The story of the stranded POC


[Ninja Tel - a fantastic cellular tower POC by defcon.]

…It all began with the following conversation [artistic liberties abused]:

Operations Gal“: We need to delete all those freeloader free accounts using our service.
Director of Products“: Sounds great, do that.
[time passes]
Operations Gal“: We are deleting the 50,000 free accounts not marked as “internal use” by Thursday
Director of Products“: Hold on! – I am in business travel, and there are some important business partners there…
Operations Gal“: Oops, they are gone already..

The above situation, or one very much like it, reminded me of the unsung hero of software sales – the POC. A POC (proof of concept) is created when you want to win a deal, and decide to invest time and resources in creating a near-production implementation for this specific customer. Common POC traits include:

  • “Quality code” – No R&D resources for this, so you enlist the company CTO to hack something up (and forget all about it). This is actually a key factor since if no custom code is required – this is just an out-of-the-box sale.
  • “Branding” – sticking the customer logo somewhere (aka white-labeling)
  • “Stability” – runs on some donated hardware found moldering in the attic

POCs are crucial for any enterprise sales. Unlike consumers – who will happily pay $4.99 for a barely-working iPhone app, Enterprises actually require some guarantee that the code works as advertised. Since vaporware does exist, (and since sometime you don’t actually develop the items in the datasheet until a customer comes along) this requirement makes absolute sense. I was actually once part of a start-up focusing just on making POCs easier.

The challenge with POCs is that they are almost always overlooked – R&D is busy with the next big roadmap feature, support will only deal with paying customers, operations are focusing on keeping things stable and sales are not technical enough – POCs are orphaned.

This orphan situation stands in sharp contrast to the crucial part POC takes in the sales cycle. Many companies do not realize the importance of this, and will take care of these engagements on a case by case basis, focusing on those deals that are easier to sell and don’t require special patching. Do consider putting a dedicated technical resource on Pre-Sales, focusing on just making these POCs work and pinging the customer to make sure she is happy and that the sales-cycle is proceeding.

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