What is Three Dimensional Pre-Sales?

Introducing Pre-Sales

Depending on the organisation or industry you work in, pre-sales can mean very different things. The main perspectives people hold when categorizing pre-sales as a role are generally polarized at opposing ends of a linear spectrum.  At one end we have technical activity and at the other we have commercial.  The technical-to-commercial spectrum is widely used as a frame of reference.  Some organisations expect their pre-sales employees to be very technical with an ability to dig deep into code where necessary and others don’t require any hands on experience at all. In reality, the definition of the role is flexible and the expectation is that a pre-sales resource will fall somewhere in between.

The linear spectrum of pre-sales activity.

 My loose definition of Pre-Sales: Pre-sales provides the medium to bridge the gap that exists between a customer’s business needs and the functional capabilities of the products and solutions provided a supplier organisation.

Through-out this article I will explore the traditional views of the two camps at each end of the spectrum; The commercial view that pre-sales resources are essentially sales people who should know about the features of the offering and the technical view that pre-sales resources are technical people who focus on functional activities and attend customer meetings simply to answer technical questions.

Who performs pre-sales activity and what do they do?

The following is a list of titles/roles which fall within or at the very least overlap with pre-sales activity:

  • Pre-Sales Consultant
  • Pre-Sales Account Manager
  • Technical Sales
  • Technical Account Manager
  • Sales Engineer
  • Systems Engineer

So, what does a pre-sales person do? Here are some examples of some pre-sales activities and responsibilities:

  • Make the technical sale.
  • Build relationships with peers in partner and customer accounts.
  • Manages accounts from a technical perspective.
  • Requirements gathering.
  • Assess business as well as functional needs.
  • Respond to RFP,RFI and RFQs
  • Write proposals.
  • Design, build and demonstrate products and solutions.
  • Write, review and deliver presentations.
  • Research and create whitepapers.
  • Deliver training courses for partners, resellers and end customers.
  • Review and provide content for marketing collateral (Datasheets, Websites, etc)
  • Solutioneering – design, communicate and propose multilevel, complex system solutions to customer problems.
  • Product evaluations.
  • Provide pricing for quotations.
  • Support Direct Sales force to assist in implementation of sales strategy.
  • Write, review and deliver training courses.
  • Attend industry conferences and events.
  • Diplomatically liaise and broker understandings between the internal sales and delivery stakeholders in an organisation.
  • Bid management.
  • Design and install PoCs (Proof of Concept).

The list above it starting to look exhaustive but is far from complete.  The wide variety of activities which may fall under the scope of pre-sales can make it difficult to pigeon hole exactly where it should fit in an organisation. Furthermore, how do you find someone who can carry out such a wide variety of activities?

Pre-Sales Personalities

People who can comfortably sit at either end of the technical to commercial spectrum can be considered a rarity. Technical activities require a logical, detail orientated, process focussed mind set and work in discrete terms with little ambiguity.  Commercial activities although still process focussed, reside in a considerably greyer area where a less than black and white approach to relationships, negotiation and winning the business are required.

There isn’t an abundance of individuals who can reside in both camps and this generally leads organisations to push people in one direction or the other.  It also fosters the opinion that someone can be either a technical person or a people person, but not both.  I challenge this assumption and believe that it is possible to have the ability to sit at both ends of the spectrum.  By hiring, training and directing pre-sales with a balanced and open-minded approach, you can strengthen the role and its ability to deliver for your organisation.

Three Dimensional Pre-Sales

I’d like to suggest a different model for pre-sales and pre-sales activity.  My definition above simply states that pre-sales is the medium to understand customer problems and facilitate the design and delivery of solutions to those problems.

By taking the commercial approach of focusing on the development of business skills, it’s possible that your understanding of true capabilities may be lost. By neglecting technical skills you could find yourself or your presales resources talking a lot, but a lot of rubbish. Taking a heavily focused technical approach could can lead to a deep understanding of complex technical systems, but you will find little use for that knowledge if you can’t communicate your ideas effectively.  It’s is true to say that you have to work on both and find a balance between technical and commercial abilities.

Once we have decided where in the spectrum our pre-sales activity should reside we can work on improving our commercial skills and also building our technical skills accordingly. One thing I believe is missing from the equation is psychology (or a focus on soft skills). Soft skill development is often neglected or is bundled as secondary set of skills which fall under the commercial skill set.  Through-out these blogs I’d like to bring more focus to this area as well as exploring the other traditional ends of the spectrum.  By bringing this additional element into play and focusing on a balance between the three, we can operate much more effectively. We could even say that we’re introducing a third dimension to pre-sales.

Three Dimensional Pre-Sales

In future articles, I’ll explore aspects of all of these areas.  Developing an awareness of all of these areas will strength you as an individual and may even help your organisation re-think it’s approach to using pre-sales.  Pre-sales has the potential to be the glue that holds an organisation together and drives it into the future.  Let’s find out together how and why that can work.  I won’t be preaching or telling how pre-sales should be done, just presenting my views and hopefully some helpful information. I hope you enjoy the journey.  Thank you for reading.

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