Proofs-of-concept not closing? Try this one simple trick to improve your close rate

The Simple Trick to Improve your Close Rate

Proof-Of-Concept and Trial Charter FTW

(just because this title is clickbait doesn’t make it less true)

Imagine this – you’re working on your biggest deal of the quarter. Things are going great. You’ve met with the key stakeholders, gotten buy-in from the decision maker, and the client seems ready to move forward. But then you hear the dreaded words.

“This seems like a great solution, but we really need to see it with our data/in our environment. Can we have a trial/proof-of-concept/sandbox?”

Your heart sinks. This is going to add at least another month to the sales cycle, maybe more. Plus, based on how trials/proofs-of-concept have gone in the past, you know your odds of closing the deal just cut in half.

Have no fear, fellow salesperson – Demo Solutions has your back. Feast your eyes upon the proof-of-concept charter and our 1 simple trick to improve your close rate.

Why is Proof-of-Concept or Trial Charter a simple trick to improve your close rate?

In my experience, when prospects ask for free trials or proofs-of-concept (is that the plural of proof-of-concept? Like attorneys general or sums total? English is dumb), they are asking for a few reasons. Sometimes they think their data is different than anyone else’s data (spoiler alert – it’s not), sometimes they’ve been burned by vendors before and don’t want to make the same mistake, and sometimes it’s because they like free stuff. Think about it – how many free trials have you signed up for that you immediately forgot about? This was the entire model for Columbia House, and we saw how that ended. And yes, plenty of trials do convert – but it’s a lot easier for a free trial of, say, Netflix, than it is for a free trial of a $50K or $100K/year piece of software.

We do trials. Is that the same as a Proof-of-Concept? Why are there so many words for this?

Well, as salespeople, we love to complicate things. So while this isn’t an official definition, here is how I use these terms:


A trial typically means free, or 100% refundable within a certain number of days (usually 14, sometimes 30). They are often customer-led, with minimal assistance from the vendor.

Depending on the product, trials can be full, where the environment is the same as production, partial, where features are limited, or completely vendor-controlled.

Trials work best when there is minimal effort to instantiate or deploy an environment for the prospect to use. They typically only cost vendors server use, but with a low close rate, that can end up being quite expensive.

When offering a trial, vendors should consider the following carefully:

  • How long will the trial last?
    • Longer trials may allow the client to use more, but can not only delay revenue, but can lead to the client forgetting that they even signed up for the trial.
  • Is it auto-flip?
    • You can take a payment method up-front, and/or have a “cancel by” date in a contract, so when a certain date passes the contract goes in force. This can be effective, but be careful not to surprise the client or try to bury it in the fine print.
  • How easy is the software to use, really?
    • There’s a big difference between “you don’t need any training to use this software,” and “you definitely need to be trained to use the software.” If your software requires any form of training, don’t trust that the prospect is going to go through that training on their own. And, you could have the best documentation of all time, but no one Rs the FM, so don’t assume your prospect will figure out anything on their own.
Homer Simpson is really trying to find the simple trick to improve your close rate


If you’ve ever done any sort of woodworking or home improvement project, you probably are familiar with something called a pilot hole. Let’s say you’re trying to put some nails into a piece of wood, if you drill a small hole (a pilot hole) in the wood first, the nails don’t split the wood when you hammer them.

Just like how a pilot hole makes it easier to complete your home improvement project, a pilot makes it easier to get your software into a company. Pilots are essentially early stage deployments – typically paid – and it’s when vendors have a small group that uses the software for a set period of time. Then, if it works, a larger rollout can happen. A good pilot has success criteria (even if it’s a vote) for a full rollout, and they can also be instructional for what works and what doesn’t at a particular company.

Should you offer paid pilots? Well, that depends. The upside is that they get you some revenue sooner, and seriously improve the odds of you making a big sale – by having the customer pay, they have some “skin in the game.” It can also make the full deployment go a lot faster, which usually means that your company can recognize the revenue a lot faster.

However, a pilot can delay your deal closing quite a bit. And, if your deployments are very hands-on, you could end up putting as much work into the pilot as a full deployment would take, but without the full revenue to justify it.


Update (9/8/20): Over the past few months, PoC has become known to people outside of the presales community to mean “person of color.” While I recognize that “POC” is in our lexicon as presales, I’ve made the decision to replace this particular acronym with the full phrase. I’ve said things in the past like “I hate managing POCs” or “POCs are the worst” – which, in context, makes sense, but I wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t have context to misinterpret what I’m saying.

Proof-of-concept (I’ve also seen POV – proof-of-value) are where, as the name would suggest, you prove what you told the customer you’re going to do. They usually fall somewhere between a custom demo and a pilot – they take some work to deliver, but aren’t full deployments. Proofs-of-concept are typically free, and are often used to keep a deal moving when it would get stuck. But, even though it feels good to move a deal to the next stage, quite often, a Proof-of-concept is a trap.

Alien saying this is a trap, a simple trick to improve your close rate, cannot be!

I once worked with an organization that had Proofs-of-concept that took about 2 weeks to put together, and had 50 of them in the pipeline. And none of them had closed. Why? Because the conversation with the client usually went like this:

Prospect: Well, this looks fine, so just call me in a week and we’ll see where things are.

Salesperson: [Pretending like they just had a brilliant idea] I have a thought…what if we do a proof-of-concept? Send some data over and we’ll put something together. Would that help move things forward?

Prospect: Sure, why not.

This conversation, or variations of it, happen every day. The salesperson offers a prospect a proof-of-concept, the prospect says sure, and the salesperson (or usually the sales engineer who this gets dumped on) goes and does the proof-of-concept. But there’s a problem here – what concept is being proven? What’s the value? Exactly – there isn’t any. No one discusses how this will be measured, or what success criteria is supposed to look like. And there aren’t clear next steps after the proof-of-concept is done, or any real buy-in for that matter. So how can a proof-of-concept be a success when success hasn’t been defined?

No wonder so many proofs-of-concept get stuck.

Enter the Proof-of-Concept charter as your simple trick to improve your close rate

I’ve been using proof-of-concept charters for years. They are simple documents that define the proof-of-concept. What are we going to do, what’s the value that we’re proving, and how will it be measured? And, if we do what we say we’re going to do, we all agree that there’s a plan to move forward with a contract.

You don’t need to get a formal signature on a proof-of-concept charter, but I highly recommend sending it in an email and getting a confirmation from the client. This isn’t so you can hold them to anything legally, but it’s so you get their buy in from the sales process. You’ll also find out quickly whether or not the person you think is making the buying decision is actually the person with the power – if they can’t make the official decision, they will likely involved the person who does.

Want to try using a proof-of-concept charter but don’t know where to start? Here is a sample charter to get you started.

Want the editable version? Just fill out this quick form:

Try this simple trick to improve your close rate, and let us know if it works for you too. If you still need more refining your close, see here for our free tools, and click here for our pricing.

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