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One of the questions we get asked a lot at TSIA is how to test the efficiency and effectiveness of changes that companies are implementing in their Sales organizations. It’s such a popular question that we’ve noticed a significant step increase in the number of these inquiries that we’ve received over the last 3-6 months.

The changes that companies are implementing tend to fall into one of two categories:

  1. Moving through the four phases of becoming LAER Efficient: These companies are generally looking to test a new set of offers or a new Land Sales process.
  2. Making the move to outcome-based selling: These companies are typically trying out a new sales methodology and potentially new software. 

These two categories aren’t mutually exclusive, as we’ve worked with member companies who are looking to do both of these simultaneously. But oftentimes these organizations will consider “running a pilot”, which can sometimes be seen as a step to avoid rolling out an initiative fully.

What “Running a Pilot” Actually Means

You will hear people say, “We want to do this, but let’s just run a pilot first.” This can be perceived to mean that people aren’t fully behind the idea. However, the reality is that it’s quite sensible to take an approach that will allow you to validate and confirm your assumptions, and also to adjust based on the findings from the test.

When you run a pilot, the most important thing is to prepare for it like you were preparing for a full rollout. The best pilots never end, but rather evolve naturally into a full deployment of whatever you were testing in the pilot. In other words, take the stance that success is inevitable and that the objective of the test is just to refine the approach.

5 Steps to Running a Sales Pilot

We guide people to follow this simple five-step process when setting up a sales pilot. It shouldn’t be complex or over-engineered. You want to keep the team focused on what you’re looking to test, and everyone must understand very clearly what their role is and how they will provide feedback.

sales pilot example

1. Define the Measures for Success

Setting clear goals and objectives for any pilot may seem obvious, but some pilots are initiated without clarifying the desired outcomes. Very often, everyone just assumes that these are understood.

  • Be realistic about what you can realistically and accurately test, and make sure that the things you’re looking to test can be measured
  • Consider subjective measures of success in addition to tangibles
  • Don’t delude yourselves, many pilots can have consequences that could be perceived as negative; most new initiatives require trade-offs 

2. Decide on a Pilot Duration

This depends on what you are testing and assumes that a new sales methodology/approach is being tested.

  • There is always pressure to get results from a pilot as quickly as possible. Manage expectations by setting a test duration of a minimum of 13 weeks
  • Include regular readouts of pilot test results, especially in the first 2-3 weeks. Set up weekly calls and reports from anyone who’s interested
  • Conduct a more formal review on a four-weekly cycle with the intention to adjust activities based on findings to date

3. Set the Selection Criteria

The following criteria should be considered:

  • Geographic Regions
    • Pick regions that will benefit from the pilot and will be relatively easy to get to buy-in
  • Offers/Products/Solutions
    • Make sure that your offer is at minimum “ready for sale” and preferably “ready for delivery”
  • Customer Segments/Specific Customers
    • Be as specific as you can be around the type of customers you want to include in the pilot
  • Sellers/Sales Managers
    • Highly dependent on the previous topic (customers), use sellers that are willing participants
  • Vertical Industries
    • Are there high priority/propensity industries you want to target or prove that the offer works for?

4. Design the Onboarding Process

Too often, we see sales pilots fail to live up to expectations because the process of engaging and onboarding the key constituents is under-estimated.

  • In addition to normal educational enablement there should be a specific work stream designed to engage, motivate and inspire the individuals selected to participate in the pilot and to ensure they have a full understanding of expectations and their role
  • This is as applicable, if not more so, to the first and second line of sales management that will be involved in the test

5. Operate the Pilot and Get Feedback

Sales pilots are an opportunity for “trial and error” and this should be the context; you are trying to figure out how to make something work, don’t just look for patterns of success, you’ll learn as much from the failures.

  • Establish the feedback process and timings; early and often is the general rule
  • Give participants the opportunity to share feedback throughout the process, as well as at the end through group discussions and surveys
  • Find a way to celebrate the successes, to publicize any great wins and to keep the prominence of the pilot in everyone’s minds

Get More Help With Your Sales Pilot

As mentioned, this question is common among TSIA members, which is why we’ve done ample research on what makes for a successful sales pilot and how to get started. If you and your organization are finding yourselves struggling, reach out to us. Membership in our Subscription Sales research and advisory practice has the data-backed insights, tools, and business frameworks you need for success.

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Martin Dove

About Author Martin Dove

Martin Dove is the former vice president of subscription sales research for TSIA and brought a unique set of experiences and insights on outcome-based selling and subscription sales methodologies. Martin helped TSIA members navigate the journey to being more outcome-based in the way they sell and to optimize their organization’s sales of subscription, or “as a service” offers, to both new and existing customers.