Proofs of Concept (POCs)

I’ve been a pre-sales engineer for a 1/3 of my life.

I say that with a smile, I love this job and wouldn’t trade it for any other. Part of the job includes proof of concepts, aka the PoC. Sometimes the PoC can be avoided, especially if you have happy customers who will do reference calls. Not only is helping your existing customer base the right thing to do, it’s an important thing to do if you want them to be happy. But even with a large happy install base, running a PoC is often required. I follow a customer for life philosophy. That is, I don’t plan on moving, so the customers I am working with today will likely be my customers tomorrow. I want to know them and I want them to be successful. Thankfully I have gotten to work with quality software over the years; however, great software isn’t always enough. A game plan and a passionate attitude are often required. Here are my thoughts for building a PoC that wins.

  1. You must know how the customer plans to measure success; always do an initial success criteria discussion and put the highlights into an email or document. This helps everyone stay on track and remember what is important.
  2. I encourage scope creep. I focus on hitting the initial goals quickly, but while I am working with the customer, I try to find other projects, other teams, other features that might capture their interest. I was working with a hospital on a 5000 concurrent user project recently. While I was doing that PoC, I got to know the desktop guys and started doing a Win7 PoC with them. I want my projects to be a win/win, the more areas I can add value the better. At the same time, I have the original success criteria outlined, so scope creep doesn’t have to mean time creep. This particular customer now owns over 12,000 licenses across many environments.
  3. I will install our software for anyone, even if they are just 2 employees. Of course larger environments get my main focus, but if there is an open spot on my calendar, why not fill it? I want to expose as many people as possible to our software. Engineers and architects float around and they talk. I want a buzz out there about our technology. So if someone is interested in our software, I am interested in them and will find time to teach them.
  4. Stay engaged. We all have down time here and there, why not spend it educating someone, emailing someone, following up. This is important not only for PoC’s, but also for existing customers and potential prospects.
  5. Try to meet the customer in person. The requirements of the job dictate lots of virtual meetings, but I try hard to meet each customer face to face at least once. I want the customer to know me, to put a face to the voice. Once they know me, in the interest of time, I will do a lot of PoC tuning and installs via the web.
  6. As long as it doesn’t violate my code of ethics, I will do whatever it takes to make the customer successful. Meaning I will do a web session at 10pm for their Desktop engineer or their VDI image composer. This happened recently, an engineer needed to get our agent into their image, he called me at 10pm and we did a 2 hour session. If we hadn’t, they may not have purchased. Many of us have the great privilege of working from home, which means our hours are more flexible. Within reason, do whatever it takes.
  7. If you know how to fix something that is unrelated to your software, fix it. You want to be seen as an expert, so anything you can do to add value, do it.
  8. View PoC’s as training opportunities. This is one of the best times to teach someone about the power of your software. You want them to purchase, but even if they don’t, it can still be a victory if the technical team sees the value of your technology. You never know what the future holds.
  9. Master your software. Don’t use a customer’s environment as your personal training ground. A great way to master your software is to stay engaged with existing customers and understand, in-depth, how they are using your technology. Whenever you can, help them. Be the expert they expect you to be.
  10. We are a supplement to consulting and training, not a replacement. I do health check calls, best practice trainings, but all the while I talk about the value of consulting and online training. It’s important that the foundation is laid properly. What a customer learns from me will help them absorb more when they work with consulting.
  11. Believe in the software you are selling. Find a company that cares about their customers.

I heard Chip Ingram say that the only thing in life we can control is our attitude. I am sure others have said it as well. Whoever said it, I believe it. Sometimes your attitude can make all the difference. It’s a wonderful life and being a pre-sales engineer is wonderful way to occupy it!