Sales POC

What is a Sales POC (Proof of Concept)?

A sales proof of concept (POC) is a demonstration of a proposed solution’s feasibility and potential value to a prospective customer. It’s used strategically in sales to showcase a product’s capabilities in a “trial run” before the customer commits to a full-scale implementation.

The sales POC’s primary goal is to prove to the customer that the solution meets their technical requirements and will effectively solve their specific problems. This demonstration helps the customer get first-hand experience with what it’d be like to actually use the software solution, making it easier for them to make an informed decision.

It’s important to note that a POC is not the same as a demo. While a sales demo showcases a product’s features and functionality, POCs take it a step further. They call for the actual implementation of the proposed solution in a simulated environment, allowing the customer to test its capabilities themselves and see how it would work for their business.

A sales POC is also different from a sales POV (proof of value). While both seek to demonstrate the value of a solution, a POV typically involves the customer’s actual data and processes to highlight tangible benefits, while a POC is primarily focused on functionality, integration, and technical feasibility.

Synonyms

  • Proof of concept in sales
  • Proof of concept demonstration
  • Proof of concept in GTM strategy

How the Proof of Concept Approach Works in Sales

Successfully using the proof-of-concept sales approach requires an adaptable strategy. In SaaS sales, potential customers are all different. You can’t have a system that heavily strains your sales team every time they have to pitch and execute a POC. Each one has to be tailored to address the specific customer’s needs and goals.

Let’s dive into the key steps you need to take to maximize your chances of success using the sales POC technique:

1. Identify your prospect’s needs and challenges.

First and foremost, you need to collaborate with your prospects. Involve them in planning and strategizing the POC approach. And ask for their feedback at every stage of the project.

  • Pain points
  • Challenges
  • Expectations
  • Limitations
  • Deal-breakers

You should have figured out some of these things already during the first stages of sales qualification. Practice active listening, ask open-ended questions, and conduct thorough discovery (using a checklist or qualification framework) to get a clear understanding of what they want.

When you figure these things out before implementing the POC, you’ll (a) give your buyer a sense of ownership and (b) create a better opportunity for the product to suit their needs. Overall, it builds a stronger relationship between the sales rep and the prospect.

2. Define success criteria with your prospect.

Again, a proof of concept is not a proof of value. But your buyer will obviously have things they’re looking for, and things that would warrant an immediate “Fail.”

Normally, “success” means a few different things in the context of POCs:

  • Compliance with performance requirements
  • Integration with existing systems and infrastructure
  • User-friendliness of the system
  • Potential for adoption
  • Scalability

In your POC kickoff, you need to set clear objectives and a timeline for evaluating whether or not the POC was successful. As an example, you might agree to run the POC for two weeks and then review its outcome together. To assess the outcome, you might look at measurements like user adoption, customer feedback, and the system’s performance (e.g. page load times).

Ideally, you and your prospect will agree on the criteria and milestones in the evaluation process before moving forward. Especially work with your technical buyer to make sure they are on the same page.

3. Tailor your POC to address those needs.

Once you have the information directly from the customer, it’s that simple: develop a proof of concept that speaks to their needs and challenges. If you’re selling a software solution, tailor the POC to use their data and processes as much as possible.

  • Verify and list out specific features they need to see.
  • Understand the system’s limitations and potential workarounds for those in advance.
  • Depict the buyer’s processes in the UI.
  • Answer any open questions.

Here, you also need to include all the relevant resources, sales collateral, product documentation, walkthroughs, and helpful tips to ensure that your customer can fully explore the solution’s capabilities during the virtual POC.

4. Implement the proof-of-concept environment.

The work isn’t over just because you’ve onboarded your potential customer into the POC environment. Here are a few tips to ensure a smooth execution and positive experience:

  • Set up an onboarding call with your customer before they start their POC.
  • Personally show them how key interface functions work and explain the benefits.
  • Accentuate scenarios and software features that specifically address their industry, pain points, and goals.
  • Stay consistent — don’t fudge on agreed-upon milestones and their due dates.
  • Look for opportunities to show additional product value (without overwhelming the user).

At this point in the process, never assume a lack of communication on the buyer’s end means they’re having a seamless experience. Normally, it’s the opposite.

You don’t have to be in touch daily, but make sure to reach out regularly to ensure the POC is moving forward. Plus, this reminds them you’re a reliable partner who’s interested in their success with the product.

5. Measure results and gather feedback from the customer.

Your POC workspace should have built-in analytics, so you can track metrics like usage, adoption rates, and feedback. At the end of the process, review these results with your customer. Seek their feedback on what worked well and what could be improved.

This is critical for two reasons:

  • You want to get your customer’s buy-in.
  • You need to understand how the POC went so you can improve it for future prospects.

Set up a post-POC meeting with your customer to discuss results and feedback. Ask open-ended questions, listen actively, and prepare for questions and sales objections.

6. Secure a purchase decision.

Of course, the final step is to move your buyer to Closed Won. Even if the potential buyer is quite happy with the product and how it works, that isn’t a guarantee they’ll put pen to paper. There’s a lot more to closing a deal.

The sales POC is just one element of your broader sales methodology, which should involve:

  • Building individual connections with different members of the buying group (e.g., technical buyer in POC vs. economic buyer to showcase ROI)
  • Addressing last-minute questions and concerns with clarity and assurance
  • Building urgency and create a decision-making timeline
  • Driving home the benefits

Even after they’ve gone through the POC environment and agreed the product is a good fit, people are generally wary of entering long contracts with new vendors. Closing the sale is about reinforcing the trust and confidence you’ve built throughout the earlier stages of the sales process.

Types of POC in Sales

Not all sales POCs are created equal. Broadly speaking, there are three primary types you can choose from, based on your business model and the nature of your product:

Limited-Functionality POC

A limited-functionality POC demonstrates your product’s core features with limited scope. Think of it as a demo that allows your buyers to see and use the product before making a purchase.

You might use this type of POC if you’re selling an off-the-shelf software solution to multiple customers. Unless you’re exclusively selling enterprise software, most of your customers won’t need extensive customizations or integrations.

This is perfect for customers who will use your product mostly out of the box, or with basic customizations to fit their industry/business structure.

Full-Scale Pilot Program

A pilot program is a small-scale implementation of an entire product. You might use this type of POC if your product is highly technical or requires extensive integration with the buyer’s existing systems.

It provides buyers with a chance to work more closely with the product and experience its full capabilities. They can identify any gaps in their processes and how your product fits into them.

Pilot programs are common in enterprise sales, where the sales cycle is long and purchasing decisions are complex. Since switching systems companywide requires significant investments in time and resources, it’s much more effective to test it on one department or business unit before making a final decision.

Self-Service POC

With self-service POCs, the customer explores the product independently. This is ideal for products that are easy to install and intuitive to use, like AI tools and basic SaaS apps. A self-service POC provides the customer with an opportunity to test out your product at their own pace and convenience.

While customers can experience immediate value from the product without having to wait for a sales rep to set up a full-scale POC, it doesn’t work well with complex or high-touch products. In these cases, having a sales rep guide the customer through the product’s capabilities is key to moving buyers toward informed decisions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a POC in Sales

POCs are more interactive and hands-on compared to traditional sales demos and presentations. This means they offer significant benefits for the buyer (and the seller who doesn’t have to rely on verbal explanations). Like everything, they also come with some drawbacks.

Let’s dive in.

Advantages

  • Lower risk for the prospect. From a buying perspective, the biggest challenge with making software purchases is the unknown. Even with a demo, the buyer doesn’t necessarily know how long it will take to set up, if your product really works and fits their needs, or how their team will react when using it. By exploring the product ahead of time, much of this is eliminated.
  • Showcase product value and ROI. Three-quarters of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free experience. While this is quite the opposite (and it’s often not possible), it’s the reason for this that’s important: buyers simply don’t trust sales reps. When they get firsthand experience with the product, reps don’t have to sit there and explain what it does — the product speaks for itself.
  • Personalization. The vast majority (86%) of B2B buyers say they expect vendors to deliver personalized experiences and be well-informed about their company and needs. A sales POC allows you to customize the experience entirely for your buyer’s pain points, concerns and goals.
  • Shorten the sales cycle. It goes without saying that using the product gets the prospective customer to a decision much faster. They’ll potentially be ready to move forward right after, or with a few more steps. Either way, this is a critical step in the decision-making process because the final decision-makers will have proof the product works in their organization.
  • Generates insights for product development. It’s not just about increasing customer confidence. The insights you get from POCs can show you where your target customers are having deal-breaking issues with your solution. These are the things you can tackle when implementing new features and rolling out updates.

Disadvantages

  • Requires time and resources. Setting up a POC takes effort. A lot of effort. And not just on your end. The customer will also need to invest time and resources into exploring your product. This can be a major drawback for smaller businesses, startups, and companies with limited budgets or existing infrastructure to implement it.
  • May not accurately represent real-world usage. Depending on the type of POC you choose, it may not fully reflect how your product works in a real-world environment. For example, a self-service POC won’t take into account any potential integrations or customizations. And a guided virtual POC may not capture the customer’s unique processes or workflows 100% accurately.
  • Can create unrealistic expectations. While POCs are meant to give customers an accurate representation of the product, there’s still a risk they won’t fully understand its limitations and capabilities. That’s why you and your prospect need a clear definition of success metrics.
  • Opens up potential loss to a competitor. When they’re testing your product, they aren’t having many sales conversations with your team. While you’re losing momentum, other vendors might be taking active steps to move the deal across the finish line.

Examples of Sales POC in SaaS and IT Services

To help you grasp the concept of POCs in the sales process, here’s a look at two real-world scenarios of how different industries use them:

HubSpot: The Free Trial and Freemium Models

HubSpot is well-known for its industry-leading suite of free sales and marketing software products. For some solopreneurs and small business owners, these are enough to get by. For a few, they’re a way to work within the platform’s UI and determine if upgrading to a paid product would save them time and help grow their business.

For all of its paid subscriptions, HubSpot offers a free trial of its services. This strategy allows potential customers to experience the software’s capabilities firsthand without any initial investment. The free trial serves as a POC that demonstrates the software’s ability to meet the user’s needs in real-time scenarios.

This approach not only proves the product’s value but also builds trust with potential customers, significantly increasing the likelihood of converting them into paying clients. And, since implementing CRM and marketing automation software requires significant time and resources, the free trial eliminates much of the risk for prospective buyers.

Verkada: POC Implementation

Verkada is a cloud-based security company that offers a wide range of products, including cameras, access control systems, and video monitoring software. Before implementing an integrated retail security system in Crew Clothing’s 102 stores, they began with a pilot program proof of concept to have a small portion of their store locations test the product’s effectiveness.

Right away, their pilot stores were able to:

  • Identify occupancy trends
  • Catch shoplifters
  • Find security footage in seconds with AI
  • Monitor air quality, motion, and video feeds 24/7
  • Manage alarms, access controls, and video walls from one dashboard

These results (including instant ROI from 4 prevented shoplifting instances) gave Crew Clothing’s decision-makers the confidence to expand the implementation of Verkad’s security system to all of their stores.

People Also Ask

How long should a sales POC last?

Your sales POC should last somewhere between 2 weeks and 1 month. Any shorter, and you aren’t giving the prospect enough time to fully experience the product. Any longer, and they may lose interest in the sale or get distracted with other priorities.

What is the difference between POC and POV (proof of value)?

A POC is a trial run that showcases the product’s capabilities and potential benefits to the customer. POV demonstrates how the product can provide tangible benefits and business value for the customer’s specific needs or pain points (e.g., ROI).

Who prepares a sales proof of concept?

The individual seller working the deal prepares the sales POC. The seller is the one who is well-versed in the product’s capabilities and how it can add value for the specific customer based on their needs and objectives.

What is the importance of POC in software sales?

POCs are crucial in software sales because they provide tangible evidence of a product’s capabilities and feasibility for the customer’s particular situation. They give potential customers the opportunity to test drive the product before making a purchase, increasing their confidence in its effectiveness and minimizing risk for both parties involved in the sale.