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  8.8. During Test 3: Develop Pilot-Customer Relationships (5 min.)

As you prepare for the final test of your solution (the Solution Test), on the marketing side you should be closing pilot-customer relationships to refine both your solution and go-to-market strategy in partnership with your lead customers. The objective at this stage is to validate your go-to-market strategy assumptions by closing paid (or another relevant proxy of commitment) pilot-customer relationships and then using these relationships to finish the solution with your customers.

During the third test, you should close and launch pilot-customer relationships, preferably paid pilot-customer relationships. The pilot customers are the sandbox in which you can put the final touches on the solution and refine your go-to-market strategy. In a pilot project you can get deep into your customers’ workflow and optimize the solution to meet their pains. You can also get a deeper understanding of their buying process and how they interact with and gather information from the market infrastructure. Most importantly, pilot customers can become reference customers.

What are reference customers? Reference customers are customers who will speak in glowing terms about your product to other potential customers. These reference customers can be absolutely crucial in closing future deals because they may act as explicit references when you try to close a future sale, or they may be implicit references as they spread the news about your company via word of mouth. But reference customers don’t just happen. They are chosen and nurtured. To begin the process, you should actually select reference customers who would be good partners and strong references. It is crucial that your reference customers be credible, committed, and good to work with. Once you have selected potential good-reference customers and have them committed to work with your company, in the words of Donna Novitsky (founder of Clarify, a public company that sold to Nortel for $2 billion in stock.), “You do absolutely everything you can to make those reference customers happy." If you properly nurture these reference customers, at the end of the pilot you will have a robust solution, a deep understanding of your go-to-market strategy, and a reference customer for future sales.

(See Nail It Then Scale It, pgs. 155-157)