Frequently I'll be asked to help a customer with a Proof of Concept or POC. Almost always, the requester (be it a sales executive or a customer) actually wants something else and we spend some time trying to figure out what that is. I'll define each of the terms from the title of this post which I hope will be helpful. These terms may seem self-explanatory but I have seen a lot of time wasted when two parties do not have the same understanding.
Demo - a demonstration, or demo, for short, is a brief overview of the product's features and capabilities followed by a live presentation of the product going through various tasks that provide the customer with a practical understanding of how the product works. A demo typically is the first time the customer has seen the product in action. Demos usually take no more than 1-2 hours and can be customized to focus on features important to the customer. Demos may also be recorded so that they can be viewed at the convenience of the customer but this does not provide an opportunity for questions or customization of the presentation.
Trial - A trial, sometimes called a live trial or evaluation, is an opportunity for the customer to implement the product (with or without assistance) in their own environment. The objective is to give the customer the ability to have hands-on experience with the product and to validate the features and capabilities pitched by the manufacturer in the demo. Trials typically have a duration of 30-60 days and in the case of hardware may involve an agreement to return the evaluation equipment or to purchase at the end of the trial.
Proof of Concept - Often referred to as a POC, this is a more formalized version of the trial and involves a more targeted and guided implementation of the product in the customer's environment. The goal is to provide a high level of understanding of how the product may function for a specific use case and give the manufacturer an opportunity to more closely align the product's capabilities with the customer's needs. As it is a more formal engagement, the customer and manufacturer should agree on the specific objectives and outcomes expected as well as the responsibilities of each party (i.e. the customer should devote resources such as staff and infrastructure and the manufacturer provide technical support and training). A POC can vary in length, depending on the objectives agreed to at the outset but great care should be taken by the customer and the manufacturer to conclude the POC as agreed.
Pilot - As the POC builds on the trial, likewise the pilot provides more focus and structure. A pilot usually, but not always, is proceeded by some level of commitment by the customer and manufacturer through the purchase of a limited amount of the product suitable for testing against s sample of the proposed solution set. The understanding is that the customer has made a decision to purchase the product pending the successful outcome of the pilot. Unlike the previous stages (demo, trial and POC) the pilot is typically not a competitive engagement. The pilot can also be used to measure the real benefits of implementing the product (versus those proposed by the manufacturer or perceived by the customer). Data collected during the pilot can be used in developing and executing the implementation project.
Project - Typically done after a purchase has been made, the project is often a collaboration of the customer, manufacturer and any partners involved to fully implement the product in the customer's environment. Projects have some of the same characteristics and methodologies employed in the POC and pilot engagements - desired outcome, agreement on responsibilities, defined start and end dates. However, the project adds one more key element; SUCCESSFUL turnover of the project to an operational team. Unlike the previous engagements, the project costs incurred by the manufacturer are typically paid by the customer as part of the overall solution purchase.
I welcome your comments on these definitions. As you can see, these tend to build on each other and could be considered stages in making a purchasing decision. Also, they can be combined (for example a demo and trial could be one engagement). If nothing else it is always good to make sure that you and the other party agree on what is meant by each term at the outset.