This is Part 2 of a series.
As we’re all coming out of the malaise that each of us has faced, and as we tackle our own challenges—both personal and professional—business is picking back up. This is the second part of a consecutive, multi-part series I’m writing that will cover the complete lifecycle of a project. In it, we’ll review some pertinent aspects that I believe will be necessary to do a good job and to get it right the first time!
Although some content covered might be common knowledge to some, it won’t be to others. It’s my goal that, at the end of each installment, every reader will be able to say, “I didn’t know that!” or “I always wanted to know that!” or “That’s a great idea—we can use that!” Of course, please feel free to comment, as necessary, and share any insights that I might be able to use in follow-up articles. Share anything you believe might be helpful to others.
This time, I want to talk about presales—the start of a project. I believe it’s crucial here to have a distinct method that you use to ensure you get the information necessary to start the second project phase—preliminary design and documentation—properly. I will get into that shortly.
THE VALUE OF TRAINING
First, though, I must speak to the issue of training and knowledge. Whose? Your account manager’s! This is not an area in which you want to take shortcuts. It is imperative that your account manager knows what he or she is talking about.
I’ve seen bad things happen too many times when I was working for others and relying on account managers to gather information for presales engineering. Regardless of how much documentation they got, it’s critical for the account managers to know what they were looking at!
It’s also a matter of human nature. Sometimes, when we’re quizzed about our knowledge of an issue, we just say, “Yeah, I know about that” or “Yeah, I understand that,” even when we don’t. But, in this case, the result is inaccurate information being passed on. This can dramatically affect your proposal. It can even lead to a complete misunderstanding of your client’s needs, wants and expectations.
This has to be caught early on. If not…well…it’s happened to most of us, and it’s a disaster. The system might function, but, if it doesn’t meet client expectations, they won’t sign off on the project and they won’t pay you.
A Practical Example
To illustrate the point, I’ll share an example from a small job some years ago. We had to integrate existing equipment with new equipment—specifically, a document camera. The account manager forgot to take pictures of the device and obtain the model number. Oops! I, of course, needed to know how it connected: VGA, DVI, etc. When I asked him, he said it was a DVI connection. He was certain, as he remembered looking at the back of the unit to identify the cable.
So, I designed the system with the proper devices, cabling, etc., to account for that DVI connection. To make a short story even shorter, not only was it not a DVI connection but, in fact, the connector it was didn’t look anything like a DVI connector! Upon further investigation, I discovered that the account manager actually couldn’t tell a VGA from a DVI connector. Well…that’s a problem!
This is where training comes in. How can you have account managers out there gathering information and talking to clients if they don’t know what they’re talking about? Take the time to get with AVIXA and have all your account managers trained to a Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certification level.
Although there will be some time and expense involved, you will be repaid tenfold in return on investment (ROI). And for those of you business owners and CFOs that go on LinkedIn and ask, “What if you train your staff members and they leave?”, I have a better question for you: “What if you don’t train your staff members and they stay?”
OK, let’s get into the means and methods of doing presales effectively. I’m a firm believer in having account managers use documentation religiously to gather information from their prospective client, no matter the size of the project.
Always Be Prepared
I don’t know about you, but, back when I did sales, I would meet with a client and, a few hours later, I would say to myself, “I forgot to ask this” or “I should have asked that.” At some point, after hearing the slogan “Work smarter, not harder” for years, I had an idea. What if I made a list of questions to ask and brought it with me to my meeting with the client? Moreover, what if, every time I had those questions that I wished I’d asked, I added them to my list? That way, as time went on, I would have fewer missed questions, I would gather more accurate information and I would have fewer issues on the backend.
I actually did that, and, eventually, I came up with my audiovisual questionnaire. In fact, I came up with different targeted questionnaires for each vertical market (e.g., higher education, K-12 education, corporate, religious).
Getting Ahead Of The Curve
I have written on this, and I’ve even taught an extended class at InfoComm on the subject. I’ve used these questionnaires, along with other documentation meant to gather information, to great success. Consistency is the key here. It’s essential always to come to a meeting with supporting documentation.
In fact, one good idea is to send the questionnaire to the client in advance of the meeting, have him or her fill it out, and have the client send it back for review. I often found this worked well for larger projects. It often proved helpful to be able to review the client’s needs and wants in his or her own words. (It also offered an idea of the client’s technical knowledge.)
For Smaller Projects
For smaller projects, I often used a checklist-type document, and I found it a great resource for account managers to help them remember to get certain details they often miss. Remember: The whole point here is to be able to repeat quality work and ensure satisfied clients. They’re the best ROI your company can have.
One last thing: Start thinking about success. What does it mean to be successful? How do you measure success in business…even in life? In upcoming writings, I will begin to delve into what it means to be successful in the context of discussing the project lifecycle.
That’s it for now! Next month, we will look at preliminary design and documentation (the proposal). If you think I’ve left something out, please feel free to let me know. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To all, stay safe! Let me know if you have any questions, comments or stories you would like to share.
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