Pilot Programs

PilotsBack when I worked for Maximizer, marketing customer relationship management software, there was one thing that almost always guaranteed the success of implementing a new CRM system at a customer site: a pilot roll-out.  First, a little background:  CRM implementations are hugely complicated and problematic.  They are usually aimed at the sales and marketing teams of an organization and can involve anywhere up to thousands of people and cost millions of dollars.  At one point in the late 90s, the analyst firm Gartner reported that over 70% of CRM projects were failing.  In the face of a stat like that, I had to come up with a strategy (and then deliver on it!) to convince our customers that if they used our product, their experience would be different.

One of our pieces of advice was to have a pilot roll-out.  In every group of people, and every department within a company, there are the keeners and the geeks.  The keeners will give anything their best shot, and have an inherent faith that things will generally work out for the best.  They’re glass half full types.  And the geeks are the ones who just “get” technology – they’re whom you go to if you have a laptop problem that is too trivial for tech support, but annoying nonetheless.  “Sally, how do I get the Yahoo! toolbar to stop reappearing in my Firefox?”

Before rolling-out the new CRM system to the whole user population, we recommended assembling a subgroup of about 10 keeners and geeks and installing them first.  There are many advantages to this: they are predisposed to be “positive” and not gripe and moan; they are more likely to tolerate the inevitable teething pains, and even help fix them; they will serve as a shining example to the rest of the user community when the “big” rollout happens; and, by asking them to do the pilot, you are branding them as “special.”  They will be your staunchest ally and informal tech support and guru and hero and feel great about it.

As always, here’s where I am obliged by the title of this blog, to apply this concept to bars.  When my time comes, I will not have a “Grand Opening” and invite the world.  I will limit it to a “special” group.  I will select the people that I think will accept  the invitation, know me already, will enjoy my bar, and (if possible) that are influential within their own social groups.  This group will have a higher probabilty of knowing one another, having similar interests, enjoying similar things, and having fun at the “trial” opening of the bar.  They will be more likely to laugh at the opening night glitches than bitch about them.  So I will have a small first-run audience that gives a positive review instead of a larger group whose opinion I would be less sure of.

And, they will always be able to say haughtily, “Well, I  was invited to opening night.”

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