How to run successful early access programs (EAP) for product leaders

Luke Grimstrup

Develop quietly, release often, and wait for the big reveal…keep the big marketing launch under wraps, but show your new product/version to a small test group through a great early access program.

When building a new feature or product in a situation where you’re starting from zero to one, develop it quietly. Release it often to get feedback from customers (not just internal stakeholders!). Finally, once you have confidence from your customers, go for the big reveal with the support of your marketing team. Your hard work will pay off!

Why keep your product launch under wraps?

To help build a better product that meets the needs of your customers, it’s important to start with a small group of testers because it allows you to gather feedback, identify and fix any problems, and iterate quickly. One of the best ways to do this is through an early access program.

What do you want to get out of an early access program?

Before you launch your early access program, take some time to define what you hope to achieve with it.

Common questions to ask to help you define the goals:

  • Do you want to get feedback on specific features?
  • Do you want to gauge customer interest in your product?
  • Do you want to build buzz and generate excitement?

Once you know what your goals are, you can develop a recruitment strategy that’s aligned with them. For example, if your goal is to get feedback on a new feature, you might target current users who are particularly active or engaged with your product. If you’re testing customer interest or wanting to generate excitement, you might also want to pair with your marketing team to build out and test messaging as part of your early access program too.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Who should you recruit into an early access program?

There are 5 groups that could become your most trusted customers:

  • Loyal customers: Those who have been with you for a long time are more likely to be loyal and trust your brand.
  • Vocal customers: Those who have been vocal about their love for your product.
  • Power-users: Those who have heavily used certain parts of the product are more likely to get value from the new functionality.
  • Target customers: Customers who are in target use cases and industries.
  • Speed-dial customers: Customers that you have on speed dial and part of your current programs, these might have taken part in previous early access programs, part of your voice of the customer (VOC) group, or part of your customer advisory board (CAB).
Photo by Ben Allan on Unsplash

Gradually build out your test user-base

When expanding the group of customers that have access to your product, it’s important to consider their needs and how the product can benefit them. You also need to make sure that the product is ready for a larger audience and that there are no major issues that need to be fixed first.

  • Announce the early access program to your mailing list.
  • Add a “request access” button to your website.
  • Enable access for customers who have purchased a product from you in the past.
  • Add users who have signed up for a waiting list.
  • Add new users in small groups, and watch for feedback and issues.
  • If there are problems, fix them and repeat.
  • Gradually add more customers until the product is ready for a full launch.
  • Announce the early access program to your entire customer base.
  • Have a waiting list for customers who want to join the early access program.

Let in customers in batches, based on how much feedback you’re getting and how many bugs you’re able to fix.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

How can you use early access programs to improve your product?

The best ways to get feedback from your early customers are through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. This will give you a better understanding of what they like and don’t like about the product, as well as what features they would like to see added or changed.

Some ideas on how you can make it easy for customers to submit feedback:

  • Include a feedback form in your product
  • Send a survey after they’ve used the product
  • Ask specific questions about what they liked and didn’t like about the product
  • Get in touch with customers who have had a bad experience to learn more

The key thing here is to listen to customer feedback, and use it to improve your product.

In order to get the most out of an early access program, you should iterate as quickly as possible. By gathering feedback and making changes based on that feedback, you can improve the product and make sure it is ready for a larger audience.

How can you use early access programs to generate internal buzz and excitement?

Once you’ve recruited participants for your EAP and have a few data points in the form of feedback and quotes from customer calls, it’s time to start generating buy-in amongst your team members. Remember, an EAP is not only a great opportunity to improve your product — it’s also a chance to build hype and excitement internally ahead of a big launch. To generate buy-in, start by sharing your goals for the EAP with your team and getting their input on how best to achieve them. Then, create internal communications plans and tools (like beta preview videos, screenshots, and weekly updates) that will help build anticipation for the launch of your EAP.

Photo by Andy Hermawan on Unsplash

What are the benefits of launching after an early access program?

There are several benefits to waiting until after an early access program to launch your marketing campaign.

  1. you have a much better product to show off. Thanks to the feedback you’ve received from your test group, you’ve been able to fix any major problems and make improvements. Your product is now polished and ready for a wider audience.
  2. You can generate more buzz and excitement for your product. By keeping the launch under wraps, you build up anticipation among your team and target consumers. When you finally do release the product, there’s a greater sense of excitement and urgency.
  3. A successful marketing campaign can help solidify your position as a market leader. After all, if you’re able to successfully launch a new product/version to market, that shows that you’re ahead of the curve and know what consumers want.

An early access program can be a great way to get feedback on a new SaaS product or feature ahead of a big launch — but only if it’s done right. By following the tips in this article, you can increase the chances of success for your EAP while gathering valuable insights that will help improve your product down the line.

If you want to learn more about how you can save time, align product teams to business objectives, track performance and keep stakeholders informed in half the time, then check out and schedule a quick 15-minute call, and we’ll see if we can help you reach your product management goals.

More from the Blog

Easily share product roadmap updates with Enform + Productboard

Discover how the integration with Productboard can help keep stakeholders in the loop and engaged with regular status updates on features in the pipeline

Read Story

Empathy: An essential skill for Product Leaders

As a Product Manager, it’s easy to overlook empathy as a critical skill for success. In a world driven by data and metrics, it’s easy to forget the importance and value of understanding users’ emotions and needs.

Read Story

Product Update - Apr 2023: Boost Productivity and Visibility

We're excited to share some key improvements and features we've recently implemented based on your feedback. Our team has been working hard to enhance the experience, making it even more efficient and effective for you and your team.

Read Story

Never miss a minute

Follow us for the latest best practices on how to keep your organization aligned to objectives in an evolving remote and hybrid workplace.