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Who’s Got Sales’ Back?

by David Brock on November 26th, 2010

In today’s complex B2B sales environment, few sales people can afford to go it alone.  Not only do sales people have to manage the customer side of the opportunity, they have to orchestrate the internal side of the opportunity.  I’ve been having an interesting email conversation with Eric Koulourath of Invensys about this challenge.  He’s presented very interesting discussions of the role of pre-sales as a vital part of the overall sales team.

Many of the solutions we present are very complex, requiring management and coordination of a variety of internal resources–marketing, order management, perhaps implementation teams, even engineering or development.  Sometimes we need to involve finance, or even integrate the efforts of partners in developing our solutions and readying them for presentation to our customers.

Managing the internal team to develop the solution requires deep understanding of the customer requirements, as well as great sensitivity to their buying process.  It’s sometimes difficult for the sales person to manage this, as well as the customer relationship.  More and more we are seeing an important partner emerge for the sales person–this is the pre-sales professional.

The pre-sales function varies from organization to organization, but it’s an interesting capability and increasingly important in supporting sales in winning business.  Sometimes the breadth of solutions our companies offer is so great, the sales person can’t become expert in understanding the solution and presenting it.  Think, for example, of any of the complex ERP solutions—one could require deep expertise in financial solutions, human resource, manufacturing, or sales/CRM solutions—it’s the rare sales person that can have enough depth–both in their customer’s business processes in these areas and in the capabilities of their solutions in these areas. 

This is where a strong pre-sales function supports the sales effort.  The sales professional focuses on building the relationships with the customer, understanding what they want to achieve and managing their organization’s interactions through the customer’s buying process.  They leverage pre-sales experts–people knowledgeable in specific business function and solution areas to provide greater depth for those specific areas.  For example, in the ERP case, it may be a pre-sales specialist in financial applications, or another pre-sales specialist in warehousing applications.

These specialists work closely with their counterparts in the customer, really understanding what they need, helping them think about the business process–leveraging their deep experience and expertise.  They marshal the resources within their own organization to configure a solution that will enable the customer achieve their goals, finally developing (under the leadership of the sales person) and presenting the solution to the customer.

Interpreting the customer requirements, presenting them internally, and managing the internal resources in responding with a competitive solution, getting all the internal approvals is another critical role for pre-sales.  Whether it’s in professional services organizations, complex systems oriented organizations, or others, the pre-sales specialist is critical in supporting the sales person in managing the opportunity through their own organization’s approval and pricing systems.

There are few “Lone Ranger’s” selling complex solutions to B2B customers.  Increasingly it is a teamed approach, requiring coordination of a nuber of customer resources and internal resources.  The pre-sales professional is becoming a vital member of the selling team.

What are your thoughts and experiences with pre-sales?  How is your organization leveraging this function to improve the depth of connection with customers?

Thanks to Eric for his thoughtful ideas on this topic!

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  1. Very interesting post. When I was in the copier industry we have pre-sales support for the more complicated software solutions which was great. The not so great part was after the sale was made, a “post sales” analyst took over the the pre sales analyst moved on. Always seemd like a broken system to me…

    • Trish, thanks for the comment. You make a great point, too many companies think the only time they need to “impress” a customer is before the sale. After the sale–retaining, growing the relationship, getting great referrals, etc. is actually more critical. Fail the customer post buying decision and you’ve created an enemy, fail before, you’ve lost the sale.

  2. Here’s my 2-cents David.

    When the team works as a team, pre-sales specialists are vital players. But teams need a captain – the sales person – who is actually account executive. The advetising industry has done very well with this model.

    In capital equipment sales we had pre-sales and post-sales specialists along with engineers and service personnel involvement. The sales person is the conductor of the orchestra. Their leadership makes the difference between a dissonant performance or one that is melodic.

    • Great point Gary! I see sales people moving to “resource managers,” bringing the right resources to bear to move the customer through their buying processes. Great point!

  3. David Locke permalink

    Since sales can’t sell, we have to create additional capabilities and eat more of the company’s budget. At some point, the company runs out of money, but it’s been demonstrated that sales won’t run out of demands. Good luck with that.

    • David: Unfortunately, I don’t share your cynicism about sales or business. However, what would you suggestion be to improve this?

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