on Oct 06, 2014 / by Anna Eliot

How to Optimize Your Pilot Program

In marketing, some tactics can look promising and your gut might immediately tell you to “INVEST NOW”. But if you’re smart enough, you’ll know that it’s better to test the waters before jumping in. This is especially true in the wild west of lead generation. In lead gen, companies can promise the world, but where the rubber really meets the road is in the quality of the leads and their ability to fulfill them in a timely manner.

This is where a pilot program comes in. A pilot program allows marketers and sales teams to test their messages and target customers, and at the same time provides an understanding of the potential costs and expected results (leads generated, ROI) without the extensive financial investment needed for a full-blast campaign launch.

When launching pilot campaigns, marketers focus on a sample of a company’s target prospects. This sample size can be as small or as large as you’d like, but the trick is that it has to be big enough to rely on the statistical validity of the lead sample to be “tested.” Is the sample size so small that it’s difficult to derive statistically reliable results from it? Or is it too big? Which, in the event of a failed campaign can be quite costly.

If you’re thinking about dipping your proverbial toe into the lead gen pool then here are some of the things you need to know about launching an effective pilot program.

Setting the Agenda

Most companies credit their lead generation success to pilot programs. But first, ask yourself the following questions: What are your objectives? Do you want to drive sales, tap a new customer base, or cut costs (if the program is an alternative strategy)? And how do you think a pilot campaign can help you succeed? In other words, make sure that you set measurable goals that are applicable to your business.

A pilot program can serve different purposes. It can be a mere assessment of your current marketing situation, a method to test the response of your target customers or an evaluation of your distribution methods. If you plan to engage the services of a lead gen provider, a pilot program can also serve as a great testing ground for their abilities.

In determining the appropriate lead sample size, it is important to establish the parameters of your pilot program first and outline your processes. This involves having a clear definition of your product and your marketing strategy. Some marketers break down product categories to keep their pilot programs simple and focused. Programs should also have an in-depth analysis of the industry you want to tap, which will cover company size and filters. More importantly, determine your budget and the duration of your program. Your lead sample size may need to be larger or smaller depending on all of these factors.

Small Says It All?

Most marketers prefer to tackle a smaller lead sample size. This is because a larger lead sample may involve too many variables and can be difficult to measure. Also, budgets for pilot programs are usually restricted and running tests on bigger lead samples is generally more expensive. A large lead sample size also tends to deplete your pool of target customers.

For pilot programs, it is best to target a distinct customer group or an influencer group—those who can make a true impact on your business. To easily quantify results, some marketers focus on one small group or department rather than targeting an entire organization.

Bigger is Better?

However, not all pilot programs are created equal. For some marketers, a large enough sample size is required to ensure validity. This is because a bigger sample size will allow you to easily determine the significant differences in results. If results are very similar, you will need more data and to run more tests to arrive at a statistically valid pilot test. Other companies, however, will start their programs with a minimum sample size, and then optimize their pilot campaigns later on with a bigger lead sample size.


It is difficult to assume a definitive answer on the best lead sample size for a pilot program. Your lead sample size may be bigger or smaller depending on a lot of key variables (budget, filters, program duration, available resources, metrics), but having a good handle on all of these factors these is a good enough start.

Have you experienced running a pilot program? Did you get the results you wanted? Share your experience (the good and the bad) with us in the comments below.

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