Virtual labs are an increasingly important part of sales.
The cloud is changing the way businesses are run today. Cloud computing allows for virtually unlimited computing resources to be created and deployed instantly. Commercial resource providers like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud have made scalable IT infrastructure accessible for businesses of all sizes.
Turnkey solutions like CloudShare have harnessed the cloud’s capabilities to create virtual labs services which have some very interesting uses.
Instead of physical labs, organizations can now have virtual labs composed of virtual machines and environments that are accessible anywhere. Virtual labs are popularly used for virtual training and testing. For sales organizations, virtual labs are even redefining how they can deploy sales demos.
One such emerging application of virtual labs is in deploying sales demos and proofs-of-concept (POCs). B2B marketing and sales of enterprise solutions and software has always had its challenges. Dealing with organizations with complex acquisition processes can heavily tax sales teams. Virtual labs for use in demos can be a welcome addition to their arsenal.
Before the availability of virtual labs, sales demos used to be planned events that required sales teams to perform on-site deployments on the client’s premises. CloudShare identified several pitfalls of on-premises demos which include longer sales cycles, more capital investment for dedicated hardware, failure to capture insights from client’s demo use, travel costs and inability to follow up on concerns. Transportation of people and dedicated hardware alone is expensive and the limited time and network setup often only showcase just a part rather than the whole experience. The use of virtual labs seeks to address these concerns.
Here are three ways virtual labs enhance sales demos.
1. Let customers try before they buy
Many businesses today are well into their buying process before they even contact their suppliers. Buying teams have also now become multidisciplinary, composed of members across business functions of an organization. These teams already do prior research and comparisons about a service and its competitors even before sales teams enter the picture.
Sales demos are supposed to explicitly showcase the product and differentiate it from the competitors. Demos should provide the buying team an excellent picture of how the system would benefit the organization. However, a common shortcoming of many demos is that, due to the limited time, they often serve as bland walkthroughs of out-of-the box features. What buying teams need is the hands-on experience of actually using and living with the product.
Since virtual labs can be deployed at any time and can be made available for any given period, sales demos can now be a longer engagement with the customer. Premium virtual lab providers carry features that allow for quick creation of instances using templates and user management. Machines and environments are also securely sandboxed so buying teams are free to use and study the system. Access can also be revoked and reinstated at any time if the team needs to review the demo which is essential for them to appreciate the intricacies of the system.
2. Simulate close-to-actual scenarios
Another limitation of on-premises sales demos is that these are usually done using dummy data which may not necessarily apply to the prospects’ situation. Some customization may be done to try and tailor fit the data. However, sales engineers often are pressured to work on the on-premises setup that it is usually an added chore to work on customizing demo data.
With virtual labs, sales engineers could focus more on this customization rather than preparing for an on-premises deployment. The sandboxed environments of virtual labs can also securely host actual customer data if they are willing to provide the data. It would just be the company and the buying team who gets access to the information. This level of customization allows for a close-to-actual deployment scenario where the buying team can truly test how the software works in line with their actual operations.
Labs also allow for multiple environments to be configured as part of complex network topologies which can simulate various target deployment scenarios. For example, in the case of enterprise software where demos need to show various user roles, multiple virtual machines could be configured to simulate various departments or users. Letting prospects see how much the system contributes to their operations helps to make the case towards a favorable decision.
3. Eliminate need for expensive on-premises demos
The third issue that virtual labs can address in deploying demos is costs. The traditional way of doing demos can be expensive. Often, sales teams would have to acquire dedicated hardware for demo purposes. Doing demo for enterprise systems requires enterprise-grade hardware and appliances and purchasing these often require capital expenditure.
Virtual lab hosting is available as-a-service, which means it can be availed of through subscription. With full control over what resources are available at any given time, companies only spend as needed. There is no equipment downtime or depreciation to worry about.
By enabling sales teams to conduct demos virtually, it also eliminates the need for travel and the related expenses. Take instances when the prospect requests for separate demos for different departments. Conducting on-premises demos for each of those instances will easily cut into margins with expenses for travel, accommodations, and even insurance for the equipment multiplied each time a demo is conducted. At least, businesses can accommodate such requests for on-premises demos for key decision makers and simply conduct virtual training for staff.
Sales teams should focus on "wow"
Virtual labs enable sales teams to focus on wowing the customers instead of worrying about logistics of demos. Sales engineers could focus on custom fitting the demo to address the prospects’ needs rather than worrying about getting things to work. Reps could then work on reframing objections and building relationships. With more people from the customers’ end to convince, demos should be the least of the sales teams’ worries. With virtual labs, demos can be a truly immersive experience that would enable customers to fully appreciate the strengths of the product.
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