4 ways to run better remote POCs

Travel requirements for most companies are going down. Many customers don't need you onsite in order to set up a Proof of Concept, and many sales orgnaizations will want you to be able to support other activities while one is going on.
For the purpose of discussion, lets treat any technical exercise which involves evalutations, data analysis, proof of value and proof of concepts where you aren't spending most of the time onsite as a remote "POC"

What is different about running a remote POC?

  • Less personal contact with the customer
  • Ability to work on set-up independently
  • Potential for data to be off-site
  • Hard to track what the customer is doing
Lets check on these one by one:

Personal Contact with the customer

While you aren't on site with the customer as much when running a remote exercise, you still can call up the individuals, discuss their needs, and spend time on additional sessions with them, so that they understand the value it offers them.
I'd suggest that most remote POCs that fail, do so because the individuals involved are less bought into the process than if they were spending more time with the Sales Engineer running it.
Even when you aren't in front of them, use the materials you have to connect to people. Turn on your webcam (even if they don't).  Schedule calls, to check on the inputs, setup and requirements.  Make sure they know how they can reach you, and make sure they realize the effort you are putting in for them.
I always like to have a daily (or weekly) project update for customers when running POCs, to provide a medium of communication, which would happen for any POC whether onsite or off.  This gives you a lot of ways to let the customer know what is going on, what depends on them, and how successful things are, as part of the journey.

Ability to work Independently

Since you are remote, make sure the things you do share with the customer are thought through and prepared where possible.  If there are ugly parts of your setup, or the way you convert results & data into a presentation, then you don't have to share these things, the same way you might if you were onsite.  Make the most of this, because with less personal contact, you will need to make the most of the sessions where you do work with them.  
Also - because you are remote, you can make more use out of your colleagues.  If you have some experts that know some part of your solution better, you can schedule time with them to make sure things are perfect.  

Data Security

Just because you are out of site, doesn't mean you can take liberties with the data of the customer.  Any POC these days should have a covering NDA which ensures that both the customer data and your product are protected.  Make sure you aren't treating customer data badly, or use it for any purpose that isn't covered.  Trust & Integrity is hard to regain after you work so hard to establish it, so don't compromise your ethics.

Hard to track what the customer is doing

This final point is also an important one.  Customers can have access to POC systems, data, presentations and other POC collateral that you share with them.  You should try to suggest to them how they can best make use out of the things you provide, and have sessions planned to review with them what their questions are, and have they run into any problems or issues you can help with.  You should not just provide access to systems without a plan of activity and support that goes around it, as part of your role is to help ensure customers get the most out of a POC activity.  This is an area of constant improvement, and if possible, try to pick up every piece of feedback a customer either directly or indirectly gives you.  If you notice that they don't log into the systems you provide, work out a way to let them know and how they can get more out of the exercise.  Find out if they've already made up their mind.  Make it work for you.

In summary - remote POCs are a thing of the current day and age and a practice SEs will have to do whether wanted or not.  These 4 tips should help, but I am sure there are other things that you can think of to make a remote POC more successful.  Please let me know what you think!