Gear Your Pilot Programs for Success
7 tips to help overcome internal hurdles by effectively planning, executing and measuring your pilot
1. Determine which type of pilot program you are running. Knowing whether it's a concept pilot or operational pilot will help you narrow down your focus and allow for easier communication of pilot objectives to internal stakeholders.
2. Gain agreement from management. Achieve a common understanding at the outset regarding the main objectives, success criteria and measurement strategy for the pilot program.
3. Communicate the vision of the pilot program across other departments. Remember, a critical part of your job is to reinforce the understanding across the organization.
4. Build a flexible project timeline. This may in fact be your first time running a pilot – be prepared to iterate more frequently. Precondition your internal stakeholders that you may go through more changes, even substantial ones, before the final proposition is locked.
5. Share learnings as you proceed with the pilot. Small wins can go a long way in building momentum for the pilot throughout the organization.
6. Put a fine pencil to the project if you’re embarking on an operational pilot. It’s critical to maintain your timeline and not to rush to market, particularly when the business must change to integrate the pilot into the company.
7. Stick to your measurement plan and be mindful of the critical success criteria you set at the beginning. It’s too easy to lose sight of your vision and begin to evaluate your pilot against the wrong criteria.
Still not sure which pilot stage you're at?
If you have created a new concept and want to see if customers or prospects resonate with the approach, products and services, then you want to create a concept pilot. This sort of pilot is characterized by:
• A focus on presenting the consumer value proposition
• Extensive customer feedback leading to frequent iterations (ranging from minor to substantial)
• A very small footprint (limited sales people or retail locations), characterized by early adopters (sales people who want to work with the “latest thing” and understand it will not be perfect at the outset)
• Metrics focused on customer behavior and attitudes (including intent to repeat and referenceability)
As you can see, this approach is not a cost-efficient one; many of the investments in the concept pilot will not pay out with so few customers or salespeople involved. Rather, the pilot is totally focused externally, on the customer. What delights them, what frustrates them, and can the company create a business proposition that leads to customer commitment and advocacy. The business question that is being answered is: “Do we have a concept that can turn into a multi-million dollar business?” Revenue potential is the ultimate metric for a concept pilot.
On the other hand…
If you have already created and proven out the value proposition for customers in a concept pilot, you can now move to an operational pilot. This pilot is more internally focused on whether the concept pilot can “scale” -- if it can be integrated into core company processes (financial, production, HR, etc.), as well as what tradeoffs are necessary for that integration. If the concept pilot cannot be integrated into the core business processes, the question proceeds to whether the concept can be scaled through the use of partners or vendors. Either way, the focus is on building the business model with real financials that permit the company to evaluate profit potential.
This sort of pilot is characterized by:
• A focus on building a scalable business model and financials
• Lighter consumer feedback, mostly on the tradeoffs in the value proposition necessary to scale the concept (there are always tradeoffs when you scale; the question is whether or not they put at risk the consumer value proposition)
• A larger footprint (districts, markets or territories) with more everyday salespeople or retail locations. After all, the concept must be expanded to make the business viable and not everyone will be an early adopter. So the ultimate rollout must work for the average market, salespeople or store locations.
• Metrics focused on operations and profitability.
Both of these approaches make sense and each has its appropriate place and value.
Problems arise when a company confuses one type of pilot program for the other.
Listen for the sound of teeth grinding and you may be hearing the symptoms of pilot program confusion! Within your organization, here is how you know you are dealing with this sort of situation:
• Finance keeps looking at the profitability of the concept pilot
• Operations wants to make sure they can produce what you are testing in concept before you have even invented it yet
• You are instructed to expand your concept pilot to multiple markets without consideration for the early adopter nature of the participants
• During your operational pilot, you are making substantial changes in the value proposition to improve profitability
• Your pilot is being rushed to market based on soft-perception metrics (you need real numbers now, not individual customer feedback)
These are the assumptions and actions that, although well intentioned, can lead great initiatives astray even before they get past the pilot stage.
Break out of the mold and start innovating.
Implement your own pilot program in 2010. Let these tips aid you in your efforts and put you on the path for pilot program success.
Keep an eye out for our next piece centered on the importance of small wins, and the powerful impact they can have on promoting the buy-in necessary to keep the momentum of your marketing pilot going in the right direction.
If you're not completely exhausted by now, let’s recap No Excuses Marketing and the 4 Steps to help you rewrite the rules of your marketing strategy:
1. Listen to the Voice of the Customer
2. Start small with a Powerful Test Pilot Program
3. Pick up team morale and Gain Buy-in with Short Term Wins
4. Shout it From the Rooftops (a.k.a. Socialize Your Results)
These are the seeds you plan at the outset. Remember you cannot be the voice of the customer until you actively listen to the customer. Start to uncover ways to solve your customers’ biggest pain points. By using the cost-effective strategies mentioned above, coupled with the ones we will discuss in the upcoming newsletters, you can start gaining momentum and achieving the buy-in necessary to rewrite the rules of marketing and reinvent marketing within your organization.