Within the PreSales community, there is a single line that we’ve all heard more times than we’d like to remember, “I’ve got a hot deal with a new prospect, and I really need you to hop on for a demo as soon as possible. I think it could close this month.” As we fight off the urge to roll our eyes, we find ourselves at a critical decision-making point. Do we indulge the seller and take their word for it? Or do we push back, potentially slowing down a hot deal with real momentum? Often, it’s a mix of both – a compromise of our time to learn more.
Seldom are any two deal cycles the same. Any seller worth their weight will tell you that sales is as much a science as it is an art. Relationship building with prospects will never come from a rigid process, yet repeatability is required to ensure that teams are operating efficiently – the dichotomy of any sales methodology. As PreSales professionals, we find ourselves in a perpetual state of tension within this relationship. Nestled between Sales, Product, and Services, we are responsible for comprehending and articulating the intricacies of each deal cycle. Our ability to effectively prioritize is critical in ensuring the business is focusing on the “right” opportunities.
As we spread ourselves across a team of sellers, this responsibility begins to compound itself. A delicate balancing act that can quickly turn into an exercise of prioritization triage if we’re not careful. Which raises the question: What does it mean to be a “great” PreSales professional?
The Magic Formula
If you ask Chris White, a PreSales evangelist and author of “The 6 Habits of Highly Effective Sales Engineers”, he would tell you there are three key elements to a great PreSales professional: Partnerships, Discovery, and Outcome Based Presentations. Although proper discovery and effective presentations are hyper relevant in determining our success, the proverbial linchpin to each deal is the partnership we create with our sales team. Without this crucial foundation, deal cycles fall apart - quick.
As PreSales professionals, this likely doesn’t come as a shock to us though. We feel the intricacies of these relationships’ day in and day out. When it's good, our time is valued, and a mutual respect is omnipresent throughout the relationship - everything flows. Yet, when it’s bad, it’s really bad. We find ourselves jockeyed for time, constantly pressured into meetings or presentations too soon, with too little information. Forced into a precarious situation, where we might have to say no to someone, who has already promised our time. Respect and communication have seemingly gone out the window, in what seems to be a hopeless situation. Which begs the question: How do we manage interpersonal relationships across the sales organization?
Whether we like it or not, we own the relationship building part of our jobs. The sooner we realize this responsibility is ours, and ours alone, the sooner we can begin to shape the behavior of our sellers to fit our needs.
Yes, sales reps will be difficult and domineering.
Yes, there will be challenging conversations and discomfort.
Yes, there will be things outside of our control.
Yes, nothing is going to be perfect.
Learning to Negotiate
Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, CEO of The Black Swan Group, and co-author of the book “Never Split the Difference”, will tell you that everything in life is a negotiation. This is not to say that we are haggling through every interaction. Instead, it’s the notion that we have our own set of priorities and so does everyone else.
By taking ownership of the relationships, we have with our sellers, we open ourselves to the opportunity to negotiate the prioritization of our time. Do we want more discovery? More internal preparation? More inclusion in the scheduling of our time? More input on the strategy and direction of deals? All of these things are negotiable and can be weaved into the relationships we establish with our sellers.
In order to understand what it is that you want your new relationship to be centered around, start with a pre-mortem. I do this with each deal cycle as a way to outline what potential risks are looming, and what gaps could inevitably kill the deal. With your sellers, use it to outline the key points that create challenges in your day-to-day operations. Keep each point as prescriptive as possible and make sure they are actionable with simple, measurable outcomes. Once you have a list of ideas together, map out how you would like each item to fit within your ideal process flow for a deal cycle. Gut check each point and what value it brings to the process flow you’ve outlined, and why it ties directly to the success of each deal cycle. You’ll begin to realize how the list you’ve created ties into the bigger picture and one of the key priorities of your sellers - WINNING DEALS. As you work through this exercise, you will realize how to frame your “ask” when you go to your reps to negotiate the relationship you desire.
Now, this article won’t make you an expert in negotiation, for that I would urge you to read Chris Voss’s book (or listen to his Ted Talk and Master Class). What I walk through next is an extrapolation of three key elements that should be explored further:
1. Know What You’re Negotiating For
If you went through the trouble to outline your own needs, take a moment to think about things from a seller's perspective. What are their goals? What do they need from you? Do they want you to be successful in your role? Questions like these will help uncover what it is that you’re negotiating for. Chances are, the rep doesn’t want you to be miserable in your role, they want similar things to you (i.e. more closed-won opportunities), and smoother sales cycles. If you’re diligent in understanding what you need and what they want, you can begin effective negotiations.
2. Remain Curious
No matter how well thought out your perspective is, it’s still YOUR perspective. As you begin to have discussions with your team of sellers about how best to engage with you as a resource, it is imperative that you remain open and curious. Treat it like a discovery session. Ask open ended questions that force them to share how they see the relationship:
What do you like best about working with a Solutions Consultant?
What don’t you like about the presales process?
How would you like someone to partner with you on each deal?
Tell me how would you describe effective communication?
Through questions like these, you can begin to understand their point of view and use this to bind your needs to their ideas. No one likes being told what to do, but everyone likes coming to a conclusion on their own.
3. Label Their Desires and Mirror Them As Your Own
Once you’ve learned what your sellers want, label it. When you speak to them, note those things as reasons why you need the process to change. If they told you that they worry about their SC focusing too much on the tactical features of the product, and you want more time for strategy sessions, try saying something like this:
It seems like you’ve had some tough demonstrations in the past, demonstrations that were more a feature dump instead of an articulation of the value we bring. I’ve also been a part of those demonstrations and given a few myself. I’ve always walked away feeling like I wish I had been more prepared and wondering what more I could have done to make the presentation go better. Maybe we could try to schedule an additional 30 minutes right before each demo for us to sync, and make sure we are pitching how our product solves their strategic issues?
Context is key for these discussions. We can’t come out of the blue, peppering our reps with questions and implementing change immediately. This is a negotiation that takes some time. If you can, try scheduling 30 minutes with your sellers each week (or bi-weekly). Use the time to build rapport and leverage the gained trust to start this discovery process.
Although there is a lot more to effective negotiation, if you keep these three items in mind, you will be able to begin shaping your relationships in a way that benefits you and the entire organization.
Give Yourself Backup
Last, but certainly not least, make sure you start to measure what’s working. It doesn’t have to be driven by hard data and business intelligence reports (although the folks at Vivun are a great partner for enabling this), but it should be concrete enough to reference in the future. Think about specific deal cycles that worked. Meetings that stood out from the rest and can be used as aspirational examples for future deals. Dissect what worked about these moments and weave them back into the continuous negotiation you’re having with your sellers.
Setup a recurring team meeting with everyone you work with (mine is every 3 weeks) to go over these pivotal moments. Use it to cross-pollinate your ideas across each rep, as well as solicit feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Not only will it gut check what each of them is sharing about you, but it gives everyone a chance to come up with new ideas for how to go about business. It will create reciprocity and mutual respect throughout the team, pushing them to the realization that you’re the rising tide that’s working to raise all of the ships.
Whether we’re willing to openly admit it or not, we want our sales reps to all be the same. Although this is something of a pipedream, we can work towards it through the establishment of our own personal brand of success - one that’s backed by a team of individuals who have reaped the rewards of it. This is why it’s critical to keep a log of our success stories, because for many, seeing is believing.
What to Take Away
Our time is a precious resource and should be treated as such. If we want to be successful PreSales professionals, we have to learn to manage the relationships we have with our partners in sales. Everything else in a deal cycle hinges on this foundational competency, and it's our responsibility to ensure it takes the form that best suits the organization’s needs. Through the ideas outlined in this article, you will begin to establish a new methodology for how you engage with your team of sellers and redefine what a successful deal cycle looks like.
Ownership - There are no excuses when working with our sellers. The dynamic of the relationship is our responsibility and once this is accepted, we can begin to redefine what it looks like.
Negotiation - If we want change, we have to articulate why. Through understanding our own needs, the needs of the sellers, and the needs of the business, we can work to negotiate what “best practices” look like and establish the value of our time.
Backup - Making an argument is impossible, without any facts to support our claims. Start to define moments that exemplify what you see as success and create a cadence for the transference of that knowledge. In doing so, it will create rapport, reciprocity, and respect.
Bryan Karr is currently the lead Solutions Consultant for CHSI Connections, where he is responsible for the global technical sales practice and go-to market strategy. He has held various technical sales and engineering roles, spanning the technology and industrial automation industries. In addition to his professional experience, he holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering, as well as, an MBA with an emphasis on organizational effectiveness. He uses his breadth of experience to write for various publications, as well as, consult with various organizations who are looking for industry expertise. Connect with Bryan on LinkedIn.