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I’ve spent the week interviewing presales consultants in the Chicago area this week…next week I’ll be teaching a sales class to presales engineers over in Singapore (yes, its live onsite).  This is an under-served group needing some attention in most organizations.

An Undefined Job

When I talk with a presales consultant (A job I personally have quit of bit experience doing), I am struck by the varying definitions and responsibilities these people give when asked, “What do you do?”  It’s kind of undefined.  This make the hiring process difficult.  It’s not like sales where the person simply says, “I sell stuff.”  Some interface with very technical people and therefore spend most of their time staying up on very technical things.  Some do a lot of speaking, others don’t.  Some design for free, some are generalists, and still others are product specialists.  The commonality is, few have ever had any formal sales training.

Yet, these people are expensive, largely non-billable, and as most sales people would agree, critical to the selling process. A great presales consultant is worth their weight in gold, and many sales people are asking for more resources in this area.


A few things your sales organization should consider:

  • Clearly define this role.  Since these people are expensive, it makes sense that the sales management should clearly write out the job description for this person, even though most of these people will not actually report to the sales manager (Something else to consider).  The description might look different for different organizations, but in most reselling organizations this person will be a shared technical resource.  I recommend resellers hire sales people with strong consultative sales skills, and then hire presales consultants (and stop calling them SEs) that are aligned with some area of expertise – such as security or data center, etc.
  • Pay them on commission.  These people should be responsible for driving business, so they should have some skin in the game.  More leverage means more risk – but risk and commission motivate strong work ethic and allow companies to pay out more to high performers.  The higher the risk/reward, the better, however, many of the candidates for this job are not interested in a 50/50 split or more on commission.  At some point, higher risk takers will opt for sales jobs if they think they can take more home at the end of the year.  I also recommend making this a limited resource in your company, forcing sales people to set things up before actually taking this person in.  Reserve them for qualified calls only and use the phone often rather than making the trip to the client’s site – Webex also works well here, with the sales person onsite, and the consultant speaking from a remote location.
  • Train these people.  Sure, they get training – but most of it is product knowledge.  This is largely a waste of time. Hire presales consultants who are willing to do some reading and tell them to learn the products they support.  Let them visit with local vendors and Google the rest.  But then, teach them to sell.  Of all the people I have trained on sales and marketing, this group has been the most responsive and the most teachable.  Once they see how they can improve their game, and more importantly, communicate effectively with non-technical audiences, they get excited.  It is likely that your presales consultants feel confident in front of IT people, but lack confidence in front of C-Level people.  Training is the answer.
  • Teach them to present.  Another aspect of training is presentation.  Twice this week I had presales consultant candidates tell me, “You won’t be able to read my writing on the white board.”  Are you kidding? – in both cases I replied, “It’s a requirement of this position.”  They responded with a chuckle…I wasn’t laughing.  One candidate is currently enrolled in Toastmasters…this is a wise move.
  • Teach them to write.  Writing is not easy.  I guess we assume people can write, but there are all kinds of writing and not many technical people write well when it comes to addressing management in written form.  I once took a group of sales people through a class on writing called Information Mapping.  It was one of the best investments I have ever made.

© 2013, David Stelzl

P.S. If you are a presales consultant looking for a job, make sure you spell check all of those acronyms on your resume.  Since Word won’t  recognize most of them, it’s all up to you.  Is it HIPAA or HIPPA?  Two candidates failed on this point this week.


Trump Building

Trump Building

Last  week I spent several days interviewing security candidates in the mid west for a large security initiative.  They don’t teach interviewing in school, but they should.  It’s not easy to successfully move through the interviewing process, but you would think a sales person would be the most qualified person to do it.  Who else has experience meeting with senior managers, trying to sell them on a concept?  That really is what an interview is all about….some tips for those of you who might be changing places in the next year:

  • Don’t show up with a resume that uses language you don’t understand!  This should be common sense…if you’re in sales, certainly you’ve been called on the carpet at some point in your career.  When someone tells me they have sold HIPAA solutions, I’m going to stop them and ask what HIPAA is…I’ll also want to know if they can spell it.  Most of the time they can’t.  If you have TLAs on your resume, know what they stand for and be able to define them.
  • If you get asked to explain something on the white board – use the white board.  In a sales presentation, would you tell the decision maker in the room, “I’m not good at writing on the white board?”  Of course not, so don’t do it in an interview.  And when you get up there – definitely don’t say, “I’m not good at writing on the white board.”  Sales people should be expert presenters and exceptional on a white board.
  • If you were selling, you would have questions.  Showing up to an interview without good questions shows a lack of preparation.  It’s sales 101.  The person who doesn’t have any questions looks dumb. Why would a successful person move to a new company, “No questions asked?”
  • What about lying?  Would you lie to a customer?  If you would, I wouldn’t hire you – and no one should. Padding your resume with great sounding exaggerations is not a good idea.  Don’t do it.  If asked something you don’t know, simply say, “I don’t know but I can find out.”  Again, if you already have it on your resume, you should know all about it.  But you can’t be expected to know everything.
  • If you know the company you are calling on, or the area of focus for this position is collaboration, or security, or cloud – it would make sense to read up on these things if you’re not already an expert.  I’m not suggesting you lie and pretend to know more than you do, but in an area you hope to move into, look like you’re actually working to get there. The hiring manager should not have to push you in that direction.
  • In a sales scenario, a story is a powerful way to demonstrate to a client how your solution has helped others just like them.  It makes sense that you would show up to an interview with the same.
  • Prepare.  If you know your interviewer has written a book, you should read it. But at least know what’s on their website.  Show that you  cared before showing up.
  • Be on time.
  • Don’t show up with documents that belong to your current employer…but do be able to tell about what you’ve accomplished.  I appreciate one recent candidate who said, when asked if he has some written examples, “Everything I have belongs to my employer, so I was not able to bring it.”  Don’t bring other people’s work to show me – it will be obvious when I start asking you about it.

© 2013, David Stelzl

Photo taken by Hannah Stelzl

Last night I had the privilege of  presenting new material on Entrepreneurial Thinking to a group of fathers and young men (mostly college age).  I thought it might be helpful to post a few comments to keep the learning process going:

1. Andrew Carnegie (in the early 1900s) wrote: Capitalists need compliant workers…willing to work for less than the value their productivity creates – this is profit….The answer to worker unrest is to build an educational industry designed to teach workers just enough to get them to cooperate.  My comment – don’t accept average…don’t give into this kind of thinking.  Get out of the box and do something great today.


2. In 1908 Publisher Henry Holt said, “There is too much enterprise, excessive overproduction of brains is the root cause…we must emasculate man’s entrepreneurial energy.”  My comment; Don’t let this happen!  Let someone else lose their ambition, but don’t you do it.

3. I meet people all the time who are wondering what they want to be when they “Grow Up”.  Many of these people are well established in business, in their 50s, yet, and unfulfilled.  Why?  Don’t just go with the flow, sit down and think, how do I want to spend my life and what is my fulfilling purpose going to be?  This is especially true for young people just entering or leaving college.  Don’t just go to class, build a resume, and look for a job.  Consider what great things are out there to do, then set about doing it.

4. Seth Godin Wrote, in his recent book, Linchpin; “Unskilled people are interchangeable – we’ve been culturally brainwashed.” He’s right you know.

5. We are too risk adverse!  Our training has taught us never to try anything that isn’t already proven to succeed.  We learned this from our teachers who insisted on us doing things a certain way; their way.  The alternative was an “F” – failure.  Entrepreneurs don’t think that way.  Innovation is key – start being creative simply by creating.  Assume most of your ideas will not be good, so set them aside and come up with new ones.

© 2011, David Stelzl

I hate resumes

July 10, 2010 — 2 Comments

I think Wall Street’s headlines put an end to the recession a year or so ago – I guess they missed it.  In any case, there are lots of people on the street and resumes flying about wherever I look.  Most of them poorly written boiler plate text that won’t land a position with anyone worth working for.  I found this great (in my opinion) article through one of my colleagues…it’s worth a read if you are updating your resume.  I prefer to answer no, when someone says, “Do you have a resume.”


Been fired lately?

March 25, 2010 — Leave a comment

This could be your defining moment…What do Scott McNealy, Steven Spielberg, Harold Varmus (winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine),  and Warren Buffett have in common?  They were all rejected from their college of choice.  Bill Gates and Ted Turner attended but didn’t graduate.  Interesting article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal – these people all speak of their defining moment.  It reminded me of the time I was fired…not laid off, but down right fired!  This was a defining moment that led to the greatest success of my life, and that is how these people, rejected from their school of choice see it as well.  This type of event may cause you to feel rejected, like a lost sale or missed promotion…or, it may change your life.  It’s your choice.  My response; I created the most exciting interviewing process I’ve ever seen – presenting thought leadership ideas to business leaders rather than searching for job adds.  This created a platform for my current business!  It was so exciting I wanted to spend the rest of my life job hunting…but given multiple job opportunities and the desire for a paycheck, I accepted one, going to work for a nationwide integrator.  My response led to, “I started my company today”.  Rather than dwelling on rejection, I turned it into an opportunity.   I’ve never looked back.  Not only have I enjoyed these past seven years more than any other time in my life as a professional, but it has also been the most profitable stint of my career.  Whether you’ve lost a big deal, lost a job, or  something of greater value, how you respond makes all the difference in the world.  The irony is that I was eventually hired me back to consult and train their sales team.


February 6, 2009 — Leave a comment

If you’ve been let go – this is for you.   Every day I receive resumes from past work associates, workshop attendees, and seminar attendees.  Companies are trimming back, cutting costs, and looking to reduce headcount in efforts to remain profitable.  With Toyota, Lenovo, and others reporting losses, it’s no wonder executives are worried.  So what do you do?  The worst thing you can do is sit around and murmur about the economy.  Stephen Covey’s first habit is…Be proactive.  Here are some proactive steps:

  • 1. Update your resume – if you don’t keep this up-to-date at all times, you’ve been living dangerously. A few points on this – The chunking limit is seven. Don’t list 20 bullets and expect anyone to read them. Focus on achievements not tasks. No one cares if you’ve managed 5 people, were responsible for some territory in South Dakota, or had responsibility for keeping up with your pipeline.
  • 2. Make sure your resume makes sense. If you did some consulting, don’t bother listing yourself as the president of your company. The fact is you didn’t own a company, you owned a job. Call yourself a consultant, not a business owner.
  • 3. Check your dates and know you story. Why did you leave certain firms? Everyone has a story for why they were fired at some point – make sure you know how to tell it, but don’t give lame excuses.
  • 4. References! Everyone has three references of which they hold until asked for. Be different. The last time I interviewed, which was 1999, I had 36 references and handed them to interviewer before they asked. They never checked them simply because it was overwhelming.
  • 5. The Interview – be proactive! Everyone comes to the table expecting to be asked a litany of questions; what a terrible situation. You can anticipate and perhaps prepare for some of them (although most people just wing it). Instead, come with a presentation. That’s right, you set the agenda. In 1999 I called every Solution Provider Executive I could find (gathering names from every Vendor partner I knew). I called, offering to come by to discuss some business opportunities and most agreed to the meeting. They weren’t even advertising a position. I came with a presentation on how to generate a profitable business and most liked it. Following the presentation they asked what I was selling – It was at that moment that I discovered the business I’m in now. At that time I was not ready to begin, so I agreed to develop a plan for a position that I’d take on if we could come to an agreement. It was so much fun; I almost didn’t want to take a job. But of course, I was doing this for free so I eventually had to sign an agreement.

Interviewing is marketing.  You have to stand out, grab the attention of buyers, be innovative enough to create an opportunity where one may not exist, and leave the economy, murmuring, and bad feelings behind.