How do you make the handoff from presales to post-sales? Jesse White of Katalyst explains why this is a critical question and how to handle it.
Hi everybody, thank you for joining us again for the In Scope podcast. I have Jesse White here from Katalyst joining me again.
Jon, pleasure to be here.
So there’s a process in most VAR and MSP organizations. It’s sales, presales, post-sales, right? Sales’ responsibility is engaging with the client, forming a relationship, trying to understand what problem they’re trying to solve.
But presales’ role is typically scoping a project, building a bill of materials, and helping craft a solution. Post-sales, the lovely people that actually end up doing the work that was scoped and priced out, I love them, I love them.
But what I want to talk about today and get your feedback on is that transition from presales to post-sales. The importance of, again, clarity, going into what was scoped out was priced at work, breakdown, whatever tools you use to then hand off to the post-sales team, to make sure that when they start delivering this work, it’s what the client wanted.
Tell us how you handle that process and what it looks like.
The Presales to Post-Sales Process
It’ still iterative. We’ve made some big strides here in the last couple of years to weed out some of the small challenges for maybe some of the more bespoke solutions that we’re we’re building for customers.
You know, I think really, when solutions engineers identify problems, they have to then solution those right to gain agreement.
If you think about it, this is literally a 400-meter relay, right? If you think about the relay, right, you have your first leg, which is really the kind of pace setter. And so they run and then they hand it off to two and to three, and then to the anchor leg.
And the anchor leg is fundamentally supposed to be able to close any gap between them and their competition, and ultimately win the race.
There’s no difference in between our business and a relay. What we do is high velocity. Believe it or not, most of the time, when customers execute statements of work, they’re expecting it to be delivered relatively timely.
And so there’s this whole kind of global chip shortage thing for those partners that are still doing on-premise stuff. But in the cloud and modernized world, there is no barrier to provisioning.
So when that baton gets dropped between the seller to the presales resource, to the engineering and PMO organization, and then finally on to CX, it’s really bad.
That is really bad. In fact, this is one of the biggest issues that can plague an organization because it takes a long time to build a reputation of excellence.
The Importance of the PMO
I mean, I think, you know, engineers, you know, we have some tools, as you know, in our business that are forecasting those things and their resources. But the PMO is really the one that guides and directs them to make sure that they’re not running too hot.
But they’re not running too cold either. Right? There’s a sweet spot for engineers and again, back to an earlier episode. That thing that they love doing, right, like it’s just like the persona of a seller and a solutions engineer together.
I don’t want to put ever an engineer in a Black Hawk Down zone, right? Like, hey, here you go. Here’s a bomb, go figure it out.
And so with that being the case, it is that that last leg, or the middle leg, really between Solutions Engineering or presales to engineering and PMO, I think is critical.
And there’s a lot of process there. And then maybe even more importantly, because we’re creatures of habit, is having a mechanism to go back and actually measure, right what you thought X was going to take, and what x actually took.
That’s the key.
So the mechanics of handing that off from sales engineering, solution engineering, to that engineering team, the ones doing the work, like what are some of the things that you found helpful to handoff to them as a part of that internal kickoff process?
I think the first thing is engineering ID. Who is going to be pegged to do this project? The point is, is that I think you got to kind of narrow down who’s going to deliver the project?
And so what’s happening resourcing that kind of stuff, all those great, great things? And then once you have that, you know, kind of identified, there’s a judgment of is the resource a, even engaged with the client, right? Do they need a full immersion in what’s going on?
And have they done work with a client in the past or know their environment? Exactly.
And then I think from that perspective, once that’s identified, it really falls on that presales engineer and, and post-sales engineer, um, to make sure that the time has not dropped. And so what we do, obviously, on the scope, stack, by form is that scope is reviewed.
And then through Salesforce, we use, you know, some automation throughout that process to make sure that it follows certain gates, customers are communicated to right, all those kinds of things happen.
Once the project is signed by the client, and the sound that we generate from ScopeStack, a certain order of dominoes happens, right and 17 things right, you know, I’m very process rich. And so that being the case, there are 17, things that happen.
And in these gates, right, if you want to call them that, we don’t pass the next one until those things are done, right. And there’s timers and relays and on that, and I think that’s really, you know, in the role of what I’m responsible for, at least on that team, the more important part is the post-project exercise.
The Post-Project Exercise
So after a project’s been delivered, yeah, you track your time against some sort of, Okay, what did we scope? Yep, you tracked your time against that. That’s essentially what you’re talking about.
And so if you have five or six guys out building scopes, right, which is what I have, you know, the big problem, pre, you know, ScopeStack was like, Okay, Jon, is in this region of the country. And he’s focused on these two technologies. And Sam is in this region of the country. And maybe she’s focused on these three technologies.
But, you know, intertwine sometimes as projects, you know, you have different technologies that that overlap. And so what will happen is, if you’re not measuring the actual profitability of that thing, right, whatever it is that you’re doing, you can really gum up your P&L on the engineering side.
And if you want to get engineers mad at solutions engineers or presales, guys, don’t give them enough time in the project and put it at a lower rate than they’re used to.
Those are the two cardinal sins.
Measure Post-Project Success
And so one of the processes that we’ve implemented that I think would be transformational for anybody if you’re not doing it. So here’s like, the one thing to take away. If you are not measuring post-project success, then you should stop what you’re doing right now and put that meeting on your calendar. Even if you just start with a monthly cadence.
It’s the whole post-mortem conversation of like, have the presales engineer at the table and make sure that you as the implementation engineer can express Hey, in this work effort right here, you only gave me 37 hours, it ended up taking me four. Yeah, right.
And everybody thinks, “Oh, good.” But you can also lose business, right? If you’re not pricing that. So it’s this kind of zone, where you have to just be dialed in plus or minus, you know, a few percent.
So those engineers that are doing the work, you think they’re okay with actually tracking time at a certain level of granularity, right?
Because I’ve heard otherwise they’re like, you ask them to track their time and that level of granularity, then they’re not going to do it. They’re not going to like you. Yeah, no, is there a balance?
Yeah, I mean, I think for everybody, I mean, that’s, we like most organizations, right? There’s a time policy and there are things that you’re supposed to do with that. And you know, what happens is eventually the customer is going to get an invoice right?
And on that invoice, it’s going to say “Jon Scott, 12 hours” in a better not just be worked on XYZ, right? Some high load some sort of content, right?
And that’s really the beauty is to be able to assign that to a specific group of tasks and then pull that language in and just modify it a little bit, right? Rewrite it every single time.
But we’ve not had, I guess, much resistance. And the reason may be, is that we’ve aligned, you know, compensation metrics around time delivery. Meaning if you don’t get your timesheets in, right, in certain, you know, semesters of the month, week, whatever, then there’ll be penalties that may impact you to the negative and not that you won’t get it, it’ll just be delayed.
That whole, that whole cycle, right? So we call that you know, a whole cycle.
So from Solutions Engineering to post-sales, and then like bringing that back, there’s, to your point, like there’s alignment between pre and post-sales engineering, when you come back and have that meeting because the presales guy doesn’t want to be the one that’s like, making the engineer angry, right, they don’t want to under scope, the hours, they want to be righteous as much as that person.
So I think I think back to the grid that we have, and we focus on, it’s really around, like, we want to be as close to perfect as we can, but knowing that there’s always going to be a little bit of drift or, and so I think the biggest thing is if you’re not slowing down enough to learn, when projects are just inherently complex, or customers, just by the nature of the name that’s on the front of their door are inherently complex, you can do some unneeded damage.
And, and that’s what I love really about your app is that we have the ability to adjust at scale.
So I know if I’ve got five guys building, you know, bodies of work out, I don’t have to go through and tell everyone and change 17 spreadsheets, because like everybody, you know, used to have their own spreadsheets in the tool, I can click at one place and cascade that down.
Then if I want to look at like, you know, this really, this is a crazy idea.
Check this out, we’re actually going to compare the forecasted revenue and gross profit against the actual, like in this same process, mind-blowing, you know, it’s just a really great tool that ScopeStack allows me to share with that institution and organization.
And I think that is like intentionally measuring those things. And again, the big tip is, if you’re not doing it, do it monthly. For every project, you closed out in the last month, get your Solutions Engineering team, even if it’s just one person, get them in a room for 30 minutes and go through this project was budgeted for 1,142 hours, yet, we delivered it in 800.
Did we automate already out of it, like let’s do more of those, or should we adjust our price and do more whatever.
But the point is when you get the other side of that equation, Jon, and it’s this project was scoped for 1,142 hours, and it took us 1,600, somebody’s losing.
I know, lots of again, my peers and it says incestuous community, especially here where we are. In the solutions engineering space, we all know each other, right? We all see each other at the same events, and you know, San Diego or Vegas or wherever.
The Importance of Peer Groups
And one of the things we always ask each other, and I’m a part of two peer groups, right? If you’re getting if you’re not in a peer group with talking to other people out of region, like it’s the most valuable thing you can do, right? It usually doesn’t cost anything. And as long as you’re willing to be transparent and vulnerable, and you can learn a lot.
But I think that the biggest thing is, is that this is this constant debate or really cosmic challenge around how you compensate the solutions engineer, it’d be a great topic for your upcoming show with somebody that knows a lot more about it than me.
But the point is, is that, you know, sometimes there are penalties to be paid when things don’t come out in the wash. Okay. Right. And so where does that tax fall? Because the other thing, too is, Jon is is all engineers aren’t equal.
You have to be cognizant of the implementation style of the engineer. Yeah, while everything has a process and everything’s, you know, well documented.
Some people are heavier in some areas, and they’re stronger here and maybe they’re slower here and, and remember, like when what we used to do had three components, right? It was like two green boxes or a blue one.
And like us to, you know, little interfaces on the front, you couldn’t even screw it up, right? And now what we’re asking these men and women to do, is really complex dynamic the world to right at least It speeds with no darkness or no downtime, right?
And so it and do all that with security wrapped around it, it’s just a difficult thing to do. And, and I think you have to be conscious. But if you’re not measuring those things and tracking those and taking the ScopeStack front end and said this was going to be 47% margin, but on the output, it was 21. And then I did two of them, and I got it up to 29.
And I’m still not there, right? It just allows you to continue to iterate, and then add buffers and, and even customer taxes, if you will, right to say, hey, every time I work with this customer, I’m always waiting on them, right? The PMO to drive more whatever the case may be.
That’s where that analysis comes in super handy. Right? What were the things that we didn’t account for when we were scoping out on the front end?
There is so much data available to us, right? We’re overloaded with it. We’ve talked about this before when I shared some stories about that. But just like He who tells the best story wins. He who uses data, the most intentionally will win.
And I think that’s the richness of the platform is really being able to take inputs, and turn them into outputs and then measure it again, right? I didn’t say the more closed-loop, you can make that process better, everybody’s happy.
So the bare minimum, right, we want to hand off to our delivery team. Let’s just call it a spreadsheet, right? Has this task this many hours, this quantity, potentially, and maybe to the level of detail of like, this is the resource level to your point that we recommend find, find a price out to do this work.
This is a spreadsheet, right? Eight hours, 10 hours, whatever, however many hours, right? Deliver the project and come back to that analysis call after delivery. Okay. Was it 10 hours? No, it was five hours?
Okay, well, we should monitor that and see if that’s a trend or if that’s a one-off thing, right? Because then what I can do is next time I scope a project like this, it’ll be accurate and competitive, potentially.
So we’re gonna win more business, or the opposite, which is what you said earlier, which is this actually keeps taking us 20 hours. Okay, we also need to update that on the front end so that we don’t lose all this money.
And we don’t have a resume-generating event happen.
Literally, an RGE, as they like to call those. Yeah, I mean, I think that’s it. I think spelling that out is that simple, right?
But be intentional. And again, I mean, it takes coordination between all groups. And this is back to that baton speed when you’re running fast and hard.
And with the velocity, which we run in this business, you got to make sure that the projects are even structured correctly, and whatever, you know, tool you’re using for that.
Because all of that has to align, you’re like you want to frustrate an engineer and give him something that doesn’t match the thing. And I mean, it’s just it’s chaos, right? So I think as long as all those steps are followed, and you make it as consumable as possible, it’s just like our customers make it as easy to do business with us as possible.
You know, ScopeStack, DocuSign, like all this stuff. If you just make sure you do those things and then get the data. It’ll change your business. Yeah, I mean, fundamentally change your business.
Yeah. So you mentioned one extra step, which I know not everyone has a group like this, but I think if you do, and so the group one time I was that CX group prior to customer success. I first heard about that whole group when some OEMs came out with a program, right?
The goal there is not just to measure our NPS or do all the great things that we’re trying to do and publish that stuff. referenceability and just like, we want to be the best at these three and a half things, alright. And that’s it.
Like, we have what’s core to us, we have what’s chore to us, and those chore things like that. They’re not even in our scope.
I think that CX organization, Jon is so critical. And we have some really neat measurements around that. And those are things like you know, for strategic customers, QB ours, we have something called Voice of the Customer, right?
And this is where if I’m in that group, and you are a customer that does over X, Y, or Z, and project complexity, cost, whatever it is, I’m going to call you. You don’t know me, but I’m just Jesse from Katalyst and I work in CX.
I’m going to ask you how your last engagement was. I’m going to get how likely you are to recommend us I’m going to do all these things. And I’m going to shine a light of truth on our relationship with no commission breath risk, right with no sales, there’s no incentive for them. It’s literally just about how are we doing?
Could we have done something better? Obviously, every project has a survey and a rating of what we add. But the point is, is this extra what we call white-glove approach? Even after the sale?
I mean, you know, how hard it is to gain new customers?
Sure, we get most of ours from existing customers or from our lovely marketing department. But the point is, is that having that touch, right, and using that as a point, also and having them is there anybody else that you think could use this type of service? Right?
If you just ask that question, people want to help you, as long as you’re helping them, they want to do good. And so so that CX piece, of course, you have to pay for it, right? It’s not like sales, it’s not free, either. It’s another thing about the platform, I love to dial in based on the effort and what we had to put in.
But the point is, is that it’s just a service that, you know, we want clients to pay a little bit more when they use our service, we also want the service to be superior. And I think if you’re going down that obsessing over your customer path, it’s something that is eventually going to work its way in your business because it has to. So when
we start talking about that, that full cycle, right, the way we talked about it was CX at the end, but is that team ever involved in the front end presales, like I know, business outcomes, KPIs, that needs to be built into the front end of shared agent, right? Sure
it does. And so in, in kind of that new customer acquisition or existing, right, there’s, there’s components where they will get involved, I would say, ideally, you know, in our proven process, right, and our guarantee is that if you consume our service, and it doesn’t work for you, we ask that you give us an opportunity to make it right.
But if it doesn’t work, we’ll give you your money back.
And that’s for our Pro Services. It is crazy. It’s published, it’s it’s our four step thing. And it’s part of our EOS model that we that we run changed our business for the better.
But that CX component, Jon, just like the PMO, and those sorts of things, having them along, you know, in engaged in the specific tiger team, or however your organization set up, it can just do wonders, and um, again, the information and the needs that they can bring back to you. On the solutions engineering side.
Hey, Jon, did you know I was talking to so and so having that stuff stored and documented somewhere? I mean, it’s a powerful thing. And something that shows a lot of maturity to where it fits in the process every time.
I don’t know if I can answer that I can say, in strategic clients right there along for the ride and manage clients. Yeah, it is like the umbrella that comes with it. Right. And you can’t have you know, the cheeseburger without the cheese. Right. And it gets gotta be there. Could it be called the hamburger? Right? Yeah. Yeah, balloons, you know, whatever you want. It’s scary times. Yeah.
Awesome. All right. So we we’ve talked about the one thing, right, yeah. Just to clarify and say it maybe for the fourth time, because I think it’s important, right?
16 times, on average is what people need to hear something to implement or retain it. And so the fourth time, I’ll tell you, I don’t know if I have time, all right, the they can just rewind, and we can put a loop in here.
The one thing that I feel like that will fundamentally level up your Solutions Engineering Team 10x is to have a monthly post project review meeting, where they are engaged with the engineers, and you do it over beer and wings, right? Like it’s not it’s a fun thing. Right? In challenge, right, bro. spiffs out there of who gets closest or is the most profitable or whatever, this 100 things you can do.
But the point is, is like if you’re not doing that, you’re not as profitable and as successful as you can be, I guarantee it. And that one thing will fundamentally transform your organization. And then it’s your job as the leader right to actually hold your people accountable. And you know, measuring the pre sales, I’m just coming up with all kinds of ideas for your next shows with your next guest.
Measuring the solutions engineers, like what is that? Right? There’s so many things we want to talk about. But scope, efficacy, and efficiency like that’s gonna be up there. Right and so how do you do that when you’re on a spreadsheet and you’re just like, wet finger in the wind? Like it’s just bad?
Yeah, um, so I do think you know, even even I’ve had my team you know, Buck back about I didn’t know you were putting three projects on on there three people on this project, right. Like, I didn’t know that slows me down. I would have tilted that way right or wrong? We’re flying guys in or whatever.
So I just think that that, again, trust and transparency. You know, we have on the engineering call weekly, we have a segment for solutions engineers to give updates on what’s going on. Hey, Jon, we’re about to do a really, really big project. It’s duo for 16 apps, is that still of, you know, 100 Our engagement? Right, right. Well, let’s talk after right, like just be communicative people.
That’s a huge part of having not just operating, you know, in your own swimlane right, getting outside of that talking to that post sales team as you’re scoping a project. Huge. That’s a big deal. So awesome, man. This is great. As always, telephone people, the 40 million people watching Are you still on Tik Tok
we place to find you guys know my handle, the only place to find Tiny Dancer. You could call it that it’s one of my favorite Elton John’s songs. It is is LinkedIn. That’s obviously good. Got its big Jess on Twitter. That’s a name that I’ve had for a long time. And then the only other place is, is through my organization catalyst, which is again, your technology, tour guide, not travel agent.
And so we’re doing that we’re in the journey with our customers where we’re starting from from from start to finish, and we’re continuing the journey. And that’s what we do. So Jon, I appreciate you, man. I appreciate you and I most appreciate about you.
Appreciate a close you were just like me a long time ago. And you said I have a dream. And you didn’t just write it down. You actually implemented a man. I wish more people I wish I had the bravery that you add in doing that.
Because you know I got a lot of that. But in all in all seriousness, man, and I’m just proud of you, you know, for what you built and appreciate it not just you. I know. You’re just mainly me pretty face. Yeah. But this team that I’ve interacted with, you know, Roy, and Alex, just everybody has been great. And I appreciate the support and partnership. And I just want to say man, you’re doing great things. And you’re as you say program in the future. It’s high, man. Thanks for making my job easy, Matthew. Yeah.
All right. Appreciate you guys.