Tag Archives: Solutions

Eventually…

If you stay in the game long enough, you’ll find yourself visiting the same customer in the same meeting rooms multiple times in a sales cycle.

If you stick around longer, you’ll find yourself visiting the same customer in the same meeting rooms in a different sales cycle with a different sales team.

When you’re a grizzled veteran, you’ll find yourself visiting the same customer in the same meeting rooms, but with different customer contacts and a different sales team.

Eventually…

You’ll find yourself visiting the same customer in the same meeting rooms, but this time you’ll be with a different vendor, selling the replacement to the solution you sold them a decade ago when the world was young and a quart of milk was still a quarter.

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Destination Unknown

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s perfectly find to meander. You just might stumble upon your destination.

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Investigative Reporter

The joy is in the research, the discovery, the crafting, the thinking.

And when you make a series of calls like Redford as Woodward in All the President’s Men, you’re an investigative reporter hot on the trail of a lead.  From witness to sales rep to product manager to customer, you’re digging up clues and finding the real scoop.

Your story will make the difference for the customer.

The research will save you a lot of time in the sales process.

 

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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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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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Self-Justified Perception

Anyone who has been witness to a political argument will recognize the mental contortions and logical leaps the participants will put themselves through to justify their initial position.  Each starts with their end in mind and the debate is merely flogging a dead horse, more entertaining than useful for the witnessing crowd.  Minds are rarely changed.

What is the perception your customer has of your business, your solutions, your position in the marketplace?* What end will they justify throughout your presentation?

If it’s positive, then your job is simply to reinforce.  If you don’t stray too far on your walk through the woods, the customer will see the path for themselves, even through incomplete messages and proof-points.  They’ll fill in the gaps to justify their perception.

If it’s negative, then heaven help you.  You have to change perception and overcome every spike of doubt that enters your audience’s mind.  No amazing features or functions will overcome that bias.  They’ll fill in the gaps to justify their perception.

So you have to set the perception first.  You have to tell a better story than they’ve told themselves, a better story than the competition has told them.  Your audience has to be onboard with your premise before you begin to show the clicks, screens and apps which will solve their problem.

How?  Here are some positioning approaches:

  • Start talking about your current customers.  Find the stories.
  • Empathy and listening to the customer’s problem can be the difference-maker.  Genuine problem solving might be best when the customer’s choice is between you and doing nothing.
  • Show the long term versus the short term, expanding
  • Don’t start with “well, you probably think we’re…” as that will simply remind, reinforce, and solidify their perception
  • “Nobody ever got fired for choosing Big Blue…” if you’ve got the reputation, flaunt it
  • Grab onto the tail of the comet / Elevator is at the ground floor / Be a superstar
  • Platform, platform, platform.  The technology world is always changing.  Your platform is the basis for the next big thing.

Good luck; you have minds to change.

* More importantly, what is your perception of your business, your products, your position in the marketplace?
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Circles and Lines

As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said “Words, words, words.”  It’s all talk without some context or structure.

When trying to solve a problem, when trying to convey the relationships of a business process or information flow through a system, when trying to communicate with a customer, nothing works so well as a diagram* to help get the point across.

In a recent customer engagement, a speaker’s sixty slides spread conversational confusion like kudzu, spawning discussion and debate down a number of different branches.**  As the next presenter up, I started with a blank screen and a drawing tool, then drew some circles and lines to anchor us all in the reality.  The conversation was brief, understood and agreed by all, and led to a meaningful, focused, and brief demonstration to prove out the diagram.

There’s a reason the back of the envelope exists- problems are solved there; multimillion dollar ideas are born there.  And it may be all your audience can consume in one session.

Getting them aligned with one idea is a great success for any meeting.

*As a geeky fan boy, episodes of Star Trek always drove me nuts.  Plots essentially revolved around figuring out some kind of logic puzzle, and Kirk and Spock or Picard and Data would bandy about with the Tom Tom-voiced Computer trying to come to resolution.  I’d scream at the television “would you just get out a sheet of paper and write something down!?!”
** Triple alliteration score!
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Walking away

Perhaps the most intimate relationship we develop is with our smart phones.

They are there at all times, in our pockets, in our hands, hooked into our cars, available at a tap and swipe, providing us with communications, information, and entertainment. We check in constantly throughout the day, whenever we find the opportunity; what used to be a smoking break is now a smart phone break.  We honor them by personalizing them, adding protective covers, improving the headsets we work with; we’re slaves to the batteries and perform our recharging rituals with fanatical fervor.

And yet, after long years of devotion to the devices and their branded, fashion-statement, loyalty-laden, get-their-hooks-in-you ecosystems, we can walk away at a moment’s notice and embrace the new.  Technology has made it so that we can end our years of intimacy, divorce and re-marry, by simply holding the power button for three seconds, turning off the old forever and turning on the new, and never looking back.

Enterprise software has also reached the point where our customers can turn off the old, walk away, and embrace the new.

So, what you’ve done for them in the past does not matter; how you extend what you’ve done can differentiate; looking forward had better be as good, and as easy to embrace, as the competition.

Get ready to win them over, again.

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Third leg of the stool

Your solution can be the logical choice with its features, functions, and technical architecture lined up perfectly with your customer’s needs.

Your solution can be the financial sound choice with reasonable prices, a solid implementation plan, and a bullet-proof return-on-investment business case behind it.

But the third leg of the stool calls for a passionate, emotional reason for doing the project in the first place.  It might be solving a pain, it might be enabling a vision, it might be some kind of political win for one of the players;  if your customer can’t express and you can’t mine the reason they’ve gotta do it, then it won’t happen.

People don’t buy into a timeshare because it’s a good investment; they envision themselves with with a week or two reserved in Aspen and Miami every year.

When qualifying the deal, determine the passion and satisfy it.  The customer will move mountains to make the functional and financial justifications fall into place.

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The more you know…

Have you ever had to work really hard to understand a new concept in your industry?

Yes, marketing literature can be out of touch; presentation files can be poorly written and have too many bullet points; demo scripts can miss the value entirely; but once in a while, a white-paper, a blog, a product description can get to the heart of the matter and reveal something new.  It might require you to connect the dots from disparate sources but then, then!  The light goes on.

New insight!

Damn if that insight doesn’t turn out to be relevant, timely, and key in the next three customer conversations you have.

You’re in the center of the buzz and you get it, and you can articulate it to others… because your in Pre-Sales and that’s what you do- make the complex simple through communication.  You’re a transducer of complexity in technology and business.

The more you know… the more relevant you are.

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