Q: How To Speed Up Early Trials, Adoption, and Sales

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, skmurphy

Q: I run a SaaS B2B startup that boosts employee engagement by bringing co-workers together for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. We have an MVP. We have done some customer development interviews and have half a dozen potential early adopter customers. The next step would be to do a free pilot of our product on a subset of about hundred employees at an early adopter company.  Our contacts are enthusiastic about what we do, we have had a couple meetings with each, we are offering discounted pricing, but it’s now been more than four months and none have them have decided to move forward to a pilot and we don’t have a path to a decision. 

How can we speed this up?

A: You can adjust your message (description of benefits for a particular target customer), your criteria for selecting a target customer, or feature set. Normally the cheapest thing to fix is to change the message, second is to pick a new target, and the most expensive is to add features.

A benefit will normally be one of these if you are selling to a business decision maker:

  • reducing an existing cost stream
  • adding new revenue that’s incremental to their current plan
  • managing or reducing a risk that they are concerned about
  • reducing the cycle time for a business critical task or process
  • reducing the error rate for a business critical task or process

You need to pay particular attention to:

  • How will you measure the before and after?
  • Who signs the check and how do they benefit?
  • There is no such thing as a free trial, there is always opportunity cost for everyone involved.

I am a huge fan of “peer to peer knowledge sharing” but it sounds more like a method or management practice than an application. I suspect you need to connect the dots more directly to a business payoff or the specific business problem you believe that this will help them address. Can you give them a better diagnostic–offer more proof based on data from their operation–on the scope of the problem you are offering to solve for them?

A hundred people is a large number to involve in an early pilot. Can you show results with a small group of four to six? You don’t have to stop there, you can make that the first phase of the pilot, but you can use the small core group to encourage others to adopt within the organization and ultimately get to your target group of a hundred in three or four steps.

There is a temptation to increase the size of the promised benefit if the prospect is wavering, it’s often better to focus on a faster benefit even if it’s smaller. Time to positive impact is a good proxy for a prospect’s estimate of the amount of risk involved in a new tool, process, or methodology. I did a video chalk talk on this at  you may find useful.

Several meetings and no decision to go forward is a polite no.

Q: What if we played hard to get and told our prospects that we have limited resources and with other firms asking to get in we have to decide who to start this month?

I see several problems with this. You reinforce that you have limited resources which may make them question you ability to support them if they decide to go forward.  Also, if you are talking to bona fide early adopters this is can backfire very badly. While this “velvet rope marketing” model seems to employed by some B2C marketing folks, in my experience it does not work well and will turn off the change agents you are trying to reach. They want to be sure that you understand the risk you are asking them to take and will be there to support them to a successful conclusion. A message that you are unable to provide support when you are just getting started will make them very leery of placing a bet on you.

A better message would be based on the impact adopting you offering will have on their business. Make that your forcing function. For example, every month you delay you spend this much on workarounds or errors or forego this much revenue because you are not capitalizing on this capability. What is the cost of leaving things the way they are for another month? Make that a reason to change, not your impending inability to support them.


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Update July 16: This post was highlighted in Foundora Issue 333

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