You’ve got very cool new technology that thousands of labs will love. The product is ready. Rev up the Introduction Machine and sell, right? Senova Systems, a company for which I am consulting, is taking a different approach. Just before the full launch they have launched an Early Access Program. I thought you would find the concept and their decisions useful.
Senova has a developed a revolutionary new technology for measuring pH that takes time, risk, aggravation and cost and out of doing this very common measurement. (For more on this see their site: SenovaSystems.com) Their first product is a handheld pH scanner called the “pHit scanner”, They have been testing the product internally all along and further testing is part of the manufacturing scale up and beta sites. But instead of launching it immediately in to the broad market, they are taking the time to do an Early Access Program (EAP).
Why an EAP?
The CEO, Lee Leonard, is a serial entrepreneur. He knows that his market comprises highly diverse applications and that there is no way for his team to test the product in all the ways that customers will use it. He also knows that as great as the technology may be, the user experience is just as important. To ensure that they launch with the kind of confidence that only comes from deep customer knowledge, he is taking the time to do the Early Access Program.
How Many Customers to Involve
I have been involved with Early Access Programs before. An Early Access Program can take various forms. It can involve a small number of customers early in the development program, getting their input at critical junctures in the process. It can simply be a way of ensuring key customers that they will have the first units. In this case, Senova’s key objectives are to understand customer use cases thoroughly and to find any unknown corner case situations that stress some aspect of the product. For these purposes, the EAP will include a large (50) but selected set of customers. By selected, I mean that they will have customers apply and will choose a set that represents the broad range of applications that use pH measurement.
Nuts and Bolts: The Terms
Here are the 2 key parts of an EAP and the example of how Senova chose to accomplish them:
- Incentive: Just getting the chance to be among the first in their company or field to get their hands on a pHit is a big incentive for some customers to participate. But to ensure that the participants are real customers (not just curious technology aficionados), the Senova program is structured as a discounted Try and Buy: Each customer selected to be an Early Access Program participant, gets to purchase a pHit scanner at a 50% discount on the retail price of $1,650.00. (To give time for the “Try”, EAP customers won’t be billed until 30 days after delivery). These customers also get a money-back guarantee; if they are not fully satisfied with the scanner, they simply return it.
In addition, participating organizations will be publicly acknowledged as key influencers. (Customers can opt out of this if they prefer anonymity.)
- Required Input From the Customer: You need to be very specific about what you expect from customers in an EAP. It is common for customers to be eager to participate and then get too busy to do their part ( use the product, write an app note, or whatever else you have asked of them).
In return for the above, Senova asks its EAP customers to commit to the following:
- Use the product under their normal laboratory conditions for 30 days.
- Provide Senova with feedback on the user experience and technical performance through structured conversations and documents.
If you want a more complete example of how to describe or document such a program, click here to see the Senova description and FAQs.
How to Choose the Customers
If you want participation during product development, you cannot afford to involve too many customers, so pick just a few from the most important target market(s). Your closest customers may not be the best participants. For example don’t involve the most demanding customers if you want a minimum viable product market entry. The intent is toto make sure you are meeting the target market’s needs solidly.
If you want to give some customers the first units either to establish key influencers or simply as reward or for their ego gratification, then your top customer list will drive the number involved.
If, like Senova, you want to experience a diversity of application areas deeply, involve enough customers to get a good sample of the full range. For example, Senova is taking applications from interested parties and will choose 50 customers that cover as broad a set of use scenarios as possible.
Yes, conducting an EAP will require significant effort and attention. You may even postpone some revenue. But it is an investment in customer insight that will yield extremely high returns.
- Additional product testing that can validate yours or find weaknesses early, when they are least costly to fix.
- Develop close relationships with participating customers, leading to ongoing customer insight, potential influencing of other customers and maybe even longer term loyalty!
- Usage information that can reveal additional needs, opportunities to improve design and user experience, opportunities to integrate activities or products that are upstream or downstream from your current product.
- Service and self-service content.
- Faster time-to-ramp based on more effective commercialization and sales efforts.
- A more engaged internal team that gains the confidence and inspiration that only comes from close customer exposure.
Have you done Early Access Programs? If so, what has been your positive or negative experience with them. If you want assistance with an EAP contact me by clicking here.