I was speaking with an entrepreneur the other day who was about to launch several pilots with customers. Depending on the nature of your industry/product, your early potential customers might require a pilot. We were discussing some of the key areas to focus in order to make the pilots successful; here are three areas we discussed:
The most important thing in a pilot is continuing to learn about the ideal customer profile, problem, use case, and value proposition. You are looking for something that is consistent across multiple customers. One way to ensure you get these learnings is to be very hands on and drive engagement with a committed client. Make them part of the brainstorming sessions, watch how they use the product, see how it fits into their workflow, etc. For those doing free pilots, I have seen pitfalls where because it is free there is no incentive to truly participate on the customer side and engagement is little to non-existent. They just keep asking for more work and reports without genuinely being interested (hint, anyone can sign-up for a free pilot to be nice and not really be serious about it). I am a huge fan of paid pilots (even if it’s a trivial amount). If the potential customer truly believes in the problem, they will pay. If they won’t pay a trivial amount, I would question their true belief this is a must-have problem to solve. Paid pilots tend to provide much more feedback and engagement.
When in the pilot, there is a tendency to just work with one point of contact. However, use this pilot as an opportunity to build relationships within the organization. Go down levels to really understand the users, go up levels to really understand the buyers and execs, go across departments to build more rapport and buy-in for use of your solution. The more people at the potential customer org. that support you and your solution, the more likely they are to purchase coming out of the pilot.
Metrics for success
Another common theme I have seen is startups coming out of the pilot feeling it went well, yet the customers are not purchasing. Why the disconnect? When I ask what metrics they were using to measure the success of the pilot, there is often silence. It is important to set up both qualitative and quantitative metrics at the beginning of the pilot to know what defines success at the end. Not only do you learn from the customer about what matters, you can track, measure, and report against this throughout the pilot. This can increase your chance of converting the deal, give you a better chance to adjust mid-pilot, or flag earlier in the process the true reason why they would not purchase your solution.
There are many more nuances to how to run effective pilots, but these were a few areas to pay attention to when launching a pilot.