You’re pretty sure you’re about to receive a purchase order.  You have a very interested party whom you’ve courted for weeks, maybe months.  You’ve conducted a series of demos, overcome their objections, and proven your B2E is the perfect fit.  You ask for the sale and their response?  “We love it!  We want a pilot and then we can put you in the next budget.”  Nuts.  Do you give them the free pilot to keep a future sale alive or risk jeopardizing all your hard work?

Expectations of free samples are a staple in B2E.  Obviously educators have to determine if a resource meets their needs before they bring it into their curriculum mix, and publishers that don’t play ball on review samples won’t play ball at all.  When SaaS software entered the mix, free sampling took the form of free trial offers.  SaaS publishers have no consequential marginal cost, so why not?  And in the past 5 years a third business model, the freemium, entered B2E.  With a free base product at the very core of the offering, educators don’t even need to work with a publisher’s sales department to register a pilot – it’s all theirs for the taking.  While each form of pilot: samples, trials and freemium, may make sense for an individual publisher, when taken together, they mix like several shots of different liquors, leaving our buyer heady with confidence and it’s completely our fault.

As long as there will be B2E sales, there will be free pilot requests.  So how should we answer?  A yes pushes the sale into the distant future and frankly puts your revenue at risk should the prospect not properly implement that pilot.  A no threatens to bring the courtship to an abrupt halt.  I think the only correct answer is therefore to meet the prospect halfway. 

You can achieve this with my 4 simple rules for dating your product:

  1. The person with budget authority must sign off. Too many teachers abuse pilots just to get a free resource when they have no real purchase authority.  The easiest way to find out who does have authority is to require that the boss knows this pilot is happening.  
  2. There has to be an exchange of money. Discounting a pilot is perfectly acceptable and fair, but some token amount of money should change hands.  If they cry poor, even at a substantial discount, ask them how that situation will change after the pilot?  If they back pedal with a “well, we will have money in the future,” then suggest perhaps the pilot can wait until then.  When you hold firm on one of these conversations with a real decision-maker, they almost always find a way to pay a small amount for a pilot.  Don’t capitulate easily.  If more B2E’s expected to be paid for their work, we’d all be better for it.
  3. The school or district must commit to a certain level of usage. If they can’t make this commitment, they should agree that they won’t be able to make a fair judgment of your resource at the end of the pilot period.  You can enforce this by insisting on follow up meetings or other check points that keep the end user on track.  You should track their usage closely, and if things are off track, immediately work to remedy the situation.
  4. The school or district must agree to a survey to provide feedback. Your only chance to see a sale result from a pilot is if it’s a successful one.  So you need to be given the chance to call in that promise.  Letting the pilot requester know there will be a moment where you solicit feedback, and if it’s good you’re going to have your hand out should scare off someone that is not serious.  There needs to be an agreement that if feedback is good (all the better if this can be quantified), a purchase order should be forthwith.

Are terms like these going to be off-putting for some of your prospects?  Yes, indeed.  For a tire-kicker, a person without real purchase authority, or a straight up moocher, this isn’t going to work.  Perfect!  They are wasting your time anyway.  Don’t let ubiquitous free sampling cheapen your resource.  If they like it they can put a ring on it.

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