Friday, April 17, 2009

Viewpoints on Pre Sales, Sales support at Software Service Firms

Why Pre Sales?

Information Technology (IT) is a backbone for successful functioning of most modern enterprise. Add to this the fact that most western enterprise and businesses continually have more IT projects and initiatives than their firms' employees can take on. They either hire contractors or source such projects to vendors. The process of sourcing work to vendors (or even hiring contractors from contracting firms) involves a complex set of activities and negotiations on several fronts including pricing, definition of scope of work and drawing formal contracts. For service firms, responding to such requests from clients and formulating responses also involves complex activities, for which they dedicate teams of specialists.

Most technologists, programmers, analysts and engineers who work for consulting or software services companies end up working for clients. Consulting firms utilize people on bench (between client engagements) and also dedicate some employees to work on pre-sales support activities. Many technocrats, however, dislike performing such pre-sales activities for a few reasons:

  • Perception of repetitive/mundane work: Some techies think sales support or pre-sales activities are repetitive work and feel that responses to RFPs involve "cut and paste" from seed documents and various sources. Obviously, this is not true since responses to clients are meant to be specific to their problem/needs. Of course, to avoid reinventing the wheel, pre-sales teams may resort to utilizing templates and pre-existing material.
  • Lack of instant gratification: Pre-sales cycles are generally long, and it takes weeks (or months) before the results of a proposal can be known. This is the reason pre-sales people work on multiple proposals at any given time. Techies, on the other hand, come from a background where they can "see" the results of their code or work almost instantly. For instance, writing a Java program, compiling it and running it may give an instant gratification to some.
  • Fear of getting into a 'management' career track: Some technocrats like to remain technically focused and fear that by being involved in pre-sales, they might be expected to move towards the management track.

Obviously, the basis of such fear is unfounded. Fact of the matter is that pre-sales support is necessary for service firms to survive and thrive, and they will rope in talented individuals in the organizations to participate. Larger companies, especially the 'big five,' and large offshoring software service companies -- including Infosys, TCS, Wipro, Satyam -- weave incentive plans, bonuses and career growth around such "corporate activities," typically expecting consultants to log 15 to 20 percent extra time on such initiatives. Using intranets, VPNs, remote logins, and sophisticated workflow tools, companies are able to track the activities of consultants to reward and motivate them. Many organizations have built large knowledge management systems and repository of frequently asked questions, how-to's, past projects, case studies, standardized response templates, etc that enable their pre-sales staff. Such systems also thwart an element of repetitiveness from creeping into pre-sales activities. The 'fear' of getting into a 'management' career track may just be unfounded. Seasoned technologists recognize the insights and understanding of the business and processes that a stint in pre-sales support can bring to their work.

What is Pre Sales?

Pre Sales includes the entire gamut of activities involved in preparing to engage with prospects, clients and others and includes specific responses to client requests. Clients or companies that need software services and project implementations generally call for proposals or expect responses from their vendors and service providers. Although it is hard to generalize on the nature of or the contents of such proposals, most documents follow a structured framework: detailing the project, asking vendors for suggestions or solutions or proposals along with cost estimates regarding the work to be done. Typical Pre-sales support activities include:

  • Responding to client requests: Responses to clients could include informal responses, pointers to publications, colleterals or other references or take more specific forms like responses to proposals including: Request for Proposal (RFPs), Request for Information (RFI) and specific Statement of Work (SoW) or Work Orders
  • Supporting client visits: In some cases, clients or prospective clients may make a trip to offshore vendor's offices for a personal visit prior to engaging with them. This could include offshore client visits targeted at offshoring
  • Visiting clients and/or making presentations: Engaging clients for larger, complex deals involves a number of activities, including making presentations, meeting with clients to discuss specific aspects of their (client's) initiatives, to get a better understanding of the context in order to make specific recommendations in proposals. This may also include preparing proof-of-concept demonstrations and solution mockups.
  • Competitor Analysis and market scanning: This is a crucial aspect of pre-sales since many clients evaluate responses from multiple vendors, and responses should address such competitive scan. The analysis could include using online tools, subscribing and analyzing research reports, analyst studies, market research data etc.
  • Sales Support: Such activities may include supporting sales and account teams in responding to general client queries about solutions and capabilities. This could include partnering with onsite/client facing Sales or Business Development Managers to identify and convert prospects into customers.
  • Interfacing with other internal groups (within the organization) while responding to client requests. This is especially true of larger software service firms where Pre-sales people from one group/division may have to rope in Subject Matter Experts from other groups while responding to a client request or proposal
  • Marketing support: Large service firms work hard at differentiating themselves from others by formulating marketing messages and evolving Go-to-market solutions or customized offerings. This may also take a form of alliances with other software product development firms or niche vendors. Pre-sales activities may include leveraging such alliances to showcase extended capabilities to clients. 
I will continue with some more information on Pre Sales & concepts in the next blog in a few days.

1 comment:

Prash said...

Hello Amol,

Its really great to see your blog on Presales and Sales Support at Software Service firms.
Very interesting thought and views.

Keep up the good work.