This is more of a continuing series of tips for B2B startups that are trying to develop pilot projects.
A pilot project has some noticeable differences from the more standard sales and implementation processes you’ll encounter once you’re out of startup mode. In particular, as a startup, you are asking your pilot customers to engage very highly with you on the overall pilot program objectives, sales process, implementation process, critical assumptions, and use results.
Unlike a traditional sales approach, selling the value of a pilot project has some unique aspects. While you need to sell your value proposition, you want to be upfront and honest about the fact that this is a pilot and that you’re looking to establish mutually agreeable pilot program objectives in order to validate a number of assumptions. Your customer is likely getting into this with you because they want to be early adopters yet they still must have some solid business reasons for doing this with you. It essentially comes down to agreeing on “shared risk”.
You also want to get feedback on your sales process. Don’t underestimate the value of this as you are learning a substantial amount about your future. Potential ways of getting feedback include
- Interviews with management
- Interviews with users
- Online chat / Slack / Trello
Once everything is agreed to (see more later about contracts and deal terms) you then start the implementation process. Again, this is another significant learning opportunity for you. Get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Find out what’s confusing to the customer. Find out what else they can do to better get up and running. These are critical learning points for you.
You also want to have a solid plan for evaluating use results. Don’t be afraid of bad news and learning about what the customer truly finds valuable (or not!)
Final point: you likely want to have multiple pilot projects going in order to have multiple data points. Many startups make the mistake of assuming their first pilot or two are the models for everything. Unfortunately that’s usually not the case. Remember that you are validating your entire approach to the market and not all customers are created equally. You may have some luck with very early adopters but as you move beyond them then you need to continually evaluate your situation and ensure that what you are building, selling and implementing truly has product-market fit.