You are a startup with some really cool technology and everyone says so. Your sales organisation is busy filling up the pipeline with calling, mailing, meeting prospects and your sales engineer(s) are busy with running proof of concepts (POCs) – sometimes called proof of value (POV). But the revenue numbers at the end of the quarter are not as they should be? And you have this nagging feeling that you are missing out on a huge opportunity?
This is not rare and many companies experienced that. The good news is: this can be changed.
Though there is no simple way or a button that you can press there is one metric that I like to look at first: The POC conversionrate. That is the percentage of POCs that after closing technically turn into a closed deal. Conversionrate is revenue. I strive usually for something like 80%. Not all technical wins turn into revenue as there are factors – like a pandemic or economic down turn – which you can not influence. But 80% is a sign that you are doing things right.
Qualification – Play to win
And that mainly starts with good qualification in the early stages of the sales cycle. Remember? We are a B2B startup – with money and a product but not so much time. The investors usually expect a constant increase in revenue towards profitability some day. Using the time of sales and presales wisely is key. That is what 80% means. The sales engineer works efficiently and in that sense time is money.
What can go wrong in the qualification that will lead to conversionrates lower than 45 or 40%? Believe me I have seen this. Number 1 reason is a lack of pain or compelling event on the prospect side. They may be a technical match but there is nothing that keeps them awake at night or let them scramble to the screens. Even if our solution works for them there is no need or urge to spend a couple of thousand euros or dollars for your solution.
Pain and Budget
Ideally the BDR / SDR qualify for both in the initial call and we already know there is some kind of problem that needs to be solved for the customer. How bad this problem is and if it has a big enough budget tied to it may be something not seen at the first glance.
Sometimes the account executive (AE) is about to qualify this out during the so-called first meeting aka discovery call but the sales engineer starts to ask the techies a couple of interesting questions. And that can generate some insight which is not shared with the „sales person“ but only when the „tech person“ established a trust base.
SE Superpower – Listening
The techies trust techies more than the sales people. While talking tech the SEs can ask questions with a sales mindset which can highlight other pain that was not visible initially. Or the SE can interpret statements from the techies as indicators of issues they do not openly talk about. That is the superpower of the SE – listen and understand tech and sales equally good. Identify the opportunities that hide behind technical terms and then apply the product to create a solution for the prospect – hence the name solution engineer which is also sometimes used.
So we can discover potential but also find out early that there is no real value for the customer in our solution. This enables the sales tag team to take this further … or not. I like to call a POC the „Purchase Order Confirmation“ or if you prefer POV the „Purchase Order Validation“. We gotta be in agreement with the potential customer that the technical validation leads directly to the purchasing department.
But wait, there is one more thing. The tech fit.
Does the technology fit?
This is the moment that the SE needs to check if the product he or she sells is matching not only the environment of the future customer – answering the question: Will it work? – But also does the product have the right features yet to help quickly and show value.
I have seen it time and time again that the AE encouraged to SE, basically pressured them, to make it possible. Build something out of spit, blood and tape, some scripting, some magic and voodoo that will do something good – just to get that specific customer to sign a deal.
This is dangerous! Stay strong and make it clear it is your decision and not the AEs if this goes further technically. The promise you make to the customer is yours to fulfill. And guess what? This can eat up a boatload of your time and still result in an unsupported – because it is not part of the standard product – and shaky solution. Ask yourself those 2 questions:
- How likely is the customer to buy if you pull this off?
- Can this be supported officially so that the customer will buy more in a reasonable timeframe?
Convert tech into revenue
Congratulations. You made the right decision with customer X and the POC was technically successful, you converted a lead into a technically accepted solution and a possible deal. Now it is over to the AE to close it. But as you already made sure that the product makes the lifes of the customer’s people so much easier by solving troublesome issues, this is just a piece of cake, isn‘t it?
With this approach, mindset and culture you can reach a really nice conversionrate of 80% or more.
This is wonderful – as long as you have enough leads and opportunities to close.