Pilot Programs for B2B Products

There are several different scenarios that can be taken into account here:

  1. Building a product for the employees of the firm;
  2. Building a product/service for the firm itself.

If you are building a product for the employees of the firm, don’t think the employees are the only thing you have to worry about. The employees might be your users, but the manager or an entire buying centre is going to be your customer. This means that you have to create value to the employees and at the same time be convincing enough to the manager. You can usually convince a manager by offering to:

  • Save costs.
  • Increase efficiency (beyond saving costs). This could be allowing the employees to work quicker without the manager rationalizing the work of the employee entirely. With increased time, employees can focus on better quality of work or on working on new tasks entirely.
  • Improve HR-factors, such as mental health or employee satisfaction.

If you are building a product for the firm itself, you will have to convince only the buying centre or respective manager. There are a couple of implicit rules you should follow:

  • For big firms, projects and products beyond 100.000€ usually do not need formal approval and compliance processes. This means that the barrier to entry is lower. For your pilot product, we encourage you to always sell below 100.000€
  • Every firm calculates its budgets differently. There are innovation budgets, CSR budgets, HR budgets, etc. The key task during your pilot will be to identify the right manager in charge of the right budget. For example, I once sold an innovation service to a medium-sized investment fund that aimed at digitising their fund structures. Talking to the managers in charge of the fund, it became apparent that they operate with an extremely tight budget and were forced to realise every potential tenth of a percentage of increase in return. With the uncertainty connected to my digitisation service, even though I forecasted to safe the firm 300.000€ per fund per year, I was not able to sell for an amount higher than 20.000€. Later, I talked to the CFO who apparently had a yearly innovation budget of 400.000€ granted by the founders of the firm. This budget was almost untouched and we quickly agreed on a deal that priced the service at ~80.000€.
    Note that this is completely irrational. The service is still exactly the same. A firm, however, is not able to make objectively rational decisions. Organisations with hundreds of employees are intricate organisms that struggle to make good decisions. Part of this complexity are the different budgets available. It is on you to find out which manager is in control of which budget and sell the pilot program directly to them.
  • The barrier to entry needs to be very low. Firms love the status quo and unless they’re close to bankruptcy it will be incredibly difficult for you to sell new products and services. In almost every scenario, it is not the monetary costs of your pilot program, but the social, organisational and mental costs, which make the sale difficult. It is on you to make integrating the pilot service as easy as possible on both the social, organisational and mental level.

Social: The manager is concerned of his prestige in the firm. If your product is not liked by his boss, his employees or his co-workers, he will likely suffer reputational damage. Make your product “reputationally” safe by decreasing the reputational damage of it not working well. In the best case, your product is so easy to implement that employees don’t even explicitly notice the shift.

Organisational: While your product might not be costly, it might come with long adoption time. If employees need a significant amount of time to learn how to use your product/service, the additional time lost may be more costly than the money saved. A manager who plans to integrate your product to 10.000+ employees will carefully calculate every additional minute they will spend on it in which they will not get their own work done.

Mental: Integrating new products and services requires work and is tedious. The manager might see the savings in time and money, but might still be reluctant to integrate your pilot program. Ways around that are to appeal to the manager’s personal preferences or to make the benefit fundamentally higher than the status quo. 

For your pilot program hence, consider the following two dimensions:

  • How do I build the product/service so that it is most convenient to use and easy to integrate?
  • Who is the person in charge of making the decision (next to the user) and which of their needs do I have to address. Those needs might not be rational. If you talk to a manager that tends to brand herself as “the innovative girl”, she will likely use your service if it fits to the image she wants to portray to the organisation she works at.