceptable excuses. If you want qualified leads, use an "always open" beta application but either drop or qualify then communicate both your initial decision and updates on the beta process to the applicant. If you want scarcity as a marketing tool to generate interest in the product, close the application process once you are saturated. But leaving the application process open for extended periods, especially followed by a lack of communication to applicants about their beta (and product) status, converts happy potential customers into disinterested potential customers.

Beta tests are one the best ways to create an early, evangelical customer base, and regular communication with applicants is a/the key to creating that happy customer. Without communication, you are telling prospective customers you really don't care about them?


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