3 Steps for Running More Successful Pilots

Pains and gains aren’t enough without stakes.

Ever had a customer go cold after a sizzling start?

You’ve just closed a big customer and can taste problem/solution fit. They’ve agreed to run a 3-month pilot to evaluate your product. Everyone is excited during the onboarding call, and things are seemingly off to a great start.

Then motivation starts to wane.

They aren’t using your product as quickly as you'd expected, but you’re hopeful that things will pick up.

They don’t.

Three months fly by, and the customer asks for an extension.

Sound familiar?

The problem: Your customer doesn't share your sense of urgency.

The future of your startup depends on this pilot. Theirs doesn't.

How do you structure pilots where your customers are as motivated as you are to see the pilot succeed?

That’s the topic of today’s issue.

A lot of product pitches use pains and gains to craft a unique value proposition:

⬆️ Gains describe the desired outcomes customers want. They help pull the customer up the progress hill.

⬇️ Pains capture the obstacles standing in the way of those outcomes. These obstacles represent friction the customer experiences as they make it up the progress hill.

Good pitches amplify gains (PULL) while minimizing pains (FRICTION). But pains and gains alone aren't usually enough to spring your customers into action due to their inherent resistance to change (INERTIA).

Making progress takes effort and coordination, and inertia usually wins. Just think of all the unread Kindle books you might have bought with the best intentions.

The missing ingredient to counter inertia: Stakes.

Stakes quantify the undesired outcomes if the customer does nothing.

While desired outcomes describe the movement to a “better” future state enabled by your product, it’s important to contrast this with a regression to a “worse” future state without your product.

This visualization of negative impact helps drive the customer into action (PUSH).

If you’ve heard of the principle of loss aversion, you already know why this works.

Loss aversion is a cognitive bias that describes why the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. The loss felt from money, or any other valuable object, can feel worse than gaining that same thing.

- Kahneman and Tversky, Prospect Theory

How to Uncover Stakes?

The best time to uncover stakes is during the sales discovery process.

Here’s how:

1. Uncover (Negative) Impact

After establishing the customer’s situation and problem, explore the (negative) impact (ripple effects) of the problem.

Tie it to a quantifiable metric.

LEANSTACK Continuous Innovation Platform Example
Context: LEANSTACK helps startup accelerators improve their fundable startup pipeline.

2. Get the Right People (Decision Makers) Involved

The higher you go on negative impact, the higher you go up the org chart, which often equates to more attention placed on the pilot. More attention means more motivation (PUSH).

3. Establish a Critical Event

The right early adopter selection and pilot management is an often overlooked do-or-die step for a startup.

Not all customers are created equal.

Your ideal early adopter should be at least as motivated as you are to see your product help them succeed. This is where critical events come in.

A critical event timeboxes the negative impact and drives urgency. You ideally want to pick customers whose critical events fall within your pilot window.

Negative impact quantifies what’s at stake.
A Critical Event establish a deadline.

LEANSTACK Continuous Innovation Platform Example

Ideal early adopter: An accelerator starting their next cohort within the next 3-6 months.

Here’s a simple mnemonic (via Jacco van der Kooij) to help you remember what to do when setting up your next pilot:

Early Adopter = SPICED customer
S: (assess the) Situation
P: (identify the) Problem
I: (explore negative) Impact
CE: (establish a) Critical Event
D: (quantify the) Desired Outcome

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