How to Manage a Successful Pilot

How to Manage a Successful Pilot

Kicking off a corporate pilot means that your product and technology address a clear need. Your pitch and follow-up meetings were handled well — and the company deems your startup a valuable potential partner.

But how can startups manage a successful pilot? Here are some best practices.

1.) Identify measurable KPIs

In the early stages of a pilot between a startup and a large corporation, determining measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is crucial for defining success and shaping the strategic direction. To establish meaningful and actionable KPIs, both parties should first have a deep understanding of the pilot project’s objectives. Are they looking to streamline operations, enter new markets or enhance customer satisfaction? Once these are clearly defined, they can begin crafting KPIs that align with these objectives. These must be quantifiable, easily understood, and actionable to be of real value. Be sure to regularly review KPIs throughout the pilot project to allow for adjustments and make sure both sides continue to agree.

2.) Get the legal terms right

You’ll likely have to sign a standard legal agreement with items like data usage, confidentiality, and privacy policy. Make sure to look for reciprocal indemnity, warranty, and liability terms that are easy to understand and accept. You may need to interact with the legal team. Still, if you can use a more controlled environment for your pilot — like dummy data or sandbox environments that lower your barrier to entry — you’ll significantly reduce your paperwork.

3.) Focus on user success

In the early days of your pilot, staff training and clear communication with the end users of your product is paramount. While you have specific goals and metrics you’re marching toward, you must ensure that your product is understood, used correctly, and becomes a habit. Hold regular check-ins with key stakeholders to get ahead of any issues or confusion. If your product becomes a part of your users’ everyday rhythms before the end of the pilot, your chances of earning a full contract increase dramatically.

4.) Identify an internal champion

Identify a single point of contact to serve as an ambassador, responsible for sharing the necessary people, dates, access, and data. Keep a regular line of communication in between recurring check-ins. Remember, you’re both in this together. When stumbling blocks arise, don’t leave it until your next check-in to share if things are off track.

5.) Become a joy to work with

Strive to surprise-and-delight your counterpart during every interaction. Make it easy for your advocate to do their job by articulating what you need, from who, by when — and be specific. If you’re unclear, ask questions, and don’t assume. It may sound simple, but fill out every form quickly. Come into your meetings with a point of view on how the work is going. What’s your side of the story? What learnings and values are you seeing emerge?

6.) Start the scale-up process early

Ask your key stakeholders about the next steps, who needs to be involved, and what issues they anticipate. Ensure they have what they need to sell your success to their managers. Can you develop a case study that speaks to your early results? Can you re-develop your initial deck to share the next steps with higher-level executives who weren’t part of the pilot rollout?

7.) Budget properly

Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding payments. If you anticipate charging $200,000 for an annual contract and your corporate counterparts are assuming $20,000, solve that as early as possible. Plus, you will probably be expected to give reduced per-unit pricing as you scale up. Work out what you’re comfortable with, and do your best to look good by helping their company save money.

8.) Don’t expect a decision immediately

Contracts take time. Don’t expect a decision to follow the official conclusion of your pilot immediately. Sometimes, you may need a “phase two” and “phase three” pilot with an expanded scope. If your pilot has multiple phases, that’s a good result. It means you’re becoming an increasingly trusted, integral part of how your partner gets their job done.

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