“But Michael, you are using a competitor product. And they are a good company. So, whilst it is great you would want to do a POC with us, I am not clear on what specific issues you want to address and, assuming we can address them, what would happen afterwards. Could you help me with this?”

Michael could not help me with this. Michael was a partner for one of the major consulting firm in the world and was keen to do a POC to test the product of my start-up. Amongst other things, this would have meant to divert some of my technical resources to support said POC. So, whilst starting a process with a major brand was attractive for an early stage start-up I thought it was better not to pursue and decided to close the process here.

Excuse me?

Yeap, you read well. After some serious thinking, we decided not to proceed with the POC. Our team was nimble and we simply could not see a future commitment from the prospect should the POC be a success.

POC or trial is a classic step in tech companies sales process but more often than not there is a struggle to transform trial / POC into paying clients. In less than one week, I had this conversation no less than with 3 companies. So here are 4 practical tips I use to avoid having to negotiate one POC and then restart the negotiation at the end of the POC or struggling to convert.

1- It helps to clearly states that, at the end of the POC, it might very well be the end of the engagement. This address some ideas that my prospect has about dealing with what is essentially a sales process (as we know, nobody likes to be sold to and therefore people put up barriers). In other words, I tell the prospect that it will be ok to get to a NO, it will lift some of his reticence.

2- I ask my prospect the key problems that he/she has, why he/she wants to invest time in a POC/trial, what they would like to see happen during the POC to get a yes decision after it, what else he/she has done aside from this trial to fix the aforementioned issues. If my prospect uses a competitive product, I ask what are some of the shortcoming he/she wants to address. If such shortcomings are indeed addressed by my product, this will shape what I say during and after the POC.

3- Before starting, I also define with the prospect the criteria that will determine if the POC is a success or a failure. It can sometimes be difficult but I have found the more quantified it is, the better. And I always define some cut-off date by which we both agree to stop the POC / trial. This way, I have a legitimate ground to stop the POC or the access of the platform by the prospect without leaving some bad feeling behind.

4- Before the POC, I also make sure that all the parties that need to be involved in the decision process. For example a POC might not require a finance director to be involved. But if the FD is the one who can say no, then I want to make sure the FD is part of the POC team as it’s critical for him to share what he wants to see during the POC.

5- I finally bring the future forward by asking what is the decision process that needs to be followed assuming the POC is successful. This gives clarify not only about who need to be involved (eg: FD as per above) but also about any actions that have to take place post POC. For instance, building a business case or anything relevant.

This is about it. If you think of anything else that helps to get these trials / POC running smoothly and are happy to share, do not hesitate.

Happy selling…