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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.

Considerations

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.

 

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Melbourne Airport

Melbourne Airport

Quick Note On Travel In Australia

Well, finally back in the states, but not yet home…my flight from Melbourne to Sydney was delayed, causing me to miss my flight to the US on Monday…Lessons learned:

  • Don’t fly Jetstar when you’ve actually got to be somewhere.  I flew JetStar four times this week, back and forth from Sydney and Melbourne.  Each time, I would sit in the airport listening to announcement after announcement of JefStar delays and cancellations.  While the staff seems nice enough, you just can’t count on them.  I am still wondering if they will compensate me for the extra hotel stay and meals.

So I ended up flying out of Sydney on Tuesday…scheduled to be home on Wednesday evening.

The Importance of Presales Consultants

More importantly, we finished up our training class on Friday in Sydney…this class was directed specifically to presales consultants / presales SEs.  Most companies fail to train their presales consultants.  It’s assumed that sales people can sell when they’re hired, so they rarely receive updated sales training – but the role of the presales technical person is more likely to be ignored.  I guess the assumption is that the sales person will take care of the selling part – but that’s wrong thinking.

Presales consultants have a very important role in the sales process.  Teaching sales and marketing skills to presales consultants is a great investment.  In fact, of the many classes I conduct over the course of a year, these attendees seems to be the most appreciative.  It provides clarity to their role and a process to follow in moving the sale forward.

NOTE: You might consider sending your presales people to my upcoming online security sales workshop

In class, I encourage sales people to position their presales technical people as mentors of the client’s IT group.  Rather than having sales people peer with IT, it is better to set up this mentor relationship with people the IT group will look up to.  IT doesn’t tend to look up to sales people simply because they don’t value the sales process.  They value technical insights which sales rarely has.  When sales people try to peer with IT, it leaves the presales person out – positioning them simply as a supporting role, rather than someone to be respected and looked up to.

When the presales person takes on the trusted adviser role with IT, they are advising them on technology and career direction.  IT needs this kind of input. When done correctly, it is valuable to the IT person – far more so than the sales person will ever be.  But it also frees up the sales person to move up in the organization without causing IT to feel like they are going over their head in the sales process.  Some of the comments I received after class:

  • “This is a great way to explain our role.”
  • “Best training I’ve ever received.”
  • “All the training we’ve received has been product oriented up until now…not very helpful.”
  • “This will allow me to play a much more strategic role in the sales process.”
  • “I think I have a better understanding of how I can work to support the sales people.”
  • “If only my sales counterpart understood this – we could really close some business.”
  • “How can we get more of our presales people to understand this?”

It’s been a great trip – I’m looking forward to seeing my family.  Unfortunately, when I landed at LAX this morning, I found that my connecting flight is delayed until 3:30 – getting me home at 11 tonight.  That would be okay, except I have to fly to Chicago at 7:30 am tomorrow…another character building day with the airlines.

© 2013, David Stelzl