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Try Before Buy


Guest articles > Try Before Buy


by: Lee B. Salz


In the service and technology industries, it is not uncommon for prospects to request pilot programs before committing their full business. Yet, there are important steps for the sales person to take before agreeing to the engagement.

The competition has been fiercely pursuing this account, but you feel like you have the edge. All indications are that you are going to win the business. Then, a call comes in from the Procurement officer who says:

"We think you guys are great and we think we are going to go with you. Here's what we want to do. We want to try your service for free for thirty days. If that goes well, we will talk about plans to go forward."

Is this great news? Bad news? Some sales people feel like victory is imminent. Other sales people feel like the sale will never happen. Which one is right?

There is the old story about the optimist who sees the glass as half full and the pessimist who sees the glass as half empty. The one who is often forgotten is the pragmatist who sees this as a nice drink. When the request for a pilot comes your way, there is no need to shade this as positive or negative. There is no need for spin. It is merely an important step of the buying process that requires circumspection before proceeding. Let's dissect the offer from Procurement.


Why try? The Procurement officer says they want to try your service. Why do they want to do a pilot before committing? Don't guess. Ask. Some sales people prefer to assume that they know why this is being requested. I'm sure you've seen the acronym for ASSUME. The "why" is important to know before moving to the next step. Have they been burned in the past? Obviously, there is a trust issue here. Make no bones about it. If they fully trusted and believed in you and your company, the check would already be in your hands. Over the years, sales people have over-promised and under-delivered so buying pros want to make sure you do what you say you do before they turn their key. In many cases, the decision to award can affect business processes for the company. What if they go awry?

Consider this. Imagine a company is about to select an applicant tracking system to manage their recruiting process. After a tremendous amount of due diligence, the team feels like they have found the right provider for this technology. But, what if they are wrong? What if the technology fails? Does the entire hiring process come to a screeching halt because of it? Who will take the hit if that happens? This scares the Dickens out of buyers. The ability to put their pinky toe in the water before jumping in provides a sense of security for them. The bottom-line is there is a critical requirement for you to understand why they want to "try" you.


Free? The Procurement officer has asked for this trial period to be free. How do they get to decide that your product should be given for nothing? We would all love something for nothing, but we rarely get it. Of course, their famous comeback is to tell you that your competitor has agreed to do this for free. It reminds me of when my friend Brian was allowed to do something that I wasn't and I would tell my mom that Brian was allowed to go. She would simply say, "If Brian jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you want to do that too?" Buyers don't get to demand your product for free. A good question would be, "Why would they give their product away for free? Doesn't it have value?"

Food for thought. What if one of their concerns is billing? How will they measure your ability to invoice correctly if it is free? Another consideration is that pilots and trials always have a cost to your company. If there is going to be one done for free, there best be a return. Think of it as an investment. No one invests without a high probability of a return.


30 days. What is magical about a month for a trial? Why not 6 days or 28 days or 37 days? It is interesting to find out why that timeline is magical for this company. What data will they be able to gather in that time period?

What if the intent of the pilot is to demonstrate account management? Is 30 days too short? What if they want to measure your ordering system? Is 30 days too long? This comes back to the recurring theme of understanding what they desire to accomplish in this pilot.


The non-commitment commitment. Procurement folks are famous for committing to commit. "We'll talk about plans to go forward." I don't think so! A free pilot with no commitment for the business? You may have been born at night, but I hope it wasn't last night. There are times where it makes sense to provide a trial for free for a period of time. However, it only makes sense to do that if there is a firm commitment to award you the business if the pilot goes well. Ah, but what does "well" mean? Folks, this is the most critical step when agreeing to do a pilot! Exactly, what metrics will be used to measure the success of the pilot? Without those defined metrics, you don't have a fighting chance of hitting the mark because there won't be a mark to hit.

Pilots can be an effective tool in the buying process if utilized correctly. If you would like my tips for an effective pilot program, send me an email.

Lee B. Salz is a sales management guru who helps companies hire the right sales people, on-board them, and focus their sales activity using his sales architecture? methodology. He is the President of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars and author of “Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager.” Lee is an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, a print columnist for SalesforceXP Magazine, and the host of the Internet radio show, “Secrets of Business Gurus.” Look for Lee's new book in February 2009 titled, "The Sales Marriage” where he shares the secrets to hiring the right sales people. He is a passionate, dynamic speaker and a business consultant. Lee can be reached at or 763.416.4321.

Keywords: sales, sales management, sales consulting, sales training, sales best practices, RFP, proposals

Contributor: Lee B. Salz

Published here on: 03-Feb-08

Classification: Sales


MSWord: Try Before Buy.doc

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