How to Land Your First BIG Customer

by / ⠀Startup Advice / April 17, 2013

Pilot ProjectBig companies are risk adverse. Unfortunately for your startup, this means it will be difficult to get big customers without proof that your product is exceptional.

Here at FluidSurveys, pilot projects have been credited as our go-to method for getting large organizations as customers for our online survey software in the early days.

A pilot project is a small scale trial of your product used to enable an organization to test it out.  Pilot projects were invaluable to our success because it helped us establish credibility, and with that credibility, we were able to use pilot-project-customers as references to help us acquire an increasing number of sales.

Here are some common questions and answers about pilot projects that will get you ready to land your first big customer.

Why start a pilot project


Pilot projects are a great way to start the buying process with a large organization. It’s all a test run, as I mentioned in a post I wrote on “How to sell to large organizations as a Startup.”

For FluidSurveys and other Software as a Service (SaaS) companies, the product is intangible until the customer can get their hands on it and experience the value. This is essentially what the pilot will provide in a low-risk setting.

Customers have so much power now that it is important to keep them happy and pilot projects are a great way to ensure you are doing just that.

Who to start a pilot project with

Large organizations

Starting a pilot project with large organizations (if that is your target audience) allows you to go get the best customer for your business while ensuring they are comfortable with the product. While these large organizations have all sorts of concerns surrounding startups, they make the best customers because they tend to be heavy users who will be able to pay for your product.

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How to start a pilot project

With a demo

The first thing that we do is run a demonstration of our software to make sure that clients understand exactly how our product works and that it addresses their needs. From there, we place a call to action and explain to prospects how the next step involves engaging in a pilot project. After outlining the terms of the project, including the mention of a lower price for the trial, we define success and failure with the client. This way, everyone is on the same page from start to finish.

One thing to note is that when FluidSurveys starts a pilot project, we don’t immediately go for the largest survey that the organization runs – for example, we don’t go for one that involves all major  stakeholders, we go for something a bit smaller in scale. We look for a small survey that goes out to a subset of all employees/customers. This way, everyone involved knows that it is a pilot projects and if it doesn’t go right, the impact is lessened (a comforting thought for the prospect).

On top of that, people are more likely to help out by giving constructive criticism that could help you create a better product. When that small project goes well, we work up from there and the end goal is to deploy our product enterprise wide.

What to do during the pilot project

Measure and listen

Here are some things you must do during the pilot project to ensure success:

  • Define parameters early. What would a successful pilot project look like? How long should it take? If the project is successful, is the client willing to be used as a reference in the future?
  • Designate one point of contact. If there are multiple people involved, there will be too many points of contact, it’s better to have one direct contact. Because the one point of contact will become so involved with the project, they will become your internal spokesperson and champion.
  • Collect feedback. Be sure to listen to the customers carefully and understand their feedback. Try to get feedback from different classes of users and improve the product on every level.
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How much should you charge for a pilot project

Anything but free

Pilot project prices can vary according to how your product is usually priced. For a pilot project, since it’s a test run and we want the experience, we cut the price a bit.

Generally speaking, we try to make the pilot project under $5,000 when possible. In a large organization, the higher the price, the more people are involved in deciding whether it’s a good expense. If you keep the price low, a manager will be able to make the final decision and it saves you lots of time.

The key is to never ever ever make a pilot project free. Ever. By it not being free, it increases the chances of success exponentially.

How long do pilot projects run

3 months

It is literally a project; we find a survey that we can run that is not high risk to the organization and make it happen in that time period.

Occasionally, people require more time for the project, but seeing as it is a pilot project, being flexible is important. This is where charging the organization comes into play. If you have a fee for the pilot project, they are more likely to take it seriously and want to ensure that it is completed.

When can you stop running pilot projects

After 4-5 projects. Running pilot projects is great in the beginning, but eventually, you want to move your business past that. What we did is run 4 or 5 pilot projects that went really well. After those finished up and we secured great customers that trusted us, we were able to use them as references. Pilot projects build credibility and once your startup has that, the next step is to move on to getting customers without needing to run a pilot project.

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One last important point to remember about pilot projects is that they are allowed to fail. Since it is a project and the company is just starting up, failure is a possibility and that’s what makes pilot projects great – the whole process is risk free for both you and the client. If you’re looking to venture into a new area, pilot projects are your best bet so give them a shot!

This post was written by FluidSurveys Co-CEO, Aydin Mirzaee. FluidSurveys is a do-it yourself online survey tool founded in 2008. It has since grown to attract customers in Fortune 500 companies as well as Governments and Universities. 

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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