I’ve been thinking about sales processes and specifically how they should change as the types of solutions we are selling into enterprises change.  For example, the traditional first step to an enterprise software deployment (and the near to last step in the sales process) would be to do a controlled customer pilot.  Sometimes these are free and sometimes they are paid for but almost always they involve rolling the product out to a small set of users and tracking a set of pre-defined success metrics.  If the pilot meets the goals, the next stage is to move the product into broad production use.

Should enterprise software pilots change or stay the same as enterprise software makes use of more social or collaborative technologies?  Michael Idinopulos has a great post on the Social Text Blog that makes a very good argument that for Enterprise 2.0 applications, it makes sense to skip the pilot.  In that post he makes the point that the business tasks enabled by traditional enterprise software (transfer funds, purchase products, track inventory were his examples) do not vary with the number of users on the system.  He then makes the argument that Enterprise 2.0 applications are very different because they are more “interaction” based rather than “transaction” based.  He states:

Interactions and transactions have completely different scale
economics. When we use Enterprise 2.0, we’re not transacting with a
system; we’re interacting with other people. An interaction is a
connection between two or more nodes in a network. And as Metcalf’s Law
famously states, the more people there are in that network, the more
interactions each individual can have with his or her peers, and the
more value that individual derives from participation in the network.

Regardless of how you define an “Enterprise 2.0” application, I believe we are now moving into an age of collaboration and communications-enhanced business processes.  As our customer management and supply chain processes become more connected and start to really support collaboration, it would seem to me that our traditional model of doing a pilot has to change too.

I don’t believe that enterprises are ready to do major deployments without a pilot stage but maybe what we need is a new type of pilot that allows enterprises to contain the risks associated with a broad deployment while letting the user-base form organically enough to expose the range of ways that people will collaborate within a broad population. Ultimately this may result in doing pilots where the restriction is more around advanced functionaility and less around restrictions on numbers of users.

First time reader?  Subscribe or follow me on Twitter or Friendfeed