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Effectiveness of pre-sales quoting capability & the impact on client engagement

Something a colleague once said always stuck with me “to improve our client service, we need to fix the front! Let’s get sales selling the right things in the right way”. I later realised after traversing my career to the front end just how much pre-sales needed to be better enabled in order to succeed in an ever-changing, more demanding and competitive IT services sector.

For the purpose of this article, I am referencing “client engagement” rather than “customer service or experience”. "Engagement" is more applicable with sales, and "client" is more appropriate than "customer" which is more akin to one-time transactional experiences. The client vs customer is a while subject in its own right, here is a great article for those that are interested My focus is on effectiveness of pre-sales within the IT services sector, they are key in providing highly specialised services and advice in building trusted client relationships.

Most of us in IT services would recognise that providing consistently good client engagement requires a working environment that “enables” people, not one that holds them back or even worse makes them shy away. When I visualise a working environment, I see the following inter relational areas

  • Alignment of company & team strategies, mission, vision, budgets and targets

  • New and existing Client’s, including their people, needs and solutions

  • People, roles, teams and organisation, locations, facilities, rewards

  • Process, policy, and methods

  • Systems, tools and templates

  • Services, product, catalogues data and content

  • Partners, suppliers, vendors, competitors

  • Leadership, trust, support, learning and collaboration

  • Quality of service, feedback and continual improvement

I recognise there are many facets to creating a truly optimal working environment for all, including many basics such as having the right amount of appropriately skilled resources in the right teams. While the scope is large, we should be striving to get the best from our teams and recognise just because one or two excel doesn’t mean everything’s ok, the few may well be just picking up the best, most high-profile work. In this article I focus on things that may not be so obvious but that can make a big difference for teams as a whole.

Let’s start by what to look for, the things that impact performance of pre-sales teams for IT service providers

  • Out of date, not maintained, unfit for purpose products and services

  • Constantly relying on “the few in the know” to get product guidance

  • Plagued with unplanned interruptions for the few who are in the know

  • Lots of delay and time spent discovering things that should be known about existing client solutions

  • Lack of guidance & standards for existing offerings

  • Lack of quality templates, methods and guidelines

  • Problematic handovers into solution delivery

  • A high volume of low-value small yet standard requests taking lots of time

  • Product launches with “see me for pricing” or chucked over the fence

  • Lots of time dealing with complex spreadsheets

  • Spreadsheets too large for email and insecure, crashing or can’t open remotely over VPN, funnily enough key to business continuity with today's challenges

  • Issues collaborating on quotes, only one person at a time able to make change

  • Pre-sales standing in to support pricing with manual client rate card price application

  • Problematic or complete lack of version control

  • Lack of or manually intensive workflow approval governance

  • High volumes of errors, with unplanned rescue or re-work

  • Lack of time to keep current and obtain industry certifications

Let’s now look at the typical impact of these things

  • Frustrated employees leading to hopelessness, avoidance and staff retention issues

  • Poor time, cost and quality of quoting

  • Poor Client NPS and eNPS feedback

  • Struggling to be clients trusted adviser coupled with a sense of falling behind

  • Lack of value adding client engage leading to drop in orders / lack of growth

  • Increase in competitive renewals and costs associated

  • Unexpected or high risk of unplanned client attrition

  • Pre-sales skills, education and certifications falling behind

  • Not able to bid on certain deals due to lack of resource availability or suitable offerings

  • Revenue and Cost leakage due to errors and omissions, clients sourcing elsewhere

  • Multitude of issues relating to retention of client knowledge

  • Increased inefficiency and ineffectiveness in quoting

  • Lack of or no time spent on continual improvement

  • Slow, costly and problematic solution delivery, uncovering issues, re-engaging clients on what should already be known

  • Inability to automate due to lack of standards

  • Lots of effort to regain Client trust, sometimes over a long period of time

As most of us know improving performance requires continual questioning, observation and stepping up to drive forward change to set yourselves up for success. Far from easy in today’s complex fast-paced constrained business environments. Would love to say there is a golden bullet for this, sadly not, here are some pointers as to things you should consider in order to improve

  • Define and publish centrally business process covering

  1. Product Management process standard and client-driven products and services

  2. Pre-Sales process for engaging clients and specifying client solutions

  • Establish and evolve standard templates, guidelines and methods for delivering on the above processes

  • Named person empowered and made accountable for each process and its supporting templates, guidelines and methods

  • Put in place continual improvement and product backlog frameworks, encourage and embrace feedback, see it as a gift!

  • Encourage a culture of openness to discuss the difficult, get specific, involve people, don’t generalise and always ensure follow up

  • Alleviate pre-sales from being stand-in’s for product managers

  • Make product managers/owners more accountable for enabling sales

  • Identify, agree and prioritise addressing issues with product and service offerings

  • Proactively support pre-sales with knowledge, set learning and certification targets

  • Replace complex excel sheets with professional Configure Price Quote (CPQ) tooling, select your vendor careful based on your drivers, needs and objectives

  • Capture key client knowledge, install base and detail on order history

  • Package your products and services to guide sales, for rapid, consistent effective quoting, unburden people to excel and provide quality client engagements

Just working harder doing the same things in the same way for most will end up detrimental long term. If you’re a service provider with the need and appetite for improving client engagement and the effectiveness of your product through pre-sales and quoting capability get in touch, we can help.

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