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Ahead in the cloud: Industry data and tips to accelerate software sales with virtual demos and PoCs

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Selling software isn’t easy. Arguably the biggest challenge is concisely explaining the complex. That’s why sales pros – from sales engineers (SE) to team leaders – rely heavily on product demos and proofs-of-concept (PoC). Seeing a solution in action, accompanied by personal and knowledgeable sales guidance, is a powerful way to highlight value.

Analysts from IDC noted the first 60-70 per cent of the software sales process is entirely invisible to salespeople; decision-makers spend that time doing online research. They also actually prefer marketing-guided information sources. What’s more, many times, sales reps are only called into meetings just to present demos and PoCs.

According to Gerry Brown, customer experience (CX) research director at IDC, 80 per cent of buyers will drop vendors, even if they like their product, if their marketing and sales aren’t up to snuff (1). He added: “Failure at the product demo or PoC stage not only loses deals, but also risks losing customer value for life.”

There’s a lot riding on sales enablement, and now with decision-makers further isolated, the bar has risen and the pressure is even greater. We commissioned IDC’s analysts to dig deeper into the realm to gain a greater understanding of the pain-points, as well as best approaches for resolving them.

PoC pain relief

IDC surveyed senior decision-makers from more than 200 U.S. enterprise software vendors, asking about their demo and PoC priorities. When it came to the platforms used for these, 77 per cent ranked the ability to conduct demos in cloud-based virtual environments as their most important capability. Regarding PoCs, 70 per cent said customising for individual customer business needs topped the list.

As for pain points – particularly those associated with deal-closing PoCs – the data showed some serious industry-wide issues:

  • 52 per cent reported customers abandoning PoCs in progress “sometimes” or “often;”
  • 50 per cent reported needing significant technical support and guidance during PoC installations;
  • 47 per cent have problems with the customer’s hardware not supporting the PoC process; and
  • Nearly all (99 per cent) wanted more actionable insight, with embedded analytics being a strong consideration.

IDC developed an infographic (2) with additional data on the topic, as well as drill down information on the business impact of a cloud-based approach. It includes the following advice:

“By leveraging the latest innovations in cloud-based virtual labs, software vendors can ensure smooth and reliable demonstrations and PoCs at scale and empower their business development efforts with the actionable customer insights needed to boost sales.”

Personal and virtual

With cloud-based virtual IT labs, sales teams can reach any prospect, via the internet. Equally important, they can upload, showcase and provide access to their exact software. This means the ability to conduct demos and PoCs anywhere, and, mirroring real-world scenarios with convincing hands-on experiences.

The approach addresses the primary logistical pain points cited by IDC. With the cloud, you have a remote-friendly and hardware-independent process that can expedite the buying process. No IT support needed, no permissions required to get behind firewalls, no hardware to wrangle or carry around. Personal gaps can be closed, sales cycles accelerated due to automation and greater efficiency, and costs like flight tickets and travel related expenses can be eliminated.

For reasons like these, remote sales will be more prevalent than ever when the pandemic is gone. So, sales leaders should make sure their teams are equipped with the right tools and those selling software should sharpen their demo and PoC skills. Here are some tips to help:

  • Hands on experiences: Learning by doing is one of the best ways to make a lasting impression, so give prospects hands-on experiences. Allow them to play in PoCs isolated from infrastructure after a demo. This gives them a no-risk experience, builds familiarity, reinforces your presentation and shows you believe in your solution.
  • Engaging environments: Virtual labs can enable you to build environments that reflect real situations prospects can encounter on the job - and your real tools should be used to solve them. If you really want to increase engagement, consider gamifying your demo or PoC by building in problem-solving challenges.
  • Keep it simple for your team: User-friendliness equals greater adoption. Make sure your virtual IT labs are simple for your sales team and can integrate core sales tools. With a single, centralised platform, they’ll be focusing on selling and not looking for resources
  • Analytics and actionable insight: Remember IDC’s mention of embedded insights? One of the biggest issues with PoCs is the “black box;” a lack of visibility into the user experience. Look for platforms that offer real-time insight so your team will know who’s trailing the software, if a prospect has stalled or is overlooking an important feature. Then they can take action.
  • Show and tell: Those face-to-face trade show selling opportunities, events and user groups might be on hold but you can do the next best thing. Create your own online and demo and discuss your solutions. Just be sure your virtual IT lab platform can scale and doesn’t discourage participation by making attendees deploy a slew of apps to join in the fun.

The choice is yours

Remember that not all virtual IT labs are the same, and neither are the clouds in which they’re hosted, as each provider carries difference strengths and weaknesses. Make sure the ones you select are able to support the different applications they will be trusted to deliver, and keep your options open by avoiding lock-in.

Foremost, you want a cloud suited for business acceleration; one specifically designed to help software companies deliver complex demos and PoCs in real-world environments without compromising time to market. With purpose-built infrastructure and tools, processes can be automated, friction reduced and sales cycles are expedited.

If your company prefers to use a large public cloud provider, typically selected for inexpensive storage and raw performance, you can still deploy a specialty cloud. Just make sure it will easily sit on a public cloud, in fact, make sure it’ll adapt for any infrastructure, including on-premises.

The choice is yours, but one thing is for certain, remote sales enablement has taken on greater importance. Choose wisely and you’ll set your team up for immediate and long-term success.

Dr. Zvi Guterman, co-founder and chief executive officer, CloudShare

Zvi Guterman
Zvi Guterman is CEO of CloudShare, helping software organizations accelerate success by making it easy to replicate complex on-premises IT environments in the cloud for training, POCs, demos, and more.