This is a post that I have been meaning to do for a while now, infact since last year! It follows on from the topic I started in a previous blog post, ‘What’s in a Job Title‘ and also ‘What’s This Pre-Sales Thing All About?‘
So the question is who is better? To answer this, I will go over a number of categories that are used during a customer engagement to determine the winner.
I will be using the following two job titles, one each for pre and post sales.
Solutions Architect – Assist sales people across a broad range of products and are subject matter experts in a particular field. They help translate business needs into technical solutions. Commonly Solutions Architect guide the customer to use a particular piece of software or technology to meet the business requirement. Some Solutions Architects can Lead Architect a project if required.
Technical Architect – Are focused in a particular discipline and are often the subject matter experts in this area. These are the people who are engaged to create the ‘low level designs’ in there area of expertise, such as networking, storage, Exchange, Active Directory, System Center, Windows Desktop, vSphere, View etc.
Disclaimer: This is from my experience in which pre-sales and post-sales roles are clearly separated. Your own experience will naturally differ depending on the size of the environment you work in and your own skill set.
1. Initial Customer Engagement
This is when the sales person engages a consultant to understand the business requirements and then translate them into a technical proposal.
The consultant will most likely be pre-sales. They will qualify the opportunity to determine if this is something that the company they work for should spend their time on. Ultimately, even though the pre-sales person is seen as a ‘cost of sales’ they take on the responsibility of what opportunities to pursue.
Responsibility: Pre-Sales 10 Post-Sales 0
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 10 Post-Sales 0
2. Customer Meeting
The opportunity is qualified and a meeting is held which is attended by the pre-sales person. The purpose of this is to understand the business requirements of the technical solution in terms of Availability, Manageability, Performance, Recoverability and Security. Also they gather details on the existing environment along with any issues that the customer is experiencing.
At this stage, a number of factors come into play and I’m afraid these are all pre-sales.
- Understand whom you need to engage with at the customer as what IT want isn’t always what the business needs!
- Rapport building with the customer, I know it sounds corny, but they have to believe in your ability to deliver the goods/services you represent.
- Soft skills, are you able to listen and put across your point to C level and or technical people?
- Can you understand exactly what the business issue is and what the customer is asking you to solve?
Responsibility: Pre-Sales 10 Post-Sales 0
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 20 Post-Sales 0
3. Technical Proposal
The creation of a proposal to match the requirements gathered in the customer meeting. This document dictates the hardware, software and professional services effort that will be used to deliver the solution.
The pre-sales person is responsible for putting together the proposal ensuring that everything is interoperable and supported in the proposed configuration.
The proposal should be validated by multiple post-sales individuals to ratify the proposed solution and confirm the professional services effort (normally ends up in a tug of war with post-sales wanting more and the sales person wanting less. With pre-sales being the referee!).
The solution is then presented to the customer, usually by the pre-sales person.
Responsibility: Pre-Sales 8 Post-Sales 2
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 28 Post-Sales 2
4. Customer Workshop
Depending on the size of the project which has been won will determine the number of workshops that will be held with the customer. The initial workshop is usually to determine the ‘project definition’ and is attended by the Project Manager, Solution Architect, Technical Architects and customer.
The Solution Architect takes the lead and covers items such as whom the customer is, what they are trying to achieve, the overall vision for the solution detailing Availability, Manageability, Performance, Recoverability and Security requirements along with existing infrastructure. It’s important to note that the post-sales people who reviewed the proposal are not usually the same ones in the workshops.
The Technical Architects will then lead their own workshops based around their subject area such as network, storage, anti virus, backups etc.
Responsibility: Pre-Sales 5 Post-Sales 5
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 33 Post-Sales 7
5. Low Level Designs
Each Technical Architect will create a low level design for the area that they are responsible for. The document will include every aspect of the implementation such as firmware versions, diagrams and test plans. They will also confirm exact requirements for the bill of materials.
The Solutions Architect generally reviews these documents to ensure that they are in the same format, the customer is referred to in the same name, the overall requirements are met and that any mistakes are rectified before customer release.
Responsibility: Pre-Sales 2 Post-Sales 8
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 35 Post-Sales 15
This really is the realms of post-sales, who install and configure the solution and test it with the customer for sign off.
Not much more to say, apart from either it does what it is suppose to or it doesn’t!
Responsibility: Pre-Sales 0 Post-Sales 10
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 35 Post-Sales 25
7. Technical Ability
Expectations should be that post-sales technical skill set should be higher than pre-sales, although pre-sales will often have the same level certification with a vendor. Pre-sales often lack the implementation experience, meaning that even though they could perform the installation and configuration it would take them a couple of days longer compared to their post-sales comrades.
Ability: Pre-Sales 4 Post-Sales 6
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 39 Post-Sales 31
8. Hidden Ability
I wasn’t entirely sure what to call this section, but these are the hidden things such as appearance, timekeeping, getting back to people, being able to word an email without offending the recipient and communicating to a customer when they are wrong without calling them a plonker!
This part is very subjective. It is my personal experience, that pre-sales dominate in this area. Not to say that post-sales are not good, they just seem to be far between. Overall I have encountered far more post-sales people who are awesome technically, but you would only wheel them out in front of the customer when the deal is done.
Ability: Pre-Sales 7 Post-Sales 3
Overall Score: Pre-Sales 46 Post-Sales 34
So the winner is pre-sales, why is that?
Pre-sales are the key to obtaining, winning and keeping customers. Without pre-sales we wouldn’t need post-sales. However if we take this full circle the actual winner is sales as without them we don’t have a requirement for pre or post sales.
Have your say, who do you think are better?
8 thoughts on “Pre-Sales v Post-Sales”
I couldn’t disagree more with your premise. There is no “better” in this context, only “different.”
While you point out that post-sales wouldn’t be there without pre-sales, I’d add that pre-sales won’t be back if post-sales drops the ball.
There’s no we’re-better-than-you in team.
Thanks for reading & commenting Steve. I don’t often write opinion pieces so appreciate the feedback
At the end of the day, I feel the circle comes alive, only by the presence of Sales, Pre-Sales and Post-Sales each playing their role to the fullest.
Getting leads, creating rapport, satisfaction and then looking for repeat business is only possible, when everyone plays their role well.
I agree with Steve and Babar. I have been in both roles and the critical piece is working together. That’s not to say that there is not a varying degree of adversarial relationship between pre- and post-sales groups. There are times when pre-sales (or just sales!) pitches a “solution” to a customer and then lobs it over to post-sales who has to explain to the customer that it doesn’t quite work that way. The best teams communicate early and minimize those situations.
As you mention at the end of your post, there are dependencies, so “better” only comes in to play with regard to evaluating which role is better FOR YOU when you’re looking for a job. Know what you’re good at and what you need to work on to do the job you want is key.
I think the more helpful article would be something in the vein of “Could you transition to pre-sales”. You have experience in both – I think your perspective would be useful to post-sales folks that might be looking to take a different role in their career. I know many engineers are not aware of every possible path beyond becoming their team lead or eventual manager. Or they may be scared of what pre-sales encompasses, is it too sales oriented, etc.
Following on the point made by Ian, I (sometimes) miss being hands on and implementation, so I do wish to nip into Post Sales roles at times, for some specialised disciplines, just to stay in “touch”.
I agree with the other comments that neither is better than the other, but are in fact equal in making sure the customer has a good overall experience. From my experience and having worked in and managed both roles, companies more typically align pre-sales as an extension of the sales team or directly part of it and compensate them accordingly, as individuals or as a pre-sales team. Post-sales are often then aligned to services with MBO’s, utilisation targets etc. What I look for in people wanting to move from post to pre-sales is the ability to engage at multiple levels in the customer organisation rather than at a peer level more typical of post-sales. In addition a greater level of commercial awareness and confidence to present across different situations, and an ability to take ownership of all deliverables to the customer and their expectations, regardless of who else across the team is contributing or providing content. Abilities to PM or Lead Architect as you point out are also very valuable as you may work closely with a PM early days before post-sales resources are aligned – or be responsible yourself.
From a long term point of view, I think that both relationship management (sales) and technical implementation (post sales) matter most. So while technical sales are important in the sales deal, they have less long term influence on the customer relationship.