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Should we run towards or away from POCs?

By Darrell Woods, Senior Account Manager – Enterprise, Devoteam UK

June 2018

Talking with your prospect – still competitive, still in pre-sales mode: “We would like you to run a POC”: Supplier runs screaming for the door…

Proof of Concepts, we were told, should be avoided at all costs. I once had a boss who viewed the mere suggestion as a sign of poor qualification, and I know what he meant. But POCs are on the rise and this may not be bad news.

Not to be confused with a POV or Proof of Value, a wholly different topic which focuses more on business case justification, a POC is all about definition. They should be unique to that client. If not, they are little more than another demo.

The reason they are so feared is that they often represent the two variables suppliers dislike the most: delay and cost. Our definition, to reflect the wide variety of use cases, is the moment your pre-sales resources need help from the chargeable consultants. Thus they have a double cost, the time invested and the loss of billed revenue elsewhere. In addition, they rely on inputs from an as yet uneducated customer who doesn’t know what they don’t know!

The perfect POC will have absolute success criteria: “If you show us A and B, we will commit to purchase X from you”, and it should also be fully funded by the client. This nirvana is often impossible to reach. So should any other scenario be greeted with a “no thanks”?

Certainly a POC should not be used to demonstrate product functionality. That’s the job of references, demo, and analyst reports. The most basic is probably a demo, tailored and using a sample of real client data, but that’s just a well prepared demo in my book.

Rather, where a POC is valuable is addressing one or more of those variables that turn product into solution, however clichéd. POC also means throwaway, so clients need to be reminded of this and not see it as a jumpstart into the project proper. The document that must be agreed before starting is, however, a great opportunity to get deep into the head of the prospect in a way that the standard procurement processes today simply do not allow.

Why does the supplier want it?

A lot of Devoteam’s value proposition is about subject matter expertise; if it were easy the client should simply do it themselves! This is very hard to convey in the standard sales process, in documents or presentations. A POC that is short, focused and relevant is a great opportunity to differentiate and to build a rapport with the client. It also acts as a qualification for both parties – can we work together, will the client do what they need to do and do they have the skills? In the days of largely agile delivery, the client’s contribution is equally important to project success, even though the supplier will always be blamed if it falls short, so needs to be validated.

Why does the client want it?

There are always multiple ways to proceed in a competitive UK market. The fundamentally locked down nature of procurement engagement for any decision of significance robs the client of the opportunity truly to understand a supplier and risks a leap of faith selection based on gut instinct, low price and other unquantifiable criteria. This is good for no one.

What has to happen?

  • Some level of commercial commitment, however small, as a sign of good faith.
  • A detailed, documented and agreed POC document. To bind the client to working with you is unrealistic but to agree what success looks like, meet it and then lose the business is horrible and unreasonable, (and, yes, I am still bitter about where this did once occur to me).
  • The client has to have a role to contribute – a one-way POC is a demo by another name.
  • Preparation to ensure you are confident that you can meet or exceed expectations in the timeframes, or be able to adjust the success criteria so that the client sees enough of your initial steps to have confidence in where it is going.
  • A focus on a few pieces (ideally one, no more than three) of the solution where removing uncertainty will make you stand out and will allow the client to validate their desire to work with you.

If any of the above is missing, it is probably better to qualify out or steer them to a tailored demo.

One of Devoteam’s biggest new customer wins of 2017 was built on a successful POC. It was part-funded, so both parties had a stake in the outcome, and it was a crucial determinant in their selection of both Devoteam and the vendor, ServiceNow. It established the basis of a joint team that then worked on a very successful road to go live on time. A POC is not without risk, as the customer was well aware they wanted to set a high bar, but in an old exam adage, if you can “show working” then this can be as important as achieving the end objective.

In summary, we have seen a significant increase in the requests for POCs in the last 12 months. If you are as good as you say you are, then these should be seen as a perfect to way to clinch the deal and establish an unbreakable partnership whatever Procurement might then throw at you.

To discuss this subject or related material please feel free to contact Darrell at Alternatively, you can contact Devoteam on

The next article in this series, Proof of Concept vs. Proof of Value, will appear in July.