Tag Archives: Pre-Sales

Solve the Problem or Change the Game?

Solution Engineer. Solution Consultant.  Solution Advisor.

Different titles for the same role,* but our common skill is taking a matrix of information and experience and solving problems.  When challenged to solve for X, we’ll provide the right answer and we’ll factor efficiency, access, cost, time, and other considerations into our mix.  Solution consulted, advised and engineered.

But.

How often do we think about solving for Y instead?  Can we look at the data and see a bigger picture? Can we suggest a different vision to the customer?

That might be when we become Pre-Sales.

* How many have you had on your business cards through the years?
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Captain’s Case

The captain has a case.  The doctor has a bag.  The mechanic has a toolbox.

What’s in your Pre-Sales kit?

  • Computer technology: Laptops, tablets, and phones.
  • Peripherals: USB charging cables, wireless mice, video projector dongles, presentation clickers, laser-pointers, cat-5 cables,* external batteries, laptop chargers, mi-fi devices, USB drives
  • Tools: LED flashlights, sonic screwdrivers, post it notes, pens, pencils,
  • Entertainment: headphones.  So many pairs of headphones. Bluetooth headsets, soduko books, Kindle books, real books, juggling balls, sun glasses.  Ever carry a cribbage board?  It comes in handy during layovers in Montreal.
  • Pharmaceuticals: Advil, Aleve, Sudafed, vitamins and minerals, tissues and napkins, ear plugs, water, candy bars, protein bars.
  • Spare change: The national debt of Liberia, last time I checked, comprised of mixed coins from foreign lands, guitar picks, and an eclectic collection of lint and candy wrappers.
  • Identification: passports, business cards, corporate ID, boarding passes, loyalty membership cards

There’s hardly an audio/visual situation we can’t rescue by rummaging about our bags and pulling out what’s needed, like a grandmother with a piece of Juicy-fruit gum.  Within our wheeled* kits we have everything needed to stand up our soap-boxes on the business street-corner.  So preach your stories, brothers and sisters!

*Remember when we had those retractable modem-cables to sync our email?
**You wouldn’t carry this stuff around in a backpack, would you?  What, are you still in grade school?
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Gazing into the hazy future

Editor’s note: This post went running off into a direction I did not expect when I sat down to write about the role of Pre-Sales in the near future.  My pre-determined conclusion was “of course Pre-Sales will always be needed.  We help explain complex stuff to people in the sales process.”  We’re the last role you can afford to get rid of in Enterprise Software sales, or sales of any significant capital investment in technology.

But what if the premises change?  What if enterprise technology is no longer a capital investment?  What if it’s not complex?

Well, that’s something else entirely, isn’t it?

Below, I begin to track the direction the marketplace in which we live and operate is headed by considering technology, licensing, and usability trends.  It’s incomplete; there’s a lot of thinking to be done here.  I’ll be chasing these scrambling ideas and trying to catch up with them.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime…

Applications, modules, technology stacks, open platforms, open source, third party solutions, cloud, integration, APIs, web-services, micro-services, everything as a service, internet of things, predictive, data, digital, speed, experience, social.

Stop the ride, I want to sit down until the spinning goes away.

Where are information technology systems headed?  How will these business-process transactional systems and data repositories function five, ten years hence?*

  • Software is on a vector of becoming more encapsulated into services, securely and scalably available on-demand, in the cloud, without the need for massive technology stacks, efficient database design, code-level customizing.  There’s one codebase, one multi-tenant instance of that code.  The debugging and support of that is centralized to the owners and creators of that code instead of the users.
  • User interfaces are being simplified in process and access toward the common usability of tablet and phone: swipe, tap, hold, voice-operated commands, share, transient notification, bookmark, options-menu and escape.
  • Decisions are moving from IT-guided to line-of-business owned.  The ultimate destination would therefore be individual user choice.  If you can pick your own phone and arrange your own apps for personal use, why not pick your own processes and personal suite of applications for the office?
  • System to system, process to process, and transaction to analysis orchestration has moved from coding to configuration to wizard-based configuration.  Why couldn’t an individual user authenticated into an enterprise domain self-configure through context-aware wizards rather than it being a back office task?
    • Why wouldn’t a user be able to string enterprise services together ad-hoc, following their whim, such as engaging a customer into a marketing message, checking on their accounts payable status, then running them through a prediction of loyalty, all to serve the user’s needs in preparation for a phone call (which would itself be automatically logged back into the enterprise-domain’s expansive knowledge base?
    • These concepts are possible today, but on a macro scale, rigidly built to a process; it’s efficient mass-marketing through better intelligence.  The difference here is the individual enterprise user could leverage all of this information on their own, coordinate it on the fly, to their need, and to the prospect’s need.
  • Consumption is moving from permanent user licenses to annual subscriptions to rate-charging.  How many minutes/transactions/reports did you use this month?
  • The structure of enterprise systems is dictated by data, by transactions, by form-based processing of data and transactions.  But that very structure limits users to safe processes which serve the systems, not the other way around.  Systems serve regulatory, transactional, and executive information needs.  They are still in their infancy in serving end user needs or even the needs of the business partners tracked and transacted about in the systems.
    • If the back office needs structure and transactions and data, those needs can be defined as expected outputs of individual user-centric software components.  Every piece of Lego has a stud to connect it to the others. Every  financial transaction has an account and a debit or credit.
    • We’re serving the transaction and the data.   What does the rest of the body that meets at the connecting point look like?
  • In an on-demand, easy-to-use, rate-charged world where end users can pick what they need, the user’s purchase decision (the sale) will be referential and experimental.  Users will keep the ones that work, the ones they like.

This isn’t Enterprise Software; it’s, um, what’s the word? User-ware?  Role-soft? Enterprise Self Service? The Autonomous Enterprise Backbone? The Individual Enterprise? The Enterprise of Individual Contributors?**

Will the world even need Pre-Sales in the not too distant future?  Is that the right question?

Consider this: as decision, configuration, and use passes from Coder to Consultant to IT to Line of Business to Individual Actor, it will have to pass through a phase where a subject matter and technical expert can define business solutions on the fly and on behalf of an end user.  You know, another common title for Pre-Sales is Solution Consultant.  Maybe the technology is simply catching up to us?  Will this be the phase to hang out our shingles and bring together everything we know for our clients by using off the shelf services?

*Nearly twenty years ago I predicted that Amazon would have storefronts everywhere within two years and blow Barnes and Noble and Borders off the face of the earth.  I was spectacularly wrong.
** I’d better trademark some of these and write a book.
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Oh the Places You’ll Go

At a recent team meeting, I conducted a brainstorming session about where you can go from the Pre-Sales role in your career.

What would you think of someone who was…

Self-motivated, decisive, skilled at presenting, loved to learn something new, knew customers, listened well, understood a variety of industries, sought solutions to problems, was skilled at managing projects, dealing with situations, and enjoyed thinking, writing, and managing their own time?

Would you think Sales? Executive Leadership? How about Marketing Communications, Product Management or a People Manager?  Why not Business Operations, Strategic Alliances, Industry Expert or a Global Account Manager?  Getting outside our own little world, wouldn’t such a person make a great entrepreneur, politician, parent, writer or keynote speaker?

Pre-Sales demands a broad and deep set of interpersonal, business, and organizational skills.  Doing this job is a non-stop professional skills exercise program.

We all knew people within our own organization who had passed through this role to become anything from demonstration technical support to members of the board.  And many who had stayed right where they were, because that’s where the action was.

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Complete, Fully Integrated, End to End

I once had a humorous poster listing Murphy’s Laws on Technology, which included this shrewd observation:

Any given program, while running, is obsolete

…because everything can be improved.  You’re never done.  There’s always something that could be added or taken away; another angle, a new technology, a change in the market that will render your solution, well, obsolete, even if it’s fresh into customer beta.

Claiming a solution to be complete, fully integrated, and end to end is an unnecessary and lazy sales tactic.  Any skeptic in your audience will perk up and start challenging you.

  • It’s clearly not complete.  There’s always something more that customization or competitive solutions can do. But maybe it fits their needs now with room to grow?
  • Fully integrated implies that two systems are as one.  And they aren’t.  They’re two systems brought together through integration technologies and choices.   That the integration is packaged, configurable, and supported is the value.
  • End to end applies to use cases and transactional data in a business process.  What your customer cares about is their use-cases and their business process.  Talk specifically about how your solution handles those from end to end.
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Talk show host

Consider* the on-the-spot analysis offered by radio talk show hosts.  A favorite of mine is Dave Ramsey:

From the listener comes a story and situation, and a desire for guidance.  From the talk show host we get exploration, analysis, alignment, and a prescription.

What is the nature of the advice?  It’s directional and decisive; it’s based on the host’s years of experience…  It is correct.  It’s not in depth.  It doesn’t go into details.

We in pre-sales are often the radio host.  We take calls and provide analysis to help qualify, problem solve, and position in opportunities, we ask exploratory questions and align in discovery, and we provide directional and decisive prescriptions based on our years of experience.  We often do all of this in one short conversation; shorter than a call on a radio talk show.

We are correct.

 *Listen to how they handle personality types, key and extraneous information, and how they sum up then communicate their opinions.
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Overheard

Imagine the following phrases uttered in a customer engagement:

“Most companies I see…”

“Jump in! This is for you!”

(While snapping fingers) “Very, very quick.”

“Everyone loves the mobility.  It’s fantastic.”

Customer: “Our biggest issue has always been data gathering.”  Response, without missing a beat, “Well, let’s talk about that then.”

“This is something new and cool.”

“When our customers have needs, we move quickly.”

“I want to tell you a secret.  Can I tell you a secret?”

When you get the opportunity to watch a peer present, take it.  And take notes.  All of these gems* were dug up in a single morning’s demo.

*Regardless of solution-space or industry, phrases like this are examples of the highest level of professionalism in any demonstration of technology.  What customer (or sales rep, our other audience) wouldn’t be thrilled to conduct a conversation in this manner?
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A series of sprints

The Pre-Sales role is like a series of sprints.

From one opportunity to the next, from standing still to full speed when the gun goes off. You discover, plan, message, prepare, deliver, follow up, then rest until the gun goes off again. 2:30 in the morning configuration. Four hours of sleep. The long flight home, crashing on a Friday night.

Then again, the Pre-Sales role is like a marathon.

Deals last for months, sometimes years. The reps trying to land them come and go and come back again. The RFP is pushed. The close that was expected in December happens late in March. Last minute demos. Second and Third presentations to the same decision makers. Budget cycles. Competitors change the game.

You know what? Running is a terrible analogy for Pre-Sales.

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Three strategies

Evolutionary.  Your product has better features/functions/usability than the competition.  You know these points well and can bring them to the front in demonstrations.  Usability, capability, and ease of access all play a role here.

Revolutionary.  Your product has taken the market expectations and gone a whole generation beyond.  You’re thought leaders, innovators, and the risk-taking customers clamor to be with you.

Visionary… in the eyes of your customer.  You look at their needs and find a way to revolutionize their business.  You bring unique combinations of capabilities (some of them even mundane) together to help them better achieve and define themselves. This is what they start to see in the Revolutionary solutions, but here it’s brought into sharp focus.

Being Visionary is the joy of business to me.  It is truly the engineering side of Pre-Sales.

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A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

Change is difficult.  It’s hard to learn something new.

Yet there we are, standing in front of an audience, demonstrating with great zeal and gusto all sorts of new things and better ways and innovative solutions.

Get ready.  Your audience is about to unleash a barrage of pointed, impatient questions.

It’s not that they don’t like what you’re showing.  They simply don’t understand what you’re showing.  They understand their world and what they do in a specific, familiar way.  What you’re sharing is different, a something-new your product and technology make possible.   Because it is new and unfamiliar, they don’t understand it.  Yhey are trying to make sense of your something-new through their questions.

So help them.  Give them an analogy that explains your product, your positioning, your solution in a way everyone can understand.  Let the analogy apply a concept they do understand to their current challenges, helping form your unique solution.

I provided a day long session where I used the theme of a master-planned housing community with all sorts of related analogies: pick from one of four basic home designs, choose your own fittings and fixtures, landscaping is later, be the first ones on the block, etc.  It was a huge pantry stocked with analogies*.  In a follow up call months later, the customer didn’t remember our product’s features and functions, but she excitedly recalled “the house! The house!”

Mary Poppins was a great Pre-Sales Engineer:

In ev’ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game

And ev’ry task you undertake
Becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree! It’s very clear to see that

A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way

*See how I did that?

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