The role of Presales, also known as Solution Engineering or Sales Consulting (among other names), is a unique vocation that sits primarily within the enterprise sales domain.
Presales professionals excel at blending the disciplines of business proficiency, sales presence and solution/technical prowess into a seamless, and critical, aspect of sales opportunities.
No matter how long your tenure in this exciting field, there is always room for growth and expansion of your skills.
Because of the nature of Presales, there are a multitude of options for career focus and development. However, many traits of Presales are common throughout. This blog provides a number of easy-to-consume “best practices” for anyone in this field.
Our book 3D Presales provides a more detailed field reference guide that expands upon these concepts in greater detail.
Feel free to reach out if you’d like to continue the discussion.
Harness the power of 3D Presales to reimagine and transform your Presales vocation with these battle-proven techniques and best practices for the Presales professional. Whether you are new to Presales, just a novice finding your path, or a seasoned professional, this book has experience and knowledge that will benefit your journey. 3D Presales provides a guide around Presales topics, giving definition of what it means to be a Presales professional and how to excel at doing it.
Also available on Kindle.
The Digital Buying Experience is Expanding the Presales Sphere of Influence
High-touch, human-centric sales will always have a place in enterprise sales organizations. But as the great Gretzky said, you must skate to where the puck is going. And that is digital buying experiences for customers. The concept of Digital Presales is an opportunity to expand our sphere of influence, and impact, beyond traditional customer engagements and into the domain of digital buying experiences. As subject matter experts of solutions, Presales professionals need to augment their prized live presentation and demonstration skills with the creation of rich-media, digital counterparts such as modular, self-service demos and videos. It’s an amazing opportunity for Presales to provide value at a broader scale. The results are certainly worth it.
Know Your Presales Digital Factor
One of the first steps in adapting to the rise of digital buying experiences is to assess your personal digital factor from a Presales perspective. Given the assets that you regularly deliver (e.g., demos), consider how they can be transformed into reusable modules. How and where would customers want to consume your content outside of standard meetings? If you don’t know, find out. You also need to assess your individual ability to create digital assets. Does your organization provide standard content creation tools such as video capture and editing software? What training do you require to become proficient in these solutions? Finally, how will you modify your day-to-day schedule to make content creation a normal part of your routine? Work with your strengths and bolster your weaknesses.
Become a Content Creator
When starting to create digital assets, it can be easy to freeze up. It may be the fear of seeing yourself on video, or an aversion to learning complex tools such as video editing suites. When beginning this journey, start small. Create a short video presentation of a well-known solution just using your phone, then publish it somewhere. Repeat a few times, and when you are comfortable, move to larger, more in-depth assets such as multi-part demos. Learn what creation tools you are most comfortable using, but be aware of any digital standards required by your organization related to bumper content, music, video animations and more. Just get creating, you’ll like it more than you think!
Be a Chameleon – Adapt to Your Environment
Countless sales training programs exist to teach you how to work with customers of all types. They are amazing and you are encouraged to attend them if possible. But if you can’t, take heart knowing that much of it is common sense. Read your customer and adapt. Don’t spew facts to an emotional buyer. Don’t skip details for analysts. Be succinct for CxOs. It’s mostly intuitive – trust your gut.
Be an Internal Bridge
At the heart of Presales is creating a bridge between solutions and value for the customer. But you can also be an internal bridge in your organization. Take your field experiences and share them back internally with teams in Marketing, Product Development, Services and more. Be the voice of the customer and share their words and requirements. Bridge the customer to your company using your unique insights and perspective.
Be Willing to Challenge the Customer
Unless customers feel tension – feel pain – they will not act. But feeling tension without a way out just shuts people down. It’s ok to challenge the customer with their own metrics, objectives and goals to make them uncomfortable, as long as you provide the prescription to alleviate the pain. It’s not about scaring them, it’s about compelling them.
Your Job Title is Irrelevant
Solutions Consultant. Sales Engineer. Solutions Architect. Endless titles exist for Presales roles. Don’t get caught up in them – it doesn’t matter. The purpose of your role is to enable customers to obtain value from your solutions and technology. Period. Make your presence embrace it. Change your LinkedIn headline and other social profiles to reflect it. And do it today.
Schedule Everything. Even Your Scheduling.
Without a schedule, plans fail to execute, and Presales descends into a chaotic, reactive role. Control your schedule and you control your outcomes. Schedules don’t just include customer and internal meetings. Schedule your demo/presentation prep, administration, education, innovation, downtime and personal events. Say it with me, “Let me check my schedule.”
Excel at Making Complex Topics Understandable
It’s easy to be complex. It’s easy to slap up an architecture diagram. We almost feel safe behind it, don’t we? Being simple, yet compelling, is difficult. There’s an age-old addage that challenges us to explain any topic to our grandma or a 4th grader. Why? Becuase it works. It is our duty to transform complexity into understanding. Simplify your presentation and demo. Simplify your talk track. Simplify.
Embrace the Real You
We’ve all done it – tried to be something that isn’t who we really are. It’s challenging, exhausting and not sustainable. Genuineness is easily perceived by others, and any attempt to mask it is quickly noticed. Embrace the real you – all of your strengths AND challenges. They define who you are – the unique you. You’ll be more comfortable and perform better. And, people respect those who are genuine with that reality.
Empathy + Honesty = Credibility
It goes without saying that being honest is critical. But honesty without empathy can feel cold and even attacking. Empathy connects you with the customer. Honesty expressed from a truly empathetic viewpoint makes your message one of a trusted advisor and not just someone sharing cold, hard facts. Empathetic messages are relatable and memorable. For more credibility, you must embrace both.
Mistakes Breed Growth
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” – William E. Hickson. So many quotes, and for good reason. Embrace mistakes and failure. It means you are pushing forward, trying to improve and expand. Mistakes test us, teach us, sharpen us. No mistakes = stagnation. Keep pushing. Mistakes rule! The Great One said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”
Set Goals Big and Small
In the chaotic life of a Presales professional, we’re constantly on the move and switching tasks. When you exist in a constant state of over-commitment, it is very easy to lose focus on what is important and become reduced to a task master. Setting goals both big and small helps you stay on track with what is important to you. Use small goals at stepping stones to larger objectives. As you succeed, you gain positive reinforcement and motivation. Focusing on achieving small goals enables you to pause and assess to make course corrections in a timely fashion.
Align Goals with Your Manager
Helping your manager succeed reinforces your commitment to team success and builds trust. Sure, you have individual goals, but you should also share in team and organizational goals. Making yourself easy to manage is an essential aspect of this concept. Ensure that you understand your manager’s goals and how they are compensated. Defining goals that align with helping your manager achieve their goals is often well rewarded as their success becomes your success. And, getting resources to achieve those goals should be pretty easy.
Eliminate What You Don’t Want
Understanding the kind and type of work you need to be doing sometimes conflicts with what you don’t want to be doing. Certainly, we all need to be team players, yet there exists a delicate balance between individual and organizational goals. If you are largely compensated for closing business, or have challenging goals, you should constantly evaluate your activities. Managers sometimes assign tasks to those who are most successful at accomplishing them. If you find yourself getting assigned tasks that distract and take you away from achieving your goals, then it’s time to engage your manager. Have a discussion about what you need and want, and don’t want, to be doing.
Reflect and Reassess
Life is busy and most of us struggle to simply keep up with day to day demands (the personal version of keeping the lights on). In doing so, we can quickly lose sight of our professional goals and big picture. It is critical to step away from – and above – life’s demands on a regular basis. Reflect on the past – was it what you expected? What you wanted? If so, great! If not, don’t regret. Reassess. And apply it to the future. Immediately.
Take Time to Plan for Your Career
It is essential to take regular pauses for reflection and reassessment of your career. But it can’t stop there – you must also take time to update or create a plan to make your goals real. Being in a continuous crisis mode and failing to schedule time to further your carer agenda sets you up to be the victim and allows stress to consume you. If it is important schedule it. You are important and your career path is important! Block time on your calendar, even if just for 15 minutes to stop and plan for yourself. Think about what you need and then get it on the calendar!
Find Experts for Mentors
If you are interested developing a new skill, improving in a new role, or just learning from the wisdom of others, reach out and find a mentor. Or a few. There is no replacement for experience and the effectiveness of high-bandwidth conversations. Asking someone to be a mentor instills confidence in them and you may be surprised at how easy it is to get a positive response. Also, mentors don’t have to be direct relationships. You can be mentored indirectly, such as reading someone’s book/blog or watching videos (e.g. Ted). No matter the method, making experts your mentors will yield amazing results.
Always be Learning
Kaizen (改善) is the Japanese word for improvement and refers to the concept of active, continuous improvement. The old adage “learn something new everyday” has never been more relevant than in today’s accelerating, information-rich world. Don’t keep a box definition of learning. It can be small (read a blog, watch a short video) or large (earn a certification/license/degree) and everything in-between. Make it fun and interesting. The main thrust is to challenge yourself daily to grow.
Never Underestimate the Power of Formal Training
It’s expensive. It’s takes you away from your daily job. You have to travel. Excuses are plentiful to avoid formal training. But the value of focused learning in a specific area is immense…if chosen correctly. Only engage in formal training if it will truly benefit you in some measurable way. Otherwise, it is a waste of time and resources. If you feel your manager won’t approve it, then make a proposal and fight for it. When you do attend, remember you will only gain what you put into it. Set expectations and kill the phone/email/etc. Own it and excel from it.
RFPs, RFI’s! — Not a lot of fun! Working on them takes longer than expected and always seem to ruin the weekend. Yet, if you want to get strong, learn a new product, or be the one who can best handle on-the-fly product objections, then embrace the RFx! Not only will you improve your writing skills, but you’ll get exposure to the messaging needed to communicate business value. Your team value goes up when you participate in building a sucessful RFP. Be sure to appropriately schedule your time to ensure success and maintain your sanity.
Jack of All Trades, Master of Some
Today’s enterprise offerings are more interconnected than ever. As such, you must be able to communicate your company’s strategic, high-level story that interweaves all components at any moment. But staying too shallow is risky, especially if others know the story. You must also have a few specialties – anchor points – where your expertise shines. An excellent Presales strategy is to be a Jack of all Trades (clearly message the big picture), but have deep expertise in a few areas to differentiate yourself (Master of Some).
Make Networking a Habit
We all know that networking is essential for many reasons. But networking is not a one-way street. The best networking starts with you helping others. Focus on quality, not quantity, when networking. A wealth of options exist – focus on those that fit your personal and professional style. Mix it up – internal collaboration, social networks, local events and more. And once again – give before you receive.
Everyone experiences the pulse-quickening, gasping feel of fear. But when harnessed, fear is healthy and sharpens you! It means you are alive and that you care about delivering excellence. Knowledge and competency kills fear. Internalize your content (not memorize). Know your venue. Ask for team support. Have backups ready. And most of all – visualize a successful event. Remember, you cannot be brave until you fear.
A popular business and project management term is Outcomes, defined as a consequence or result. In the context of demoing, deliver targeted messages of how your solution drives specific business outcomes that result in benefits. Outcome messaging avoids feature/function demos and demonstrates business value. For example, Outcome: Our solution provides live access to trusted business data. Benefit: Lower amounts of call center tickets with faster resolution leading to lower call center costs. Using outcomes-based vocabulary in your presentations and demonstration is necessary, especially when management and executives are in your audience.
Know Your Prospect’s Business and Industry
When developing messages for your customer meetings, you must go beyond knowing who is in the room and their pain points to also knowing your prospect’s business and industry. The prospect’s website speaks to their mission and what they provide for their customers. If they are a public company, using documents such as their 10-K helps you understand what values and priorities they are communicating to their shareholders. Review these in detail if needed. Using their vocabulary, goals and objectives when presenting your solution is very powerful, and you gain credibility to provide recommendations as a business partner. Don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of being asked what you know about their company and industry and not being prepared – it happens more than you think!
Can’t Say It Enough – Focus on Business Value
No business value? No deal! Every demo needs be checked for the inclusion of value statements specific to the prospect’s business throughout the flow. Delivering messages in the context of the prospect’s business is especially important for new start-up companies trying to establish initial customers. This was strongly reinforced early in my career after delivering a demo to the venture capitalist funding our company when they said, “I don’t see how this (solution) is going to work in the market place. The software looks more like a science experiment than a business solution.” That was a tough statement to recover from. ALWAYS have messages that focus on business value!
You Are Not the Salesperson
Generally, Presales doesn’t conversations around pricing, contracts or negotiation. Be careful not to be drawn into tasks outside the scope of your role and compensation plan. Yes, always be a good team player and yes, you are ultimately compensated when business is closed. That said, you can cause more problems around deal execution even with the best of intentions. Know exactly which topics are expected to be owned by your position, and which are not. For example, you may be required to discuss deal components (eg SKUs), but not pricing. When in doubt, don’t assume. Ask your sales team or your manager.
Know Your Customer’s Buying Process
Within Presales, we repeat certain sales-centric activities so frequently that they become the modus operandi. This might include product presentations, demos, or even POCs. These reflect our selling process, not the customer’s buying process. Before engaging in any activity or promising a customer specific follow-up actions, it is imperative to understand the customer’s requirements to move the deal forward. It could be quite different from your expectations. Ask the sales team and only do what is necessary. Your best intentions could actually delay the sales process.
Discovery is a Process, Not an Event
In the domain of Solution Engineering, discovery to understand the customer’s needs and requirements is critical. This is often executed as a discovery call which tends to be a single event. One – or even a few – calls with the customer can reveal many details, but can miss some as well. Why? Participants bring different roles, experiences and ideas, and some may miss the call. Discovery should be a continuous process that occurs during any customer-facing event as well as behind the scenes throughout the sales process. The net – always be discovering. Always.
Sell the Problem You Solve, Not a Product
Customers don’t buy software or hardware for the sake of it. They purchase these items to address a need – solve a problem, improve efficiency, ensure compliance, and so on. They are considering your offering as a means to that goal, so communicate what you sell in that manner. Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with their needs and challenges. Then communicate with them in their world and language.
Know Your Company’s Sales Process
A simple, well-intended statement such as “we can do a POC” or “let’s do a deeper dive later” can dramatically affect a sales cycle. It is critical for Presales to understand your company’s sales process and the state of an opportunity in that process whenever you are engaged. Consult your sales team on what’s needed – and what’s not – before offering up options or making commitments to the customer.
Never Use the F-Word
This isn’t the F-word you may be thinking of. This word can impact a customer’s expectation of what you are proposing, including legally. Free. That F-word. Don’t use it in the context of an opportunity. Certain options and capabilities may be packaged with your proposed solution – use terms such as “bundled” or “included” instead. Consult your sales team for proper messaging in this regard.
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda. You are either authentic or you are not. Humans have an uncanny ability to catch others “trying” to be authentic. But they also have an innate respect for those who are. Embrace your strengths and also your weaknesses – it’s who you are. Make it part of your delivery. Be confident and comfortable in being able to defer to someone more knowledgeable.
Benefits, value, ROI. We readily put forth countless numbers and metrics to define our impact and competitive edge for customers. But do we understand how they feel about it? How it affects them, personally? Being empathetic places us in a different mindset and boslters understanding the customer’s thoughts & feelings – individually. Decisions are frequently made, at least in part, emotionally. Your customers are people first – listen to and empathize with them as people, not quota-fillers.
The Art of “I’m Not Sure”
In Presales, we have an inherent desire to help customers and answer questions. We desire that all questions be answered & wrapped up as to not hold up the sales process. But providing an incomplete or vague answer, you can actually delay the sales process. Ad-hoc responses can result in confusion causing additional questions from the customer. If not sure, better to defer and prepare a properly detailed answer. If you don’t know, promise to research and return with an answer from an expert. Customers respect this response and your credibility is bolstered. Just be sure to follow-up.
Conversation is Essential When Presenting
If your prospect wanted to listen to commercial ads on the Internet, or read online about your solution, they would not have invited you to present. Thus, you need to talk with your customers, not at them. Having a conversation involves listening first, and only then responding to the needs they present. An invitation to present is an invitation to interact and should not be squandered with presentation heavy session. Conversation paves a two-way street with your prospect opening the road to trust and partnership.
Benefits Do Not Come Last
It happens all too often! Your presentation runs long and you have to yield the room to others before you are finished. Your audience starts to leave, maybe out of boredom if you had too much presentation content. Worse yet, part-way through a presentation, decision makers in the room get a message and abruptly excuse themselves before hearing your key differentiators. If you built your presentation with all of your benefits and key messages on the last few slides, your selling opportunity is lost. It is paramount to deliver key messages throughout the session. This ensures that you can achieve your presentation goals and build an interesting story that keeps your audience engaged.
Be a Consultant
You want your prospect to take your advice and use your solution to solve their problems. Presales is often seen as a trusted consultant, especially when your prospect does not know what they need. But you quickly lost this trust by simply just pitching your products. Thus you must listen before talking. Engage in conversation to understand their problems and business processes so that you can recommended what is best for them. Prospects use consultants to reduce risks in making a purchase decision. Being an authority on your solution is very important, but building a relationship with your prospect to earn their trust as a consultant is equally important.
Embrace the Silence
We understand silence during a business meeting is awkward. But, it is also a highly underused and powerful sales technique. In Presales, we love to talk. We should love to listen more. Well-timed silence gives the customer time to consider and compose their response. And I don’t mean 2-3 seconds (the average for most salespeople). Think 5-10 seconds. You may not use larger blocks of silence frequently, so make it count and use it at critical junctures during the presentation. The next time you feel that awkward silence, let the customer fill it with useful input and don’t fill it with more sales pitch.
Tractor pull competition! A topic seemingly unrelated to any business context whatsoever. For my customers, they know it as a metaphor for migrating from their legacy architecture to our modern architecture. I made it memorable by using something completely unrelated (and very fun to watch) to explain one of our differentiators, and it stuck! Brainstorm and test ways to make yourself and your messaging memorable. Take some risks. If it doesn’t work, keep trying!
Use Polarized Lenses for Your Presentations
Delivering the same presentation and messaging to every audience is like trying to use one teaching method for everyone. Different audiences require different messaging and delivery. When selling platform technologies to developers, I’m talking tools and services. For mid-management, it’s about how they can deliver projects faster and cheaper. For executives, it’s about driving business outcomes. Think of it as applying polarized lenses to your presentation that focus your messages as required. Mixed audience? You may need to switch between lenses, so know your audience and practice your delivery!
Know who is in the room — take charge!
Absolutely the first question!! Who’s in the room? Oh sure, the sales exec may think you’re just doing the demo, but to be truly effective and make a valued contribution, your messages must resonate with those in front of you. You can’t do that if you don’t know who is going to be in the room and what know what’s important to them. You can’t connect and relate to the strangers if you don’t know what keeps them up at night. YOU need to take the lead. Find out who will be in the audience and then personalize your business value messages to them.
Illustrate – Prevent early check out!
After being shown the 4th slide containing only bulleted text, do you check out to the Bahamas? Slides with lots of text suck! Life without pictures is boring. Get comfortable with adding graphics to presentations and whiteboard drawing. Learn the tools that work with both onsite and virtual presentations. Start small and simple. Grow your graphical ability beyond smiley face and thumbs up. Unless you try and practice, there will be no improvement. Whiteboard whenever you can. Need more reasons to Illustrate? Your messages are more believable and easily remembered! So as difficult as it may seem to you, just do it!
Share Your Personal Experiences
People buy from people they trust. Building relationships is key when trying to add credibility to your presentation and demo. When possible, add your personal experiences. Share experiences such as working with other customers facing similar challenges and situations. Be willing to explain the good, the bad and the ugly about using your solution. Share the lessons you learned in a social way allowing others to learn from you, including your mistakes. We are all humans just trying to do the best with our lives and our work.
“In an effort to reduce the length and complexity of statements and responses, investigate and implement methods that result in a reduced verbosity on the topic at hand.”
Our customers are constantly flooded with information. It is imperative for Presales to distill your company and solution information into less, higher-value, differentiating content that results in MORE impact. Yes, Less = More. When preparing content, cut some out. Then, cut again. Make it count.
I once participated in an multi-vendor event hosted by an investment firm where each vendor had 15 minutes to pitch their offering. We spewed product features, roadmap and other techy facts. Another company told a simple, personal story about why their company was created. We lost. They won. Stories resonate. Stories are felt. And remembered. Don’t overthink it, just tell it and why it relates. Let your audience feel the rest.
Lose the Dogfood
“We eat our own dogfood” or “Stay with me, this part is always slow.” These actual examples of solution commentary are subtle yet have a powerful, negative impact on customer’s perception of your company and offering. Your solution will solve challenges they face daily, so be positive and passionate about it! Use statements such as “We drink our own champagne” or “Our solution is the Ferrari of our industry.” These statements may even garner a chuckle, but your customer will see your passion and that matters.
Be Ready to do a 45min Demo in 15min
Your demo was allotted 60 min, so you built a 45 min demo with margin, of course. Then the previous agenda item runs late. You now have 30 min, maybe 15 min. Can you still run a successful demo? Certainly. How? Be prepared. Customer meetings are dynamic. Be ready with at least 2, if not 3, versions of your demo. For example – quick (right to the benefits), shortened (key capabilities and benefits), and full. Always be ready to adapt your demo to changing conditions, and when you do, you’ll look like a rock star.
Don’t Announce Worthless Actions
“You click OK to open the settings window.” “I’ll select the start button to run the report.” Your customers use software daily and understand the fundamentals. When you inject zero-value information into your demo about actions such as clicking an OK button, you diffuse and reduce the value of your message. Instead, discuss the why of your actions when performing them. For example, while you are clicking elements to open the settings window, say “in settings you can select ML algorithms that meet demo requirement 10a.” Talk the impact and value, not the action.
We eat, breathe and sleep our solutions. How could others not know about it? Easily. Customers deal with multiple vendors daily, among a multitude of other priorities. Even your existing customers may not know about a specific solution from your company. Be patient and empathize. Rushing through your demo to ensure that you hit all key demo points is not the goal. The goal is to help them understand how it will help them. That might take 5 min for some, 5 hours for others. Know your customer and meet them where they are at.
Talk Benefits, Not Features and Actions
No value? No deal! Your prospects may be mildly entertained by the beauty of your solution, but unless it solves their problems and brings value to their organization, you’re not going to sell them anything. It’s not about getting through the demo showing all features, it’s about ensuring that the outcomes it provides to your customer are crystal clear. Certainly your demo requires flawless technical execution, but more importantly, you must clearly and explicitly communicate benefits and value statements specific to their business. Want to be a hero in the eyes of your sales executive and account team? Work with them directly to ensure that critical benefit messages are cleanly and timely incorporated into your flow.
It’s Good to be TSTy
Tell, Show, Tell — A simple and time-tested demo messaging strategy that all demos should follow. Note that the two ‘Tells’ are not the same. The first ‘Tell’ communicates that you understand their problems & needs and overviews how you will show the unique fashion in which your solution achieves this. This needs to be done in a very empathetic way as you are acting as a trusted consultant. Next, your demo needs to ‘Show’ how your solution accomplishes what your set up in the first ‘Tell’. Then, the second ‘Tell’ communicates to your audience the benefits and value of what they just saw, again in the context of their problems and needs. Practice this flow repeatedly.
Simple, Simple, Simple
Your customers are experts in their domain but may be new to your software. It’s important to demo in the same way that I describe what I do for a living. Make it simple. A key part of the Presales role is to simplify complex software for customers who want understand why it’s good for them (and thus spend money with your company). Simple, benefit-centric messaging is especially critical for executives. Your demo must be easy to understand, or you’re just wasting your time! Don’t assume your message is simple. Practice your demo with someone who is not familiar with the solution and see if your messages resonate.
Keep Context with Big Picture Visuals
Context matters. Whether a 30 min or 3 day demo, life and work distractions can cause customers to lose context as you demo your solution. Lost context = lost attention. It’s critical to communicate context related to a big picture to help them connect the dots and stay engaged. Use visual diagrams to present the overall demo flow, display how the demo segments relate together and track demo progress against the big picture. Display the diagram before, after and at key breakpoints during the demo and communicate the context clearly.
Plan for Demo Time Degradation
We practice our demo over and over, refining each aspect to execute with perfect precision on an exact timetable. Then the meeting starts late. Then a simple question becomes a 30 min discussion. Then you need to change conference rooms. The best laid demo plans fall by the wayside. So plan for time contingencies. Keep the demo tighter than the allotted time. Know which parts can be skipped if needed. And practice a demo path that takes 1/2 the time. Take more time to be prepared for less time.
Bring the Customer into the Demo
An engaged audience will retain more from your demo. Instead of just demoing to the customer, consider asking them to demo a portion with you. Select a segment where a customer can drive with you as their guide. Moving from seeing to doing can greatly increase confidence in your solution because you are showing confidence by having them use it. Just remember to manage any risks – pick a straightforward, solid section. This approach isn’t suited for all demos, but it can make your the demo experience more powerful and memorable.
Avoid Hazards When Possible
The forces of chaos are always present trying to ruin your demo. Demo success also means knowing your demo environment and avoiding the hazards that have a good probability of occurring. Know the critical dependencies of your overall presentation & demo(s) and work to remove them. At a minimum, have alternative plans and resources. Critical resources include projectors, power, network connectivity, setup time, room layout, knowing who will be in the room, etc. The more critical the demo, the more time one should spend evaluating and eliminating hazards.
Be deliberate and minimalistic with your demo & presentation actions. You ask a lot of your audiences to comprehend what they see, follow what you say and process the abstract message you are communicating. Fast moving mouse pointers, flying through screens, talking too much, visible nervousness and unnecessary fidgeting rails against your message being memorable. Focus, be calm and be confident. Credibility and success will follow.
Have at Least 2 Backup Plans
You have 1 hour. Your host didn’t order guest internet access. The wireless network is slow. The demo system isn’t available. Demo challenges will always exist in one form or another. BE PREPARED. Even 1 backup plan isn’t enough – you need 2 or more. Be prepared with an alternate demo system, an offline demo, a video, or even a slide-based demo. And have a backup system – if your laptop fails, be ready with your tablet. There are no excuses, you a Presales professional!
Scare Yourself Into Growth
What scares you? What are the things that make your heart beat fast and turn you into a nervous wreck? Pick one and do it, at least once but preferably a few times. Start small if needed. Is it talking to a large group? Find a way to present for 2 minutes as part of larger event. Is it making cold calls? Make one. You may embarrass yourself, but your perception is almost always worse than reality. Even if it doesn’t go well, you gain confidence from simply trying. If it does, it can send your conifence soaring. Either way you gain from taking the risk. And in a very short time, you’ll be saying “Bring it on!”
Start or Renew a Non-Career Hobby
One of the best things you can do to help your career is to…step away from it periodically. Hobbies are an excellent option. Doing something you love that is disconnected from professional life feeds your soul and brings balance to life. A hobby can be anything such as taking cooking classes, learning a fly a drone, starting a club or even mentoring youth at risk. I personally understand the challenge of working too much, and the value of stepping away. Pick or renew a hobby and start immediately! In this digital world, it’s refreshing to go analog.
The pervasiveness of information today is overwhelming, and much of it feels quite negative. This contant barrage can quickly drag us down and impact all aspects of our lives. Learn how it affects your pesonally and reduce or eliminate it. Take small steps if needed. Does news bum you out? Stop watching and reading it for a week and see how your feel. Reduce time around negative people. And one step we can all take – stop getting caught up in negative social comment feeding frenzies. Do these things and your spirit, and attitude, will quickly rise!
Know Your Strengths
A weakness of mine? I have a difficult time understanding the realities around me. One of my strengths? I’m Batman! 🙂 Seriously, one can get hung up on not being good at something or become overly focused some inadequacy. But, more important as one engages in career planning, or just tries to survive a chaotic work situation, is to remember and focus on your strengths. Focusing on strengths builds on past successes and provides a platform of confidence for improving in other areas. Managers always want to know what you can get done. Inventory your skills and have them ready to discuss when the opportunity presents itself. Think job interview – know and put your best foot forward. You’ll feel better about yourself. (And, it’s never a bad time to keep that CV up to date.)
Know Your Passions
He’s Batman! He knows what he’s passionate about! Do know your passions? If you’re happy with your job and life in general, read no further. But if happiness eludes you, consider that your life activities and passions are out of sync. When change looms on the horizon, knowing your passions should take point. Embrace them. Identify what you like, and what you don’t. Disconnect the money aspect from this assessment. Knowing your passions and bringing that knowledge into the career equation can drive wonderful long-term results for you and those around you.
Frequently, we’re moving endlessly from trip to trip or meeting to meeting, but we are not immortal. If you don’t stop life at times, life will stop you. It is essential for your personal well-being and happiness to stop for a few moments and look around. Taking a break, even a small one, allows you to re-charge your mental and physical energy, gain perspective, and very importantly, appreciate the good things around you. You’ll be happier and return to work focused and with more vigor. So, stop and take a deep breath. Look for the positives and enjoy the benefits of a little time-out.
Lose the Clutter Anchor
It is said that a messy desk is a sign of genius. NOT! For most of us, it is a testament to distraction and inefficiency. It acts as a mental anchor. Piles of clutter around you drags you down with a persistent reminder of unfinished business. Take heart, it doesn’t mean you need to become a neat-freak. Simply schedule a dedicated, recurring time clean up the clutter. It’s like a mental breath of fresh air every time you do it.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Steps. Technology has elevated this one, simple word to represent health awareness. Our devices track many types of data that we can harness to improve our health. And for good reason – like a tide that raises all boats, positive health habits raise all aspects of our lives. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. It can be anything – a full workshop, a few extra steps at the airport, shoveling snow, playing outside with the kids. Indeed, a healthy body supports a healthy mind.
Learn Something Outside of Work
I love learning technology and am fortunate enough to be in a field that provides endless learning opportunities. But in some ways, over-saturation in a specific area can yield declining results. Seemingly unrelated knowledge can provide new perspective. When I learned to snowboard, it required an entirely new learning method. As such, it was surprising, and amazing, that this non-technical activity provided fresh ways to think about my work. It exposed new ways to attack and solve problems. And this enhanced my work.
Find Your Time
Find the time for YOU. Today’s work climate will consume all available time, if you let it. As difficult at it may seem, you must consciously make/allocate time for yourself to plan and prioritize what is important. Especially in high stress situations, you must be able to regroup and recharge. If you don’t, you will be ground down to nothing. Be in control. Review conflicts with your manager for priority. We’re all too busy. SCHEDULE it!
Adopt Social Selling
Customers today are buying differently. Some studies show that upwards of 70% of their buying journey is completed before you as a vendor may even be aware, let alone involved. They utilize social channels pervasively – researching solutions, reviewing and sharing experiences, building their personal brand and more. You need to provide the right content in the right context – at the right time. Learn how your customers Interact socially, but do so professionally. Find out what they value such as through their groups, posts and likes. Utilize tools such as LinkedIn Navigator and take courses on social selling. The resulting performance results are worth it!
Engage Beyond the Event
Presales professionals are excellent at getting to know customers in the context of a meeting. But this is often where it ends. AEs are excellent at building customer relationships beyond the meeting, whether for a simple coffee, larger dinner or fun event. Be sure to take part in these extended activities, or even drive a few on your own. But a big warning – if you try to do this solely for the purpose of using some enhanced pesonal connection just to further your deal, you will fail. People see right through this. Remember that they are people just like you and I, trying to do their job the best they can. Understand and empathize. You might just make a few new real friends in the process.
Be the Real You
Your social presence should reflect the real you, not some embellished, artificial version of you. Share a bit of who you are and let your individual personality traits coming through. Combining your unique perspective with your experiences and skills can provide valuable insights for those in your networks. Don’t try to overdue it, you will quickly lose authenticity and credibility. Follow your instincts and enjoy the finding the social you.
We’ve all experienced it – that person who wants to socialize with us for some stated intention, but we know in our gut it’s for some other reason. People aren’t easily fooled. Be transparent with your social networks regarding your intentions when you post updates, join discussions or comment. We all understand that everyone is working for some purpose, so be real. This blog is an example – we wish to share our Presales knowledge and experiences and hope you find them valuable enough to purchase our book 3D Presales.
Share and Share Again
We live in a 3-second world. Information is beyond pervasive and our attention spans are inversely proportionate. We often need to see content multiple times before it even has a chance of sticking. To build your social brand, it requires frequent sharing of content. Focus your social sharing to areas where you are personally passionate so you are motivated to continue. Post, share, comment and react. Then do it over and over. Augment your content with automated sharing services to offset the burden. Keep sharing!
Be a Net-Positive on Social Media
My mom used to say that strong people lift others up, not tear them down. Social media has made it quite easy to spout negativity and do so anonymously. Comments sections for just about anything are ground zero for this toxicity. Instead, challenge yourself to live a net-positive social experience. Share happiness, congratulate your peers, encourage those struggling and share your experiences (both good and bad) for others to benefit. If you believe criticism is in order, consider providing it privately, or at least in a constructive manner if socially. Let’s all raise the positivity bar together.
Get on Video and Get Used To It
Creating videos seems to come naturally for those born with a mobile phone in their hand. For many of us, however, it’s a bit more difficult. As communications continue to rapidly move from paper to digital, video is becoming a preferred way to consume content. Video content has proven better for retention. Similar to becoming proficient in public speaking, learning video skills can be uncomfortable and difficult – at first. But, after learning a few skills, video becomes easier and second nature. So, get recording!
All prepared but still stressed out? Shake the nerves and stress out of your presentation by lightening it up. You need to enjoy what you do so don’t take yourself to seriously. Have fun and incorporate a bit of light humor. Your’ll find yourself more relaxed and will be able to focus and better execute the tasks you prepared so diligently. Attitude is infectious! So RELAX and be of great spirit!
Maintain High-Quality Social Profiles
Like it or not, social profiles matter, especially in the business world. Keep them current. As you progress in your career, gain experience, and develop new skills, keeping your profile up-to-date makes your new value visible to customers, employers and recruiters. Active and current profiles also allow others of similar interests to find and network with you. Be sure to understand the social platform containing your profile. Never forget that someone is always looking, so keep it positive and avoid creating liabilities.
Run Internal Enablement
On high performance teams, all members actively contribute to make those around them stronger. Every team member can contribute by running internal enablement. Show your leadership skills by giving back and contributing to the betterment of all. Volunteering to host internal calls or webinars on team processes or a new training topic can do wonders for you and the team. The team will appreciate your actions. In the eyes of your manager, your team value goes up and a new level of trust is established. And you’ll find yourself with a deeper understanding of the meeting topic. So volunteer that little bit of time to give back to your team!
Share Unique Knowledge
There are some with the belief that if they are the only one who knows a topic, they’ll be safe and always in demand. Managers struggle with these knowledge hoarders as they pose a risk to deals and the team. Tech knowledge has an 18 month half-life and so does your knowledge of a specific topic. A team culture of sharing is critical and provides more benefits to you than staying commander of the dinosaur bone pile. What goes around, comes around. Share your unique knowledge and use it as a platform to learn new skills. Staying on the leading edge and making team contributions makes you more valuable than a resource that ultimately may be outsourced.
Support Your Local Community
We live such busy lives. As the summer months slow things down, opportunities arise to make yourself stronger. Take this time to consider giving back to your community. Making this world a better place is a responsibility we all shoulder. Giving back also benefits you. You’ll find that volunteering improves your self-esteem and provides a greater sense of purpose. As you share your skills and experiences, you get an opportunity to broaden your network and meet new people. You’ll see things from another perspective and grow from new insights. Volunteering is a year-round sport and organizations appreciate volunteers anytime. Get yourself strong and give back!
Pay it Forward – Mentor
“You go do it.” -The World. “Let’s go do it.” -A Mentor. Most of us started our careers full of energy – as they say, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.” Then reality hit. We make mistakes and get discouraged. It’s not the rosy walk our younger self envisioned. How amazing would it be to have someone come alongside to help and encourage? You can be that person for others through mentoring. Mentoring takes many forms – informal advice on sites such as CareerVillage, sharing your experiences in writing or video, or 1:1 relationships. Whatever it is, mentoring will enrich both that person and you.
Write an Article or Book
Many positive returns come from publishing content: 1) You solidify your knowledge by having to write it down. 2) Your value goes up as you are viewed as a thought leader. 3) You make others stronger and garner their appreciation. 4) It’s hard work, but when finished there is a great feeling of accomplishment. 5) A published book might put a few coins in your pocket. So, why not?
Each of us is stronger when the team is stronger. Difficult projects are more enjoyable when there is a team effort to carry the load. Ensure the entire team gets the credit they deserve. When the next difficult project comes along, they will be happy to join in. As a manager, this is one of the most effective & impactful management actions you can perform. Not giving credit and acknowledgement for work and success demoralizes the person AND the team. Be a Credit Manager. Help others get credit for their success.
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” -Keith Ferrazzi. Networking is a powerful mechanism to grow your brand, skills, career and more. But don’t make the mistake of selfish networking. This is when you attempt to network with a primary focus on how it can help you. Instead, network with a goal of providing value first. Share your experiences, expertise, cuts & bruises and successes. Be authentic. Share value and it will be returned to you.
Know Your Objectives
Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be committed for the long-haul. As such, it is imperative that you outline clear objectives. Are you trying to land your dream job? Grow your business? Connect with thought-leaders? Without clear objectives, it is easy to become diffused and unmotivated as results will be tenuous and unmeasurable. Time is a valuable commodity…be sure to focus on high-value areas for both you and your network. Never waste time of others when networking with frivolous requests and activities.
Try Various Networking Approaches
When thinking about networking, many think first, or only, about social networking. While this channel is indeed strong, it should by no means be your only consideration. Networking can occur anywhere such as within your current company or in your local community. Seek out networking groups that are relevant to your objectives, such as technology, industry or career events. You will find immediate points of commonality in these groups, so jump right in. You will discover your preferred personal networking motions which will help you focus your networking activities moving forward.
Cross it Up
With large enterprise solutions, no one person knows the entire solution. Becoming an expert in one area makes you valuable. Adding additonal, broad-based skills increases your value even more. Develop these skills by working with other experts and other teams. And share your skills with the team. When posed with a difficult and challenging task, you’ll have a network of associates to call on for help. Make it a personal goal to cross-train with other groups. You’ll find many benefits as you grow your network.
Personal networks provide an amazing opportunity to both learn from and internalize the expertise of others, as well as a way to do the same for them. But, as they say, it’s important to think outside the box. Keeping a network comprised only of like-minded peers is certainly helpful, but limits your ability to grow. Why? Because those with other viewpoints or points of disagreement challenge you to validate your own positions and grow your own perspective. Reach out beyond your comfort zone – it may cause anxiety, but the payback is immense.
Raise Your Virtual Game
Business communication continues to virtualize. While face-to-face selling will never vanish, many activities are desired, or required, to be virtual. As such, Presales must adapt to continue to be relevant and effective. It is imperative to master this medium for presentations and demos. Know your company’s conferencing solution inside-out, optimize your work environment for virtual engagements with aspects such as multiple monitors & a high-quality mic, eliminate distractions (barking dogs, office noise). Practice beforehand and know your virtual environment!
Keep Your Manager Informed
Think: “Make myself easy to manage.” Managers often do not have time to ask, so volunteer information, trip reports, status reports, etc. This is especially important if you work remotely in a home office or frequently travel. On a regular basis, let managers know what’s working, what’s not, your goals for the immediate future, and any challenges and concerns. If you need resources, this is an excellent time make those requests. Manager’s love this information and you will experience a growing trust when you provide it without being asked.
When the Going Gets Bad, Proactively Own It
There is a time to be verbose and a time to be succinct. When things are going well, small and short communication suffices. But when things go bad, inform those above and volunteer solutions to resolve the issue. Managers hate bad news delivered as a surprise with no proposed resolution. Issues arise, it’s part of the game. Managers appreciate their team being on top of the problems and working to resolution before there need for them to get involved. Owning the issue demonstrates responsibility and maturity, two attributes that are greatly appreciated.
Carefully Schedule Activities Close to Travel
Travel is a core activity for many in Presales. As with anything (everything), proper scheduling is essential to prevent conflicts. When traveling, ensure that time in planes shows out-of-office or busy so others don’t schedule calls while you are at 35K feet. When possible, don’t schedule calls immediately after landing, or at least inform others of the fact. Getting to the airport a bit early is a great opportunity to hammer out administrative activities or quick calls you’ve been meaning to complete. Following a few simple rules prevents issues that can quickly cast you in a negative light.
Aspiring Presales Managers
“Look before you leap…
… still water runs deep” – from the song ‘I Never Promised You a Rose Garden’. You now aspire to become a manager, or maybe you’re approached with a management opportunity. What skills are required? In Presales, you need to have expert product and industry knowledge, have presentation and demo skills, and execute numerous Presales processes like Discovery. As a manager, you’ll still need to know how to be a great Presales Professional, but also you’ll need to know how to plan and budget, organize, give work direction, develop and control processes, and do staffing…just to start. Two very different worlds! Could be a bit more money and maybe a little less travel, but you will need to focus on a new set of skills and tasks, and probably have to let go of some old ones. So, look before you leap!
Process and Execution
When new to Presales management, where do you start after getting introduced your team? Identify successful Presales processes and the skills needed for optimal execution. Observe and record processes and actions that are not working. Share your observations and expectations with your team. Training and then observe execution. Importantly, give feedback, reinforce positives, correct deficiencies. (Read the book ‘One Minute Manager’ if not familiar with work direction techniques). Doing the above will keep you more than busy and keep you focused on selling success. Then, in your spare time, you can also work on all the other goals and objectives that were given to you by your manager. 🙂
Repeatable, Reusable, Scalable!
There are so many ways to do the same thing! Some better than others. Presales teams need a focused approach, driven by a mantra, to maximize value from time and effort invested in developing assets such as demo data and scripts, discovery questions, responses to RFIs/RFPs, etc. Repeatable, Reusable, Scalable! The inability to share Presales resources is expensive, results in lower quality and is time-consuming. Write this mantra in big letters on the white board or somewhere visible daily. Give it constant thought and you’ll be amazed on the impact it will have.
Presales, Not Politics
We are nearing the end of our series on how to improve your career in Presales, and in the Lessons Learned category, today we discuss…politics. I can hear you saying it now – are you kidding me? Nope, and here’s why. During my career, I’ve heard presales and sales professionals make the smallest of personal political comments in a meeting. Even made jokingly, they set a room on edge. It’s a subject that is frequently charged with emotion and opinion and can be quite divisive. And these days, it’s quite toxic. For that reason alone, it doesn’t belong anywhere in your dialog with customers. At a minimum, people can become uncomfortable, and worse case, upset enough to compromise a deal. It’s one thing to talk about how political policies such as trade regulations will affect your customer. But not personal views. And there’s another reason not to discuss it. When you make any type of political statement in a business setting, you are indirectly speaking on behalf of your company, and that’s typically never allowed. So, stick to business and leave the personal political comments behind, no matter how small.
Practice Safe Muting
For the last few tips in our series on ways to improve your career in Presales, we’re going to lighten up a bit with some lessons learned out of the fire that arose from bad situations. We’ve all experienced them, and there is much to be learned. Today we discuss…the Mute button. Oh, such a simple concept that somehow has eluded the grasp of some. One time on a virtual presentation many years ago (and not at SAP), we began to hear a dog barking on the line of one of my colleagues. No biggy, right? Just mute. Instead, this person began yelling at their poor animal with, and I might say, an impressive string of profanities. And the customer heard every word. After a few painful moments of silence, the account executive tried to lighten the situation by saying, “at least you know we are passionate!” Needless to say, our deal did not move forward. Don’t be that person. Practice safe muting.
Practice Safe Content
Don’t use porn in your presentation. I know, I’ve got an uncanny grasp for the obvious. But I saw it happen. Seriously.
Today’s 100th tip in our series is in the Lessons Learned category and is about presentation content, at least what not to use.
Years ago while working for a network security company, the sales rep wanted to present the results of a POC using a shock value type of approach. The network scanner found porn on the network, and he decided to use it in the presentation. Unedited. For shock value to get them to buy. And let me tell you – it shocked the audience. So much so we were asked to leave. Quickly. I’d been with the company for a week and thought that would wrap it up for me.
I get it, sometimes you really want to make a point during your presentation. Or you’re just trying to make a lighthearted joke to lighten things up. So you push it a bit with some risqué content or statement. But even seemingly small things can be quite offensive. It doesn’t have to be as blatant as my example. Even a quick, gender-specific comment, or something about a person’s country of origin can be a big issue. I know this seems ridiculously obvious, but it still happens.
There are certainly ways to make a memorable point using real-world stories. But before you do, review it with some internal folks and validate the approach. Believe me, you don’t want to end up with stories like that one I started with. So, practice safe content!
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you have enjoyed this blog. Reach out to us with any comments or suggestions on future content.
For the full guide of best practices for Technical Sales, Presales and Solution Engineering, check out the 3D Presales book.