Keeping up with the rollercoaster of changes, or ‘new normals’ if you will, is something we’re all facing in the middle of this COVID-19 commotion. But for presales in the IT and software industry it may feel like somewhat of a recognizable phenomenon. The comfort of a steady normal has been fading in this field since the millennium and it looks like the latest turn of events will determine a different ball game yet again. However, I don’t believe in the current common statement that forecasting is inexplicable in such a fluctuating situation. On the contrary, I myself envisioned a new point of view on the future of presales while in quarantine. It’s about a so-called ‘rake model’ and guess what: It fits perfectly into the new normal of remote working we’re finding ourselves in.
First things first, let’s review the old normal for a second. And by that I don’t mean the ‘pre COVID-19 situation’, but rather the way presales worked ten or even twenty years ago. As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, the role of presales has been shifting in the buyer’s cycle of seven stages. Traditionally, the presales consultant stepped in in the fourth stage, where the evaluation takes place. Which was fine in a time when software was a straightforward solution for one certain task or problem and the prospect was still new to the game. Back then, the account manager did the groundwork and when the buyer was ready to compare solutions, presales presented a smashing demo to prove the solution’s worth. It was all about filling in the practical details, so to say.
Software as added value for shaping a company’s vision
Nowadays, software is increasingly used to automate a whole range of business processes that used to require a lot of manual work and time. This next generation works smarter and more intuitive, so employees can focus on what really matters in their job, instead of composing endless Excel lists. And the software keeps evolving with the speed of light. No wonder it is hard for presales to keep up. Especially since their task is not just knowing every technical detail of a system and elaborate on its functionalities. It’s painting an overall picture of the software’s abilities as well as your customer’s vision on the company future and to what extend your software has the best added value for shaping that vision. And let’s be honest here: that’s just a bit bonkers, right? It’s quite impossible to store all that information into one human head.
It’s not a surprise there are new developments in our presales industry. We’ve been seeing a subdivision. Fewer and fewer organisations feel the need for a presales consultant that knows all the technical functionalities and possibilities of the software. And I agree. This comb model, where presales represents the shaft (the possibilities) and the row of teeth it holds (the functionalities), makes no sense. Especially when you take into consideration that the role of the customer has also changed in the last couple of years, as I wrote in my blog ‘Presales 3.0’. Because companies are keeping up with the times and have been learning a thing or two (or even three) about software. They know what they need and they’re well informed about what the market has to offer and what technical specifications match with their objectives. By the time you’ve reached the evaluation stage of the buyer’s cycle, decisions have already been made and all your presales efforts will have missed the mark.
So, the crucial playing field has moved over to the earlier stages of the cycle: the need and feasibility stage, where there is no structured buying process yet and individuals within the company are browsing for potential software solutions. Let’s assume your marketing department has done its job and made sure your solution is one of the options the prospect is curious about. In that case, the first and foremost requirement is to present yourself not only as a presales consultant, but even more as a trusted advisor or thought leader: someone who knows exactly how the specific features of your software will help the prospect to reach his goals.
A T-model of industry principals and solution presales
To make sure you’re better informed than your customer, without having to know all the ins and outs of the technology, I see bigger software companies applying the T- model these days. This model contains two different types of presales. Industry principals and/or customer advisors make up the first group. These presales know the bigger picture and stand in close contact with the customer. They will tend to be more like generalists or account managers and possibly never give demos again. That’s where the second group, the specialists or let’s call them subject matter experts, comes in. These presales consultants focus on specific functionalities so they can complement the knowledge gap that exists with the first group.
The T-model can be risky however. It holds the unwanted possibility of leaving the customer advisor high and dry when not being able to see underlying connections between the different fields of the two groups. That’s why I plead for the ‘rake model’, as I call it, like the garden tool with the toothed bar on top. This model holds the same types of presales as in the T-model, but the deviating composition enables more cohesion to make sure both groups can uphold a contentual conversation with the customer. Because that’s what presales is all about these days and I think the new playing field COVID-19 imposes on us actually provides convenient reinforcement in that sense.
So how does this model work to presales advantage, especially in the new normal?
Well, in the top we find the industry principals/customer advisors who invest in the relationships with their customers. They know their business relations aren’t looking for a system of records anymore, but for a software partner that sees the bigger picture and understands what they need in order to beat the competition or to innovate as fast as possible. They know how to explore the best suitable IT-roadmap for the customer because they are well informed about the latest trends in their partner’s industry and the software industry.
Interpret and demonstrate the software in the language of the customer
The ones in the toothed top also know they need a partner from their ‘own tribe’ as well: the subject matter experts. These experts on product knowledge form the handle of the rake that firmly holds the toothed bar. This means they’re also more than aware about what’s going on at the top of the rake, where the generalists operate, because they will need to interpret and demonstrate the software in the language of the customer. Therefore, they have to be informed about marketing, service, talent management and other thematic knowledge as well.
It’s my expectation that the presales teams grow out the sales teams on term. Even more so considering the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because one outcome of this unprecedented situation is already undeniable: the way we communicate has taken a new turn. Remote working has risen massively and, even more important, without any significant consequences. So, it looks like it’s here to stay, which means we have to get used to the new way of connecting. Not being able to see each other face-to-face means finding a different approach to get to the point of our (digital) interaction. It means knowing what the other person needs and getting that across in the catchiest way.
This has a huge influence on the sales, and particularly presales, of software suppliers. We’ve already established that presales have to jump into the earlier stages of the buyer’s cycle and remote working amplifies that. With people working more individually from home, they tend to have less deliberation and make their own calls, so to say. So why not request a software demo to get some more information on the possibilities? Maybe even two or three while they’re at it. Easy-peasy right? Indeed, for the customer. Not so for presales, because you don’t want to be giving demo’s haphazardly to anyone who feels like it. And no, sending out standard recordings is not the solution, if you ask me.
More necessary than ever to visualize your customer’s vision
People are people and they will always prefer personal contact. So I believe in the power of presentations that focus on human interaction. That smashing demo is becoming less important, but it’s more necessary than ever to visualize your customer’s vision on upgrading via software. For that purpose, a short (online) live demo will do to serve as an appetizer, giving just a taste of the main course. Nail it and the viewers will be hungry enough to ask questions themselves, which keeps their attention span high.
And because you can invite several people (though not too many at once, to make sure it stays personal) to view your demo at the same time, they can bounce off of each other. Play your cards right and I’m convinced this type of short, remote teaser demos are just as captivating as the ones we were used to in the old normal. Also, these teaser demos can easily be given by junior presales, the ones on the lower side of the handle of the rake so to say. It’s a great way to learn and gain experience and it gives the industry principals and solution presales more time to focus on their expertise. If you want to read more on this topic, please read Peter Cohan’s recent post on Ignition Demos.
So, a new normal and a new playing field for presales it is (yet again). So, get your rakes out and start ploughing this field. Before you know it, you’ll be picking the fruits.
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