As a pre-sales, I’ve been pretty much working all the time very close with sales reps.
As a matter of fact, I spent on average more time with “my” sales reps than with my family on a daily basis – it’s an experience that can be anywhere from “a nightmare” to “wonderful”, and of course it largely depends on how good the relationship between the sales rep and pre-sales is.
Naturally, what I’m writing is from my own perspective, I’m sure sales guys/girls will have their share of tales (and possibly, rants 🙂 ) about their pre-sales colleagues…
One quote I made up in my early days of pre-sales is:
“Pre-sales are the ones who deliver the Sales reps’ promises”
So, teamwork goes fairly well as long as:
a) the pre-sales knows his/her stuff
b) the sales rep doesn’t promise the impossible
I fondly remember many meetings where this teamwork really paid off; the sales rep led the conversation and made the customer comfortable, introduced me and helped building trust, participated actively also in my technical presentation. Everything was very easy and natural, working like that is a pleasure. As I already wrote in a previous post, the human factor is important. Customers immediately notice if there is tension between the two people sitting in front of them.
I’ll tell you a little real-life story from some years ago.
Once upon a time …
… I was working as a Systems Engineer for a VAR/System Integrator. I was working on an opportunity for a medium-large deployment of an anti-virus solution. We already had a first meeting with the technical guys and it went pretty well. Then we had a meeting with the IT manager, and he asked a bizarre question:
“Can this product automatically detect and uninstall other anti-virus software?”
Now, anyone working in IT knows that something like this doesn’t exist, and if someone tells you it’s possible, chances are it’s
bullsh “marketing exaggeration”. You’re already lucky if a software product can correctly uninstall old versions of itself… especially if we’re talking of this particular vendor.
The sales rep promptly answered, before I could say a word: “well yes, of course!” and looked my way with a triumphant expression. In that very moment I had to resist the urge to punch him in the face. Now, I could have just said “Wait a minute, that’s not true” but that would have left a negative impression, plus the deal was very important to us.
The customer had an interesting mixture of versions of a certain (horrible) anti-virus solution on almost 400 desktops. I found 8 or 9 different builds if I recall correctly.
What happened next is that I spent 2 days working through endless registry keys and writing InstallShield strings/scripts to automatically uninstall the old anti-virus via AD Group Policies. And half of those desktops were in remote sites with
crappy unreliable connections! An absolute nightmare.
But in the end the new anti-virus was deployed successfully and the IT manager was happy… We were able to deliver!
In my opinion, the sales rep could have played his cards better… for example, checking with me before replying. Probably an even smarter move could have been offering a paid assessment service… my point is: Sales reps, please be careful when you promise something.
It really depends on who you talk to, but many people (me, for one…) find it irritating when someone blindly says “yes” to anything only because they’re trying to sell something – even if they can’t ensure they’ll really deliver.
Knowledge: advantage or limit?
Most of the times, at least in my experience, sales reps are not very technically savvy – which is totally fine for me, since their primary focus is on relationship, strategy and so on.
Sales reps are essential, I have no doubt. They often have a good ability to see the “bigger picture“, to identify the right contacts and the right attitude… not to mention the right timing. Many, many times closing a deal is a mixture of product/technology value and cunning, in equal parts.
But I strongly believe that at least at a very basic level, Sales reps should know *something* about what they’re selling. First, maybe it’s just me, but I cannot imagine myself working in a field I don’t know anything about – I would leverage every chance to increase my knowledge, for both personal growth and efficiency at work.
Second, because it can help you understand if what the customer asks and/or what you promise is actually feasible!
In the last few years, I have spoken with several sales reps about this and some of them gave a couple of rather interesting answers:
“I don’t know the technical stuff, because I don’t need to.”
“I think it’s actually better for a sales rep to ignore technical aspects. You can have more freedom and a more positive attitude towards customers and their requests”
Personally, I heartily disagree with this vision – It sounds arrogant and narrow-minded to me.
We all know that the sales rep’s work is primarily based on relationship… And knowing your way around basic concepts of the technology you work with can help, giving you more credibility towards customers, I think.
Nobody would expect deep expertise, don’t get me wrong… but I, as a customer, would be happier to receive sales reps with whom I could have conversations about a little more than weather, sports… and money.
Maybe, it’s not a coincidence that many of the best sales reps I’ve met had some kind of technical background… in some cases they were IT admins / engineers / pre-sales who “joined the dark side” and became sales reps 🙂