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Pilots, Test-Drives and Trials: To do them, or not to do them

THAT - is the question!

· Transparency,transparency sale,decision science

Imagine you are trying to sell your house. The potential buyer says, “I want to pilot it first. Before we buy, we want to test-live here. Ideally, we’d like to move our stuff in, too. We’ll enroll our kids in the local school. We’ll throw a party and invite the neighbors, too, just to see how cool they are. Then we’ll tell you whether we’re ready to buy it.”

Well, that wouldn’t work, right?

Now imagine you’re trying to sell your car, and the potential buyer says, “I want to test drive it first. If possible, I’d like to check how it accelerates, and get a feel for it before I buy it.

I would guess you would be ok with that request, right?

What's the difference? Let’s think about this in the B2B world...

What is a buyer really trying to accomplish through a trial, test-drive or a pilot? They are trying to predict, as closely as possible, what their experience is going to be like using your products or services.

And, unfortunately, it also means that what you’ve provided them through their buying journey hasn’t given them the trust and confidence in their post-purchase-world forecast.

It’s part of our wiring as human beings. The more considerable the purchase, the more we are intrinsically driven to develop an accurate forecast of what our lives are going to be like post-purchase.

It’s why we read reviews before we buy something online. It’s why we read the negative reviews first (82% of us) and instinctually apply those negatives to our own world. “Would this apply to me? Would this bother me? Is this person crazy?”

It’s why a product with an average review score between a 4.2-4.5 sells better than a product that’s a perfect 5.0. No product is perfect, and if it’s positioned as a perfect 5.0 and we’re not able to see the downside, we don’t buy, and instead do more research or ask to try it first.

In other words, when a buyer is asking for a pilot, what are they really saying to you?

You haven’t painted a picture for me that gives me the confidence of what our world is going to be like using your products/services.

Something has been missed in the selling process.

So what do you do?

Ask yourself, is your solution more like a house or a car?

Are you able to provide a pilot that requires very little effort on your end, while also allowing the customer to actually experience the product like they would post-purchase?

  • If the answer is “yes”, then go for it. It’s the ultimate in satisfying the brain’s desire for an accurate prediction.
  • If the answer is “no” - meaning, a pilot would require resources to configure the solution for the prospect to help them predict, or the pilot would be a generic version that wouldn’t look like what the customer will actually experience post-sale, then the answer is different. Will your actual paying customers have to wait for support because these non-paying customers are getting priority?

Transparency sells better than perfection. Leading with your product’s potential risks, shortcomings, where the competitor sometimes does better than you is the fastest path to lasting trust and faster decision cycles. The brain is better able to check the box, "I can better predict the pros and cons of a purchase with you!"

When I sold my condo eleven years ago before moving into our current house, I lived in a cool downtown area. I embraced transparency before I knew it would work - often leading with, “See that bar across the street? It can get a bit rowdy sometimes. This probably isn’t the condo for you if you (a) are easily frustrated with the lifestyle, or (b) have small kids, because while it’s built to be practically soundproof, I once had a guy (going #1) in the bushes out front. And there’s more stories where that came from.”

Can you apply that to your B2B selling world? I know a good book that can help 😃 .

As an alternative, here’s an excerpt (1:49) from an interview I recently did with Jason Kren from Pactsafe where we talked about the ailment that causes pilot requests, and how to think about them.

And if you like it, I'd highly suggest checking out the rest of the webinar. We talked about a whole host of other topics - including another counterintuitive one: contract T's & C's design.

As always, please feel free to reach out if you are looking for a speaker or training workshop for your organization, or just want to nerd out on some of this stuff. Email to, or you can just reach out or follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter, too.

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