Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Vendor Proof of Concept Worst Practices

Throughout my career, I have participated in a myriad of "proof of concepts" in a variety of technologies. The notion of a POC is an opportunity for a vendor to put their best foot forward and demonstrate their value proposition to the enterprise. With that being said, many vendors repeat the same mistakes...

I am going to outline five considerations for vendors who want to improve their game and point out several observations I have noticed over the last three proofs of concepts I have participated in.

Overly aggressive sales: Sales people tend to be aggressive by nature and highly competitive. Sometimes their behaviors get in the way of doing the right thing and can exhibit certain tendencies that can turn off a client. Sometimes a POC is a dynamic environment and changes due to a variety of reasons whether it is due to the infrastructure staff not getting an environment ready on time or simply a clerical error in describing the requirements. The key thing is that mistakes will happen and it is not in your best interest to always point out faults made by your clients even when you think they may provide an advantage to your competition. If you truly believe in your product and overall value proposition then being agreeable and working around any impediments that emerge will get you more cool points than pointing out every flaw in execution.

Bringing the Entourage: When an enterprise customer attends a demo, it may be the first time that they are meeting others within their own company and therefore are already burdened with learning a few new names. When a vendor brings an entourage, this only serves to challenge those who have difficulty in remembering names struggle even more than they should. More importantly, it sends a subconscious signal to the individual that may be interpreted as negative. After all, if a product demo requires ten people, then how many people are required in a production setting.

Scheduling: I did some analysis of vendors in my previous position who were selected to go forward with and noticed an interesting pattern. In life, you always remember your first experience and last. This doesn't just apply to things we won't talk about in polite company but to the selection of a vendor as well. Being in the middle causes you to be a blur. The first vendor has the advantage of establishing the tone and the opportunity to educate the customer on the problem domain while the last vendor gets to leverage the hard work of others and in their finale, finishes off with a resounding crescendo. Pay attention to when you are scheduled relative to your competition.

Following a script vs having a conversation: Imagine a scenario where you have lots of highly titled individuals in the room. You need to ask yourself whether they even have the time to sit through an arduous PowerPoint presentation or may need to depart for other pressing matters. It is almost guaranteed that even if they sit through a long scripted presentation, the simple fact that they are executives probably indicates their inability to hold a long attention span as to be successful in this role requires extreme content switching. Sometimes, it is a best practice to put down the PowerPoint and to simply have a conversation. Don't worry about whether the employees of the vendor can follow along, it is more important for the enterprise customer to get it.

Food: Ever heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs? If you are going to schedule a meeting at 10am, you should consider bringing coffee. If you are going to schedule a meeting at 2pm, you can probably count on the fact that people are suffering from the afternoon lull and want to doze. A healthy dose of freshly baked sugar cookies will cause an insulin spike that will help people over the hump and won't cost you more than $20 in quantity.

Vocabulary: Vendors have become very good at adopting industry terminology for the concepts their solutions represent. The challenge is in when enterprise customers use the same terminology but otherwise have different meanings, sometimes this results in a miss. Some people are into relationships, others into the technology and so on. The one role that you need to figure out is the person that is leveraging their intuition to read the audience. Don't assume that agreement and head noodling is only limited to the Asian culture.

Trinkets: Many vendors have cut back on their marketing budgets and have eliminated the trinkets. While I respect financial discipline in doing this and wholly agree that this results in waste when done in a conference setting, I tend to think that there is still value in doing so when a person is in their home turf. When I am at a conference, I am now dealing with baggage fees and probably could benefit from not carrying additional stuff. However, if I am an employee of a large enterprise and you are doing a demo on my premises, it is very easy for me to carry back trinkets to place on my desk. Denying someone the opportunity to walk away with something that uniquely brands you is penny-wise and pound foolish...

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