Technical selling of SaaS, on-premise software, and hardware solutions has relied on sales proofs of concept (POCs) that require pre-sales professionals to lead, manage, and drive to a ‘technical win” outcome so that account executives can close the deal.
But during the last few years, new nomenclature has emerged, such as proof of value (POV), pilot, guided trials, and workshops that can cause confusion both with prospects and account executives as to what should be used to win the opportunity.
To help demystify this sales POC term and provide context for all go-to-market professionals, let’s expand on each of these terms and identify five things the pre-sales professional can do to drive more revenue within the middle of the funnel.
Sales POC: “A prospect taking a test drive”
It’s common for a buyer to “test drive” a product in their environment before committing to a purchase. Sellers rely on pre-sales professionals to manage this evaluation process from beginning to end.
With the advent of product-led growth – where people can experience a SaaS product with a free self-service account or want hands-on support over several months – evaluations can take different forms, have varying costs to the seller, and require different levels of commitment from buyers and sellers.
Tip: Read more about these evaluation attributes.
This is the process in which pre-sales supports a prospect who can easily onboard onto the product, and where they highlight particular features of the product required to make the sale. Application of this evaluation is typically applied to more transaction-oriented sales.
- Duration: 15 to 30 Days
- Seller’s Cost: Low
- Deal Size: Low
- Sales Profile: SMB to Commercial
This is where the pre-sales professionals are much more consultative with the prospect to better understand use cases and develop a clear value proposition within the product. These types of evaluations usually take place with products that are multifaceted and require more rigorous discovery with the prospect.
- Duration: 15 to 45 Days
- Seller’s Cost: Low/Medium
- Deal Size: Low/Medium
- Sales Profile: SMB to Commercial
POC and POV
Proof of concept and proof of are seen as interchangeable terms. They are applied in technical sales use cases where the prospects require a much deeper understanding of the product and how it can meet both operational and business needs. POC/POV is typically applied in scenarios where proving technical value is more rigorous in the sales cycle.
- Duration: 30 to 45 Days
- Seller’s Cost: Medium
- Deal Size: Medium to High
- Sales Profile: Commercial to Enterprise
When a prospect requests a pilot, that type of engagement typically highlights a much more complex sales cycle where value needs to be established in a compelling way relative to doing nothing or beating out competitors. Pilots are usually applied in high-value opportunities in key accounts that justify this big investment by the seller.
- Duration: 45 to 90 Days
- Seller’s Cost: High
- Deal Size: High to Very High
- Sales Profile: Enterprise to Global Accounts
All these forms of evaluations have different implications to the seller’s per-unit economics, the type of deal sizes at stake, and the experience level of pre-sales and account executives applied to the deal. But despite these evaluation nuances, there are five key principles that apply to all forms of evaluations, with varying degrees of complexity.
5 ways to boost win rates with a Proof of Concept
To help increase your win rates during these evaluations within the middle of the funnel, it is important that the pre-sales’ and account executives’ answers address these five key areas.
Prospect: fully understand their pain
It’s imperative that the pre-sales and account executives fully understand the prospect’s use cases and needs. To do this effectively, probe the prospect’s desired business outcomes to map how the features and product under consideration will meet their objectives.
The approach should also be one of continuous learning and probing. The more you understand your prospect’s day-to-day challenges and how your solution can help them be more successful, the better you can map the strengths of your offering to meet their use case.
Success: agree on the evaluation criteria
Codifying the “success criteria” into a framework that allows for new discoveries during the evaluation process and holds both sellers and buyers accountable is imperative. Essentially, this is a contract where if the seller delivers on the success criteria, the buyer agrees to award the technical win, the precursor to winning the business.
If scope creep, the introduction of new requirements, changes the success criteria, it is important to document those new requirements to manage your prospect’s expectations effectively. Ensure that you time-bound the success criteria to avoid a POC that never ends.
Manage: effectively drive the project
Pre-salespeople are the quarterback of the evaluation process. It is imperative that they cement their position with the prospects as their trusted advisor and rally the right internal resources to win over the buyer. Additionally, they will act as advocates for the buyer, with product teams to ensure that any product gaps can be adequately addressed to meet the prospect’s needs and earn the technical win.
As the project manager, the pre-sales professional must hold their company and the prospect accounts to “next steps,” capture action items and codify regular check-ins on the calendar. Holding the POC to a particular timeline will ensure that the evaluation drives to a go or no-go decision from the prospect.
Prove: show your value
Buyers don’t purchase features alone. They buy on purchasing experience, trust in the seller, and a belief that the product can effectively meet both technical requirements and key business objectives. Pre-sales must prove that the products being sold can deliver value both in the short and long term consistently.
Be sure to highlight product differentiators that are unique in the marketplace, especially if they differentiate you from your competition and give the prospect unique capabilities they can’t get with anyone else. When your solution lacks certain features to meet the prospect’s needs, ensure that you effectively distinguish the “must-haves” vs. “nice to haves” so you can effectively work with product management to address any gaps that may block your ability to meet the success criteria.
Win: deliver a differentiated offering
In every opportunity, there are always competitive factors. They range from “doing nothing” to vendors who are also promising to meet the prospect’s needs. The differentiated offering starts from the initial seller to buyer experience, attention to the evaluation, follow-through, delivery, and that the product works as advertised. Effectively addressing any product gaps that can provide assurances to the buyer that they are making the right purchasing decision.
In addition to having a solid product in the market that meets the prospect’s success criteria, the professionalism of the pre-sales team can greatly help differentiate and influence winning the POC.
Evaluations and sales POCs are one of the most critical steps within the middle of the funnel. Paying close attention to these, both as a pre-sales and account executive team, is imperative to driving more revenue. Whether you’re a pre-sales or account executive, do your part to manage this phase of the funnel effectively, using the right mindset, processes, and systems, and you are bound to see more growth in your revenue.
My sales POC case study
To illustrate the importance of effectively managing sales POCs, let’s run through a case study with a company we’ll call Acme, Inc. Acme had 10 sales engineers and 40 account executives that relied on sales POCs to establish the technical win, which was a prerequisite to proceeding toward the business win.
Acme managed the POCs in an unstructured manner, with no consistent process and utilizing generic tools like spreadsheets and CRM. Their conversion rate of POC-to-business wins was 60%, as they were a high-growth startup with a lot of competition. Then, new sales engineering leadership was introduced to the company with a C-suite mandate to improve middle-of-the funnel conversions.
The new sales engineering leader aggregated POC playbooks that were known to win, essentially unlocking tribal knowledge within their sales engineering organization and utilizing a sales engineering productivity platform to codify POC playbooks so that all of the sales engineers could use the playbooks most likely to help them win.
The initiatives of codifying POC playbooks along with utilizing purpose-built tooling for sales engineering yielded a conversion rate of POC-to-business wins of 80%, a 20% increase in middle-of-the-funnel performance and a significant boost to top-line growth.
As the sales engineer phrased it, “We went from having talented football players running all over the field barefoot to putting the right players in the right positions based on plays we called to handle certain situations with cleats and pads. This element of up-leveling our team’s performance delivered more wins.”
Implementing the right sales POC discipline, for mature or emerging products, is expected to deliver positive results that increase win rates, make better use of people’s talent, and drive more top-line growth.
Some additional sales POC resources
For additional information on how sales POCs and evaluations can be managed, here are a few resources:
- The Essential Guide to Navigate Your Proof of Concept: Understand and implement practices to increase your evaluation win-rate by Tony Matos, SE leader and practitioner who has rolled out evaluation and POC processes globally within large-cap corporations. Matos’ book is one of a kind, highly insightful and prescriptive. It is also free for Kindle readers.
- Mastering Technical Sales: The Sales Engineer’s Handbook by John Care. This book is in its third edition and has been used by countless sales engineering and pre-sales leaders to establish best practices. There is a section on sales POCs that is highly instructive.
- A prescriptive guide, “How to Maximize Your Evaluation Impact,” conveys a framework based on the GUIDED principle, which stands for Govern, Understand, Inform, Define, Enable and Document when engaging in sales POCs with buyers.
Unlock your potential
Effectively managing this middle-of-the-funnel phase of the sales cycle has its fair share of nuances and nomenclature that require navigating through. However, the consistent theme is that these sales POCs greatly impact the company’s ability to close business, and managing these activities with the right processes and tooling is bound to increase your win rates and top-line growth.
Do you part your to understand the level of discipline your sales engineering and pre-sales organization is currently applying to managing sales POCs. If there’s room for improvement, you may be able to unlock tremendous revenue upside potential.