Companies are not that different from individual consumers when making large dollar value buying decisions. Just like a consumer would test drive a car or get a grand tour of a house, an inspection, etc., companies also want to make sure that whatever software product they are purchasing will stand the test of time with few hiccups along the way.

One way that companies are accomplishing this is by engaging software vendors in a pilot or proof of concept program. Such programs usually run for a month or two, although occasionally longer periods are not uncommon, with basic configurations of the system and some specific customer requirements setup so that the company can get an understanding of how the system will work once fully implemented. This also allows the company and vendor to begin having an iterative dialogue about any changes that need to be made, further requirements to be addressed, as well as trialing any optional modules.

During this pilot engagement, most software vendors will provide the company with access to a project management portal, such as basecamp, for the company to raise any issues, concerns, or questions. This also helps to familiarize the company with how interactions between the two parties occur as well as response times.

The main goal of such engagements is to gain buy-in from other decision makers who may or may not have been involved in some of the initial conversations. While companies may engage in more than one pilot at the same, or around the same, time, it is rare that there will be several. As there is usually a cost associated with a pilot program, most companies have already selected the final two vendors they are interested in moving forward with and will only request a pilot during the final selection phase. As gaining buy-in from the potential customer is important, addressing any issues or concerns during this period is crucial to having the deal proceed further.

What should companies be considering during a pilot period? Here are some of our thoughts after engaging several customers over the years in our pilot programs.

Does the solution meet 90% of my requirements out of the box? If not, does the vendor have a solid plan as to how my requirements will be met?
Is the vendor responding to any questions or issues raised through the project management portal? Is the response time reasonable and are my questions and issues being addressed appropriately?
What are my colleagues’ opinions of the solution? Do they find it easy to use or are they not so thrilled with it? What are some of the things that they really like and perhaps some things they may want to consider changing during the actual implementation?
Will the basic version of the product be enough for us to get started or should we invest in some of the additional module options as well? If we are able to trial them during this period, should we do so if we may or may be purchasing them?
Does the solution meet our goals and objectives for automation, efficiency, and reduced costs?
Are the reporting features sufficient or will I need to do ad-hoc reports on occasion and/or request for custom reports?
After addressing and answering these questions, companies should consider whether it makes sense or not for them to move forward with the software provider. While there may be some risk involved in both options, pros and cons should be weighed. If the company is reasonably satisfied during the pilot period and has solicited enough buy-in from colleagues and/or higher-ups, it is wise to inform the solution provider that they will likely be moving forward so that they can start to prepare for full implementation.

Curious about how we engage our customers during pilot programs? Contact us today to get started.