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 and the Northern European representative for 2Win! Global; best know for the Demo2Win! skills and techniques used by companies like SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, Workday and Google. Don is an expert in Presales organisations, skills and development. Let's connect or talk -firstname.lastname@example.org.