How do you create a GTM/launch strategy for a product with a long beta period? Follow-up question: What do you do if the product changes significantly between beta and full launch?
Oh, to be so lucky as to have a long beta period for everything! A beta is a blessing!
When planning for any launch, we don’t know what we don’t know. Beta periods are fantastic because they give us, as PMMs, the opportunity to make those “unknown unknowns” known.
If I were lucky enough to have a new product on deck with a comfortable beta period, here’s how I would approach creating a launch strategy:
- Rally your early adopters to participate in the beta. Work with sales to find friendly customers who are willing to try the product and give you feedback. As part of the beta terms, get them on board with participating in a press release, customer story, webinar, or consenting to logo usage upon launch.
- Timebox the beta, but be willing to be flexible. Three to six months is reasonable to start, but that brings me to my next step:
- Don’t schedule a launch until you’ve converted betas into paid engagements. You need real win stories and real revenue first. If zero customers convert after the beta term, you have no data points with which to train your sales team. Do your win/loss interviews and reassess.
- Put your converted betas to work! One of my favorite parts about beta periods is that if they go well, you go into a launch with a set of lighthouse customers who can help you tell your story.
To answer your follow-up question, my hope is that your product would only change significantly between beta and launch as a result of something you learned during the beta. Don’t be afraid of that — there’s nothing wrong with responding to customer needs. Document what you learned and use it to justify future beta periods for future launches. :)
Navigating a long beta period can be tough for a marketer. At worst, it can lead to you losing the opportunity to shape perception of the product and taking the wind out of your sails. When you launch the "beta," it can be hard to drive excitement given limited availability. Then by the time you "launch," it's no longer news.
Usually the beta period is required for some really strong technical reasons. In those cases, I've seen some smart ways of turning a beta period into strategic part of a GTM strategy, rather than just something to overcome. First, understand what types of users will help the product team achieve the needed learning from the beta. Then, without those parameters, think creatively: Is there a group of users who have long been underserved that you could offer the beta to first? Is there a group of influencers in your userbase who can model how to use the beta effectively for the rest of your community? Is there a way you can capture helpful marketing content from the beta users to inspire everyone else when you expand availability?
When product changes significantly, I always think it's best to be candid in your marketing about what led to the changing. Usually the evolution is because of really smart and sharp user feedback and increased clarity internally of what the product feature is designed to achieve. By explaining the rationale, it can help land your value prop with your users with more precision.
Typically when we have long beta's it doesn't significantly change the way we create our GTM strategy. For our largest launches we're usually starting to kick off launch planning about 18-20 weeks ahead of launch, and smaller releases are closer to 8-10 weeks. Long beta's are actually ideal so there is ample time to get customers using the new product/feature and time to see quantifiable results that can be leveraged for marketing assets (testimonials, quotes, etc).
Significant product changes between beta and launch can be difficult to navigate. One technique we've used to mitigate this risk, is to commit to 'product ready dates' where product commits to UI complete with ample time for marketing to create assets. If that date needs to pushed out due to beta feedback, then the launch will risk being delayed as well.
Creating a GTM strategy for a product with an extended beta period involves adapting to change.
Begin by understanding the beta's goals and the phases involved. Instead of finalizing a fixed GTM strategy upfront, focus on defining critical milestones between the beta and full launch. Develop a tentative strategy for each phase, but remain flexible to make adjustments as you gather feedback and iterate on the product. Regularly review your progress, incorporating user insights into your evolving GTM strategy at each milestone.
Maintain transparency with beta users, and be ready to allocate resources based on the product's development stage.
If significant changes are needed between beta and full launch, consider the possibility of delaying the launch to ensure a successful market entry. This adaptive approach ensures your GTM strategy remains closely connected to the evolving product and customer needs.