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.
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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 Understanable
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!”
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.
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.
“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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.