Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pre-Sales What I've Learned - P-prepare, R-Respond, E-execute - Revisited

The Pre-Sales Engineer

The Pre-Sales Engineer, A.K.A Systems Engineer or Sales Consultant, is the stage performer of the IT world: immensely capable, confident, an excellent communicator who is equally comfortable in front of large crowds as well as small groups. They are Sales Reps in sheep's clothing. Able to build and nurture relationships throughout the sales process, while maintaining an already established level of trust. Pre-Sales Engineers not only demonstrate the breadth and depth of their company's products, but they also work closely with sales Account Managers to aid in the sales process and help close business. From 1st calls to technical support to demonstrations; the Pre-Sales engineer is there to make the prospect feel at ease, to paint a vision on how the products will meet a specific need. Their knowledge of the products and services being positioned to solve the business problem are invaluable. It is exactly this knowledge and skill that should be valued by the sales organization and it's management team. SE's should never be treated like tools or just "technical resources" . Anyone who believes otherwise has a huge character flaw, judges people immediately and demoralizes those whom they manage or work with. I am truly happy to express that my Sales Director and EVP of Sales view the Pre-Sales engineering department, which I manage, as a valuable component to the sales process and the sales team. Pentaho has a very talented SE staff and I am very proud they are on my team. After being in a prior organization where SEs were treated like "tools" and expected to answer either "yes" or "no" on a sales call, I can truly speak with conviction, that was the wrong way to treat the people that helped close business for the company.

Sharing a recent quote from one of network partners in the midwest:

"The Pentaho SEs are the smartest(breadth of experience and depth of expertise) we have met in several years of doing BI consulting sales. Their ability to quickly understand the client problem and devise several innovative approaches (incl thinking well outside the box) makes them fun to work with on accounts. We feel like our clients get the best possible solution – one that fits them and not one that fits the vendor product functionality. One recent experience involved spending several hours with various vendors (incl. Cognos, Oracle etc) explaining a complex client problem and investigating the different solution approaches. The end of those discussions resulted in no clear solution path. The Pentaho SEs were a pleasant surprise - they understood the problem within a few minutes and developed 3 different methods that could be used to tackle the problem – all in an hour phone conversation!”.

The Prospect's Expectations

Depending on the selling company's business model, Pre-Sales activity can take many different forms. Whatever that activity may be, it is important to keep the prospect's expectations into consideration. During the discovery phase of the sales cycle, a Pre-Sales engineer listens and identifies a fit for its company's offered solutions. He also sets expectations for the prospect on how the solutions will work for them. With knowledge of failed promises from many software/service companies or poor interactions with sales people, prospects are becoming more guarded and demanding when they engage with sales professionals. Specific "needs" to be addressed, justification of the value of any purchase, reviewing several alternatives before making any decisions to ensure the correct fit. In order to set the correct expectations surrounding those items, the sales/pre-sales process must fully uncover the business issues described along with there causes and effects. The process to identify a fit and understand a customer's expectations should be no different whether you are positioning a physical product or a software solution. The key is to listen and understand what is being said, as well as identify what is "not" being said. For example, I recently was on a call with a major retailer where they were initially kicking tires and stated that they did not have any "specific" business problems. Further discussion revealed key targeted pain points that Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence Suite could remedy with its software and services. One won't be able to show a solution to someone who doesn’t perceive they have a problem. The first step when presenting is to help them understand that they have a problem – and that the problem is both important and can be solved. Also, the sales professionals should speak to the prospect as if "they" were the prospect. "That way the prospect is "not" forced to go through a constant mental exercise of morphing what the sales rep is saying into something that's meaningful to them. On top of all this, most importantly, keep it conversational.

On sites, events, giveaways are they providing any real value?

As stated earlier, the pre-sales process takes different forms depending on the business model of the selling company. For example, many of the recently consolidated proprietary BI vendors (Oracle, Business Objects, Cognos, SAP) and even some of the independents, (MicroStrategy, Actuate and Information Builders) have no problem wining and dining their prospects in the form of expensive lunch and learns, golf outings or even iPod giveaway promos because they know they will recover those costs from the software licensing fees they charge their customers. Speaking from experience, even sending pre-sales engineers all over the United States (or world for that matter) for simple discovery calls, white boarding sessions and demos can add up to $2500/month per engineer (depending on location and means of travel). I remember numerous times eating out in the finest restaurants and staying in 5 star hotels just to do a demo the next morning that could have easily been done over the web. Please note that I understand the importance of human interaction so don't get me wrong, there is a time and place to shake a hand, but it has to be managed carefully or you will just continue to waste money and downsize your company, similar to what is happening at my former company. I just heard of more layoffs and more seasoned SE's leaving to find more fruitful and fulfilling jobs.

With the Open Source Business Model the pre-sales process is very similar in regards to any sales process but not so extravagant when it comes to the travel or promotions. There are more web meetings and conference calls with an even higher quality pre-sales engineer(s) who has the experience to back up their company's claims. This can result in a solution that compares to the proprietary guys but with a lower TCO and a higher ROI.

Opposition, is it Pre-vent Sales?

There is a little joke in the pre-sales circle that the "pre" in pre-sales stands for "prevent". This can commonly be heard from the account managers in sales organizations due to the level of push back they may receive by the Pre-Sales department. First off the interpretation is silly because the company's success rides on qualified engagements. Why would anyone want to hinder their company's performance for little or no reason. However, there are plenty of reasons for pre-sales to push back. One of them may be, not following the defined pre-sales process. A sales person's job is not only to represent his company but to "get" as much information as possible so he can accurately position the products and services. It is our recommendation that this "discovery" should be done with the pre-sales engineer in order to achieve the most accuracy and again, set the proper expectations. If this information is not received by pre-sales, pre-sales can't accurately paint a vision or present a solution if they don't even know "why" they are being engaged. A requirement such as, "I want to see dashboards and reporting and analysis", is not really too descriptive of what the "drivers" are for "wanting" to see these things. Doing a demonstration without knowing anything is a "Show Up and Throw Up" with HOPEs that the propsect will find something of interest. I don't see "Hope" as a phase in the sales cycle. Please refer to this link to get a more in depth view of what I mean. Pete Cohan's Stunningly Awful Demos has been a great resource. Other oppositions one may encounter are related to the personal styles of the individuals one may be working with. Some may be used to the way things were done previously in another company, where there possibly wasn't a process or the business model was different. Some may be reactive and used to saying yes without drilling in further. Some may not want to bother with the pre-sales process and think they can do it all on their own. Whatever the reason may be pre-sales needs to identify the styles of these individuals and learn how to work with each and every one so it is productive for the prospect and the selling company. I prefer to think of the "pre" in pre-sales to stand for: P-prepare, R-respond, E-execute. Those actions will make for shorter sales cycles, proper customer expectations and improved sales. Happy selling.

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