Amplify10 was formerly known as Featurewave

Featurewave.io Fireside Chat- Proof of Concept Transformation Journeys

Listen in as Joe Parlett, co-founder of Featurewave talks through the ins and outs of Proof of Concept Workshops with Robert Garcia, VP of Business Transformation at SirionLabs

Transcript of the chat:

Joe Parlett: Hey everyone. I’m Joe Parlett and I’m a co-founder of Featurewave, which is an AI powered sales co-pilot, which runs in Salesforce. But today we’re not here to talk about Featurewave. Today we’re gonna talk about Proof of Concept POC workshops. We’re doing a series of podcasts or fireside chats, where we bring in various experts in their craft to talk about different elements, typically, of sales and revenue enablement. And today I’m joined by my friend and colleague of 10, 12 years, Robert Garcia, who is truly a POC Transformation workshop savant, I will say. I’ve been, I’ve participated in many of his workshops where he helps companies determine their path.

So a company might be considering making a change, technology may be involved, and there’s a lot that goes into that. They’ve got to very accurately and thoroughly understand their current situation. And Robert’s great at helping them understand that. So understand their current situation, the adjustments or improvements they’re considering making, and make sure that they look at things comprehensively. And then understanding what the potential outcomes are. We know we’ve got some pain, we’re considering making these changes. If we do, what can we expect the improvements or the outcomes to be for the company, for this project, and for the company. And Robert is truly an expert at doing that. His background is the perfect blend of consulting and enterprise software. Robert and I met, as I mentioned, 10 or 12 years ago. I was at Apptus working on a project for a company called McKesson. Robert was with a consulting firm that ultimately ended up implementing Apptus and Robert was a big, big part of that project and its success. And then soon after Robert joined Apptus. And I had the pleasure of working with Robert for, for many years at Apptus, where I got to observe how he would help customers along this transformation journey. So that’s what we’ll talk about today. And real quick to subscribe to this series of conversations and podcasts, please click the link below Featurewave.io, thank you. Robert great to see you.

Robert Garcia: Let’s do it.

Joe Parlett: Thank you for joining us.

Proof of Concept Workshops and Where to Begin

Robert Garcia: Yeah, glad to be here. When you brought up this topic, I thought it was really interesting because I’ve seen how some of these activities, these workshops have actually become more effective in creating differentiation for software firms in particular, where a lot of times these solution evaluations, these planning sessions, these discovery workshops, these POC planning activities, and they should be planned effectively, create an opportunity if done well to really get a handle on how is a solution like to live with. And also how can the vendor create differentiation in a world where it’s very difficult to do that given how similar so many software solutions look, feel, sound, they’re marketed the same, they’ve got the same product marketers writing the content, they’ve got the same LinkedIn presence and all the demand gen stuff. And then the RFPs are written in a way where even, when I was doing evaluations as an SI, we kind of designed them a certain way. 

But it becomes really hard when you look at the Gartner chart, or you look at the Forrester wave and you see the scatter plot and it’s got like two, maybe three dimensions, right? It’s like, how big is a circle or where is it placed on there? And it’s you guess it’s a, but what is it gonna mean for me and how can I create a better understanding of, this two dimensional black and white chart scatter plot. Like, you zoom out and you wonder, are these all the same thing? Like, am I looking at it from like the wrong number of thousands of feet? And when I look at these box checking exercises that, when we get into these conversations, like I wanna do a workshop to understand, I wanna do a live demo. I wanna do a POC, I wanna do a pilot, I wanna get my hands on it. And we’d be thinking, oh my God, here we go. Like, I’m gonna have to go and grab like three, four, five, six, seven, eight resources. We’re gonna have to plan this thing out. We’re gonna go on site and it’s gonna get awkward and it’s nervous, it’s gonna make us nervous, right? And a lot of times nowadays there’s a few things that we can really do to use the evaluation to our advantage, both to the buyer’s advantage and then also to the seller’s advantage. I think this is an opportunity to showcase the approach the company, everything that’s intangible about the product. Because I think now that we’ve exited that weird time over the last few years where we only get 25 minutes or 55 minutes, depending on how your day is constructed, and everything lived and died by that Zoom window.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

New Opportunities with Proof of Concept Workshops

Robert Garcia: Right, or that 40 minute free room. More and more we’re seeing these hybrid workshops, right? Where we are seeing more in-depth activities and there’s a chance, especially now that there’s more scrutiny on investment, cost of capital are up.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: And fighting for above the fold funding of projects continues.

Joe Parlett: Yeah. And to one of your points, these workshops are an opportunity when there is so much congestion in the marketplace. And so many of the vendors and consulting firms look and sound the same. Really these workshops end up being an opportunity for the vendors to build trust or show that they can’t be trusted to make the customer successful. Because ultimately that’s what they’re looking for, obviously. Who is going to make me successful in this project, and who do I trust to do that? And these workshops are a great opportunity for you to prove that to the customer. So I feel like they should be embraced by the selling team rather than, participation with reluctance. It’s a great opportunity and if you don’t take advantage of it, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to, to end up getting this deal with this customer or being a partner of this company.

Robert Garcia: Yeah I mean, what if you could get the full attention of a customer? It’s so hard to get it right. And a lot of times when you think about it, it’ll typically originate as a request from the evaluator, right? Hey, we wanna do a pilot, or we want to do some implementation scoping, or we wanna plan out our requirements. We want to design a process whatever the occasion is. And what we should do is take that as the biggest opportunity for us to gain access to more stakeholders, right. Let’s compound that as, hey, we wanna do that workshop, but we also want to get operations involved. We wanna get the sales leadership involved. We want to get all these things, all these different folks because this is something that’s gonna affect them. It’s gonna be something that’s either gonna make their life a nightmare or it’s gonna make it much better. It’s gonna allow them to hire more, or it’s gonna allow them to scale more effectively. Or forecast more effectively whatever the value prop is of the software or the solution. And now’s a chance where you can actually get their full attention where they’re not multitasking, second, third, fourth, monitor their phone. And you can actually do it in a actual working session. It becomes so much more valuable. And I think you have to take advantage of that. And it’s the best opportunity for us to get multi-threaded in accounts where most of the time we’re locked behind one stakeholder, one firewall, one independent procurement officer.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: Right that part is, it’s almost like the, it’s almost like the cheat code to getting access to other folks that you wouldn’t normally get access to.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Getting the Right Stakeholders In the Room

Robert Garcia: Right sometimes it’s, can we also invite the authors of the Request for Proposal (RFP), right? Can we get the folks who put in the requirements and understand the subtext in and why their voice was written in a certain way. And during Covid it was really hard because we’d have to read these requirements, try and figure out, the requirements probably written this way ’cause they have this pain or this, they have this issue. Why do they have so many questions around, what I think of as usability quirks, right? Probably because their legacy system has horrendous adoption where the heavy users, they love it, the admins love it. Look at our favorite software company, right? At Dreamforce, you find all the admins with the Kool-Aid and they’re dressing up as the park ranger and they’re doing the Kool-Aid, but the casual user, it’s like, I don’t wanna go into Salesforce, right? Like I, you know, I hate it, right? Because the UI hasn’t changed in so many years, but a lot of times we get access to those other secondary, tertiary user bases that are gonna help you either get it sold or get it adopted, get it renewed, right? So this is revenue enablement. It’s gotta be something that stays sticky in an account. And especially these days, SaaS shelf life is short. Stakeholder half-life is short.

Joe Parlett: Yep.

Robert Garcia: Sales leadership is even shorter.

Joe Parlett: Yep.

Robert Garcia: Right, I mean, we’ve gone through a few organizations where they turn through CROs on both sides.

Joe Parlett: Yeah. Customer and vendor, so it’s tough.

Robert Garcia: Yeah, it is. But yeah, these workshops are definitely an opportunity where you’ve got a captive audience and it’s a great opportunity to help lead them, help them identify some challenges, maybe they weren’t even aware of. Opportunities to make improvements in areas that they weren’t thinking of. And so you talked about bringing in a lot of groups. How do you ensure, how do you help the customer to make sure that they’ve got the right level of participation and that you’ve gone wide enough and high enough in the organization? How do you make that determination and how do you ensure that you get that type of cooperation? I mean, part of it depends on the model of what it is that you provide from a solution perspective, right? I think a lot of it is sometimes it’s all about the frontline, right? Where we have to get the frontline first, second level managers bought in, right? Because this is gonna be a large scale deployment and it’s gonna involve seats and it’s gonna involve rollouts, and it’s gonna involve all of that usability.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: And then other times it’s around access to groups that can help make this a better and more confident buying decision, right? Sometimes it could be access to operations, it could be access to finance, right? When we talk about, how often this is an issue or pain point, what does that result in? Who suffers, right? What are the potential pitfalls and payouts and consequences, right? We’re always taught about that of something that we could actually dollarize, right? What are the penalties and obligations of if this isn’t met, right? Is it turnover? And, and we have to cost, have the cost of having to onboard a new SDR team, right? Because of the strategy failed for that. Or it could be something entirely different. So I think that approach will help dictate how I wanna go in terms of the high and wide or getting invitation. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be for the entirety of the whole series, right? Sometimes it could be just for the kickoff. I think we’ve gone on site where we do that first 45 minutes, right? And we have the why we’re here, we’re gonna design a process, or we’re gonna design requirements, or we’re gonna test out a feature, or we’re gonna pilot a solution. But even just asking, hey, can we get a frontline stakeholder? Or can we get an executive sponsor to come in and share a few words on why this evaluation is so impactful for them.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Creating an Agenda for Proof of Concept Workshops

Robert Garcia: And that invitation at the beginning is usually an invitation also at the end for the readout, right? Say, “Hey you helped kick this off Mr., or Mrs. Sales leader or operations leader or legal leader or finance leader,” and then bring them also back in for the readout, right that’s your excuse.

Joe Parlett: Yep. Yeah there’s benefit so much benefit on both sides. And like you’re saying, you can put together an agenda. Here’s what we’re gonna cover today or today and tomorrow and the next day. I’ve seen these workshops go on for multiple days or even a week where there are different groups and they know when they need to attend, how long they need to attend for. But definitely getting stakeholder participation, so that they understand what’s going on, the magnitude of the issue, the benefit of solving the problem, the outcomes they can expect. Then they’re gonna endorse this. But it really helps ’em to qualify and quantify if and how we’re going to tackle this. So we’re in a congested space. We’re now getting together. You don’t have to do these workshops over Zoom anymore. Are you back full speed? ‘Cause we’re in congested space so like we talked about, this is an opportunity to create some distance between you and the rest of the pack, for the vendor, technology vendor or the consulting firm. Are you back full swing? Are you doing these workshops like you were in 2019 and earlier?

Robert Garcia: Sometimes, yes. And sometimes it’s taking on a little bit of a hybrid form where, we’re creating some new activities and new exercises to include folks who are there, folks who aren’t there. And we found different, there’s a few tricks to that, right? Part of it is like a live polling or using breakouts and also just having did certain slots that we can remain flexible around. Even when we were in person, we’d always have stuff like, the plane didn’t make it, or one team couldn’t attend, or there was a fire drill. Shoot one time we were on site and they had a spinoff announcement of the entire division right. Where our workshop was interrupted for a few hours.

Joe Parlett: Kind of put the brake on.

Planning Exercises for Proof of Concept Workshops

Robert Garcia: So there’s always these weird things that can happen. But I think what we’ve done is created micro exercises for pretty much everything. Some of them are in the true kind of sales spirit. Some of ’em are more gamified, some of them are more quiz based. But I think having the right combination of a bag of tricks so to speak, helps you have these different things. And to be honest, some of them were ones that we created or invented at conferences, right. Because a lot of times we sourced some of these from what we would do in some of these round tables and birds of a feather type discussions. I remember we would do these metrics exercises or these benefits exercises or these prioritization schemes. Where we’d create a way where more than one person can vote or participate in contributing to how we choose the things that are gonna be most impactful for us. Because not all priorities are equal. Not all capabilities and requirements are equal. And I think for a long time we used to do these activities based off of technical dependency. This feature has to be deployed, then this feature has to be deployed, but then the integration has to be there and the data has to be clean. So that has to happen first. And there was always like these phase zeros in the phase ones, and I think modern software has started to move away from some of that. I’d say with a lot of the technologies that they bring to bear where designing those SOWs and projects around functional rollouts that are logically streamed in, order to cash, or whatever it is. That doesn’t always happen anymore.

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: As I’m finding where the stomach to do that type of long scale big for transformation, it’s just not happening where the majority of transactions are happening.

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: At least in my experience of the last few years.

Benefits of the Proof of Concept Workshop

oe Parlett: Yep. But certainly I think it is to the benefit of the customer for them to request these workshops and these proofs of concepts. Because again, it’s going to give them another set of eyes or multiple sets of eyes to examine their challenges through these different lenses. And they might get thoughts and insights that they wouldn’t have realized if they weren’t doing the workshop. So I definitely feel there were days where I would, it was with reluctance, oh my gosh, we’ve gotta do this week long workshop. But there’s so much value for both sides for the customer to figure out what they should do for the vendor to build alignment and prove whether or not they’ve got something that solves these challenges that the customer is having. I think in some ways it becomes the most effective week that you’ll get in these, 30 some odd week deal cycles.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: Where you could do or undo in one week an entire deal cycle’s worth of critical mass or goodwill, or negative will, right. Depending on who you bring to that and all the different intangibles around all the things that support that POC. Right the planning, the effective summary of that, the readout of how it happened from a debrief perspective. And I think that stuff, if you can codify, you could really help execute at scale.

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: So I think one of the things that was also difficult back in the day was we couldn’t afford to do many of those, right? We’d have to pick and choose where we’re gonna actually have the team go. Right and at one point, I think we were like seven of us, right, we would do the workshops, right? It would be all a few folks to help co-facilitate it. The sales team, it would include technical folks, the sales engineers, it would include services consultants, it could involve product folks, it could involve kind of the general one or two MCs, right?

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: There was, we had Mark and Laura and Derek and I’ve got the experience that says these types of things can only be scaled if you start to run a certain playbook around that, right. And part of that playbook is having a structured formula for the prep, the actual activities themselves, and then the debrief and you can turn that into a templated activity, then it becomes a little bit more turnkey. We’ve even dabbled in charging for something like that.

Joe Parlett: Right yeah. 

Robert Garcia: And then you also look at it from the ownership perspective of where does the SI fit in into some of these activities. And that’s always a hard question because sometimes I find that the third parties are taking a backseat as observers.

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: And other times they are adding value. And it does depend on the vendor and what your SI go-to market plan is. But that could also be a significant wrench into whether the customer sees value in that third leg.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia:  Or if they don’t see value.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: And they’re simply seen as, force multipliers or they’re just seen as the billable resources to get it done. Right I mean, there were times where we would do workshops with the smaller SIs, right? And they would bring someone who has tremendous value, right. Whether they’re more of a domain expert like we’ve seen in a few different consultancies or as an implementation expert, but that’s got a lot of best practices and they’re really challenged. So depending on what that strategy is, having them as also part of the design and execution of those activities, could be a significant player of hey, that combination of the vendor plus the partner, when I saw them working together with us in that workshop, we all felt like we’re on the same team and it came across really well as a way of that working model, Because in some ways it’s like a preview of what that working model’s gonna look like. Other times it’s like, I have no idea why these three parties are in the room together because they all hate each other and it’s terrible. I mean, you and I had a big project where I was the third party, you were the prime and there was some PS involved, right?

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: And then there was the customer and they had their own internal team and that was a significant cost as well right they had their own administrator. And I think some ways the POC is a preview of what’s that working relationship gonna be like between the three parties?

Joe Parlett: Yeah and can any of us stomach it?

Robert Garcia: Yeah.

Proof of Concept Workshops Save Time

Joe Parlett: And so, I’m a huge proponent for them, for these workshops and the investment of time by all parties I think it’s well worth it. A lot of times these enterprise evaluation cycles can drag on for six months, 12 months, 18 months. And I don’t think it takes a company that long to figure out what to do, but a lot of times they’re distracted. These projects come in and out of priority. But I think that these workshops could really help to concentrate things and accelerate the evaluation process and help them in a concentrated manner. In one week we’re gonna figure out, is this worthwhile? Is the pain that acute— and the solution that fulfilling— and the outcome worthwhile? Should we do this? And I think these workshops really help all parties because they don’t wanna be dragged through a six month, 12 month evaluation, the vendors it’s not an ideal scenario either. And I think these workshops help accelerate that.

Robert Garcia: You’re gonna find the best soundbites, the best awkward moments, the furrowed brows and just the exclamations that you’ll get from the participants as to positive reactions, negative reactions. And a wise observer would, would take notice some of these because these are some of the things that become that basis for the argument in the close, right. I think, those are some of the most memorable things, absolutely.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: So for good and bad, I mean, I remember there was one that we were doing around a business case and we were sitting with a CFO and effectively they, in not as many words said, “I don’t care if this creates an efficiency or gain or not. They’re paid salary, they work on the weekends, the process will work, we’ll just add more head count.” And sometimes you find out then and there that this is something that the CFO’s never gonna sign. Or other times you find out that everybody agrees that this is a problem and everybody thought simply thought that the other department was gonna take the lead on that.

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: And as long as we get agreement that, okay, we’re ready to take the lead, we just need to name the department and then assign the RACI matrix and get everybody to agree on it. That was the last thing that we needed to get the consensus.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: So far, and that was a obviously a good example, but I think those are the forcing functions that do make a difference in these pursuit cycles where it is otherwise a non-human in some ways evaluation of the different solutions.

Robert Garcia: Yeah and it can be very difficult, especially these days with the distributed teams.

Robert Garcia: Yeah.

Joe Parlett: Part of the reason it takes six, 12 months, 18 months to do these evaluations, you can’t get people’s time. Typically evaluating enterprise software is not the person, the six people, the eight people on the teams primary job or responsibility at their company. So, nor is it the primary job of the ancillary teams either. So it’s difficult to get their time and have them prioritize this and have these evaluations go quickly. So I think it, these workshops definitely help accelerate that can and concentrate the amount of time.

Robert Garcia: And that’s why I think if you have the right stakeholder there, we had one where we would walk in and we would agree for at least that first two hour working session, the laptops were left with the lids closed. Right phones were upside down and we were able to at least agree on a process prioritization. And you usually have to find someone really strong on the customer’s side to help you enforce that, but it’s very rare that you’ll get that kind of undivided attention. Other than these forcing functions of these workshops.

Joe Parlett: Yep. So these transformation workshops are very worthwhile. Vendors should embrace them, the customer should endorse them and have it as part of their evaluation process as well. Get, go high and wide, right. In the teams getting as many involved as you can. What other tips would you have for companies that are considering running these kinds of workshops? I mean, one tip that I have is have somebody like Robert involved who can really help you determine current state, better state and what to expect if we make these adjustments. Robert is a supreme specialist at that type of role. So I would encourage you to find somebody on your team or outside of the company that can help you. But what other tips do you have? Do the workshop, vendors embrace the workshop and participate. Go far and wide, go high with the evaluation team. Make sure you’re involving all the ancillary teams. You don’t want somebody holding up their hand at the end and say, “Hey, how come nobody talked to me about this? What about my needs for this project, or this solution?” What other tips do you have?

Creating a Theme for Proof of Concept Workshops

Robert Garcia: Probably finding a theme and making it memorable are also really key. I think that whenever we’ve done these where we’re able to match it to a type of initiative and pair it up with something that is compatible at least with what the broader organization is doing.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: Whether it’s initiatives sponsored by the PMO or something that’s tied to something that’s on the leadership’s emphasis.

Joe Parlett: Yeah.

Robert Garcia: So whether it’s a focus of the quarter or it’s something around execution, a lot of times the top level sponsor will have some type of core themes for the fiscal year. It could be something that was set at kickoff, go back and work with the stakeholder to find, was there something that was in the earnings call? Was there something that we can trace back to when we had the theme of our QBR even, right. And we said, “Hey, we all agreed that we have to get better at this.” This is a chance for, the workshop to also consider how we can align us as an organization to do better at that whether it’s data, whether it’s tools, whether it’s process or the other elements there. Tying it to that and making it part of their own undercurrent, is a way to do that. And it also helps if you can do anything you can to make it memorable, right. I think these are the best chance for you to create an event that folks will remember and also to ask them upfront, right, what do you like and not like about POC evaluations or workshops? And then if you could do it differently, what would you do? Do that as part of the design process for this activity to make it for them.

Joe Parlett: Right.

Robert Garcia: Because organizations are so different and a lot of times you wanna find what’s a way where I can make something compatible with the way that this business works.

Joe Parlett: Definitely, yeah.

Robert Garcia: So more forward thinking and then some others are they just want to get the basics and they just wanna get it adopted and they wanna focus on simplicity and usability and all that. And others are gonna be around, hey, we’ve gotta take the next leap or we’ve gotta have one foot in the future. And we’re a company that has stake on innovation we wanna be on your cab, we wanna be pushing the use cases forward. And there’s also that type of customer as well.

Joe Parlett: Yep, yep, makes sense. So tie these workshops to critical company initiatives and you’ll go further. And then this’ll be, these are obviously super helpful when it comes to validating this plan that you’re contemplating, that you’re trying to put together and ultimately getting it approved so it doesn’t sit on the shelf as another idea that didn’t get passed.

Robert Garcia: That’s right.

Joe Parlett: So, alright buddy, well thank you. Appreciate your time great to see you.

Robert Garcia: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll do something again soon.

Joe Parlett: We will, thank you folks.

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