A few weeks back my wife and I went to spend the weekend in Louisville, Kentucky for no particular reason. When I first mentioned the idea of this road trip she immediate got excited about one of her favorite places to eat in the area. She talks about some particular dish with such passion that I couldn’t help but get excited to try it. Fast forward for lunch that weekend, and boy was I disappointed. Sure the food was good, but that’s it. I doubt anything could have lived up to the hype and met my expectations. This constantly happens with IT sales teams, usually with the best of intentions.
It all starts with an announcement of a technology or product concept being announces long before it exists. Fantastic claims are made about the performance, ease of use, or some other awesome feature. Once the product is nearing general availability, the sales hounds are released to attack customers. They promise the world and customers want to believe. We want that magic pill that makes out hair grow, makes us skinny, and changes the air filters in the furnace. That’s never going to happen. Technology can’t keep up with the public imagination. The hype is strong.
When the 1.0 product arrives, it seldom lives up to the hype. And how could it? The marketing machine started with social media singing praises of the new product, industry “experts” wrote about the awesomeness, and your local trusted sales goons wouldn’t steer you wrong, right? We all know the cycle of hype around a product is real, so we ask for a Proof-of-Concept. We want to try it out. Get our feet wet. Separate fact from fiction. Part of the selling cycle for priority has always been a proof-of-concept, but do we really need this anymore?
More and more the “Proof-of-Concept” is following a seller provided test plan not designed to meet specific customer needs, but rather a general “does it work?” test. Of course, that technology is going to be beyond awesome if you’re only following the vendor’s rules. To be a true test, it needs to function when the times are worst. When nothing is going right and the walls are crumbling down. That’s when you rely on products the most. The traditional Proof-of-Concept of concept needs to die. It’s complicated, it’s seldom done right, and usually not indicative of the future success of a product. Instead, companies need to take a key from OpenSource and Software-as-a-Service companies.
OpenSource projects allow you to experience a product as deep as you want. You can literally examine the code and bugs if that’s your idea of fun. You can install the software, usually as an imagine made by someone else, and play to your heart’s content. Most of us aren’t going to do that, but what we will do is go to the user communities. OpenSource projects often excel at having a strong user presence. You can read stories, both good and bad, from people using the software. Do you need to test drive software when you can read from hundreds of other customers who already have? SaaS companies are at a natural advantage as it’s easy to provide a working demo or trial account. No complex setup, just a quick signup and an easy test.
If your sales cycle is relying on a Proof-of-Concept, you’re probably doing it wrong. Sure they have their places, but for the most part can be replaced with downloadable virtual editions, hands-on labs, and truthful and public customer testimonial. In the end what a customer really needs to know is simply: “will this meet my needs in my environment?”, and more often than not this doesn’t mean wasting time with a Proof-of-Concept.