Proof of concept best practice #3: The POC must have a clearly defined set of goals

February 3, 2014 § 3 Comments

In earlier posts in this series, I’ve talked about why proofs-of- concept (POC) are so essential when attempting to get customers to buy a complex product or service, how they must already occur as part of an active sale, and that they must have a sponsor at the prospect – on both the business and technical sides.

Now, it’s time to discuss how to increase the chances of your POCs succeeding by setting well-understood, widely communicated goals up front. After all, the sale isn’t going to happen without a POC, and the POC itself is much more likely to ignominiously fail if you neglect to gain agreement on exactly what concepts you’re supposed to be proving!

Don’t lose sight of the fact that the burden of proof for a POC falls squarely on the company trying to make the sale, and that the sales engineer (SE) is usually personally responsible for ensuring a positive outcome. Despite this reality, I’ve seen astonishing numbers of POCs that proceed without a single written sentence that describes what’s supposed to happen. Given that lack of guidance and accountability, is it any wonder that so many of those impromptu engagements end in tears? It’s much wiser to write a proper, comprehensive statement of work (SOW) for the POC – just like you would for a professional services engagement.

At a minimum, the SOW should unmistakably document the POC’s:

  • Goals. Be specific, and cite easily understood concepts like use cases, data or transaction volumes, and availability/service level agreements. Checklists are great for this.
  • Schedule. Time is of the essence in a POC: unlike consultants who eagerly seek ways to boost billable hours, the most talented SEs must be efficiency experts.
  • Responsibilities. A POC is usually a team effort; make sure that everyone’s role is plainly spelled out.
  • Next steps. Since you’re not doing this POC just for fun, there’s no harm in stating that a purchase of your product or service will take place upon successful completion of the POC. And if the client won’t sign off on a SOW that references the expected sale, guess what that means?

I’ve worked with quite a few technology companies to help optimize their technical sales processes. If you’d like to learn more, you can email me here.

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