Succeeding at Pre-Sales and Solutions Engineering [The Prerequisites]
Life long student of technology.
Heads pre-sales & Product Management at an IOT Startup for a living
A lot of the people I know, have been asking me questions regarding pre-sales / Solution engineering and how to succeed in it
How do I do well in pre-sales?
What skills do I need to to really do well in pre-sales?
As a pre-sales person you are expected to play a dual role where you are expected to have conversations with both business as well as the technical teams across at all levels. Hence the skills that you require here are way different. This kinda prompted me to make a detailed post on what it takes to do really well in pre-sales
Before I get started, let me put a disclaimer, this post is based on my own personal experience of working software services for the past 10+ years in pre-sales.
So here we go!
I always felt some of the key aspects that I have seen that standout in folks who do well in pre-sales / Solutions Engineering:
- Great Attitude
- Amazing communication skills (listening , articulation)
- Problem solving skills
- Desire to learn new things
Attitude is paramount as, it is what defines if you will do well in your life let alone in your career as a pre-sales person.
Specifically with regards to pre-sales when I say attitude, I mean the fact that you should be ready to acknowledge that what got you here will never get you there. So whatever successful solution(s) you had provided previously, will not work for all clients. As no matter how similar the problem may look, the operating parameters will wary, which means your solution is bound to change. So you will have to start from ground zero again. This brings me to the second skill communication
Communication is very critical; when you are trying to start ground up, any information you get from the client/customer/stakeholder is vital to build the solution. This requires 2 vital aspects of communication
- Listening to the customer - Allow your customer to speak. It will be good if you want to prompt him sometimes with some specific queries or data points. But always listen to the customer. Try understanding what they need, than what they want or think they need.
- Asking the right questions - This will essentially help you to gather a lot of information in a short period of time. Before you go and meet your customer to listen to them, prepare really well. Do your research on the customer, the industry etc. This will help you create a checklist / questionnaire on the relevant things you need to ask your customer
Once done, create a clear list of information that you have gathered from the customer. It is definitely a good practice to get this data vetted with client or someone who is an SME in the same industry, as this information / data will be the basis of your solution
Problem solving skills - Using the data / information gathered try formulating what exactly is the problem that you are trying to solve. This is very critical, as without clearly understanding the problem, your solution will fall flat
If I had an hour to solve a
I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the
and five minutes thinking about solutions
While formulating the problem statement try breaking down the information into logical buckets. I use principles / frameworks like the "first principle" method which helps me to understand the basic building blocks of the information and from their start articulating the problem.
If it is possible, when you have crafted the problem statement, you can talk to your client to revalidate the problem statement that you have crafted. Else its again a good practice to talk to an SME / Industry expert to get the problem statement validated.
Once the problem statement is well crafted, solution creation is going to be relatively easy. Do keep in mind the following aspects when you are building the solution:
- Keep the solution simple
- Feedback loop / Metrics driven
I will not dwell deep around the various methods / frameworks for problem solving as it is a subject on its own. Will try to blog on that sometime down the line.
Articulation - Once the solution is crystallised, the key thing is articulating it. Articulation is again part of the communication skills, this time it is how you communicate with your client. One thing I have learnt in my interactions with the customer is that unless you speak in their language, you will never be able to get through them. For that you really need to build it into a story which conveys the the problem, the possible solution and how the solution is gonna help the client in the short, medium and long term, while keeping it simple. Sometimes you don't even get a lot of time to prepare / present, so you need to prep yourself accordingly. Every story that you convey to the client should have the following things
- What ( business need / challenge / opportunity)
- Why (rationale)How (Methodology / Risks / Assumptions / Dependencies)
- Benefits (Articulated through numbers)
To do the above you need additional skills that can really help you do well:
Collaboration with various teams, across your own organisation who will help you to build a holistic solution. Hearing their perspective, as most of the time the solutions we design, will have far wider impact than it is anticipated. So all key stakeholders need to be spoken to or to be involved while designing the solution to get their perspective. In my experience, I have seen, when these stakeholders are convinced, they become the torchbearers of the solution
Constant Learning - We live in an era, where technology is constantly and rapidly evolving. Most of the time as pre-sales engineers, we are always trying to solve some of the problems around the newly evolving technologies or business cases. Hence it becomes really really important for us pre-sales engineers to keep ourselves updated in the newer technologies, business use cases. This can be achieved through a lot of reading of technology news, blogs and online courses
These were some of the skills that I always believed are the required for someone to succeed in pre-sales. If you think I have missed something, do let me know.
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