How to Run a Stellar SaaS Proof of Concept (POC)

If you’re a SaaS company where you let customers “try before they buy,” so to speak, you’re probably doing proof of concepts (POC) regularly. Conducting a stellar proof of concept is key to closing that deal you’ve been working on for months. The last thing you want is to lose that deal because you put forward a proof of concept that failed to differentiate you from your competitors. Because, believe me, the competition is high these days, so it’s imperative that you stand out from the crowd.

How you run your POC can vary depending on your organization, but there are some key fundamentals to keep in mind to run a successful POC that is going to ensure you close that deal.

Discovery

Before you get too deep into your POC, let’s take a step back to ensure that the prospect is actually ready for a POC and is an ideal candidate. You’ve done a great job figuring out their challenges and need for a solution overall, but you’ll need to figure out if they are right to go the extra mile and invest in a POC. Most companies just can’t afford to roll out POCs for every single prospect, so if it’s possible to sell the prospect without a POC, or if the prospect won’t benefit from the POC - meaning you can’t show measurable results - then you’re better off not doing the POC altogether.

Once you have deemed the prospect as a good fit, you need to make sure you understand the challenges you may face when doing the POC. Watch out for these things when starting a POC with a prospect.

Roadblocks That Might Cause The POC To Fail

During this stage, it’s imperative that you get everyone on the call who will be signing the deal at the end of this. You need to make sure you get every person on board. Work with the prospect to understand if there are going to be any roadblocks on their end.

For example, you could start your POC with the prospect (you’ve put a plan in place for your POC with deadlines), then the prospect comes back to you and says their team is on vacation and you have to wait until they get back in the office. An unexpected gap in the POC timeline can lead to a very dangerous loss of momentum in the sales process. Many deals have been lost from losing momentum! Similarly, if you start a weak POC where the customer's real pain points are not understood, you will end up doing a generic feature talk with them which is not a good place to be in. And lastly, one of the worst types of roadblocks is to unexpectedly run into a powerful detractor working against you internally at the prospect company.

You get where I am going with this, so make sure you speak with your evaluating team to determine there will be zero roadblocks when running your POC, or, if they anticipate roadblocks, make a plan together with them ahead of time to address them.

Must Have For The Solution

Time and time again, POCs have failed because the prospect is unsure how your product will solve their problems. Even after the POC is completed, it’s oftentimes not clear what you have done for them or how they would benefit. It’s important that there is a need for your product and you can clearly show the results at the end. Make sure your product will indeed deliver results.

What does this mean for you?

My advice is speak with the prospect on everything they want to see the product do in this POC. If your product cannot do everything the prospect wants, it’s best to be transparent with them, but offer solutions on what they can do in addition. Let the prospect acknowledge if they’d like to move forward with the POC. It’s better to find out at the beginning that your product cannot provide the solution to their needs, then spending all this time running the POC for it to fail. Better to focus on prospects who are a great fit for your company.

Seriousness/Urgency of POC

A POC costs nothing for your prospect, but it can be a very big expense for you. Resources used aside, your time is also money. Don’t let a prospect start a POC if they are not serious about it. You can and should turn down POCs if you believe the prospect is not truly a fit. Doing so will save your company money and time. Not to mention you will be clearing your pipeline for truly qualified deals.

Commitment to Buy

Before starting a POC, you need to get a verbal commitment from your prospect. You want to make sure that the time, effort, and money you’re spending on a POC will be worthwhile and you will close the deal once this is all said and done. Here is a good example of how to send an email to a prospect you’re doing a POC with to ask for commitment from them.

I am setting up the paperwork for the POC.  I have the following as our plan:

[Company A] has looked at the applicability of [SaaS product] to their business and desires to have a focused, hands-on time to test the following elements:

  • To confirm that you can increase sales by x% and decrease the sales cycle by x.
  • Duration = 4 weeks
  • Start of project = ASAP

My understanding is that confirming these two points are the final outstanding items for [company] and, once confirmed, it is fully the intention of [company] to quickly move to completing a purchase.  If this is also your understanding, please reply accordingly.

Thank you,

[name]

Identify Measurable Results

Once you have identified that a prospect is the perfect candidate for a POC, it’s now time to get the prospect to agree to goals that can be measured and where you can demonstrate the value of your product.

When defining and identifying these goals, make sure you steer clear of broad, vague goals that are un-measurable.

For example, if the prospect comes to you and says “I want my sales team to make more money,” it is not a goal you can measure. Instead suggest to them something like "I want my sales team to generate 1.5x more revenue in the next 6 months”. This is a clear, actionable item where you can show the value of your product.

By setting these measurable goals, there is no room for interpretation. The best way to work with your prospect is to put together a mutual success plan. Document it, and get it signed off!

Monitor Your POC

Once you have defined their business goals and identified measurable goals, it’s time to implement your POC. Never start a POC and let it run on its own; make sure you are monitoring it as it’s running. The most effective way of doing this is to involve a pre-sales team member who will assist the prospect with technical queries and to make sure the POC is running on track.

During the POC, it’s the sales rep’s responsibility to be actively involved with the prospect while it’s running. Make sure it’s on track and set up meetings with the prospect throughout the POC time period to ensure everything is running smoothly. The smart way of monitoring a POC is to invest in customer health tracking tools to allow you to define milestones in a POC and notify you when the prospect is losing interest.

Deliver the POC

You are at the end of your POC and now it’s time to close the deal you’ve been working on for months. The prospect might not understand the value your product has delivered, so it’s extremely important for you to set up a call to review the goals/results you discussed at the beginning of the POC. Don’t just put together your presentation in a Word document; visualize the outcomes where the prospect can easily understand the value.

When delivering your presentation, it’s best to show your prospect not only the outcomes but also the future benefits if they stick with your company. Here is an example of how to deliver the results.

“Our analysis shows that you had a 10% increase in sales last quarter. Not only did you make $50,000 more last quarter but if you continue using our software you should see an overall growth of 25% this year. In effect, you will make $200,000 more this year without having to invest in ramping up your team.”

If you notice, I didn’t just say “our analysis shows that you made $50,000 more last quarter” and then just finished it there. Every metric you share should be clearly laid out not only showing what goals you’ve reached, but also what additional goals you could reach in the future as well.

Rinse and Repeat

You have now developed a process to run your POC; now it’s time to rinse and repeat. If you run your POC like this every time, you are sure to close your deals. POCs can be a lot of work, but they’re worth every penny when done right.

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