One of the things I’ve had in mind for quite some time is writing about life as a pre-sales – my experience, tips I’ve collected along the way… and some fun anecdotes too 😉
Let’s start with a little disclaimer: this is by no means an exhaustive description of the “pre-sales” role. Just my personal views and experiences about being a pre-sales engineer, for the different companies I worked for.
(These links are very interesting and inspiring in my opinion… they’re worth a read!)
After several drafts, I decided against writing a single mammoth post. I’ll write a series of several posts, each one about a specific aspect/skill that I think is necessary or useful. And since I’m a Prog music fan, I’m calling this series “The Proggy pre-sales” and each post will be named after an album by (the great) Canadian prog rock band Rush. They’ve got an album title for every occasion 😀
The human factor (“Working Men”)
One thing I often say is “IT, in the end, is made of people“. That may sound obvious, but let me explain. The IT world is a lot of things: vendors, technologies and products, constant “marketing wars”, distributors and partners and system integrators…
But whenever you speak with a partner, or propose something to a prospect, you’re not only representing your company or your products. First and foremost, you’re “marketing” yourself. A big part of the success (or lack thereof) you’ll have will depend on your attitude and how you can establish a relationship with your interlocutors.
And I’m not talking about being nice and smiling and taking them to lunch 🙂 That can be part of the “game” indeed, but there’s much more to it.
I believe the ultimate goal of an IT pre-sales is to be acknowledged as a trusted advisor. The customer or partner knows perfectly well that your goal is to position your products, there’s no hiding or denying that. But they can be sure you’ll propose what you feel is the best for them from your portfolio. And they know you’ll gladly walk an extra mile with them: maybe discussing implementation scenarios together, maybe updating them on the latest technologies or suggesting an improvement to their infrastructure – even if it falls out of your “scope”.
Trust really plays a big role.
How can you build this trust?
First of all of course, you have to be knowledgeable – being able to stand your ground in a technical discussion is crucial. Keeping yourself updated is a must: you have to know where the market is going, the common issues with technologies of your field, the upcoming innovations… where your competition is, and what they say about your products.
Also, personally I like being very honest and open with partners and customers. If I feel some product or feature would not be beneficial in their environment, I clearly tell them so. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to sell my products to you… but just with the same priority, I want you to be actually happy about what you buy.
This may occasionally create some problems with your sales reps from time to time 😉 (more about this in an upcoming post) but I find it always pays off. In my opinion, it’s better to successfully close a smaller deal than have an unhappy customer. Word gets around!
And this brings us to another point.
The opinion your customers/partners, colleagues and even competitors have of you may also be very important. Fair play and goodwill always help. Let’s never forget you could want (or need!) to seek a new job someday… in Italy at least, I’ve observed that names in IT are always pretty much the same – only roles and companies change 🙂 That means that it can easily become like a small town, where everybody knows each other!
And then, there’s something you simply cannot learn: believing in what you are proposing and being passionate about it. In the past there have been several occasions where I had to sponsor some…
crappy “improvable” products but I’ve been fortunate enough, especially in my current job, to mostly work with great technologies I truly believe in. That makes a huge difference, genuine excitement never goes unnoticed. Last year, during an internal training in which we were simulating customer presentations, a colleague told me “it almost seems you’re talking about a woman you love, not a product you sell!”.
The bottom line (?)
Pre-sales are indeed technical, but in my opinion the “human factor” has to be considered, there’s a whole set of relations skills you simply cannot overlook.
Sure, having a good technology or product is important. Sure, working for a vendor with a big name in the industry helps. But even the coolest products of the most famous vendors may not be considered at all if the customer or partner dislikes the guys representing them. I’ve seen this happen many times.
One notable example was a CIO we approached while at my previous company (a small system integrator) who was interested in a storage tiering solution. We were proposing a good product and he was fairly open, but when we tried to arrange a meeting, he told us he absolutely didn’t want to meet anyone from that specific vendor (well, can’t really blame him now, haha 🙂 ). The CIO had met some people from that company before and found them arrogant, unpleasant. Plus, he liked very much the aforementioned vendor’s main competitor and their people.
It was only thanks to a very good personal relationship our sales manager had with him that the meeting was finally arranged… and in the end the vendor’s people managed to screw it up, confirming the customer’s feelings about them. But that’s a story for another post, perhaps 😉