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Article by Mohan Babu


Pre-sales support is a necessary evil

Technical people can be of invaluable assistance to pre-sales project teams, however most techies are loath to be involved in such work says MOHAN BABU

Many of us in the field of information technology like to remain involved in hands-on technical work that lets us broaden our skills and add domain or functional expertise. Some, who aspire to managerial roles, move towards the team or module lead and project manager path. IT organisations and consulting companies, realising the divergent interests of employees have started offering dual career paths—towards management or technical architecture—to employees.

Another interesting aspect of a career in IT is that most techies work for consulting or software services companies and only a small percentage work for end clients. For those working at software consulting companies, there is an element of un-billed (bench) time that comes with the job. However, bench is not the topic of this column. The real topic is an activity that consulting companies are increasingly asking benched consultants to work on: pre-sales support, preparing project proposals, and responding to RFPs (Request for Proposals). Most techies dislike performing this task.

Before we get into a discussion on the role of techies in preparing RFPs, what does it involve? 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 generalise 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. A typical response to an RFP would involve two components:

a) The “How To” part

  • A technical solution architecture, approach or framework to solve the problem;
  • Case studies, proof of concept, demo or mockup, etc.

b) The “Management” component

  • Cost, budget and financials;
  • Resource management;
  • Credentials, testimonials and references from past clients.

A typical response to a RFP, therefore, will include a substantial technical component. However, most consulting companies employ dedicated teams of pre-sales or sales support people from marketing or sales who regularly respond to RFPs. They generally follow a well-defined operating process involving plugging the response documents with common templates about the company and its capabilities. The customisation process kicks in only when it comes to project and client specific responses; and here is where someone with a technical background is really valuable. Technical people will be able to analyse the client’s problem, and think through a framework to create a solution based upon their knowledge and experience.

Marketing people may not have the same depth of experience in technology to respond, although they generally try to take an educated guess. Such skills can be especially useful while preparing a proof of concept or technical demo.

Even though technical people can be of invaluable assistance to pre-sales project teams, most techies are loath to be involved in such work. There are a number of reasons why techies abstain from being involved in pre-sales support work:

  • Sales support is a repetitive work: Most responses to RFPs involve “cut and paste” from seed documents and various sources—a task which technocrats find monotonous.
  • Lack 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.
  • Fear of getting into a management career track: As mentioned earlier, many technocrats like to remain technically focused and fear that by being involved in pre-sales, they might be expected to move towards the management track.

Organisations are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of such pre-sales work, especially in a market that is getting squeezed. Consulting companies are requiring off-assignment technical consultants, and in some cases even those on assignment with clients to be involved in pre-sales technical support.

Larger companies, especially the ‘big five’, weave incentive plans, bonuses and career growth around such “corporate activities,” typically expecting consultants to log 15 percent 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 have tried building large knowledge management systems by adding a repository of frequently asked questions, how-to’s, past projects, case studies, standardised response templates, etc.

Indian consulting companies operating on a global scale face similar problems. Even with dedicated teams of pre-sales consultants, they undertake an exercise similar to fire-fighting while preparing responses to RFPs. Validating technical solutions, references to past projects in similar technologies, etc, becomes harder because people move around projects and are not available to answer questions on the nature of work done. Estimating the level-of-work involved can also be a very heuristic process without adequate benchmarks based on expertise from past projects, especially for work involving newer technologies. By adopting the best practices of their global competitors, they will be in a better position to respond to proposals accurately, with the least possible disruption to their regular activities.

Mohan Babu is a US-based software consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan _at_





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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