I have a Paragliding pilot license (for those of you who've met me, I'll preempt the weight jokes; my weight + kit + wing + harness is under the maximum weight of a typical XL wing... but only just).
The real problem is I qualified 15 years ago and I've never flown since. I can remember some of the theory; lines, risers, leading edges but I'm pretty sure if I climbed into a harness and launched myself from a hill now I'd probably either...
The point here is that you can attend a course, gain some new skills, but unless you constantly practice, reinforce and have your skills checked (or re-certified) they will rapidly become rusty and you become a danger to yourself and those around you (including cows).
There is some science behind this; it's called the Ebbinghaus 'Forgetting Curve'. Essentially, if you learn something and don't regularly reinforce it, you'll forget the skills and learning at an alarmingly exponential rate. You'll forget 80% of what you've learned within a few days and 90% within the first month.
Think about how much budget and investment you were planning to invest in your next course and then write-off 90% of it; maybe put it on a horse race.
Coming home to our world of PreSales, perhaps you're about to run a demonstration or presentation skills, discovery, objection handling, value and insight or negotiation techniques training course. Just running a course is not enough, in fact it's a waste of enablement budget unless you find a way to sustain the value and reinforce the learning.
So what are the three things you need to have in place before you run your next PreSales skills course:
Let's first dig into what's meant by behaviours and desired results by looking at the Kirkpatrick model. When I first met the Kirkpatrick model, it was a revelation. Its four levels of training evaluation instantly clarified something I was finding difficult to explain, how to link:
Level 1: Reaction: how engaging and relevant the learning was to
Level 2: Learning: the skills and knowledge acquired to
Level 3: Behaviour: the changes in behaviour applying what's been learned to
Level 4: Results: the results and outcomes that prove the ROI of the training investment.
For me, Levels 3 and 4 are critical. There is no point in investing in any training unless you have a plan to constantly check and reinforce the behavioural change. If you're about to invest in demonstration skills, for instance, how will you ensure that the team are constantly utilising and building on the new skills and behaviours. Highly developed demonstration skills on their own don't win deals but poor demonstration skills very definitely can lose you deals. Think about the cost of sales and opportunity cost of coming second (losing) in a large enterprise 'must-win' deal.
You did link the planned training investment to business results didn't you? In fact the way to establish training needs and investment is to start at Level: 4 Results, what outcomes do you want, perhaps:
Once you know the Results you're aiming for that will tell you Level 3: Behaviour, what behaviours are needed to produce those results? Then you'll know Level 2: Learning, what skills, techniques, enablement tools, reinforcement, coaching and learning are needed to produce the desired behaviours and then you can ensure there'll be a positive Level 1: Reaction to the course or workshop itself.
So back to the 'three things'; as a manager you need to revisit the skills learned in a course, promote best practices and early successes using the skills, set expectation levels, attend dry-runs, 'inspect what you expect' and focus on the business results. Oh, and maybe make sure your team don't land on any cows!
What do you think? How are you ensuring the sustainability of your training investments and measuring their impact on client revenue, success, retention, expansion and consumption? Please comment below.
For the purists out there, please forgive the 'flexible' use of the term 'coaching'.
Don is the Founder of Winning Skills Ltd: Demonstrating Excellence and Enabling Winning Customer Engagements. Don is also an organisational consultant and facilitator for 2WIN! and founded the London-based PreSales Leaders Forum. Talk to Don about building PreSales organisations, best-practice PreSales skills and processes and how to build the perfect 'Wow' demo. Let's connect on LinkedIn or talk email@example.com
Let's get straight to it. I don't know any PreSales / Sales Consultants / SEs who actually enjoy completing RFPs (Request for Proposals), its siblings, RFIs, RFQs RF(x) or any kind of ITT (Invitation to Tender). If you do, please comment below, you'll be in great demand!
I'm going to argue here that RFPs are (with some exceptions) a complete waste of PreSales time; they don't reflect the pace of modern change and innovation, and decision makers have already made up their mind before the RFP was issued (as we'll see).
Even in the world of everything 'As a Service', completing RFPs can still be a major part of our PreSales job; you'll see it in most PreSales job specifications. I look at it as the drudgery that earns you the right to do the fun part, working directly with clients.
RFPs are typically issued for larger, costlier, higher risk and more complex B2B buying processes. Completing an RFP can take 10, 20, 30 plus hours of work, sometimes for a whole PreSales team working on their specialist sections, adding in required references, company financials (which better look good) and needs a major piece of project management and copy-writing to compile a quality response that no-one knows for sure will ever be read. [I have a colleague in an ERP services company who, for years, randomly put the word 'sausages' in RFP responses to see if anyone ever spotted it]. Having to complete an RFP is a very costly and time-consuming effort that can dramatically increase the cost of sale of an opportunity.
For sure, in the public sector and defence industries there are strict procurement rules for buyers where skipping procurement steps, including not issuing RFPs, could allow losing vendors to make legal challenges to the selection process; at great cost and elongating, usually already lengthy, procurement processes. Overall, however, the big winners and primary guardians of continuing the anachronistic RFP process, are the advising consulting firms.
RFPs can be seen as a very visible result of a dysfunctional buying process, the urge to consider everything (even disruptive technologies) a commodity and a lack of trust between buyers and sellers (see later). RFPs and the vendor responses cannot possibly describe the avalanche of change and business model innovation happening in enterprises and don't reflect the situation where a technology vendor (us) has better insights into the client's industry than the client.
It used to be said in the ERP industry that 'every customer deserves the system they get'. If you want to treat buying a business innovation platform like a commodity then that's what you'll get.
Henry Ford allegedly said "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. If Henry Ford had had to complete RFPs to sell the Model T car, just imagine the buyer's RFP questions:
Honestly, why bother?
Many smaller, rapidly growing Tech companies I work with have a simple rule; if they weren't engaged with the prospect before the RFP was issued and aren't already providing differentiation, promoting their USP (Unique Selling Points) and taking control of the buying process with insights and challenges, then they qualify out and move onto another opportunity where they can influence the buyers.
This fits in with the 'qualify out often and qualify out early' mantra built into many sales methodologies. Forrester Research backs this up; the first vendor to bring insights and value to a buyer are going to be much more successful than those who first join the buying process at the point an RFI / RFP or ITT is published.
RFPs seem even more anachronistic when we consider...
Already B2B decision makers are researching solutions and offerings, being influenced by insights and getting questions answered online, and increasingly through video. The RFP is far too late in the decision makers thought process.
A 'Necessary Evil'
So despite everything we've talked about let's say your sales team say you're still going to have to complete the RFP. Completing RFPs, in the end, are a 'necessary evil'. How do you reduce the cost and effort?
Most large tech vendors will have a qualification gate before they commit to completing an RFP. Ideally, the qualification criteria are inbuilt into the CRM system (minimum opportunity stage, forecast level, level of decision maker contacts, solution fit etc.) and oversight is expected by at least first-line Sales and PreSales management. In the real world of sales targets and quotas, this oversight can sometimes get shortcut if its getting near end of quarter, the salesperson is well below target, or if there is a dysfunctional relationship between Sales and PreSales where Sales always get what they want. [That's a whole different conversation about building the PreSales 'brand'].
Also, if you're an SAP or an Oracle, you'll have the problem that you'll get invited to respond to almost every relevant RFP being produced. Buyers and advisory consultants always want to show rigour (and have negotiation options) in the procurement process and typically want at least one tier 1 vendor shortlisted even if the decision has already been made to select an alternative supplier,
Large tech vendors go to great lengths to reduce the cost of RFP completion; building off-shore, shared-service PreSales support teams to do the bulk of the responses, using online response catalogues, tools like RFPIO, RFPMonkey.com and even building AI / Machine Learning response predictions.
Much 'ink has been spilt' over the years about the frustrations of competing in an RFP process. One view could be that you, as the vendor, are providing advice, insights, some IP, maybe, in your response and that should have some value. Here's an article arguing that buyers should be paying for RFPs in the same way that some PoCs (Proof of Concepts) should be paid for.
A Dysfunctional Buying process
So what did I mean before when I said RFPs represent a dysfunctional buying process? Here's a brilliant quote from Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig's book 'Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship'.
"Dysfunctional buying practices have arisen to combat dysfunctional selling practices. For instance, buyers may send out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that, under threat of pain and death, refuse to allow any human being to talk to any other human being. When buyers do not trust sellers, they hide and protect vital information and restrict personal contact. Sellers have to guess what would actually work for the client, and often guess wrong. This reinforces the perception that sellers can’t be trusted, and dissatisfied buyers then create even higher hurdles. Sellers acquiesce and either go along with things that do not make sense, try more outlandish gambits, or choose to withdraw".
What do you think? If we all start refusing to complete RFPs can we change the world's B2B buying process for the better? Will RFPs be a thing of the past or are they here to stay, in the public sector, say?
Don is the Founder of Winning Skills Ltd. Talk to Don about building Presales organisations, best-practice PreSales skills and processes and how to build the perfect 'Wow' demo. Let's connect on LinkedIn or talk at firstname.lastname@example.org
In previous posts you'll have seen me trying to turn you from the 'dark-side' (re-purposing dense text and marketing-speak heavy, corporate slide decks) to telling stories, using images and, especially, whiteboarding to communicate ideas in presentations and tech demonstrations. BUT slide decks aren't going away anytime soon, and are still the default communication tool for most people in corporate PreSales, Sales Consulting and Sales.
PowerPoint can be used for 'good'
PowerPoint, in the right hands, can be used for 'good', to create some truly astounding and memorable visuals and even 'Oscar'-standard movies and animations. Check-out or follow my good friends at Eyeful Presentations to see what I mean.
The reason for this post, though, is to ask you to download and check out Duarte's latest free PowerPoint template; it's truly brilliant.
I'm a big fan of Nancy Duarte's work. Her book, slide:ology is an absolute must for every PreSales professional's required reading list.
As a summary, Duarte's five rules are:
Of course, if you have downloaded and run the PPT template (it's a self-running slide show), you'll want to know how it was done. So, check out this PCWorld article walk-through from JD Sartain (with lots of screenshots), it covers:
...it practically researches and designs best practice slides itself..
As a complete Google 'fanboy' (G Suite, Pixel & Nexus phones, Chromebooks, Eddystone beacons & Chromecasts), I can't talk about slide presentations without mentioning Google Slides. OK, it isn't anywhere near as functional as PowerPoint, but check out its new 'Explore' functionality...it practically researches and designs best practice slides itself (See the 3 minute video below). As some of my American colleagues might say, 'it's awwwwwesome'.
Let's be honest, sales presentations, unless they're really well produced (think an Apple product launch), can look and feel boring, mass-produced and, most-importantly, impersonal. Its getting harder and harder for Sales and PreSales to communicate a personalised message in an increasingly visually cluttered and noisy world.
For Sales and PreSales, we're trying to ensure we get remembered, differentiate ourselves from our competitors, establish credibility and trust. I think sketching out a vision, story or idea right in front of your audience is way more of a 'performance' than rolling out your 'authorised' deck of company slides. If you've got a 'visual' audience, and many of them will be, as soon as you get a pen out you'll have captured their attention. As Dan Roam (see later) says, '...the spontaneity and roughness of hand-drawn pictures make them less intimidating and more inviting...nothing makes an image clearer then seeing it drawn out-step-by-step'.
Sketching ideas or storytelling on a physical or (as we'll see) digital whiteboard is super engaging. If you're also combining discovery with explaining an idea or jointly working through a problem then the fluidity a whiteboard offers for visual trial and error is unparalleled. And if you're 'weaving' a story about the business problem your prospect doesn't realise they have, or jointly architecting a Cloud future incorporating your solutions, sketching will make it seem way more interactive, collaborative and, very importantly, personal.
Right...what do you need to get started.
How to get started... just a pen or a pencil...
How to get started...just a pen stylus...
Probably the cheapest and most portable way of creating a digital whiteboard is to use the built in whiteboard tools of WebEx (for example) and get yourself a Wacom CTL-490 Intuos graphics pen tablet [about £50 in the UK; that's mine covered in fingerprints in the photo]. The writing area is about A5 size (1/2 US Letter). Plug it into your laptop USB port, load the driver and off you go...start sketching. It works like a mouse but comes into its own as a digital writing surface. PowerPoint recognises when you use the pen / stylus on the Intuos tablet surface and pops up a new menu called 'Ink Tools'. [Top Tip: Configure the shortcut for the lowest pen / stylus button (nearest the nib) to be 'Ctrl-Z' Undo; you'll thank me later].
I hope I've got you excited about whiteboarding and sketching. I'd love to hear how you use sketching and any top tips you can share.
To finish off, I was recently coaching a tech company on how they could use sketching to tell stories in the sales process. Here's my before (start) and after (end) digital whiteboard sketch I used to explain Big Data and Hadoop in 2 minutes; starting with an elephant (Hadoop), a pig (Apache Pig) and a lightning bolt (Apache Spark).
What exactly defines high performance for PreSales / Solution Engineer / Sales Consulting teams? It turns out there are lots of definitions but, if you read to the end, I'll finish with, what I think, is the easiest.
PreSales Managers will be acutely aware of their company definition of PreSales high performance because they've probably got a (bonus related?) objective to increase (or optimize) it. In fact one definition of Management is 'optimizing your available resources'.
So lets ask some PreSales Managers...
I asked two PreSales Managers, from two very different business software companies, lets call them 'A' and 'B'. to define high-performance in their team. In my experience these two companies are very representative.
PreSales Manager 'A' works in a mature enterprise software company where there are lots of metrics. PreSales performance is primarily measured by productivity; how much closed revenue did each PreSales support (or 'cover'). This, it turns out, is extremely common. Currently, PreSales team 'A' cover an average of $4 million per headcount.
PreSales Manager 'B' works in a well-known SaaS company that prides itself on its culture. B's company consciously have no 'hard' PreSales performance metrics; zilch, zip, nada; it's all about a feel for passion, engagement, collaborating and, most of all, customer trust.
Having previously rolled out sophisticated activity recording and PreSales performance dashboards across a multi-national enterprise software company, I'm very aware of the pressure to measure everything.
COOs and CFOs struggle to understand the value PreSales brings to complex sales cycles and are always asking us to justify our, usually significant, contribution to Cost of Sales.
As a 'C' level Exec once told me, 'Sales, I get; they're on a quota, they're greedy to close sales and earn their commission, they pay for themselves. PreSales...what is it you do again?'
We're also taught that modern management is about 'fact based decisions' and analytics. There's Deming's quote 'without data, you're just another person with an opinion' and Drucker's 'what gets measured gets managed' (very true by the way). So there's always lots of pressure to measure performance and define exactly what high performance is.
Without a definition of high performance how would you conduct performance reviews?
With sophisticated measurements in place, PreSales high-performance could mean:
Calculating PreSales coverage in Salesforce is easy - report on 'Team Role' = 'PreSales' in 'Opportunity Team' for 'Closed Won' Opportunities with a 'Close Date' in this quarter
Using revenue coverage sounds good but has its problems; especially if your company has different product lines with different go-to-market strategies at different points in their life-cycle. A PreSales Consultant specializing in a brand new mobility solution has no chance of covering the same revenue as someone who specializes in, say, mature CRM functionality.
Also the definition of coverage is difficult. If you've got multiple PreSales staff who all worked on, or 'touched', the same closed (won) deal (someone more functional, someone more technical, someone to cover the database need!), do they all include the closed revenue value in their performance or is it only the Lead PreSales Consultant or the PreSales Consultant who made the biggest 'impact' in the deal. Assessing 'impact' then becomes a subjective measurement not the objective measurement management are expecting.
Or maybe, going back to company 'B's conscious lack of 'hard' performance metrics; if, as an individual PreSales person, you're constantly being requested to support the most successful Account Execs' deals then you must be high-performing. One thing is always constant, the most successful sales people (not the 'churn fodder' who only last a year) always want to work with the most successful PreSales staff.
What does an 'I', 'T', 'Pi' and 'Broad line' have to do with PreSales Solution Consultants and how does it help Tech companies solve the problem of needing customer-facing expertise across an increasingly broad range of products and solutions? Read on...
Within Human Resources (HR) and Learning & Development (L&D), the idea of the modern employee needing 'T' shaped skills isn't new; it was first discussed back in 1991. The vertical bar of the 'T' represents the idea of having deep skills and expertise in a single area; the horizontal bar represents 'boundary crossing competencies' (like teamwork, communication, perspective, understanding of different cultures) and the ability to collaborate with others across those competencies. There's lots of discussion on the web; articles and even a 2016 T-Summit.
How this translates for PreSales...
For PreSales Sales Consultants in the new technology sales model (social, educate, engage) the concept of being 'T'- shaped takes us further by describing a very particular challenge we have.
For most Tech companies, they started life selling a single product or service. Everyone responsible for demonstrating (starting from the Founder, the first sales people then eventually the PreSales team) was expected to have deep knowledge and passion of the product its benefits, value and use-cases.
As time goes by, Tech companies tend to expand their offering:
For PreSales this presents a huge issue.
Is it possible, or even practical, for the same PreSales Solution Consultant to have deep knowledge and credibility in all their company's offerings?
In a perfect world, that's exactly what all Prospects and Sales Execs want; for one PreSales Solution Consultant to be able to turn up at any live or virtual sales event and be able to demonstrate, talk authoritatively and credibly and have the industry and use-case knowledge of any your products or solutions. The ideal is that PreSales can respond to any business pain the prospect reveals (as long as your Sales Exec can sell the solution!).
And here's the million dollar question...
What is the ideal breadth of knowledge and competence for a single PreSales Solution Consultant?
Unfortunately, there's no single right answer. It depends on, amongst other factors:
What do other Tech companies do?
Finally we get to the 'I', 'T', 'Pi', and 'Broad line'. What do they mean and how are they used?
As well as being passionate (if you're not, no-one else will be), convincing, credible, articulate and personable, PreSales can have the following shaped skills:
'I'-Shaped = Deep skills in only one solution or product area (the single, vertical 'I'). Can engage and educate, is knowledgeable and credible, not just about what the solution does, but the value it creates and how it can create customer success.
You sometimes see the result of having only 'I' profile PreSales when, usually, large enterprise software companies turn up at the prospect's premises in 'the bus' because, for example, they need one PreSales to cover procurement, one to cover mobility, one to cover database, one to cover business intelligence, one to cover HCM (let's not talk about how they get accompanied by multiple sales people, one account director, two overlay sales, a database sales person, their sales manager etc.). It can be utterly embarrassing and self-defeating to turn up at a client with 10 PreSales and Sales colleagues (especially if you're only presenting to 3 people from the prospect) because you're covering a broad product set.
'T'-Shaped = Deep skills in a single solution or product area (the vertical 'I') AND a general understanding of the whole portfolio, ecosystems offerings and services (the horizontal bar on the 'T'). Can explain context across technology, line of business and industry. Can whiteboard and even architect the wider solution and the value it creates. Can spot cross-sell, co-sell and up-selling opportunities.
This is the model many Tech companies aim for. It needs a very heavy investment in enablement, huge change management, strong leadership with a clear articulated vision of what 'T' shaped skills look like and close performance monitoring to maintain.
'Pi'-Shaped (symbol looks like a T with two legs) = Exactly the same as a 'T' but with deep skills in more than one solution or product area. For many Tech companies, the 'T' shaped model is no longer enough.
Most Tech companies now acquire other Tech companies to gain new markets and leapfrog product development cycles. This means the number of products or services a Tech company sells rapidly proliferates. There can be literally thousands of different products and solutions available (at least at the sales booking line). There can be huge pressure for PreSales to double or triple-up their deep solution areas to cope with the pressures on sales to sell the whole portfolio.
'Broad bar' = Exactly the same as a 'T' but WITHOUT the deep skills. To cope with expansive product portfolios, some Tech companies try to split their PreSales team into 'Broad bar' generalists, who do most of the initial engagement with prospects, and 'I' shaped specialists to handle deep dives and Proof of Concepts (PoCs). The 'I' shaped PreSales specialists might work for a regional rather than local (country or state) team or could be remote; primarily working virtually, near or off-shore.
What do you think? Please comment below.
Don is the Founder of Winning Skills Ltd. Talk to Don about building Presales organisations, best-practice PreSales skills and processes and how to build the perfect 'Wow' demo. Let's connect on LinkedIn or talk at email@example.com
Earlier this week I was talking to an Exec from a high growth, London based, FinTech (Financial Technology) company. Halfway through the discussion the conversation moved onto a business growth hurdle I'd personally experienced many times over the years; first working in growing ERP Channel Partners creating their first PreSales team and then as part of the Channel Management team of a global software author trying to encourage Partners to invest in PreSales resource and skills. Time to put pen to paper; well fingers to keyboard.
The Problem Definition
You can't have the same individuals both implementing / deploying your technology (the Implementation Function) and supporting the sales cycle (the PreSales Function) at the same time. All that will happen is that you'll get into a cycle of selling then not selling [see diagram] which will seriously restrict your business growth.
All growing Tech companies with complex products or services will eventually have to overcome this problem. The solution is to build, invest in and develop a separate PreSales team.
A Growing Business
As a Tech company grows its business, it will naturally hire sales people (driven by quota achievement and pipeline) and, as sales are made, hire an implementation team (driven by utilisation rates (75% - 80% maybe), revenue, cash flow and customer success).
As you increasingly sell to mid to large-sized prospects or sophisticated buyers, they will expect you to split the sales focus and technical, trusted-advisor role:
So lets follow the sales cycles and see what happens (see diagram)...
Green - Selling
Yellow - Can't Sell
Green - Selling... Again
Its a perfect storm. You can't sell anything until the Consultants finish their last implementation.