Driving Conversions & Conversations using Pilots

As a PreSales consultant or SE, one of the best ways of engaging customers and driving fruitful conversations is by showcasing the value your product/solution can provide. Most of the time these can be demonstrated using:

  • Product Demos
  • Proof of Concept (POC)
  • Pilots

Through product demos & POCs, you can showcase value by demonstrating a limited functionality of the product. But to show your “Skin in the game” as well as the value, you should consider doing a full-fledged pilot for your customers. Pilots help...

  • Demonstrate the product/solution’s behavior in a real-time business case
  • “Fail fast” when developing a new product or a solution
  • Show the value proposition to your customers

Pilots Vs Trial / Demo licenses

In my experience, I have seen that most of the time, Pilots or Trial/Demos can help excite customers more than a solution showcased through a presentation. As an abstracted view of the solution through a document or a presentation doesn’t give customers insights on how a product/solution can help solve their business problems. In addition to this, the customer is also unable to visualize:

  • How the new solution is going to impact their business processes
  • How much business process re-engineering effort is needed across the organization as part of the rollout

Trials/Demo licenses are pretty useful for software solutions and when the customer has limited time to experience or use the product before making a purchase decision. Pilots come in handy when the solution is beyond just software are there are elements of hardware or processes involved where the customer would want to see how the solution truly works before taking a purchase decision.

During pilots, the product/solution is used by the customer for a fixed duration as part of their process flow/ business process. Using Pilots, the SE/Presales consultant can:

  • Assess the impact of this product/solution on their business processes.
  • Understand the business process re-engineering effort required when they roll out this product/solution across their organization.
  • Gain additional insights into the processes followed by the customer and will also help determine the effort required for rolling this out for the customer.

Pilot Strategy

A key building block to execute pilots successfully is a clear strategy definition for the pilot. Successful pilots deliver desired value to customers even with limited effort and low costs. A successful pilot strategy should contain:

  • Objective: End goal of the pilot can be anything from being a simple demonstration of capabilities to a “solution fitment” exercise.
  • Scope: Selection of business process and extent of integration planned typically helps define the scope. Complex business processes will require additional customization or adding additional processes to deliver the pilot. Also, the extent of integration should define the amount of manual work that may be required to deliver the pilot. All these will have a direct bearing on the cost of the pilot as well as the duration of the pilots
  • Commercials: Building a commercial model for delivering pilots are directly based on the sales strategy adopted. The sales strategy will help define if the pilot is a paid one or it is being done for free.

Pilot Implementation

Once the pilot strategy and the scope for the pilot are agreed with the customer, implementation will be similar to any project delivery. Some of the key points to be considered are:

  • A clear pilot plan including milestones & dependencies should be drafted
  • Infrastructure and setup required
  • Identify the key stakeholders and end-users/participants and define their roles & responsibilities
  • All required integration and testing, if any
  • End-user training on the product/solution
  • FAQ documents / process manual
  • Pilot rollout

Pilot Monitoring

Day to day monitoring of the pilot's progress is very important. There should be a dedicated team that is monitoring the progress and providing necessary support to the users. In addition to this, daily reports need to be published to the customer. Once the pilot’s objectives are met or the duration is complete, a pilot sign-off meeting should be arranged with key stakeholders. This meeting should cover:

  • Observations
  • Learnings
  • Customization required

Feedback from the customer needs to be sought on the entire pilot, this can help further improve the product as well as the pilot process

In Summary

When a customer is considering a pilot, it should always be seen as one step away from conversion as no customer would want to invest their time and effort if they do not see any value in the product/solution. This helps the sales teams to:

  • “Setup” the next stage of deal conversion through multiple conversations, which will ensure that the product/solution is in contention
  • A sustained and fruitful conversation will help customers to see and understand the value being delivered
  • Helps SE / PreSales consultant get better insights on the customer’s requirements which can help formalize the final solution better

As a PreSales consultant / SE one of the primary goals is to showcase value the product/solution is going to provide to the customer and pilots can help take it a notch higher.

Kishore is Head of PreSales & Product Strategy at KritiLabs Technologies based in Chennai, India. He is also Chapter Lead for PreSales Collective India.

Connect with Kishore on LinkedIn.

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The Leadership collective is a group designed for PreSales leaders in a management capacity (Manager+ title) who are looking to network, grow professionally, and actively participate.

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