on Pre Sales, Sales support at Software Service Firms
"Pre Sales in Google and my writeup on Pre Sales [Pre-sales
support is a necessary evil] appears on top. Although it
has been a few years since I wrote the article, folks who read
it, continue to write to me either asking to expand on the topic
or to clarify a query. All their queries on the Pre-Sales, sales
support, life cycle and careers motivated me to reflect on the
topic further. In my article, I addressed aspects of how techies
in software service firms are increasingly being asked to get
involved in Pre-Sales activities, be it responding to client
requests RFPs, calls with clients, hosting client visits or
visits to client teams.
this writeup I will expand on the following topics including
aspects specific to Pre Sales support at Software Services Firms
(Why, What, and How) and Career in Pre Sales.
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
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.
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
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
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.
is 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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
does Pre-sales work?
Clients or companies that need software services and project implementations
generally call for proposals from a pool of preferred vendors. 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. RFP responses
would generally involve two components:
technical solution: A typical response to an RFP or proposal
will include a substantial technical component. People responding
to RFPs at service firms generally follow a well-defined operating
process involving plugging the response documents with common templates
about the company and its capabilities. The customization process
kicks in when it comes to project and client specific responses;
and here is where someone with a technical background is really
valuable. Technical subject matter experts are needed to analyze
the client's problem, think through a framework to create a solution
based upon their knowledge and experience. Such skills can be especially
useful while preparing a proof of concept or technical demo. The
focus areas include:
to the client that you Get their problem and showcase
how you will approach the solution. During Pre-sales phase,
technical solutions could include a mockup of the end-state
technical view, reference architecture (a.ka. Marchitecture),
approach or framework to solve the client's specific problem.
organizational capabilities. Organizations typically demonstrate
their capabilities by referencing past successes (Case studies,
whitepapers etc), and may also develop proof-of-concept (POC),
demonstrations or mockups.
and administrative aspects: Commercial and administrative aspects
include a whole gamut of activities involved in responding to clients
with specific reference to the processes involved in executing the
engagement / project. Cost is definitely a key criteria organizations
use while evaluating a proposal though depending on the nature of
problem being sourced, the credentials of the vendor and the solution
may take a higher priority. The administrative aspects include a
high-level estimate of the effort involved in terms of duration
(time), effort (people/resources) and additional resources including
infrastructure etc required to successfully provide the required
solution. Estimating the level-of-work involved may include formal
estimation techniques based on expertise from past projects or could
be a very heuristic process, especially for newer technologies without
adequate benchmarks. The focus areas may include:
budget and financials: What is the total cost to the client,
how often will they be invoiced and the mode of payment etc?
This may include defining the billing model: Time and Material
(T&M), Fixed Price (FP) or other blended models.
plan, resource management: Responses to proposals typically
include staffing plans (how many people, skills they bring to
the table, roles etc) and may also include other resources needed
including specific systems, hardware, software etc.
testimonials and references from past clients. There are instances
where clients may ask for specific testimonials from existing/past
clients of service firms. Staff engaged in pre-sales activities
should be able to arrange for such references.
Asked Questions on Pre Sales, Careers
I have been asked to support pre-sales activities in my firm. Is this
a good move for me?
The answer would be highly subjective and depend on various factors.
Among the key factors to be reflecting include:
career aspirations: Do you wish to learn more about the business
of software services? Do you see yourself managing your business?
If the answer is Yes, a stint in pre-sales support, supporting sales
activities and getting an understanding of how/what 'sells' in the
marketplace will be an invaluable learning experience
Phase/Stage of your career: A stint in Pre-sales roles may be
especially valuable for those who have spent at least a few years
doing hands-on work Let's assume you wish to remain a Techie, say
wish to move towards being an Architect or Consultant. Even in such
a case, exposure to your business (the business of software services)
is a skill that is certainly going to help.
Plan and reflect on your specific takeaway from a stint in Pre Sales.
You should essentially be asking: what is my takeaway from my stint
Pre Sales activities
I am a new management graduate and don't have any background in software
development. Can I try my hand at Pre-Sales jobs?
This is a question I get asked very often. Fact is that organizations
don't always advertise presales jobs directly since 'pre sales support'
may be associated with other job functions too (however, some do advertise,
as the example here shows). As this advertisement illustrates, the
firm is looking for those with an engineering degree to support pre
In other instances, those from a management background, say with
an MBA or even Tech-Writers may be able to find a niche in pre-sales
role in software service firms without being expected to get too technical.
Bottomline: You should keep in mind that organizations may or may
not always advertise 'pre sales' as a job title, but while reading
job adverts you may get a feel for the fact that the role predominantly
involves pre-sales activities. Position yourself accordingly.
of a Pre-Sales Job posted in an Advertisement
Skills : BANKING & FINANCE
all pre-sales activities, building complete responses to customer
RFIs and RFPs with full ownership
of solutions to customers
prospect customer visits
with onsite Business Development Managers to identify and
convert prospects into customers
in workshops/seminars/ sales and marketing events for all
pre-sales efforts onsite as and when required
of 5+ years in IT including Project Management/ delivery.
Previous experience in pre-sales will be big plus
strength in one or two technology areas
to comprehend customer requirements highlighting a genuine
of effort estimation and project costing
to create and sell the best solution
customer handling skills preferably in delivery roles
to motivate multiple teams towards creating a unique solution
exposure to Banking, Finance and Insurance preferred
presentation and interpersonal skills. Excellent knowledge
on tools like MS Office and MS Project
Experience: 6-10 Yrs
Qualification: Any Engineer
Progression question: What does a pre-sales job lead to?
is obvious: you are not really limited by opportunities where you
wish to take a stint in pre-sales to. Some of the typical opportunities
consulting skills: For hands-on techies, a stint in supporting
pre-sales may be a good way to enhance one's consulting skills.
Architects, especially those at the more senior levels are generally
expected to bring in focus that blends technical capabilities with
business goals. These skills can be acquired by making client presentations,
observing varied client requirements etc, skills that can be acquired
empirically while participating in pre-sales activities
in your organization: pre-sales roles typically cut across organizational
silos, especially while responding to client requests for larger
up sales hierarchy: By taking on further sales responsibilities
in account management, many people in pre-sales support roles move
on to Account/Engagement management, and other business development
roles after gaining insight into the sales cycle and other aspects
of the clients
up the management ladder: For those already in sales roles or
managing accounts and client engagements, focused pre-sales activities
are essential for business growth, which may be a stepping stone
towards more management responsibility
Sales as a Job in itself: Pre-sales roles may also provide sufficient
job satisfaction to some. Sometimes, professionals involved in pre-sales
activities ask themselves: Why cannot presales and post sales activities
be a profession in itself since it would provide a very good platform
to know an entire business itself?
company does not have a lot of processes around pre-sales. What are
the tools available to me?
large software service firms invest in proprietary tools, toolkits,
frameworks and also develop templates for documentation, presentation
etc along with other marketing collaterals.
is where smaller firms may lack the edge. Developing strong processes,
frameworks, tools and templates to support pre-sales requires dedicated
effort and investment which smaller firms may be either unable to
afford or may short-circuit.
there is no cookie cutter approach to using frameworks or templates.
While one can find canned templates and collaterals on the internet
by googling, customizing them requires dedicated effort
to the question from employees from smaller service firms is simple:
if you are involved in pre sales activities, you will have to get
your management to buy into the idea of investing in pre-sales. Sometimes,
you may be able to demonstrate reuse by taking small steps like dedicating
some of your downtime to developing templates that you continually
need. Demonstrating the use of these to management may be a good first
step to get a buy-in.
articles of interest:
Babu K: All Rights Reserved 2008
is a technology executive with extensive experience in offshoring.
Mohan is the author of a book on globalization titled "Offshoring
IT Services: A Framework for Managing Outsourced Projects"
(McGrawHill, India, 2006). He regularly
blogs his views on offshoring.
The opinions mentioned in this article are that of the author
and do not reflect the policies or thoughts of Infosys (his
employer), or any other organization.
*This is a working draft of research on the topic Mohan is undertaking.[March
2008] He would be pleased to receive E-mail correspondence regarding
this paper or related topics. Please forward your feedback to
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