By Natasja Bax
The first thing you do when you’re in the mood to go see a movie, is watch trailers and read online reviews. You certainly don’t go thumbing through entire scripts to pick one. A teaser of the story will do. Same goes for companies that want to acquire a new software solution. The first thing they do, is browse around instead of deep diving into every possible system. Whether you’re in the business of moviemaking, or – in my case – dealing with presales in the IT and software industry: each decision moment in your customer’s buying process requires a different approach. However, the traditional role of presales consultants in sales processes is rapidly changing. With these take aways you’ll find out where and when you can really add value as a presales consultant and stay on top of your game.
Team up in the early buying stages and create real advantage
What if I told you, you could create real advantage if you – as a presales consultant – team up with your account manager in the early stages of a sales process? If the trailer of a movie triggers you, you know you will probably like the film. It resonates with you. The buying process of a customer in IT isn’t that much different.
So, let’s put the ‘pre’ back into presales and discover the added value of short demos and other teaser-like assets. As I said in my introduction: the role of presales persons is changing. Where they used to be occupied with delivering a technical demo in a later stage of the sales process, they can now – together with the account manager – take the reins. With technological innovations developing at warp speed, customers are more and more focused on developing a futureproof vision in the early stages of their buyer’s journey. It’s up to presales consultants to lend out a helping hand and generate that vision with them.
Understanding buying and sales processes
First things first: to understand how presales can make a difference in the sales process, we need to figure out exactly where in the process you – as a presales consultant – are most needed. And to do that, we need to pick apart every stage of the buying process of customers on the one hand, and mirror it with the accompanying sales process on the other.
The seven stages of buying software
A buyer’s cycle consists of seven stages. At first, an individual in an organization feels the need for improvement. We call this the need phase. A single employee or a small group of people is thinking about a digital solution to improve business processes, but doesn’t yet know what or how. In some cases, potential customers don’t want to elaborate on their needs in this early phase.
They’re often not ready for a whirlwind of questions. You can, however, do a quick assessment on where the customer stands. Are they ready to share? Who is the decision maker in his organization and how are software purchases made? It’s an ideal moment to figure out which path you’re embarking on and what you’ll need to do in the next stages.
After some orientation, the prospect slips into the feasibility stage. They’re looking for additional information to convince their manager or organization to fire up a project. Time for sales to provide the potential customer with everything they need: functionalities, pricing, timelines. Better yet: take the lead, carefully (re)define their needs so you can perfectly cater to them, and shape the moments for upselling or cross-selling opportunities yourself.
In the third phase, the project gets the green light from higher management. It’s a rather internally focused stage, where the customer is busy starting up a project. They’re preoccupied with determining requirements based on the insights you’ve provided.
Traditionally, the presales consultant steps in in the fourth stage, where the evaluation takes place. The requirements are set, and the prospect is looking for all the information he can get to decide which solution suits his needs best. This takes a lot of effort. You’ll need to provide technical proof demos, hand out presentations, make reference calls, and deliver reference stories. In other words: deliver proof that your solution is what your customer needs.
Decision time. What if your solution is the top choice? You’ll be getting a lot of additional questions. You’ll need to come up with extra proof and references and you’ll enter the final stages: approval (in case of sales: negotiation) and finally, implementation.
A clear shift in the need for presales
In my introduction, I wrote that nowadays you’ll need to step in in the early stages. However, I also talk about the role of the presales consultant in the fourth stage. Both statements are true. Generally, the presales consultant gives out a technical proof demo in the evaluation phase. The account manager does the groundwork and when the buyer is ready to compare solutions, presales steps in to present a smashing demo to prove the solution’s worth. Nevertheless, as I explained, with rapid developments in technology, customers are more and more in need of a vision or future-proof strategy, as they are not always aware of the possibilities the latest developments harbor. I notice a shift towards the importance of presales in both the need and feasibility phases to help customers shape that vision.
Vision generation: from a broad perspective to a tailored technical proof demo
As a presales consultant, you can provide prospects with vision generation demos at the beginning of their buyer’s journey. These are the equivalent of movie trailers: they’ll plant the seed and leave your prospects wanting more. This type of demo does exactly what it promises: generate a vision for a company on how it can achieve its goals using your software.
Also, the marketing department plays a big role in this stage. In order for presales consultants to shape a company-specific vision, marketeers can help direct that general vision in the earliest stages. Customer success stories, teaser videos about the possibilities of a solution, thought-leading blogs: they all pave the way for your solution to come out on top in the decision stage.
A general deep dive demo doesn’t make sense in the early stages. And if you’re only brought in by the account manager in the fourth stage – after the customer has defined his vision – it won’t work either. What good is a deep dive demo about every functionality of your solution, when your customer has a specific vision of where he wants the company to go? By hopping on in the early stages and generate a vision together with your customer, you can set the rules of the game and develop a strategic vision that fully fits your software.
Set the rules: get on board in the need phase
The most important lesson? You don’t have to choose. Getting on board in the fourth stage with a technical proof demo is perfectly fine. Just make sure your team has gathered all the discovery information you need and go in prepared. However, I do see our profession is evolving. Presales consultants are transforming: from teachers that are preoccupied with functionalities to thought leaders that are valuable partners for business and IT. By setting the rules in the need and feasibility phases, you’re not only helping your customer generate a future-proof vision on their digital landscape, you can also help shape it to your benefit.
Curious how you can shape your customer’s vision in the early stages? I am happy to discuss how you can add value to your customer’s buying process. Get in touch.