How To Optimize Pilots

We have all had the chance to go through pilots. In many cases, these can be time consuming projects that do not ultimately lead to sales. Yet inevitably, potential customers push for pilots before buying. Here are three things to consider to try and increase the effectiveness of pilots converting to deals.

Note: the nature of your product does affect how you run pilots. A simple software service for a $10/month product that can run an online trial on its own for zero marginal cost is very different than a $250,000 software product that requires some implementation and execution. For purposes of this post, we will focus on products that do have some size and complexity to them (assume 5-6 figure ACV).

Put Skin in the Game

Many potential customers want free pilots. In my experience, if they are not serious about putting any money down for a pilot, they will likely not give the pilot enough attention and resources to be successful. It matters less about the specific amount, and more that they go through the process of putting some money down. It proves they can get into a buying mode and won’t just waste your time. For those who experience pushback, another option I have seen work is the sign-up with cancellation. In this scenario they sign a contract to purchase the software, but have some period of time (i.e. 30-60 days) to cancel and be refunded if they are not satisfied. There are some operational complexities here, but it can be managed.

Define the Box

There are two key elements here: scope and time. For scope, you want your product to be designed in a way that you can easily implement and deliver a pilot. The less cumbersome the implementation, the more likely you can get moving quickly and be less worried about having numerous costly pilots in motion. It is also helpful to design your product to be able to deliver ROI in the timeframe of a pilot. For time, customers will inevitably take whatever time you give them. In many cases, increasing the length of time for the pilot does nothing to increase close rates. Find the right time box for your product (i.e. 14 days) and run the pilot for that defined time period.

Build Connections and Metrics

When running pilots, it is often helpful to build relationships with multiple people in the organization. The more connected you get to the user, buyer, and executive the more you will learn about how they view the value proposition for the product and what it takes to close the sale. Furthermore, aligning all three early brings retention benefits down the line. It is also helpful to work with those three groups to clearly define expected, measurable outcomes from the pilot. This gives you an objective view into whether or not the pilot was successful and further defines the goals of the pilot. Without metrics, you may feel the pilot went well while the customer feels it missed the mark.

Pilots come in many shapes and forms, but trying to focus the pilot, put some skin in the game, and define the scope and outcomes can lead to a better chance of conversion. There are many other tricks but I have found these ones to be helpful.