The 4 Milestones that Matter Most in Every Evaluation

Tony Matos

Evaluations or Proofs of Concept (PoC) are an emotional ride. I’m not just talking about the SEs who may experience a slight panic whenever these are brought up, but for anyone who has to be involved. While I’ve written extensively on the  Seven Habits of Impactful Evaluations. (which can be found here in its ebook form), I’ve found these habits can only take your PoCs so far.

In addition to these seven habits for impactful evaluations, there are four milestones that guide you through the PoC process. Each milestone ensures your PoC is qualified, documented, and understood by your customer. Best of all, they act as a guardrail so you know if you’re going off course or are on the right track.

Why Do Evaluations Exist?

Not everyone agrees on the importance of evaluations. Some SEs even have the opinion that if the customer has asked for a PoC, the deal might not be as healthy as they originally thought. There could be some hesitance from someone in the buyer group including using an evaluation as a reason to disqualify your solution. 

While that is not usually the case, I most often find that a PoC indicates a disconnect between where the vendor and buyer are in the buying journey. Mark Green, one of the hosts of Two Presales in a Pod and Director of Presales and Buyer Enablement at Consensus, shared his perspective on PoCs. 

“In my experience, many software buyers request Proof of Concepts without understanding the clear goals of the task. Wanting proof that the vendor can deliver is a reasonable ask, but it’s not reasonable for buyers to expect vendors to complete a costly implementation as a free exercise.

So where’s the balance? True balance comes by identifying the challenges and issues that can be addressed within the context of a PoC – while recognizing that some items can be done via demonstrations, success stories, technical reviews and other collaborative information sharing methods. A PoC cannot be used to show everything – instead it’s meant to illustrate key aspects which clarify and drive further confidence between the vendor and buyer.  

With implementation consultants hopefully booked solid on chargeable work, sharing their experience through authentically recorded automated demos serves the buyers needs perfectly.

So now the buyer has PoC for the most important changes, and automated demos by authentic people for the rest – people whom they’re likely to meet as soon as they sign.” (Mark Green, Director of Presales and Buyer Enablement at Consensus)

How to Measure Success

While the habits listed in our last article are great tools for putting together an impressive evaluation, they won’t necessarily help you move sequentially through the process. In order to make sure you’re employing these habits effectively, you’ll need to measure if they’re getting you where you actually want to go.

Just like mile markers tell you how far you’ve traveled on the highway, PoCs also have milestones you can use to evaluate how far along you are in the process. Following these milestones help gauge how successfully the customer is responding to the process by confirming you’ve stayed on track or sounding warning bells if you’ve strayed too far from your intended course. 

I’ve outlined the milestones of the PoC process that lead to the best outcomes:

  1. Qualify
  2. Define
  3. Execute
  4. Close

These milestones simplify what often turns into a complex process. They act as a navigational system to guide you and your customers through initiating, completing, and closing a PoC. If you map these steps out to your customer’s buying process and the personas associated with this stage, you and your sales team will be able to easily identify which stakeholders must be included, what questions they typically ask, and what resources are required to move to the next phase of the deal. 

Leveraging Demo Automation in Evaluations

The best PoCs offer insights back to the organizations who sent them. A successful evaluation requires collaboration, consistent communication, and timely status updates from both sides. Be upfront about what requirements and expectations you have and ask them to do the same with you. 

Since evaluations often involve many stakeholders – some directly involved and others observing the evaluation – it can often be difficult to get everyone together and on the same page.

To help facilitate an effective PoC, I use my PoC Essentials Milestone Framework and outline how to create an impressive evaluation along with suggestions on how to integrate demo automation into this framework for seamless information exchange. 

Evaluations shouldn’t be a daunting task or something you rush through to check the box. When done correctly, PoCs are beneficial to both customers and SE. Consider incorporating the seven habits for effectively delivering evaluations and following these four milestones. Combining both of these approaches has proven to build confidence in your solution and creates a better buyer experience.  

Developing the skills to simply and genuinely communicate PoCs while following the milestones to ensure everything is on track takes time and practice. 

For a more detailed exploration of the 4 Milestones used in this outline take a look at my book entitled The Essential Guide to Navigate Your Proof of Concept. In this book I cover the misconceptions, issues, mindsets and essential practices to operate a world-class PoC. 

If you want a copy of the Seven Habits of Impactful Evaluations then visit my website to get a free copy of this eBook. If you or your team require further training, consulting or coaching around evaluations then visit my website to review the POC Essentials service designed to improve the win-rate of evaluations for presales professionals.