April 03, 2009

You Can't Recover From A Failed Pilot

Pilots play an increasingly important role in the sales process. It is not the fastest way to secure a sale, but sometimes it is the only way. In a high-risk business climate they provide an ideal vehicle to tangibilise product benefits and thereby secure buyer commitment.

The reality however is that while pilots reduce the risk for the buyer, they can have the opposite effect for the seller. Indeed, the experiences of our clients suggest that only one third of pilots agreed will lead to a purchase, with many pilots agreed never even getting 'off-the-ground'.

Pilots can be expensive, they can elongate the sales cycle and, if problematic, they can be very difficult to recover from. These are just some of the reason why pilots require careful management.

For early stage companies this is all the more important, where successful pilots are important in providing 3rd party product validation and customer reference sites for future marketing.

Top 5 reasons why pilots fail

So, why do many pilots fail? Here are the top five reasons:

1. The pilot is entered into too readily, by the buyer or the salesperson. This in particular can happen with complex pilots that require a significant commitment of time and resources on either part.

2. The Pilot showcases the technology, but fails to prove the business case. While IT managers for example are delighted with the technology, that enthusiasm does not translate into a valid business case at C Level.

3. Clear and realistic success criteria not agreed, resulting in a mismatch of expectations, and the lack of a process for moving the buying decision forward post-trial. In too many cases customer criteria for evaluating pilot success are not written down and reviewed against results. For the selling organization there is often limited contact with end users and consequently the lack of a real feedback from the ‘coal face’.

4. Poor implementation on either side:

o Poor client side implementation- often stemming from a ‘not invented here’ mentality on the part of whoever has been delegated to manage the pilot. Show me who is managing the pilot client-side and I will tell you how successful your pilot is going to be.

o Failure by the selling organization to manage the pilot and in particular how the solution is used and surprises, or problems, that arise during implementation. An important factor here is a hands-off approach to supporting the pilot, poor users training and a lack of effective co-ordination between the sales and technical.

5. Priorities in the company change, or perhaps people, or politics change – the longer the pilot the greater the risk here.

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