Pilots, POCs and Demos… Oh My!

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of sales professionals use these three terms incorrectly, so lets fix that now.

This is our software, with our data, and our use case(s).

Demos are used only after the opportunity is properly qualified. Showing a demo before the prospect is qualified leads to confusion. No demo will sell software. Seriously.

I have never sat across the table from a prospect that said, after seeing a generic product demo I gave, “I’ll buy it!”. In fact, as I pointed out in this article, odds are it will actually hurt the deal.

Demos are only given after we understand the DSO (Discreet Sales Opportunity) as either them:

Having something they don’t want, or…
Wanting something they don’t have.

This is a critical part of qualification that allows me to give certain features and capabilities in the generic demo relevance, based on what the prospect is actually looking for.

Remember: Under no circumstances do I want the prospect trying to determine how our software can be used in their enterprise. This is a decision that the account team should always make, once the DSO is properly qualified. We are the experts.

Simply presenting our software to the prospect and waiting for them to decide whether they need us is an example of the account team losing control of the account. I recently worked with a sales rep that did exactly this-with $1M software. He never mentioned POC or Pilots-he just gave them a demo! Sales Engineers can’t usually protest, so I had to sit back and watch as he worked each opportunity the same:

1. Have me create the PPT presentation with 3 slides (no kidding).
2. He would introduce me, and I would conduct the meetings.
3. He would then schedule the 2nd call, which was to show the generic demo.
4. At the end of that 2nd call, he ask them to buy the software.

This is not, I repeat NOT, enterprise software sales. This is more like used car sales. Funny thing is, we closed $800k this way! To be fair, it was mainly due to the fact that the $800k was at one locatin, and that location was an existing customer. Still…

This is our software, with their data, and [maybe] their use case(s).

A Proof of Concept (POC) is exactly what it sounds like. We are in an engagement solely to prove that we can do what we claim. These should always be paid engagements unless approved by the VP of Sales. Paid engagements can have the cost waived if the prospect purchases the software described when the DSO was qualified.

A document needs to exist between the account team and the prospect that defines what the POC will involve, how long it will take, and what deliverables will be produced. Most importantly it will include terms.

By terms I mean why we are proving something in the first place: “If we prove to you that we can demonstrate _________ with our software, you will buy our software as scoped.“. Without these terms being in writing, the POC is doomed for failure.

This is our software, with their data, and their [actual] use case(s).

A pilot is completely different. A pilot should always be a paid gig, as it is the initial installation of the software. This installation will soon become the actual staging server, which will have its configuration moved over to production.

Pilots have a normal services engagement agreement, with a complete SOW (Statement of Work) complete with hard definitions of deliverables.

Pilots are sold after the deal is qualified, and in fact sold.


So please encourage your sales reps and VPs of Sales to charge for POCs and Pilots. They take time and resources from sales and engineering/development, and thus should be compensated engagements. Be creative and make the charge for POCs (not pilots) vanish shold they buy the product as scoped.

Happy Selling!

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