Are you considering conducting Microsoft trials or proof of concepts before making a big Microsoft upgrade or net-new purchase for your enterprise? A Microsoft proof of concept, also referred to as a trial or POC, allows users in a customer’s organization to test a product within a virtual cloud environment before committing to purchasing or subscribing to that specific product.
While this may sound enticing, POCs are not always feasible and even when they are, there are risks you should be aware of before you conduct a trial. In this post, I will discuss how Microsoft uses trials and POCs to embed itself into your environment and how you can manage your downstream exposure.
When Microsoft Trials and Proof of Concepts Aren’t Feasible
In an ideal world, you would have ample time to run a competitive process and evaluate the all potential solutions from both a functional and commercial perspective before any software or cloud purchase you make. As part of this, you may even demo competing solutions to see what resonates best with the team.
But in reality, you are likely considering new products or versions because there is an imminent business need to do so. It is your job to ensure that the need is met with minimal interruption, usually through the use of key vendors like Microsoft, who are typically already entrenched within your organization.
One pitfall of dealing with any cloud giant is that there may not be a competing solution that is viable for your organization. With many Microsoft products at the enterprise level, viable competition simply does not exist. Even if the solution you’re considering does have viable competition, as is the case with Dynamics 365, it’s often cost-prohibitive to move away from Microsoft. In these cases, a trial or POC might be a futile use of your time.
In scenarios where you have the ability to change vendors with the right amount of runway and resources, there are still challenges you must overcome to make it happen. The fact is, switching is an expensive and high-effort endeavor. Not to mention the solution needs to be up-and-running the entire time this cutover is happening. These challenges should be considered before conducting a POC or trial.
The Impact of Microsoft Trials and Proof of Concepts
When it’s time to conduct a trial/POC of a new edition or product that you have been considering, being entrenched with one vendor and the significant difficulty behind changing vendors can be amplified. You might also be facing a need to purchase more capabilities or Microsoft product bundles as your own organizational needs evolve. Thus, your incumbent vendor becomes more entrenched as time goes on.
Let’s say Microsoft approaches an organization that is an Office 365 E3 or Microsoft 365 E3 customer trying to get them to adopt additional security functionality. Perhaps there is some interest already and the team ends up with a trial or POC tied to some of the new capabilities.
Now all of a sudden, the security features and functionality being tested have begun to spin up use across a broader set of users, and now the customer is left facing the decision of taking away the features the team has been using, or facing a reduced leverage scenario with the need to make an actual purchase.
This is the exact position that Microsoft wants their customer base to be in. Maybe they can “ease” the cost profile “pain” tied to the extra security features if the customer would also consider another product, like Teams Premium or even an edition upgrade of their existing software like Microsoft 365 E5.
Microsoft’s Reduced Access Rights
Now let’s look at a scenario where you had ample time to vet the software. Looking back at Microsoft Dynamics 365, perhaps you have come to the realization that a specific set of users only requires a fraction of the capabilities. This realization could have come to light through a demo, or even just from a technical deep dive of the solution that you are considering. In either case, there may be enough of a story there to obtain some level of custom use or access.
While this could certainly be an achievement that helps your organization with aligning value to the products you are adopting, this does leave you exposed to changes downstream. What happens when the licensing mechanism changes or that custom SKU is no longer available?
Here are a few ways to minimize your downstream exposure:
- Set External Expectations with Microsoft: It will be key to set expectations at the outset of any initiative, including the possibility of removing anything being trialed if value is not received.
- Establish Transparency: It will be key to solicit a high-degree of transparency into the downstream implications of a larger adoption ahead of any smaller POC.
- Set Internal Expectations: It will be key to set expectations internally as well. Having governance around the use of any new capability will help to ensure that you don’t become too entrenched before the trial is done.
What Customers Should Watch Out For
While every negotiation is different, there are common pitfalls that apply whether you are working with a niche vendor or a software behemoth like Microsoft. Larger vendors that have more leverage within your organization will use these trials and POCs to their advantage. While you may have more power in discussions with a niche provider that is more reliant on your business, many of these same traps will apply.
Once you are hooked, understand that there could be significant price uplifts and less flexibility, and any custom-negotiated functionality or access that you may have previously achieved can go away. If the value does not prove itself, providers, including Microsoft, will often penalize you for trying to reduce the footprint after the fact.
Many organizations find themselves in lose-lose situations after testing out Microsoft software, and they may not even realize what is being left on the table.