Picture this common presales scene:
You just kicked off a POC with a major new prospect, Big Deal Inc.. You spent the last week setting up their POC environment, and you finally gave them access. On the next sales pipeline call your CRO unexpectedly calls on you as the sales engineer assigned to Big Deal Inc. and asks “How is the POC going with Big Deal Inc.? Where are we?” All eyes look to you, but you don’t have an answer because you don’t have visibility into what Big Deal Inc. has done so far. Are they stalling out? Are you headed to a technical win? Awkward...
Hoping that your prospect is making progress on their POC is not a smart presales strategy, and certainly it is not how you win deals.
Now, picture this alternative and far better presales scene:
You have Homerun and all of its embedded presales best practices. You just kicked off a POC with a major new prospect, Big Deal Inc.. You spent the last week setting up their POC environment, and you finally gave them access. On the next sales pipeline call... Let’s first back up a few days…
In prep for kicking off the POC with Big Deal Inc., last Thursday you went to the Evaluation Homepage for Big Deal Inc. in Homerun, and you created the perfect Evaluation Plan for their POC.
With a couple of clicks you added all of the relevant test scenarios from your Homerun Template Library based on the products and modules that they are evaluating.
Being the smart sales engineer that you are, you know that every company is a little different. And so following your sales engineering best practices, you tailored a few of the test scenarios based on Big Deal Inc.’s exact technical requirements and pain points, and you even threw in a few additional use cases that you knew would showcases your competitive advantages against Key Competitor X (with whom you knew you were competing because of Homerun’s Competitors Attribute).
You attached three documents to the Evaluation Plan that the Big Deal Inc. team asked for, including a 'quick start' guide and some technical specifications.
Using Homerun’s Shareable Evaluation Plan feature, you marked the relevant test scenarios to be shared and added the Big Deal Inc. team members that are participating in the proof of concept. They immediately received emailed access to the shared POC Evaluation Plan.
Now let’s fast forward back to your kick-off… You just kicked off a POC with a major new prospect, Big Deal Inc.. You spent the last week setting up their POC environment, and you finally gave them access. And now… you know exactly what is going on.
In fact, that same day you checked the Evaluation Plan Status in Homerun and saw that the Big Deal Inc. team already made progress and completed the first few test scenarios.
The next day you were alerted that the Big Deal Inc. team was blocked. You investigated and saw that you just needed to give some quick guidance. You hopped on a remote screen share meeting and walked them through the steps they needed to get unstuck.
A few minutes later you saw the status of the blocked test scenario change from Blocked to Complete. Success! They were back on track.
In your weekly pipeline meeting today your CRO unexpectedly asks “How is the POC going with Big Deal Inc.? Where are we?” All eyes look to you…
You already have Homerun open, so you pull up the Big Deal Inc. Evaluation Homepage and tell her that as of right now Big Deal Inc. is 68% of the way through their POC Evaluation Plan, that they got blocked yesterday but you worked through it and they are back on track, that the POC is expected to complete in 10 days, and it looks like you are headed to a technical win.
If this were a movie, your CRO would give you a special nod of approval, your manager would smile proudly knowing that he trained you well, and a fellow sales engineer would start a slow-clap that would build into a furious applause because you absolutely nailed your big moment.
This is not a movie though. You are a fast growing enterprise software company in a competitive market. You still get the nod of approval from your CRO because your POC is the reason you are about to close Big Deal Inc. and get her that much closer to her revenue target. You still get the proud smile from your manager because you are following presales best practices and his investment in Homerun is paying off. And, you still get the slow-clap from your peers, albeit silently in their minds, because you made everyone look good by showing the strategic value of the presales team.
Summary: Align, Engage, and Impress
Homerun’s Shareable Evaluation Plans are key to you getting technical wins more quickly, efficiently, and successfully.
1. Align with your prospect
Shareable Evaluation Plans define success for your POC and document the agreement between you and your prospect on what that looks like in the form of use cases and test scenarios. A well-designed Evaluation Plan bookends your POC and brings it to a logical conclusion as quickly as possible with demonstrated success. Congratulations, that is the very definition of the technical win!
2. Engage your prospect
Homerun’s Evaluation Plans promote engagement by your prospect, and an engaged prospect is more likely to buy. Remember that your prospect is already busy with their own day-to-day work and now they are squeezing in participation in a POC evaluation. You make their lives easier with Shareable Evaluation Plans. They know exactly what they need to test and the definitions of success. They can track their own progress so they always know where they left off and what they still need to do. You also can monitor their progress and intervene to re-engage them if their progress is stalling out or to quickly jump in and assist if they are blocked for any reason.
3. Impress your prospect
While other vendors are sending prospects confusing spreadsheets full of test cases, dense PDFs, or nothing at all, Homerun’s Shareable Evaluation Plans shows that you are professional, organized, and engaged in their success. Your prospect understands that their pre-sales experience is a predictor of their post-sales experience. Shareable Evaluation Plans impress them from the start, make you stand out against your competitors, and boost your chances of winning the deal.
Want to Learn More?
We designed Homerun around presales best practices as well as our years of experience as sales engineers and presales managers. Today, Homerun is the #1 solution built to manage your presales pipeline, technical evaluations, POCs, and POVs.
Request a Demo to learn how Shareable Evaluation Plans enhance your presales process, boost your team's performance, and win you more deals.
Nancy Nardin highlighted Homerun in the Presales Enablement category in her "2021 B2B Enterprise SalesTech Landscape": smartsellingtools.com/vendor-landscape/
We agree with Nancy's placement of Homerun in the Earn section. Homerun helps companies close more deals, faster.
Check out the new Lord of the Rings-styled map for sales engineering tools created by sales engineering trainer and coach, Patrick Pissang: https://salesengineeringmap.com
Homerun has a prime coastal location along the "PoC Forrest"!
As enterprise and critical infrastructure operators become more connected digitally, they are increasingly vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Operational Technology (OT) and Industrial Control Systems (ICS) cybersecurity incidents have severe financial impacts, cripple operations, reduce safety, and harm human health and quality of life, both within operators and within the customers and communities that they serve.
Enterprise and critical infrastructure operators recognize the need for OT and ICS cybersecurity, and they are buying. According to ARC Advisory Group's 2019 "The State of Industrial Cybersecurity", more than 80% of companies stated that operational technology (OT) cybersecurity is a high priority and only 10% say that ‘budget limitations’ are a major concern in case of an ICS cybersecurity incident/breach. As Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) are moving to close the long-standing gap between IT security and OT security, Global Market Insights predicts the ICS cybersecurity market will reach over $12 billion by 2026, growing rapidly at 20% YOY.
The most effective weapon that your sales team has in their fight to win the deal is the Proof of Concept (POC). Just as your OT/ICS solution combats industrial cybersecurity threats, your sales team has to combat deal threats, such as buyer insecurity, decision ‘analysis paralysis’, and competitors.
Well designed and executed POCs improve sales performance. According to McKinsey, companies with effective presales achieve:
Here are five ways that you can leverage POCs to boost your sales:
1. POCs prove that your technology will protect your prospect
Your marketing materials got you the lead and the ‘word of the salesperson’ got you the POC, but now you need to prove to your buyer that your solution will protect them.
Cybersecurity buyers worry about protecting their organization from attacks; that is why they are evaluating solutions. Buyers also worry that their vendor decision is linked directly to their job security as they may lose their job if the solution that they choose fails to prevent a cybersecurity incident.
Your buyer’s insecurity during the decision-making process cannot be underestimated in the sales cycle.
Design your POCs to prove that your solution can do what your buyer needs it to do and to remove your buyer’s fears.
2. POCs build the all-important ‘trusted advisor’ relationship
POCs are a collaborative form of technical evaluation. They give you multiple touchpoints with your prospect and multiple opportunities to gain a deeper knowledge about their business, priorities, motivations, and challenges.
Leverage this collaboration to design solutions that solve your prospect’s real business problems, show them new ways of protecting themselves, and guide them on continuous cybersecurity improvement. You win deals when you understand your prospect and stop selling them.
The close collaboration with your prospect also helps you look beyond the sales cycle and starting assessing:
3. POCs let you define a plan to get the technical win
The OT and ICS cybersecurity sales cycle is complex, and it is common for buyers to fall into a state of ‘decision analysis paralysis’. OT and ICS cybersecurity solutions, and therefore POCs, are complex, often involving hundreds of sites, assets, and systems. In addition, buyers are juggling multiple vendors, each with an overwhelming array of feature sets and its own POC.
A well-designed evaluation plan aligns you and your buyer on the goals of your POC, the use cases that will be tested, and the success criteria. A well-designed evaluation plan will bring even the most complex POC to a logical conclusion quickly and efficiently with demonstrated success. This is the very definition of the technical win.
Creating an evaluation plan can be challenging though:
The easier you make the evaluation process for your buyer, the better your chances of standing out among your competitors and winning the deal. Show your prospect that you are experienced and that you value their time by recommending a list of use cases that will demonstrate how your solution solves their business problems:
Standardize your POC best practices, key use cases, and lessons learned into evaluation plan templates that your presales team can use with each new prospect. Evaluation plan templates ensure that every POC is your best POC, even when managed by new or inexperienced presales teams. Templates provide great, repeatable starting points, but your presales teams should have the flexibility to tailor their evaluation plans to each prospect.
4. POCs allow you to capture product gaps and feature requests
Your product management teams are desperate for data about the product gaps and feature requests that come up in the sales cycle, whether they are nice-to-haves, blockers, future requests, or just curiosities. Presales teams are amazing at discussing features in the moment:
Guide your presales teams to capture this incredibly valuable product feedback during POCs and integrate it into your product management and roadmap processes.
5. POC Management solutions are the new best practice in cybersecurity presales
Purpose-built POC management solutions like Homerun are the newest software category in the modern sales tech stack, and they change the way best-in-class cybersecurity vendors sell and win deals.
The traditional ad hoc POC process is no longer sufficient, with its reliance on knowledge and practices known only to the best presales solutions engineers, a mish-mash of side tools (most of which are unapproved by IT), and CRMs that are not designed for presales.
The core capabilities of POC management solutions include:
At a minimum your POC management solution should maintain a record of the following items for every POC:
Your POC management solution should integrate all of this presales and POC data with your sales tech stack (most importantly your CRM), product management solutions, post-sales solutions, and other data/reporting systems so that this valuable data can be leveraged throughout your organization.
Learn how one cybersecurity company grew their sales through better POCs: Case Study
The #1 goal in sales?
Hit your target
The #1 way to hit your target?
The #1 prerequisite to closing a deal?
Get the technical win
The #1 way to get the technical win?
Run a successful presales POC
Given that POCs are mission-critical to hitting your sales target… Why are there no solutions for presales POCs and technical evaluations?
Before building Homerun, we had a need to better plan and execute presales POCS and technical evaluations that would get technical wins. We looked for purpose-built software solutions to help with this, but to our surprise we couldn’t find any. So we did what all good software developers do when they can’t find what they need… we built it ourselves. As more and more sales engineers adopted Homerun as their Go-To tool for managing their presales activities, we knew the need was greater than our own and decided to launch Homerun as a commercially available software solution.
As we were getting ready to launch, we looked for how best to categorize Homerun within the Sales Tech Stack. We reviewed multiple articles, diagrams, and landscapes that listed the major and minor categories in the modern Sales Tech Stack (see below for a few examples). To our surprise, we discovered that none of them included categories related to presales, sales engineering, presales POCs, nor technical evaluations.
Bottom line: The modern Sales Tech Stack (both in practice and in diagram/landscape form) has a major gap, and we’re doing our part to fill it.
Examples of Sales Tech Stack Categorizations:
“The 2019 SalesTech Landscape: What’s Hot and What’s Not Today”
Source: Sales Hacker (the self-proclaimed ‘World's Largest Community for B2B Sales’), by Nicolas de Kouchkovsky
“The Sales Tech Stack” (2015)
Source: Scale Venture Partners
The Essential B2B Sales Stack (2017)
Startup Sales Stack Report (2019)
Source: Bowery Capital
Customer Case Study: Cybersecurity Software Company Uses Homerun to Increase Win Rate and Decrease POC Duration
A mid-sized cybersecurity software company focused on DevSecOps wanted to improve their presales process to achieve rapid growth goals.
They adopted Homerun to better manage their presales POCs in order to close more deals and close them faster.
Having run over 200 POCs in Homerun, Homerun helped increase their overall win rate by 15% (from 50% to 65%) while decreasing their POC duration by 16% (14 days). With deal sizes ranging from 5- to 6-figures, Homerun has had huge impact on both SE efficiency and company financial performance.
“Homerun has been transformational for me in ramping up the number of evaluations that I'm juggling all at once.”
The pre-sales evaluation is the most critical component of the sales cycle for many companies. You cannot get the ‘deal win’ without first getting the ‘technical win’. Here are some of the most common types of pre-sales evaluations that sales leaders have been talking to us about over the last few months and the point of view of their prospects.
Types of Pre-Sales Evaluations
Software vs. Hardware
Software companies can run all five of these pre-sales evaluations more easily than hardware companies. It is simple these days to conduct remote software demonstrations and to set up trial software accounts; therefore these are basic options for software companies, especially for the commercial segment of B2B software companies. More complicated software solutions or more complicated segments (such as enterprise accounts) more often engage in POC or POV evaluations. POCs and POVs are much more involved than demos and trials and therefore require substantial involvement from sales engineering teams.
Hardware companies are usually limited to running managed trials, POCs and POVs because evaluating their products require hands-on involvement of sales engineering teams. In our discussions, we have only heard of hardware companies running POCs and POVs by name. Unlike software, hardware evaluations have an additional administrative complication over software evaluations: tracking physical inventory (i.e. who has what and where).
Best Practices – The Evaluation Plan
Regardless of the type of evaluation, it is critical to define an evaluation plan upfront. For companies seeking to reduce their evaluation durations, this is one of the best ‘best practices’ that we can recommend.
The evaluation plan is essentially your map to the ‘technical win’. Without a map, how do you get to your destination efficiently, and moreover how do you even know when you have arrived? A well-designed evaluation plan brings your evaluation to a logical conclusion as quickly as possible with demonstrated success.
The evaluation plan defines exactly what needs to be shown, tested, and/or proved in order for the evaluation to be a success. For example, evaluation plans for POCs include one or more evaluation scenarios that must be tested and achieve the results defined by their success criteria. For POVs, evaluations plans include one or more value metrics that must be measured and achieve results above (or below) their success thresholds.
Many companies struggle to create evaluation plans and define success criteria, and some fail to do this altogether. Others have them but fail to get their prospects’ buy-in upfront, making your evaluations one-sided: You think you are done, but your prospect disagrees. You are lengthening your evaluation cycle and increasing your deal risk in all of these situations.
As a best practice for successful pre-sales evaluations, we recommend that you:
By following this best practice you will:
For other best practices, check out our recent blog post here, or contact us to get a print-ready, PDF version.
Before you set up a pre-sales evaluation with new prospect, make certain that you know why they decided to search for a product in first place. It’s usually one of two reasons:
1. Solving an immediate pain point, or
2. Proactively evolving their business.
Solving an Immediate Pain Point
Companies looking to solve an immediate pain point are either dealing with:
Pain Point: Solving for a Deficiency
A prospect with a deficiency needs to fill a gap in their existing technologies, business processes, or regulatory compliance. In this case, it is not a matter of if they will buy a product; it is a matter of which product they will buy. It is also not a matter of when they will buy, because they must buy something at some point.
Impact on your evaluation:
Pain Point: Solving for an Inefficiency
Inefficiencies are a more difficult sale. Your prospect’s business can still operate without solving the inefficiency with your solution or anyone’s solution. That is a big risk to your sales cycle. It makes it easier for your prospect to reduce their level of participation in the evaluation process or stop their search altogether if they start to get busy, if executive support starts to refocus on other priorities, etc.
Impact on your evaluation:
Proactively Evolving Their Business
Prospects searching for a product because they want to evolve their business, not because of a deficiency or an inefficiency, are aspirational. They believe that a new technology is key to helping them advance their business in a new direction or according to a new strategy. This sales cycle is similar to solving for an inefficiency because evolving their business is not necessary. The tone of the sales two cycles is quote different however. Whereas solving an inefficiency has a negative tone to it, evolving a business has a very positive and excited tone.
Impact on your evaluation:
Super Bowl LIII just happened a few weeks ago so let’s use a sports analogy to talk about who’s in charge and how the Account Executive (AE) and Sales Engineer (SE) work together.
The Head Coach vs. the Quarterback
I’m going to argue that the AE is like the head coach of a football team and the lead SE is the quarterback. While they have their respective roles, the coach and quarterback win more when they work together than when they don’t. Whether you love or hate the New England Patriots, they just won Super Bowl LIII and are now tied for the most Super Bowl wins of all time. Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady (who now has the most Super Bowl wins of any player in NFL history following this latest win) are amazing partners and a legendary duo.
The AE as the Head Coach
Let’s think of the AE as the head coach of the football team and the sales deal as a particular football game. The coach manages the overall strategy for the game, continuously analyzes the current situation, and make appropriate calls on what they think is necessary to win the game. They also give specific direction to each of the subteams (i.e. the offense, defense, and special teams) to execute on the game strategy. In the end, the coach either walks off the field head hung low after losing the game or cheering wildly while getting doused with Gatorade. Such is the life of the AE: setting the strategy for the sales opportunity, directing resources such as sales engineering, IT, and legal in line with the strategy, and either frustratingly losing the deal to a competitor or triumphantly getting back signed contracts.
The SE as the Quarterback
Sticking with the football analogy, the offense is often considered the most valuable part of the team. Sales engineers are the team’s offense and the lead SE is the quarterback. Just as you cannot win the game without points on the scoreboard and just as your offense is designed to score those points, you cannot win the sales deal without the tech win and your SEs are designed to get you those technical wins. The quarterback takes direction from the coach in line with the coach’s overall strategy. However the quarterback has some degree of freedom to call audibles based on how they are reading the defense in the moment (in this case, the defense is your prospect). When the quarterback doesn’t have a good read on the defense or doesn’t like the current play nor audible options, the quarterback calls a time out and discusses how to proceed with the coach. Such is the life of the SE: listening to the AE’s overall direction, calling specific plays and audibles based on how the SE is reading the prospect, and calling time-outs as needed to regroup with the AE before proceeding.
The Evaluation Plan as the Playbook
The last part of my analogy is that the offense learns a ‘playbook’ while preparing for a game, which is a collection of plays that should work well against their opponent. The right playbook can make the win look easy. Think of this playbook as the ‘evaluation plan’ that SEs use with their prospects. If you are not using evaluation plans just yet, the evaluation plan is a collection of use cases/scenarios that prospects will test during the evaluation and that showcase your product in the right ways. Just like running the right plays should win the game, successfully testing the right use cases should earn you the technical win. One of our 7 Best Practices of Successful Pre-Sales Evaluations is about ‘Having a plan to get the win’ and focuses on the evaluation plan. The quarterback runs the plays, just as the SE manages the scenarios within the evaluation plan.
The AE+SE: Become A Legendary Duo
Like coach and quarterback, the account executive and the sales engineer must work closely together to earn the win. When they are in sync, each doing what they do best, they start winning far more than losing. Win enough times together and you become legendary as a duo, just like Belichick and Brady.
Your sales prospects primarily run pre-sales evaluations (e.g. POCs, managed trials, etc.) in order to test whether your product can support their use cases. However the pre-sales evaluation is so much more than a just test phase of your features. It is a complete end-to-end customer experience in miniature, from POC kick-off to POC implementation to post-go-live POC support. The pre-sales evaluation is the first time that your prospect interacts directly with your company’s technical resources, sees how your product gets set up based on their requirements, and experiences how you support them while they are using your product during the evaluation. Your prospects understand that their pre-sales experience is a predictor of their post-sales experience.
Impress your prospects with your pre-sales experience and you will increase your win rates dramatically.
Prospects evaluate vendors based on the goodness-of-fit of their feature sets along with a variety of other criteria, including the expected post-sales experience. The evaluation leads at your prospect are asking their executives for real money to fund the project and often their careers are impacted by good or bad vendor decisions. So after determining that your product is an acceptable candidate based on the features evaluation, prospects often request to speak to current customers in order to ask about the implementation experience and the ongoing support that you provide. They want to get a sense of what it will be like to work with your team during the implementation:
From a support perspective, prospects want to understand:
The goal of your pre-sales evaluation should be to remove a prospect’s desire to ask these questions of a customer reference altogether. Yes it’s true that even with an amazing pre-sales experience, a prospect most likely will still ask these questions as part of their final due diligence. However you want your prospect simply to be confirming that the amazing experience that they just had with you is the norm of working with your company, not a lucky exception.
To achieve this goal, treat your pre-sales evaluation process as the mini end-to-end customer experience that it is. Communicate this goal to your sales engineers and what it means in terms of their day-to-day activities during the evaluation. You should have them follow the same best practices that your post-sales teams follows in your real implementations and in your real post-go-live support processes. Think of all of the questions that your prospects ask your customer references about the your post-sales process (like the ones above) and design your pre-sales process to deliver a positive experience a priori of the prospect becoming a customer.
You know that you have been successful in this endeavor when your prospects-turned-customers tell your sales reps that one of the main reasons that they selected your company was because they loved working with your team during the evaluation cycle.
Now that you have aligned the pre-sales and post-sales experiences for the prospect, you must still develop a smart hand-off from pre-sales to post-sales. When this hand-off is not well designed, a common complaint is that customers feel like they had to start over from the scratch with your post-sales team and waste valuable time getting this new team up to speed. That is horrible a customer experience. Your pre-sales team needs to set up your post-sales team for success by providing them with the complete history of the prospect’s evaluation, including:
If done correctly, your new pre-sales experience will create happy prospects during the evaluation phase and in turn happy customers as they transition into post-sales. Happy customers are more loyal to your company, more likely to explore additional products and services that you offer, more likely to talk about your company and their positive experience to their peers at other companies, and more likely to answer those post-sales questions when they themselves are serving as one of your new customer references.