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Creating Effective Pilot Programs that Acquire Strategic Partners & Champion Users

Introduction & Things Pilot Programs Should Include

“We’re working with our ideal customers to build the perfect solution”. I hate when companies say this. In my own opinion, I feel the being customer-focused is a duty of a founder, not a competitive edge. A while ago, myself and a team of wonderful people were working on a startup. As part of our go-to-market strategy, we developed a pilot program to be customer-centric and build a product our users defined. Our team made an animated video, published press releases, and promoted the program on social media. We wanted to keep the registration barriers low, so we’d have more sign-ups. This worked, but it hurt us.

After acquiring a few pilots, we explained where we were with the product and asked the pilots what they thought we should build. By the end of the interview, we had dozens of feature requests that spread our company across too many industries – we didn’t have concise, focused  feedback. This was because we didn’t set expectations or define how the pilot program would run. We totally missed key factors that would have made the program much more successful.

  1. There should’ve been a program package that outlined the purpose of the beta and the role/responsibility of the participant.
  2. There should’ve been a sort of value-adding service/product at the beginning of the engagement that the company paid for.
  3. There should’ve been an appointed project manager from the participating company.


How I’d Launch a Pilot Program if Doing it Again

1. Ask a question that really mattered most to the people I want to serve. 

Consider what you want to offer your customers – what is the end result of your offering? For example, a paddle board company might want to deliver the result: do paddle boarding without falling. The method for delivering such a result is a lesson. What is the result you want to deliver for your business?

As a marketer, I would like to deliver the result of increased revenue. However, the method of accomplishing this is unclear. That’s where you devise a question that really fits with the audience you’re trying to serve. For this exercise, I came up with the question: What would help make you more money?


Interviews: What would help make you more money?

The next step I would do is interview a few people in my network who fit with the market I’d like to serve. As a means of research for this blog post, I reached out to a few founders in my local community. I asked them only one question: What would help make your more money?

Founder: Oh well jeez, if I had a list of every company in North America doing ABC, that’d be great!


Me: Okay, so let’s say you have that. Then what?


Founder: Well then I’d need help onboarding the ones I close!


Me: Okay. So let’s say you have that. What about renewals?


Founder: Well we never really get to spend a lot of time on renewals because we’re so busy on the front-end getting customers and onboarding them. Once they’re on that’s all we really do (for how our operations are now).

From the interview, the founder identifies several needs they have. With the information, I can develop several methods that would help deliver the result I want to relay – increased revenue. Methods I came up with were:

  1. A list building tool to quickly gather prospects.
  2. An application or set of resources to quickly onboard new clients.
  3. A system or process that manages renewals.


2. Develop an information package for the Pilot Program.

Now that I’ve identified methods for increasing revenue, I would create an information package for products/services to offer the founder as part of a Pilot Program. If there was a large variety of products/services, I would consider including tiers for pricing options. Whatever one I were to go for, there would be a price tag on it. This would help me as a new company get revenue on the books, afford to pay myself, continue to live, and buy support the development of new products. For the people buying into the Pilot Program, they’re realizing the value of the products/services you’re offering. Everyone wins.

Some tips on making an information package for your Pilot Program:

  • Keep the branding and colours consistent.
  • Make it look good. Don’t export a PDF from a Google Doc. Take the time to load the words into a well-designed template on
  • Include a cover page and letter.
  • Include expectations for the arrangement (their responsibilities, your responsibilities, terms of service).
  • Include a length of the Pilot Program. There can be multiple recurring dates, but you should give them the opportunity to renew their contact to the program. This increases the percentage of successful champion-users.


3. Use Partnerships to Promote Your Pilot Program.

No one likes the guy standing on a hill waving a flag screaming ‘look at me’. What people prefer is someone who knows their place/niche and knows where their weaknesses lie. Using this awareness of self, attempt to leverage a partner with a positive, reputable brand. Their brand will help affiliate you with their values and principles (therefore assisting you to position yourself as someone proficient in a certain skill-set, or niche). In addition, partnerships are great channels for cross-promotions. This way, both parties can make noise together, connect, and expand.

Benefits of Partnerships

  • The partnering company becomes a word-of-mouth resource that spreads the message of what you’re doing.
  • Both parties benefit from promoting their brands.
  • Your marketing efforts get a boost because you’re both working towards a common goal (there’s more energy).
  • People will gravitate towards people doing cool things with awesome people.


4. Working Potential Pilots Like a Sale Process.

Now that your program package is complete and you have partners to distribute that information to referred-contacts, you’re ready to start working leads through a sales process. Be sure to vet the people who apply for your Pilot Program, and set expectations early on (ideally in the information package). Upon success, you’ll have a group of companies/people that belong to your Pilot Program. They will have a clear understanding of what’s expected and the process for feedback. Additionally, they will have an enjoyable experience, and mutually benefit you and your brand as you progress forward with your business.

Conclusion & Thanks

I hope this blog post helped all you founders out there trying to grow your projects into full-time businesses. It takes time, but with the drive and right resources, you can get there. Just don’t burn yourself out doing it. Charge for your pilot programs. Be open to including part-time services with your information program. Set yourself up to live and feed yourself without burning all your hours. Then you can get out of your job and have enough time to continue developing your products.

Leave a comment below if you liked this article. I’m looking for feedback and suggestions for other blog posts.


Colin MacInnis

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