The Presales Project #2: Workstations

Before we continue this series and apply the Theory of Constraints to Presales Teams, we need to understand the concept of workstations as applied to Technical Sales. For our purposes, workstations represent the major activity groups that are required for a healthy Sales Campaign. I choose the term “healthy” very intentionally. While some may view a healthy deal as a won deal, we in technical sales do not (or at least we shouldn’t). Our goal is the Technical Win – producing customers for the long term, not just the current quarter. The Presales Workstations describe the major steps in achieving that.

The Phoenix Project  describes four components to every workstation: man, machine, method, and measures. The “man” part of this equation is simple – it is the Presales SE and any other resources in the organization that support the SE. The “machine” component is any system or tool that the Presales SE uses to manage or execute that step in the process. For example, a sizing tool or quote generation tool would be part of the machine for the Design and Propose workstations respectively. “Method” is any process or technique the Presales SE follows when completing each workstation. A defined Demo process or Proof of Concept process would be methods the Presales SE follows.

Let me give a quick word of caution: many mangers are immediately drawn to the term “measures” – this is especially true the higher the manager is in the organization – and become focussed on that one component. Measures are important but collecting them is not the goal of the workstation or the organization. Managers need to focus on the least amount of measures needed to gauge effectiveness and success.

Workstation 1: Qualify

The first workstation in our technical win factory is Qualify. The qualification process aims to create a shared understanding between the Presales SE and the customer around the following questions:

  • What is the problem set the customer is trying to solve?
  • Are there any prescriptive ways in which the customer wants to solve the problem set?
  • What are the business outcomes the customer is trying to achieve by solving this problem set and how will success be measured?

Workstation 2: Design

The second workstation is that of Design. This is where the Presales Team takes the output from the Qualify workstation and creates a technical response. The design process answers the questions …

  • How does our solution address the customer problem set?
  • How do we address the problem set within the guidelines the customer has prescribed?
  • How do we measure the fully implemented solution in a way that validates the outcomes the customer wants?

Workstation 3: Validate

The Validate workstation is the process of gaining customer agreement that the solution is as desired. This is typically where the Proof of Concept takes place. Specifically, the goal of this workstation is that the customer …

  • Agrees the solution solves the problem set
  • Accepts the way in which the problem set is addressed
  • Agrees to the measures required to validate success

Workstation 4: Propose

Once the solutions has been validated, the formal proposal is made. The key outputs of this workstation are as follows:

  • Documented value statement
  • Clearly defined technical details
  • Answers the question “Why?”

Why talk about Workstations?

Thinking about Presales in this way is important for a few reasons. First, it provides a common language and understanding for the Presales organization, laying a foundation for organizational success rather than pockets of individual success (which are often due to heroic effort).

Second, it provides clarity to the improvement process. A fundamental tenet of the Theory of Constraints is that improvements not at the point of constraint are an illusion – they make no material impact to the thoughput of work done by the organization. By defining each workstation (complete with man, machine, methods, and measures) a Presales organization can accurately focus improvement efforts without burdening the Presales SE unnecessarily.

How does apply to my work in Presales Operations?

My primary function in Presales Operations (and for any manager, since there is an operational component to their role) in regards to the concept of Workstations is primarily around clarity. This clarity is focussed on identifying and publishing to the Presales organization the tools and process that are available. My second function is to identify where tools and process are not working well or are missing and focus our improvement efforts there. This provides real value to the organization as the improvements will increase the Presales SE’s ability to sell.

A word about rework …

One reaction I have received to this approach is that the technical sales process is so iterative that it is impossible to move progressively through each workstation. And while I do understand the iterative nature of technical sales, I believe the goal should be to limit rework. Each time a solution goes backwards in the process there is an opportunity to improve. The point isn’t that all rework is bad – sometimes the customer will not share all the information they have so it is impossible to get an accurate set of requirements. But, treating all rework as acceptable burdens the Presales SE with unnecessary and frustrating effort.

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