What is a Virtual Proof of Concept?
A proof of concept (POC) shows if and how software can be used in the real world. A POC is intended to demonstrate how a product can solve problems and challenges, as well as how it works in specific use cases.
It involves testing and proving whether software can do what it promises to do and whether you can feasibly turn an idea into a reality.
Below, we’ll look at the use of virtual POCs in developer marketing, explain how they differ from demos, and explore what you should look for in virtual proof-of-concept software.
The Aim of Virtual Proof of Concept
The aim is to show users how valuable and indispensable your product is without pushing them directly into attending a sales call. Users can test out the product, look under the hood, and use it to complete relevant activities. Software vendors can use it to provide a real-world, hands-on iteration of a potential product to buyers who want more information and interaction than a cookie-cutter and templated demo.
Traditionally, sales engineers would have traveled to a physical location to showcase a POC often using a virtual machine deployed on-premise. But, a virtual proof of concept can be deployed on the cloud in a virtual lab, rather than on a local machine.
Virtual POCs in Developer Marketing
The software sales process is increasingly moving from being bottom up to top down. Previously, the management or the C-suite would have looked for and chosen a solution in a traditional sales process using static marketing material, such as demos and fact sheets. Developers would then have been tasked with implementing the solution and training users.
Now, developers are the ones who are finding and testing the product. They have purchasing influence and even control of where to spend more when it comes to software purchases. More than two-thirds of developers now identify needs and make technology purchasing recommendations while 21% have specific budget authority.
But developers don’t want to read factsheets that detail product benefits; they want to get hands-on with your product immediately and see how it works for themselves. Once developers have played around with your product enough to convince them that they’d like to implement it, they need to convince management that it’s the right decision. They need to make a business case for the solution they want to use if they want to get it approved. According to research, 38% of developers must establish a proof of concept to compel their business to invest in technology, and 37% are required to provide specific business use cases for that tool.
Building a virtual POC enables developers to easily showcase what the product can do in scenarios that are specific to their company and tailored to certain roles. They can show how they’d use the product on a day-to-day basis and what the benefits would be. Management can get hands-on with the product, manipulate the data, and try it out for themselves.
A virtual POC is a key part of the developer purchase journey as it ensures they have the tools they need to be able to convince management of its long-term value. If you don’t offer a virtual POC — or it’s not easy to spin one up — then developers could fall out of the funnel and find another solution.
Demos vs POCs: What’s the Difference?
The terms demo and proof-of-concept have very different meanings and serve different purposes. Below we’ll dive into the two terms in more detail to explain what they are.
When it comes to software sales and technical and developer marketing, demos are often presentations that show prospects what a product or service can achieve under a normal use case. In the past, software salespeople would present demos to users from the C-suite and management to show how the product works and outline the benefits.
These demos might be in the form of a pre-recorded static video or would involve the sales engineer taking their prospects through different user cases relevant to their business using dummy data.
A demo is useful for delivering a lot of information to a prospect in a short amount of time and requires a lower commitment from both the vendor and buyer. It’s a good way to get prospects thinking about what your software can do for them, understanding their unique needs, and how your product is different from competitors.
Pre-recorded, static demos are not normally used when marketing to developers as a more technical audience prefers to try out the product themselves, rather than listening to sales engineers explain it to them.
A virtual POC environment is usually a sandbox environment customized around the needs of specific users to prove that a product/service is capable of solving a specific problem. It replicates real-world environments so users can experience the value of and learn about your software. A virtual POC requires more time and commitment than a demo.
In some cases, a virtual POC environment will follow a sales demo in the purchasing process. Once users have seen a demo, they will need a virtual POC to test the product’s viability to meet specific needs, get more information, and create a business case to get the budget approved to purchase the software.
What to Look for in a Virtual POC Environment
Choosing the right virtual POC software will enable you to provide users with an immersive experience where they get hands-on, real-life experiences that allow them to build a business case for implementing your product. Below we’ll explain what you need to look for in this software.
Instead of expecting users to go through a lengthy process to set up the POC, they need a fast sign-up process to be able to get started immediately. They don’t want to have to spend time reading manuals or downloading programs or add-ons. Users need to be able to spin up their virtual POC environment immediately with a click of a button.
You don’t want your virtual POC environment to only work in certain conditions and on certain machines. Users don’t want to have to deal with incompatibility issues and choose virtual POC software only to find out it doesn’t work on their system or machine. Virtual POC environments need to be configured to perform optimally with any software or machine so users won’t have to troubleshoot issues regarding permissions or different hardware and software requirements.
As a virtual POC will likely be used by multiple different stakeholders, users need to be able to spin up new environments when needed. Initially, one developer might use the virtual POC to test out the viability of the software, but may ask for help from their colleagues and then eventually need to add users from management to help with the evaluation. This needs to be a quick and easy process. The same goes for spinning up virtual POCs for different use cases or with different ways to configure your product and different data sets.
Look for virtual POC software that enables you to create personalized learning environments. Users can start at different stages of the POC with different pre-loaded information tailored to different use cases and skill sets. For example, you can create beginner and advanced POC environments, or create different environments for different programming languages and experience levels.
You need a virtual POC environment that comes with built-in analytics capabilities. You can see who is using their POC, how often they are using it, what features they are using, or where they are getting stuck. Then you can follow up with users with more tailored help and advice. Your sales and marketing teams also have important information about the most engaged users and can better prioritize leads.
Accessible From Anywhere
Users need to be able to access their virtual POC from any machine or device from any location. Every user needs to be able to get the whole experience without having to install software on different machines. Look for a virtual POC environment that can be deployed in a browser so users aren’t constrained by only being able to access it from a specific location.
A virtual POC software should allow users to evaluate a product in a safe and isolated environment. They can see how the product works in different environments and make changes without worrying about how this will affect the actual production environment. Users can also use virtual POC software to beta test new features and perform a practice lap to resolve any issues before installing the software.
Populated With Dummy Data
Populating virtual POC software avoids the blank slate problem. The blank slate problem refers to when users sign up to test your software only to find that the environment is completely blank. Before they can see your product’s value, they have to spend hours creating and importing dummy data, configuring your product’s settings, and understanding how it works.
A virtual POC that comes pre-populated and pre-configured ensures users can quickly experience the product without having to do too much heavy lifting on their end.
The Role of Software Sandboxes
Developers can’t build POCs with marketing material; they need a hands-on, product sandbox. Software sandboxes provide learners with immersive, hands-on training in a lab environment using the same software and scenarios that they will have access to in their day-to-day roles.
Software sandboxes provide developers with the experience that will help them understand how your software solves their unique problems. Software sandbox environments mimic real-life production environments, but they typically don’t use production data or interact with other production-level resources. Using sandbox environments, users play around as much as necessary without worrying that they will break anything or pose a risk to the company’s production IT infrastructure.
These sandbox environments have separate databases and servers, so no matter what the user does in or to the sandbox, it won’t affect operations. Developers can use software sandboxes to build POCs without worrying about tarnishing production databases.
There is no need to install software on a computer, and users can carry out tasks from any device, anytime, wherever they are. All they need is a browser and an internet connection. There are no technological constraints, and users don’t have to spend valuable training time setting up software, or troubleshooting any issues regarding permissions or different hardware and software requirements.
Finding the Right Software
If you think software sandboxes help you enable developers to build POCs, then the next step is to find the right sandbox provider. Appsembler Virtual Labs enables you to set up a sandbox environment with the click of a button.
By deploying Appsembler Virtual Labs, you can create as many sandbox environments as you need with different versions of your software in different states while personalizing and tailoring these environments to the training each learner needs. These virtual labs are quick and easy to set up and maintain, and you can scale them to meet the needs of all your users. They provide an immersive, hands-on, and personalized learning experience to increase user adoption and engagement.
Get in touch if you have any more questions about how Appsembler Virtual Labs can benefit your business or would like to schedule a demo.