Corporate ADD and the Failure of Pilot Programs


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Over the past 2 weeks, I have found myself in several conversations with clients who are piloting new data–driven marketing programs. After each conversation I was more worried than ever.

  • The customer data driven insights were strong
  • The personalized marketing program were strong
  • Management buy-in was strong
  • The measurement plan was strong

Yet the program was more at risk than ever.

The main issue was the ability of the marketing team to focus on the pilot program in the midst of all the other marketing efforts they had on their priority list. With frequent email programs, a direct mail or two, supporting the web site redesign, creating materials for the next sales meeting and so on, the team really wanted the pilot program to be “plug and play.” Esssentially — design and implement the test and then let it run for a while before resurfacing to see how it did.

But pilot programs are not like baking. In baking, you assemble all the ingredients carefully and then put the pan in the oven. Then you sit back and wait, hoping that the end product will be great. After closing the oven, there is not much you can do.

Pilot programs are more like cooking. You prepare the ingredients, heat up the pan and drop them in. But that is the start of the effort, not the end. The ingredients are turned, spiced, simmered, etc. New ingredients are added along the way, either according to the recipe or based on taste. The end product can be great, but it is a constant work in progress until the dish is done.

Pilot programs need constant tuning, based on revenue, product assortment, sales force feedback, competitive response, etc. That tuning helps the program get ready for prime time in two ways:

  • The customer communications, offers, channels, timing, etc. are adjusted to maximize results for the investment required
  • The participants in the pilot program are ready to give the effort their full endorsement to the rest of the sales/operations team
The first benefit of tuning is what most people think about — make sure the program is as right as you can make it given the timing and constraints of the pilot market. But the second benefit may be even more telling. Because marketing programs are not simply tossed out there to succeed or fail on their own; rather, they must be executed by people, who will determine the success of the program based on their commitment and engagement.
To give your pilot programs their best chance for success, you have to focus on three key factors:
  1. Engagement with your field team. By treating them as equals, asking their feedback and improving the program “on the fly,” you create a sense of shared commitment to the success of the program.
  2. Continual iteration of the program. Go into a pilot program assuming that every piece of it will not work; instead, assume that you will end up with a stronger program at the end of the project than you went in with.
  3. Focus on hard metrics as well as the softer ones. Measurement is what you will need to bring to the corner office in order to be able to rollout the program across a broader geography. Make sure your measurement approach has been blessed by Finance before the pilot program starts and then begin to share interim results and implications as the pilot proceeds. You will gain visibility and also credit for your transparency if you also share the learning and changes you are making.
The most important factor in the success of the pilot program is FOCUS. There is not question that maintaining engagement with a pilot program after the “fun” part of the launch is difficult. Competing priorities and workload can lead you to forget that you need to “feed your pilot” on a regular basis.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Price
Mark Price is the managing partner and founder of LiftPoint Consulting (, a consulting firm that specializes in customer analysis and relationship marketing. He is responsible for leading client engagements, e-commerce and database marketing, and talent acquisition. Mark is also a RetailWire Brain Trust Panelist, a blogger at and a monthly contributor to the blog of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Marketing Association.


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