Pre-Sales Consulting - Key Criteria to Build, Nurture And Sustain

Zahra Jamshed

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As professional services / advisory firms are making waves to establish focused practices for the evolving technology trends, e.g. cloud (hybrid, private or public), big data / analytics, digital and others, the technology solution providers are also actively transforming their landscapes by creating consulting verticals.

The technology solution providers are realizing that for strategic, high revenue, & long term contracts, consultative sales has far more merit than traditional sales. For consultative solution selling, a pre-sales organization's existence (in a trusted advisory capacity) is imminent. In most cases, an effective pre-sales team consists of consultants (program managers) and architects / engineers.

Key areas of focus include:

- Understanding, gathering and analyzing the client's requirements (business and technical), pain points, and road-map
- Collaborating with the client to white-board a compelling solution concept. Once both sides reach mutual concurrence, translate the solution concept into an executable SOW (statement of work)
- Positioning compelling innovative solutions to address the client's areas of concern. It's the consultant's responsibility as a trusted advisor to ensure the solution has the right support within his / her organization. Example: If the client is interested in a hybrid cloud but the solution provider is not sure if they will continue to leverage the underlying technologies for the hybrid cloud then the consultant must highlight the options with pros and cons.
- Effectively driving the sales process, proposals, request for proposal (RFP), proof of concept and solution alliances (when and as needed).

Here are a few pointers to consider when creating, developing and nurturing a pre-sales consulting practice:

Engagement: In most organizations, pre-sales mandate is to support revenue growth on large and strategic deals. As a result, the sales and solutions management teams must engage the consultants to the fullest on qualified, strategic & high priority initiatives. Being selective helps the teams stay focused on their core mission vs. get side tracked. Since the pre-sales function is multi-faceted, anyone in the driver's seat has to constantly inspire and motivate the team members.

Solution Alignment: Make sure that your team is well aligned with the sales team and is fully on board regarding the product/solutions that should be pitched and the ones which are ready to be phased out. Example: A global client was exploring an off the shelf enterprise data management solution for its US customer base. The client issued an RFP. During the vendor Q&A advised the vendors to only respond if they have 80% solution ready to go. If not, then they should not participate in the bid. Since my team was in attendance at the vendor Q&A and knew that in the US market, we could only provide a 100% custom solution, we jointly decided not to bid at all. Understanding the client's key criteria helped us save time and resources.

Team alignment & Communication: If the consultants are servicing different geographies, the alignment model must be communicated to all internal stake-holders - sales, delivery, product, marketing and operations teams. A well communicated model will create a better operational support system throughout the sales process. Example: If a geography does not have enough momentum in place due to the types of clients/opportunities, then do not hesitate to revisit the geography alignment and assign new opportunities to the consultant. Momentum in one region whereas little activity in another region can impact the morale of the team.

Recognition: When the team members are burning midnight oil to get the perfect solution outlined, coming up with compelling numbers, fine-tuning the formatting of the proposal response to the client's suggested criteria, ensuring the executive summary is tailored and not a cut and paste from a marketing document etc., do acknowledge their efforts. Reward them on wins or being shortlisted.

Incentive Compensation: Communicate the compensation model clearly to your team members based on the geographical alignment and provide achievable scenarios on how their efforts will be recognized. If special projects are assigned due to unique scenarios, then make sure the compensation mechanism is clearly thought out and well communicated. Would it be a base plus MBO (management based objectives) model or a base plus commission model? If the incentive mechanism changes several times a year, then it creates confusion & lack of trust resulting in qualified people exiting.

Growth / Advancement: Your team is the face of your services / solution. They engage your clients, provide value and as trusted advisors build long term relationships. Invest in their growth. This may mean executive education, certifications, seminars, and providing them with challenging & global opportunities. Guide them to include professional learning and growth in their measurable quarterly / annual objectives.

Alliances: The best form of solution alliances is when two organizations come together to complement each other's offerings. Example: A managed hosting / data center company partnering with an application service provider to respond to a total application and infrastructure outsourcing solution. In this scenario, a well-integrated solution can provide "one throat to choke" for the end client. Ideally, the organization with key client relationship and resource expertise sits at the driver's seat & assigns a pre-sales program manager to drive the initiative till the proposal is submitted to the client. The alliances help in business development and adding to the revenue growth for both organizations.

Delivery Over-sight: The pre-sales team often serves as a liaison between sales and delivery to ensure continuity from the client relationship standpoint. The delivery program manager must keep the pre-sales team abreast of the project's progress, scope changes (if any), timeline concerns or resource conflicts.

To summarize, technology organizations will continue to re-organize their sales, solutions and delivery teams based on their business drivers, geographical needs, & revenue goals. Regardless of the organizational changes, retaining skilled team members and continuing to provide them with challenge and advancement will add to the transformation & innovation of an organization.

As Charles Green (the co-author of David Maister's "The Trusted Advisor" said): "People are not just the brains of the professional firms, they are the heart, the soul, the guts, and the rest of the anatomy as well."

The original version of this article has been published on LinkedIn

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