A few months back, I started documenting interactions a Product Management personnel engages with various organization internal teams. The first one on the list was on the engagement of PMs with the Sales Team. The article is available at The Product Management Interface — Sales. It is the second article in the series focusing on the interaction with the pre-sales team. Pre-sales interactions with PMs are the most engaging and detailed and sometimes can get to high-pitched discussions. There are obvious reasons for these as well. Many PMs in their previous life have executed the role of a pre-sales in some form before moving into a PM role. PMs also choose pre-sales careers when the PM roles are not available during difficult times. There is almost a symbiotic relationship between PMs and pre-sales in an organization. A harmonious relationship with the pre-sales team is valuable. With the right level of engagement with the pre-sales team, a PM can get market insight without reaching many direct customers. Hence, it is crucial to develop this interface significantly in an organization.
Who is a Pre-Sales Person?
I will like to specify a generalized definition of the pre-sales team here. Pre-sales team comprises all the functional or technical people who engage with a customer before the customer has paid for the product or service. Unlike the sales team that depends on interpersonal customer engagements, pre-sales teams advertise the product or service based on the features, functions and capabilities. They showcase the effectiveness in delivering customer value. In organizations, the following profiles are persons falling in the pre-sales profile:
- Solution / Sales Engineer
- Professional Services
- Functional Consultant
- Sales Consultant
- Product Trainer
I will consider product trainers in this category and not in the post-sales category as they are the first person giving an experience of the product or solution. They challenge the understanding of the customer and mould them to think in the new paradigm. As you can see, other than product engineering and support/escalation engineering, everyone else falls in the pre-sales-like characteristics in their customer engagement.
Sales and Pre-sales do not have similar incentives.
For sales teams, incentives are on transaction and transaction volumes; pre-sales teams engaging directly with a sale may get similar incentives. It may not be the case. For example, some organizations have lower incentives percentages on pre-sales and consultant roles as they are part of general marketing activities and not always on a specific deal chasing. Thus their commitment to a sale may be limited. In a large organization, the incentive structure may vary from region to region. For a global product manager, this can be a concern as unless there are pre-sales interactions with the customer, the customer’s needs are not understood. Interacting with each customer is impractical for a PM. While a PM may not have a say in the incentive structure, he should ensure the pre-sales team is engaged.
Ensure there are Product Experts.
It is a difficult challenge for a PM in a geographically distributed product environment of a large organization. The least complex product and simple to explain gets the maximum pre-sales to focus. Rightly so as well. If something is easy to showcase and explain to a customer, it will sell in large numbers. Particularly in a large organization, it is an internal competition to perform better than the products of the other BUs. A PM should create a team of experts in the pre-sales organization and provide them with the tools to showcase. Ideally, anything in the corporate environment on the mobile platform is the easiest to showcase. The pre-sales teams will have specific geographic needs and commitments as experts are only limited. That can be a challenge for a PM. The other challenge that arises is incentive sharing. In sales teams, whenever one team extends help to the other, the incentives are shared equitably based on the level of engagement. A weaker team may not contact the global experts as the incentive sharing may reduce their pie of the deal. This a non-productive challenge for a PM who has no control over the situation.
Tools for Showcasing the Product
The artefacts needed for sales engineering are a multitude. And I will not like to discuss a complete list of documents here. But, I will like to describe a general guideline of what to expect in such artefacts and documentation. Some organizations need a marketing team to provide some portions of such content. Generally, product demos are there for a release and are available with relevant data and a demo script for a pre-sales person to deliver in front of a customer. However, other artefacts include product documentation, training, RFP responses, competitive battle cards etc. While some of the requirements are customer-specific, a large volume of artefacts are product related. Ideally, a wiki or knowledge portal with collaborative capabilities provides the best options for the central database for the organization to use. Expecting PM to respond to every little customer query is not a practical solution and creates unnecessary organizational delays and dissonance. While marketing plays a substantial role in developing content, some marketing organizations functionally focus on field marketing and leave product marketing activities to the PMs. Understand the organization’s functional design to address these needs. As a general guideline, I expect PM organizations to provide the following general guideline artefacts that generally do not change significantly over time and can be updated intermittently.
- Product Scope and Vision
- Market Segment, Targeting and Positioning
- Pricing Guidelines — Giving enough leeway for sales or senior management to decide on discounts
- Functional Training of Product Concepts — Not detailed steps
- News of knowledge of the latest happenings that may affect competitive positioning
Essentially, PMs should help pre-sales teams to develop a solid foundation to engage with the customer better. During significant releases of the products, trainers or engineering should provide extensive product training.
Focus on Collaboration
When you have a group of experts and have established a basic level of documentation, the next logical step is to have the interaction flow effectively across the organization. Wikis, even simple mailing lists, are the way to go. Sharing existing content and slide deck in one place goes a long way. Have an open culture to edit and exchange content across the team. Use PM to ratify answers to specific queries and not expect him to answer every question on the RFP or provide slides for every customer engagement. PMs also depend on pre-sales inputs to enhance their knowledge and understanding of the customers. Hence, as much as PMs need to provide answers, it is equally important to gather market intelligence. A product-level discussion forum helps to understand the product focus. Secondly, there is a need to provide a pre-release scope of a product before the implementation starts to take valid inputs in the design phase. It ensures before the actual customer engagement happens, you have at least a set of people that evaluated the product, reviewed the mock-ups and validated them.
Pre-Sales is not the customer.
A PM must understand that the pre-sales team is not the customer. While engaging, one needs to think if the feature request benefits a customer or a sales engagement while demonstrating the product. For example, entering forms data may be easier to show and suggested by the pre-sales team. Yet the customer may use a barcode scanner to register assets into the data management system. Spending development time on the best possible interface for form filling and not enhancing the barcode scanner user interface can be fatal for production customers. Scale is another area where pre-sales may not be able to provide a lot of inputs, but a deployment engineer can provide lots of insights. Many products introduce build-to-build updates or upgrades from beta builds etc. This help pre-sales teams to be operational as soon as the product is released. But this also may increase the test matrix. Focusing on upgrades across released versions may help enhance customer experience. Given priorities, the PM should consider where the gains are maximum vis-a-vis the time spent.
Engagement with pre-sales and the PM team is an ongoing process. Mutual trust, collaboration and cooperation go a long way in establishing products in the market. However, some challenges need addressing. Again, pre-sales becomes the most desired team who can vouch for product effectiveness and quality that sales and senior management trust. Hence, an engaged pre-sales team ensures the success of a product.