Beta vs. Field Testing

Beta Testing” is the most widely used name to describe pre-release customer tests. In fact, many mistakenly use this word when referring to Alpha and Field Tests as well. What they don’t realize is that each phase of Customer Validation is a unique evaluation of your product at a unique point in its final development, and each has distinct goals and processes.

The distinctions between the Alpha and Beta phases of CV are more widely discussed, but what is the difference between Beta vs. Field Testing? The information in the table below is a good general overview of the objectives and techniques for these two different, and equally important parts of customer testing:

Note! If you want to know more about the differences between Beta and Field Testing, you might be interested in watching our four-part webinar series on Customer Validation, which covers each CV testing phase in more depth.

Beta Tests Field Tests
Test Goals
Evaluate customer satisfaction and ensure release readiness. These tests take users on a guided tour of the product to answer the question: Do customers like the product? Evaluate the adoption of product features and gather data for analytics and machine learning. These tests gather data and feedback on natural, unguided use of the product over an extended period of time. They answer the question: Will customers use the product?
When they happen
After Alpha Testing but before Field Testing, in the stage of the development process when the product is 80%-90% complete (it’s stable enough for mainstream users, and mostly feature-complete). After Beta Testing but before product launch in the stage of the development process when the product is 100% complete (the product itself is release-ready, but not in production).
Test length
Usually 3-6 weeks per test cycle with only 1-2 cycles. Additional cycles are added if significant new features are introduced or if a core component is changed. Usually just one test cycle that lasts 6+ weeks. This is typically how long it takes to see how customers use the product beyond initial frequent use.
Primary stakeholders
User Experience (UX), Quality Management, and Product Management teams. User Experience, Customer Experience, Support, Marketing and Product Management teams.
Participants (testers)
Strangers (not friends and family) from your product’s target market. They’ll provide objective insights on the product experience that are relevant to the product’s success and help you better understand your true customers. Strangers from the product’s target market. To ensure truly unbiased natural usage, it’s important that testers have no prior experience with the pre-release product. Friends, family, employees, alpha testers, and beta testers are typically excluded from participating in the Field Testing phase.
What testers should expect
A near feature-complete product with some bugs, fewer crashes, and mostly complete documentation. A product that is ready for launch, but with only preliminary marketing/sales materials.
How feedback is addressed
Critical or important issues are fixed, and simple user experience improvements are made before product launch. Future versions of the product are heavily influenced by the results. Feedback is funneled to marketing, sales, and support teams to fine-tune launch strategy and procedures. Improvement recommendations are incorporated into the first update of the product.
What they achieve
Improvement of launch success by providing evidence-based recommendations for product improvements and a complete view of your customers’ experience with your product. Improvement of product success by providing trend-based recommendations for how to promote, provide support for, and innovate your product in a way that will have a positive impact on its users and your sales numbers.
When are they over?
A product is Field-ready when mainstream users from your target market are comfortable with the user interface, and are satisfied with their experiences with the product and its features. Field Testing is complete when you have a good understanding of how your customers will incorporate your product into their daily lives, and any machine learning components of the product have sufficient data to provide initial buyers with a more complete experience.
What happens next?
Field Testing! Launch Party!

Some additional points to consider:

  • Most technical products go through the Alpha, Beta, and Field Testing phases of Customer Validation during their development.
  • As the product moves through the phases of CV, the tests move from being quality-focused to being experience-focused.
  • Both test phases (Beta and Field) are used to validate of all types of products with consumer, business, or enterprise customers.
  • Beta Tests evaluate specific product features by guiding testers to them and prompting them for feedback. Field Tests surface trends on which features customers will naturally use (or not use), by setting testers loose with your product.
  • Support teams use Beta Testing to understand issues that might be related to each feature, but Field Tests give them a good idea of which issues might be frequently reported after launch.
  • Both phases (Beta and Field) are excellent for helping product managers better understand target customers and how they experience a product.
  • Both phases often shift their goals and methods in real-time based on the ongoing results.
  • Some companies use terms like field trials, prerelease, Customer Validation, CAT (customer acceptance testing), UAT (user acceptance testing), and beta testing synonymously.

Have any thoughts or questions about Beta vs. Field Testing to share? Feel free to add them below!

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