August 15th, 2016 | by

“Try before you buy” is the new world order. Whether it’s a free month of Netflix, a $0.99 offer from Spotify, or the money back guarantee on P90X, we want/need to prove value before committing our wallets.

I spent last weekend at the Portland Farmer’s Market with my family (yes, a stereotypical thing to do in Portland, OR). My wife, who works as a chef, spent 30 minutes picking out peaches. She examined every, single one meticulously.

She wanted to ensure each peach was as ripe as the one offered as a sample. Not because she doubted the vendor, but because at some point in her life, she’s purchased a bad peach, bad apple, etc. My peach cobbler was on the line here, so she had my full support.

So what do peaches and Netflix have to do with Sales Intelligence? When Netflix offers a month of free service, how many movies do I have to watch to prove it has value? Is there a universal standard for evaluating services? Not that I know of.

However, over the past few years, I have conducted hundreds of pilots for current and prospective customers. I have some tips for running pilots and evaluating new technology that I hope will make it much easier on those evaluating sales intelligence tools.

Establish Sales Enablement/Intelligence Metrics

Before evaluating a new sales intelligence tool, establish a baseline of current efforts. Track metrics such as the number of connected outbound calls, average talk time, appointments set, bounced emails, number of direct dials in your CRM.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting out with bad data, or moving from a provider who values quality over quantity. It’s important to compare these metrics in your CRM before and after the evaluation to give you a clear picture of the added value the product can bring.  

Before evaluating a new sales intelligence tool establish a baseline of current efforts.

Since a pilot only offers a set amount of time, tracking opportunities created or live conversations due to direct dials is far more realistic of a measurement than closed a 6 figure deal in one week. The same goes for metrics based on quantity…what good is 100 dials, if none of them resulted in a live conversation?

Training & Evaluation a Sales Intelligence Tool is a Team Sport

A pitcher is involved in every play, but the right fielder and coaches are just as important. The same goes for a trial. It’s important that reps who are going to be using the tool every day are heavily involved, but also include an executive level sponsor who will champion the tool to the CFO or President.

Choose your team, and make sure they care about how this tool will impact their day to day. Push the team to deliver critical feedback (I’ll often tee up surveys to send out before and after the pilot to collect feedback).

Here’s the thing about evaluation though, it’s the precursor to change, and its impending arrival on the scene can cause even the best of us to display some out of character behavior. To throw myself under the bus, I can attest to a salesperson’s reluctance to spend time evaluating a new tool.

I made excuses as to how busy I was, but that’s every sales person’s excuse. It wasn’t until the Customer Success Manager at the new sales enablement tool’s company forced me on a call and showed me exactly how powerful the new tool was, that I became a believer.

Once I started playing around, my vote was locked up, but my initial laziness could have left me with the inferior tool for another year.

Get Your Hands Dirty & Test the Data

Good Sales DataDo your future self a favor and don’t treat the evaluation as a secondary task. If you only window shop a few features, even if you’re impressed, you’re bound to find something down the road you wish you would have known about before (good or bad).

Ask questions. Talk to the support team. In the world of sales intelligence, knowing the amount of contacts/company count/country coverage isn’t good enough. Call through company lists with a blocked number. Calling with a blocked number allows for checking the data and not having to start a sales cycle and pitching a prospect on the fly.

Simply confirm it’s the correct number and hang up. What good is 1000 phone numbers if they’re all the main line? You won’t know that unless you dial them!

Don’t Take My Word For It – Validate Claims

Salespeople can win on sheer tenacity, charm, price, previous relationship, etc. We are good at our jobs, that’s why we are in sales.

Expect account executives to support the piloting experience: calling users, asking questions, answering questions, and trying to learn the ins and outs of your business to reinforce why the product is the secret weapon to success.  

However, it is still in your best interest to get unbiased 3rd party input because that feedback is unfiltered and readily available all over the internet. While the end of the spectrum negative/positive reviews are out there, the aggregate reviews are typically representative of the opinion of the masses.

There is a difference between trialing a product you’ve already been “sold” on before you buy it, and running an evaluation of multiple products.

Check out Customer Testimonials on the company website, technology review sites like G2Crowd or TrustRadius, look for press releases and news articles on the company, and look at Glassdoor reviews to see honest feedback from employees of the organization (both past and present).

Trial vs. Comparison

There is a difference between trialing a product you’ve already been “sold” on before you buy it, and running an evaluation of multiple products. There is a lot more work involved in the latter since you’re evaluating multiple vendors and it is easy to lose focus on individual products.

In this scenario, create an evaluation matrix for looking at both products side by side. A good vendor will happily help create this and likely already has materials readily available.

Validation vs. Skepticism

A trial accomplishes two things: The first is validating  the belief that this product can solve a pain point for your business – that it is worth the investment and that the ROI is yours for the taking. The second is eliminating skepticism.

Everyone has been burned at some point. Whether it’s realizing you can’t listen to The Beatles or Taylor Swift on Spotify after having already paid for it or biting into a peach to find out it is not ripe, we are all skeptical of something that feels too good to be true.

So while peaches and Netflix might not feel relevant to evaluations of sales intelligence providers, a trial allows us the peace of mind to feel confident that we are making the right decision for ourselves and our business.

P.S. To Reed Hastings, while the masses may revolt against me, you should know that a $1 price increase for Netflix is minimal in comparison to the entertainment your platform provides. Thanks for the free trial!

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About the author

Andy Lyon

Andy Lyon is the Director of Customer Success at DiscoverOrg. Lyon joined DiscoverOrg's sales team in 2014 before transitioning to the Customer Success team in 2015. He made the jump to technology sales after spending 8 years in the hotel industry.