Experiment with Sales Pilot Programs

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The Sales Warrior Within | Season 2 Episode 41 – Experiment with Sales Pilot Programs

Andy Olen is a Sales & Leadership Trainer and High-Performance Coach. Andy works with talented salespeople, business teams, and leaders who seek empowerment, improvement, and insight. Andy’s clients strive to be the best in class.

Good Selling, Good Leading, Good Living.” – Andy Olen

Experiment with Sales Pilot Programs

  • Pilot Programs are great ways to take thoughtful risk
  • Pilot Programs are short-term efforts that test a sale’s innovation before the idea is scaled up to a full-blown effort
  • Work on pilots with new customers. Offer a small or lower-cost product or service to start. If it does well… continue to grow. If it doesn’t do well, no problem, move on.
  • In a difficult sales environment, pilots are great ways to continue to move your sales agenda forward without asking your customers to take big risks.
  • Within the walls of the organization, use pilots to experiment. Sales managers should encourage innovation and idea sharing. Instead of taking an idea nationally to start, try it in a territory or region. Again, if it works, GREAT; if not, WE LEARNED.
  • Pilot programs are great ways to experiment, fail fast, and evaluate which ideas will sizzle the most.

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Get in touch with Andy Olen @ andyolen.com. Andy enjoys engaging with the Sales Warrior Community.




Speaker: Andy Olen

| 00:02 | There’s a Sales Warrior Within each of us. My name is Andy Olen, and I’m here to help you discover and empower The Sales Warrior Within. Sales warriors, this is Andy Olen. How’s everyone doing out there? Hopefully. 2023 is off to a great start for you that the sales are coming in that you run in a great sales process.
| 00:29 | You’re getting close and connected with your customers. Your communication skills are off the charts. I’m hoping you’re having a great start to the year. Certainly, a challenging environment that we’re in. It was Jeff Bezos, who said, at the end of 2022, again, Jeff Bezos, the former CEO of Amazon, the owner of The Washington Post newspaper, he said something to the effect of, you know what? You might want to think about holding your money and not spending a whole lot right now.
| 00:59 | And, you know, this is a guy, keep in mind that he’s giving us advice on holding our money. Well, his divorce actually cost him about $32 billion that he settled for and gave to his now ex-wife McKinsey, Bezos. So I’m not sure I’m taking advice from the guy who had to write a check for $32 billion about how to hold my money. It doesn’t seem like he is one of the world’s experts in that area.
| 01:28 | Certainly, we could argue that he knows how to make money through his company at Amazon, but nevertheless, I share that anecdote with you as a little bit of a comical segue. And oh, by the way, it’s just another anecdote as well. I’ve been listening to I listen to a lot of financial news, talk in the morning, Bloomberg television being one of the go tos and Bloomberg radio, one of the go tos that I frequent often for my financial news and cup of coffee.
| 01:55 | And Tom Keene, the moderator of surveillance the morning news show on Bloomberg. Instead of saying the word segue, like let’s segue from one topic to the next. He doesn’t say segue, he calls it a segui. I don’t know, now I’m confused. I don’t know which one’s right or which one’s wrong. Is it a segue or a segui?
| 02:15 | So if any of the sales warriors out there listening can inform me if it’s a segue from one topic to the next or as we GUI from one topic to the next, I actually thought he was joking the first time I heard it, but now I’ve heard him say it like ten times and I’m wondering if the word segue is more about a scooter that moves you around and sort of anticipates how you’re thinking by how you’re bending your arms, legs and knees, or if it’s really gooey, and I’ve been saying it wrong this whole time. Nevertheless, I’ve now on a double tangent.
| 02:45 | So back to Bezos, his comment was about the economic environment that we’re all selling into right now being more tricky and challenging than previous times where if you look at the most of the 2000s that it was a bull market in terms of equity markets, stock market, everything was going up, businesses, were flourishing, money was cheap in terms of low interest rates. So for salespeople, a really good time to be selling. A lot of customers saying yes.
| 03:13 | That’s a little bit tighter now as you think about big businesses if they took out some loans or issued some bonds to finance capital expansion, let’s say those loans were at two 3%, 4% interest. And today they’re at 8 or 10% interest. That’s a big refinancing, and that’s a big new expense, interest rate interest expense to the income statement that they all have to take on and to satisfy.
| 03:42 | So certainly a tough environment for salespeople, but for every challenging story out there, I believe there are ten success stories out there from sales warriors doing a great job. So stay with it. And as always, I’m always here to help you if you have any challenges. Reach out to me. I always love hearing from the listeners of the pod Andy@andyolen.com is where you’re going to find me and what you’re going to find a response in your inbox. Not to soon after you send me your email.
| 04:12 | Team, what I wanted to talk about today is, you know, throughout my career, a really good practice I’ve seen internally within sales organizations within companies. And also between salespeople and customers is to take a small risk or do a little experiment that we often call a pilot program. And this is not a pilot like aviation program, but a pilot program is like a little beta. It’s a little bit of a testing environment to see if someone’s idea or innovation, really, works.
| 04:43 | So I’ve been parts of part of many a pilot program. And it usually allowed executives and decision makers to grow comfortable with trying something small and trying it over a short period of time versus saying this is our new sales policy. This is absolutely how we’re going to launch this product. This is absolutely how we’re going to promote this product or price this product. Try a small little pilot and that pilot should give you enough indication whether or not your idea is a good one.
| 05:15 | The initiative is a sound one. And if you should scale it up or you should end that program. And it’s a wonderful way for organizations, commercial or sales organizations to take risks. And what I found in my business, team is that it’s a wonderful way to try things with customers too. Let’s start small. Let’s evaluate how things are going. And if it’s going well, we can scale up. And that’s really sort of how my sales model has evolved in my business, where, for example, I have an upcoming first call with a client, a new client, a referenced in, and they know a little bit about me.
| 05:52 | I know a little bit about them. And we’re going to talk about what their needs are, but it’s probably going to be a smaller first event training or speaking or coaching events, something like that. And I find that to be a great way to quote unquote pilot potential longer term partnership. And so what I mean by that is it’s a lower risk situation for customer and also for vendor in this case me. So let’s assume it’s a speaking engagement at a sales meeting or something.
| 06:23 | I go and I do 60 to 90 minutes. If it’s the world’s worst thing, it’s going to be unfortunate. It’ll be a little embarrassing for me. If I’m aware that it wasn’t very good, that’s certainly not my goal. And I haven’t had any singular event like that or even a longer term event like that. However, if it doesn’t go as expected, it doesn’t meet expectations. Well, you know what? There’s a little bit of time, a little bit of money invested in it, but not a death blow to the organization.
| 06:52 | It’s not material for me. It’s not material, most likely for that organization. And we say, hey, you know what? We tried. It didn’t work off we go. On the other hand, let’s take the more optimistic case, which I find happening more often than not. Is that you do a small engagement, a short amount of time, lower investment. They say, you know what? That worked out pretty well. Why don’t we bring you in and let’s do a couple more trainings. And then let’s set up a curriculum for our high potential salespeople.
| 07:20 | Let’s set up a developmental program. Let’s get you in front of other groups. And so I really think about that first engagement together as a pilot. And it’s lower investment, low risk. And if it doesn’t work out, everyone goes to their own way. If it does work out, great. And I think it’s a wonderful seed to plant that’s ultimately watered and if that seed decides to sprout and grow into a wonderful fruit bearing, tree if I want to take my analogy all the way to the end, then that is a big success for everyone.
| 07:52 | So I would encourage you as a salesperson to pilot as many opportunities with customers as possible. If you have, say, ten or 15 products in your sales bag, don’t ask them for a purchase of ten or 15 products. Start with one that’s easy to access easy to implement. And that probably gives you your best chance of success. Call it a pilot. Hey, you know, I know you don’t want to jump all the way into the deep end with my organization with these products quite yet. And I understand that. That’s no problem. In fact, I would probably do the same thing.
| 08:23 | How would you feel about trying one of these doing an evaluation, doing a small, quick pilot? Let’s see how it works. And if it does well, we’ll continue to move forward from there. And if not, hey, now we know and we move forward without a lot of complication or concern. That seems like a very reasonable approach, especially in an environment where customers may be unwilling or less willing to make big investments upfront into unknown products or services, but would be willing to do something small to see if it works and then it goes from there.
| 08:56 | So as a salesperson, can you position and create small, low risk pilot opportunities for you and your product and your service for customers to be able to say yes to with less risk, less investment, but it really does plant that seed for doing bigger things together later on. I think that’s a really wise approach to take into the tougher sales environment that arguably most of us face at this time.
| 09:26 | I mentioned doing pilots in terms of within the walls or within the walls of the organization. If you have a good commercial idea sales, marketing, promotion, channel, pricing, contracting, negotiation idea, try it out, small, one or two, three customers around the region around the country. If it’s a marketing campaign, try it small, try a couple target customers, see what works. I mean, that’s just tried and true best practices in businesses.
| 09:55 | You want to get a good market reaction to what you’re doing. And a good market reaction, by the way, is that it doesn’t work, that it stinks. Well, good. What that means if you tried it as a pilot and it doesn’t work out well, you don’t have a lot of sunk costs into that. You weren’t banking the entire enterprise on this idea’s success. Rather, you were going to start small pilot it and then move forward. And I found that many times when I was more junior in my career in marketing and sales, that the more senior leaders would be very open to quote unquote piloting something before making bigger decisions to scale.
| 10:30 | And so I think as a junior marketer or product manager, even as a sales manager, if you have ideas for pilots, frame it as a pilot, low risk, low barrier to entry. You can try it quickly, evaluate, and then decide to go or to no go, sort of what your customer is going to be doing with you as well. So it’s a really good framing and a way to introduce changes to the status quo or new and innovative ideas without a lot of risk.
| 11:00 | So I would encourage you to get out there and pilot things. Now, here’s a scenario and I’ll close with this story that recently I actually signed an agreement with a customer to do a pilot program around negotiations. And you know it was a good opportunity, a small investment. Small amount of my time as well too, to evaluate how we were going to work together. And there were some milestones that we were going to put together that would allow us to evaluate how this partnership was evolving.
| 11:30 | There was a hope on both sides that it would grow into this very large sort of global rollout of my products. And the pilot was going to give us some insights if this was going to be a good idea. In this situation, we actually never executed the pilot because what we learned during the process of even ramping up for the pilot was that it just wasn’t going to be a good fit.
| 11:53 | My products within this organization’s global structure, some of the requirements on translation, some of the requirements on times that I would have to be available, like a three in the morning, my time to train one of their international teams. That just wasn’t going to allow me to give my best effort and best training. And it was really good that we actually learned about that in the pilot. That was a way that we could say, hey, you know, before we go on and even execute this pilot, we’ve learned enough here to say, this is probably not the best fit.
| 12:26 | And let me ask you sales warriors out there. This question, have you ever done a deal with somebody where like a month and you’re like, why did I ever commit to this? This is way too much. This is not good. Wouldn’t you have rather of known that either during a pilot or the preparation for a pilot well in advance, it saves a ton of time. It saves a lot of energy. And I think it’s a way for you to also, if handled properly, maintain the long-term relationship with those people that you were engaged with.
| 12:57 | It’s always better to cut things short and not waste a lot of people’s time and energy. If you don’t see a pathway forward, a pilot gives you that opportunity, a pilot program gives you that opportunity to really evaluate. So even in that situation where I don’t consider it a failed deal, we set it up in a way where you know what we learned enough even before we executed the pilot, that this wasn’t going to be the best fit for either side.
| 13:23 | And we walked away without any material time or expense being deployed and the relationship, I believe, maintained for the medium and long-term as well. So call to action sales warriors. Think about pilots, pilots with customers, pilots within the walls of the business. And when you set up a pilot, it allows for a lower risk, lower investment threshold to get things going to see if it works. And if it works great, scale it up. If it doesn’t work, no problem.
| 13:53 | And if you don’t even get to execute the pilot, because you’ll learn enough before the pilot is run, that this isn’t going to work. No problem. Make sure that you continue to positively manage the relationship. If it’s external and with customers and an internal, make sure that if you’re a sales leader there, that failed pilots, hey, that was a risk worth taking. No problem. We learned and we’re a learning culture.
| 14:16 | And we value that type of innovation and fast failure, quote unquote fast failure, because we know that if we have ten really good ideas and two or three of these things work well because we pilot them and we find success, we’ll take that because those really good ideas are probably going to scale up and create really nice returns for us as well. So as leaders create a culture of piloting of experimenting a fast failure fast success as well too. And for all sales warriors out there, think about pilots with your customers.
| 14:45 | It’s a lower risk, lower barrier to entry type conversation to have with customers. And I think in this more difficult economic environment, we’re selling into pilot programs will be wonderful seeds to plant that will ultimately blossom into wonderful fruit bearing trees for you. All right, Sales Warriors, that was just my thought for this podcast. Continue to be out there innovating around pilots, and I think you’ll find great success in doing that. My name is Andy Olen and as always. Great talking with you. Good selling.
| 15:15 | Good leading. And good living.