Defining successful trials and pilots

Not every B2B software sales process requires a trial or a pilot. But you may find that this is often the fastest way to get your foot in the door of accounts. The goal of a pilot should be to get your product in a customer’s hands, gain experience with the customer, and ideally, sign a one-year agreement from there.

In order for that to happen, though, it’s important for you to work with the prospect to determine what a successful pilot should look like, its duration, and whether achieving certain objectives will lead to a full agreement.

And before you even begin negotiating a pilot, you should be having the pricing conversation for what a one-year agreement looks like. If you enter the pilot without setting expectations on pricing for a year-long deal, you may waste a ton of time talking to the wrong decision makers, expecting a deal for a price that is way over the company’s budget, or end up encountering some other contract-related issue.

Here’s the framework to follow to ensure a winning trial:

  • Get a pilot commitment from a prospect. Get a verbal commitment that a prospect wants to move forward with a trial or pilot. If you’re doing a paid pilot, be sure to get a signed agreement.
  • Determine the success criteria of the pilot. How will your customer determine whether the pilot was successful? Are they looking for certain features, ease of use, data quality, etc.? Don’t let the success criteria be subjective.
  • Lay out expectations on both sides. Lay out your prospect’s success criteria, and explain that if you’re able to meet those criteria, you expect to move forward with a one-year agreement. Be sure to get the prospect to agree here. If they have no real intention of moving forward with an agreement, then why are you doing all this work!? Expectations on length on pilot are also important. Have a start and end date to the pilot in the contract (or at least in writing). If possible, you may even want to have the paid pilot automatically convert into a 1-year deal after 30-60 or 90 days.
  • Launch trial/pilot. Make it simple for the prospect to get up and running with the product. Help them set it up and give them an overview of how to use it. In the early days, do whatever it takes to make the setup happen. For technical products this could mean helping with the integration, or in some cases, even doing it yourself. These are important wins to get, so you want to be sure you’re setting your prospect up for success.
  • Set up check-in cadence. Nail down a few times for you to check in and get feedback. Send calendar invites: you want to avoid customers going dark.
  • Conduct progress checks. Every step of the way, you should be gauging whether the prospect wants to move forward. Check in with the customer to see if they have used the product, gather feedback, answer questions, and establish whether they’ve seen the benefits that are important to them. Be prepared for objections, pushback, or even feedback that they do not like the product. Determine ways to combat these issues.
  • Wrap up and set next steps. As the trial nears its end, schedule a final wrap-up call to determine next steps. If they like what they experienced, ask them if they would like to move forward with a one-year agreement. If they don’t know if they like it, determine why and whether a trial extension would help. If they hate the product, this should not be a surprise based on your earlier conversations. In that case, try to determine if the prospect can be saved with other resources (engineering call, CEO call, reference call, etc.) or cut your losses.