I just passed the 10 year mark working in PreSales as a Solutions Engineer / Consultant / Architect in my overall IT career spanning 17 years. I felt compelled to share my experiences and perspectives with the broader community on solution selling, a topic which I am passionate and care deeply about.
In this 3 part series of blog articles, I wanted to share some of the best practices in solution selling as a Solutions Engineer having worked on 200+ deals across different industry verticals and market segments. This article is relevant for anyone in a sales organization however it's geared towards Solutions/Sales/PreSales Engineer persona in the enterprise software space.
As I was reflecting on some of my biggest wins and fatal failures in my deals, I observed these common elements that had worked for me which propelled the deal leading to a sale for my organization. I have broken down the best practices of solution selling into 3 pillars as separate articles.
Process Discovery - The Foundation for Solution Selling (this article)
Process discovery in a deal cycle is akin to sharpening the axe. A good upfront discovery can give the seller an edge in the overall proposal in the later stages of the deal cycle. While there are a ton of articles on how a good process discovery session needs to be conducted, in this blog I'd like to illustrate a few examples.
Here's my 3 step prescription on what a good process discovery could look like:
1. Have the Buyer Articulate Business Objective / Vision
This is the question you need to ask the right person / stakeholder within the buyer organization. Often, this question is answered with confusing references to systems and applications rather than a clear objective tied towards a business outcome. Example of a not-so-good business objective: We want the customer to schedule an appointment via our mobile app and make an online payment for the loan.
Example of good business objective: We want to improve the customer experience when our customers transact with us, question sales people, try different products and then choose the one they like. We also need a consistent experience across the multiple customer facing channels. The former is a good business objective as it clearly articulates the goal / objective from a business standpoint and most importantly calls out the customer touch points. In the latter, the buyer is already biased with some form of technology solution and describes the use case rather than the business objective. Without clear business goals, sellers can get deceived to pitch for solution preferences which might not clearly align to the business goals and can hamper the sale during the later stages of the deal cycle. Also during executive presentations, the sellers would feel hard to articulate the value benefits of their solution to the actual business objective.
2. Current Processes and Pain Points
Another overlooked area during process discovery is that seller doesn't spend enough time on the current business process and the pain points caused by it. Often this is overlooked because buyers feel the sellers have to know it, or buyers are unwilling to spend time when seller has not earned the credibility upfront.
Examples of valid pain points:
Customers have to wait too long at the branch before they can talk to a sales person.
Customers do not know how long it might take for a sales person to show up
Customers do not have a real time visibility of their orders
Sales managers often have to spend too much time to generate a sales report
Department managers have to swivel chair between 3 different systems to collect data and comprehend it
This article does not intend to solve the credibility problem between buyer and seller. However a good capture of current process and pain points must comprise of people, processes and systems view. It's often a good practice for the seller to convert this to a process map diagram calling out the pain points and inefficiencies in the current process.
3. Desired End State
While it's often compelling for a seller to jump into the solution post the capture of pain points and current processes, it's often a good idea to pause and have the buyer articulate his vision for the desired end state or ideal state. This step can be skipped depending on the situation, however this can give the much needed flexibility during the later stages of the deal if the seller gets to know the buyer preferences of must-haves and nice-to-haves of the desired solution / ideal state.
The key to successful process discovery is to completely avoid discussing potential solutions and its benefits. While it may be tempting for the seller to jump in and highlight case studies and how their solutions have solved similar problems, it's often a good idea to wait to personalize and tailor the message in a separate conversation. A good process discovery can only pave way for a good Solution Envisioning. See here on Solution Envisioning best practices.
Prasanna is a solutions selling leader and architect with 17 years of experience. He helps enterprises in process automation, content collaboration, customer experience platforms and application integration. He is currently a Staff Solutions Engineer at Box.
Connect with Prasanna on LinkedIn.