As sales engineers (or Solution Consultants, as we call ourselves at Seal), we often serve as a technical champion during a proof of concept (POC) engagement. Our focus is to understand the customers’ business needs as they relate to contract management and analytics. An effective proof of concept proves that a solution is viable and will be successful when applied in the real world. To establish viability, we work hand-in-hand with the customer to isolate technical issues, provide feedback on internal decision-making processes, and suggest direction beyond the implementation. But what does this look like in reality? In my experience, mutual understanding and communication are the foundation of a successful engagement. Ultimately, a POC is an audition not only for the solution but also for the provider, so we must deliver a project that will drive positive results aligned with the customer’s objectives.
Here are three key steps that we see leading to successful outcomes for clients:
Step 1: Define the Business Drivers and Customer Needs
The first step to a successful POC is to outline the criterion for success. Our team must understand and document the underlying challenges and pain points, why new processes are being put in place, who or what is putting pressure on the business, how they currently benchmark, etc. Once this is understood, detailed requirements can be drawn-up and prioritised accordingly. Considerations should include, what will drive the most efficiency, increase effectiveness, and reduce or manage risk. Having an understanding of these client needs will allow us to then benchmark the results using Seal against the customer’s current ability. With this information, we can reach a mutual understanding of what a successful outcome will look like.
Step 2: Test and Measure
The only way to know if something works is to test it. We carefully design the POC to illustrate to the customer that Seal will deliver the desired outcomes. To achieve this mutual goal, it is important that Seal and the customer provide appropriate and dedicated resources to the project. These people will have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. We will work together to define test cases. Seal will help manage the project scope and be there when it’s time to be hands-on with the technology and we will also help track and measure success against both the customer’s criteria as well as our own.
Step 3: Reflect and Document Results/Benefits
The third step is to reflect on the POC results and document both tangible and intangible results – both good and bad, lessons learned, ROI potential, and any surprises. Understanding the successes and challenges allows us to better future proof our solution and fine-tune the project prior to deployment. For example, there may be results that we weren’t expecting or challenges regarding technology, people and/or process. Following the engagement, we evaluate these outcomes and review success criteria with the customer. By reflecting on all of the results, we can draw up a plan to close the gaps and ensure that all feedback is taken into account. The next step is to hand off this information to our professional services, project management, and customer success teams to continue to foster successful outcomes throughout the implementation and roll-out phases.
One of my proudest moments during an engagement was seeing and hearing the feedback from our clients at Nokia. They not only reaped the benefits of our solution in terms of time savings and effectiveness but also realized successes not considered at the outset. The impact on other areas not initially considered, namely job satisfaction, employee onboarding, redeployment of staff to higher-value tasks/jobs and the one that made me smile went along the lines of, “This has made my job fun again! Just think of things we can look into that we couldn’t even think of before!”
By following the steps above, we have defined the customer’s needs, tested the technology, and reflected on the process to ensure we arrive at the best version of our solution. There will be a multitude of criteria to consider during an engagement, but what enables a business to say “yes” to a new technology is the vendor’s ability to be a strategic partner and support long-term success. At Seal, the POC is just the beginning of customer success, but a very important primer. Our goal is to help customers become confident with the solution, meet their expectations, and discuss evolving concerns for the real deployment. And from there, we continue to help clients define long-term success throughout their journey.