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Linux Consulting: Using a Pursuit Team to Win

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today
are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux
Today. ]

By Tom Adelstein

Monday morning, a young consultant walks into your office to
discuss a meeting she had with a potential client on the preceding
Friday. Nancy tells you how she met with the controller of
Simpson-Albright. He heard from a mutual friend that she worked
with Linux and asked her to send him some information on what Linux
could do. Instead, Nancy made an appointment and met with Jonathan
Albright, CPA to initiate a consultative selling
process.

She found out that Simpson-Albright wanted to enable its web
site to perform Ecommerce. The company hosted the site on their
premises using a T-1 on a well known operating system using the
manufacturer’s bundled web server. The server occasionally
failed.

All the users of personal computers in the office surfed the
Internet obtaining access by using a Cisco 2501 as their default
gateway. Earlier in the month, Mr. Simpson downloaded a file with a
macro virus which shut down his and his secretary’s computers.
“When everyone had their own modem, no one had ever made contact
with a virus,” Mr. Simpson told Nancy.

Nancy discovered that Jonathan Albright didn’t have budgetary
authority for I.T. purchases since he ran the accounting
department. The owners also decided to withhold his right to buy
directly because of some concern about employee perception. After
all, he was the grandson of one of the founders and a recent
business school graduate.

Nancy discovered that management liked Jonathan and respected
his opinions. After he joined the firm, his initiatives reduced the
average turnaround in accounts receivable by 21 days. Nancy felt
that even though Jonathan couldn’t write her a purchase order that
he had considerable influence on how the company spent its I.T.
dollars.

Nancy didn’t know exactly how to make recommendations for
Simpson-Albright and felt she needed help. She had gathered enough
specific information to help craft a plan. She also discovered that
the system administrator, Eric Jones, had put together his own
solution for taking orders over the Internet. Jones invited the
current operating system’s vendor to demo their Commerce Server
solution a week from the coming Friday.

In the sales funnel, now what?

In the consultative sales
cycle, Nancy had done an excellent job of completing the first
three steps. She gained rapport with the client, she found out the
company’s desired outcomes and its initiative. She also did a
conditional close by having Jonathan agree to let her demonstrate a
Linux solution in front of him and other people involved in the
Company’s web solutions. Now, you must put together a presentation
to capture the job.

Although based on true events, the writer of this article
fabricated the names of everyone in the above scenario. Rarely, a
consulting engagement will be identical to another. Still, many
engagements follow the pattern as the so called ” Simpson-Albright”
case above. Let’s use it to illustrate how to effectively close the
engagements.

Analyze the situation
Using SWOT (“Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats”),
we can make a preliminary and useful analysis of the situation.
Your consulting firm’s strengths revolve
around a low-cost, best of class solution to problems
Simpson-Albright must overcome to deploy Ecommerce. You have
additional consultants who have installed Ecommerce on Linux. You
also have insight into the existence of security issues the
potential client doesn’t even realize.

You feel your weakness revolves around
having the time to demonstrate an Ecommerce solution and disclose
security issues. You don’t have a million dollar marketing budget,
so you won’t have slick brochures and slide demonstrations. Also,
you believe your firm will be viewed as a thin alternative to the
$50 billion company already inside Simpson-Albright. You lack case
studies to back your proposal.

You see significant opportunities in
helping the client. Simpson-Albright’s star has risen in the retail
hardware industry. They have a history of throwing money at
problems until they get fixed. For your firm, landing a client like
this lends a prestigious name to the portfolio. Additional work
exists once you complete the initial project.

You see several threats in pursuing this
business. Your first reaction tells you the system administrator is
a klutz. He hasn’t deployed a firewall, he appears tied to the
current vendor and according to Jonathan, he uses his power to
smother other managers’ efforts. Jonathan, though influential,
doesn’t sign procurement orders. You don’t know who does.

Cover the bases
From your SWOT analysis, you determine that the potential
opportunities outweigh the risks associated with the engagement.
The initial engagement appears profitable, down line business
exists and you can strengthen your portfolio. You can also help the
company realize the weaknesses in its internal I.T. structure. The
timeline appears short. You must learn more about the company and
build rapport quickly.

A team approach to selling
First, call together your subject matter experts and the sales
contact. You need a security specialist, an Ecommerce architect, a
business analyst, a project manager and a pursuit lead. Set aside
two or more hours to review the business case. Use your pursuit
lead, usually a sales engineer, to facilitate the meeting. At the
end of the meeting, you should have a project plan to complete a
demonstration which will allow you meet with the client and capture
the business.

How to determine the team and their respective
roles

The pursuit lead has the ability to recognize the factors needing
attention in the case. He or she first identifies the person
driving the initiative on the client’s side. In this case, Jonathan
might not fill that role. Usually, another executive owns the
initiative. The pursuit lead knows that and finds out who will make
the decision.

The pursuit lead also has technical duties. He or she will
prepare a requirements document stating exactly what must occur to
have a satisfactory outcome. The pursuit lead should have strong
communication and facilitation skills. This person will probably be
a sales engineer. An good ” SE” has the rare curse of having
technical ability and a type “A” personality.

You can see the glaring omission in the network design at
Simpson-Albright. The company needs a security policy and
procedures to carry it out. Also, Ecommerce inherently has security
issues to address which include creating a secure transaction
environment and protection of sensitive customer information.
Often, an Ecommerce architect can function as a network security
specialist. If you have such a person, use him or her to provide a
proposal on what the potential client needs.

The business analyst gathers information from the requirements
document and the security/Ecommerce architect. He or she creates
specifications for the demonstration. The analyst should meet with
the client early in the pursuit to clarify and verify the
issues.

Nancy can set up an appointment with Jonathan. At that meeting,
the business analyst must carefully determine who reports to who
until he or she finds out the name of the person with the budget.
The budget owner might also drive the initiative. Sometimes, the
financial stake holder doesn’t own the project. The analyst must
lower the sales risk and find out who does own the project and if
he or she also drives it. If not, the analyst will probe until he
or she finds out who drives the initiative. Once these people
become known to the analyst, the pursuit lead will know who
Jonathan should invite to the demonstration.

The analyst also determines the specifications for the
demonstration. Specifications tell the team how to prepare the
presentation. Specifications include the client’s preferences for
doing business, their industry’s unique means of production and
distribution and the general look and feel of the presentation
(something with which the client identifies).

Now, the team will meet again and discuss the information they
gathered. The project manager will take notes and prepare a scope
document for the demonstration. This document should allow the
people preparing the presentation to know what to do to get it
ready. He or she should prepare that document so it can be used
once the project begins. (Note: pursuit teams have a rule which
says, “failure is not an option”.)

Doing double duty
Pursuit teams generally become the presentation delivery team. The
same people create slides, plan the sequence of the presentation,
practice together and do the critiques. Who better to stay up late
and show up at the client’s offices with circles under their
eyes?

Practice for the big day
Unless the pursuit team has worked together often, considerable
practice must occur. The team members should role play their parts
and the parts of the client. Practice sessions flush out issues
which someone may have missed. It also allows the team to
temporarily assume the personality of the client and gain an
empathy for them.

A good pursuit team will practice several times. Each member
will switch roles until everyone feels as if they know the other
people intimately. Done correctly, the practice sessions will
create cohesiveness at presentation time.

How many people go to the
presentation?

The rule of thumb on attendees says if the client has more than
three at the meeting you can have more than three but always one
less than the client . So, you should have, at a minimum, a
technical expert, a sales person and someone who can make decisions
for the consulting group . If they have six people, have five or
less. Invite enough of the client’s team so that your initial
contact person can attend. You want Nancy at the presentation since
she is the genesis of the opportunity.

I went through a similar process as discussed above with DSC
prior to Alcatel’s acquisition. I showed up with three people and
they had twenty. Our team could not control the space, the agenda,
the flow of the presentation or get the attention of the project’s
stake holder. We wound up defaulting to a slide presentation and
then quickly to a prototype demonstration of the application.

We found out later that their “so-called” security guru invited
all the additional attendees none of whom had any interest in the
project. His agenda? He had friends at his former firm he wanted to
have bid on the project.

After the presentation, we called an ad hoc meeting with the
department director, our advocate and the person who provided us
information through the preparation period. We made a brief
presentation with a white board and a black marker and wound up
winning the project.

Tips and techniques
At the beginning of the presentation, the pursuit leader should
address three issues:

1. What are the client’s expectations for “this” meeting.

2. State the expectations the pursuit team has for “this”
meeting.

3. How much time everyone has.

This will allow the pursuit leader to manage the presentation
and the side bars. If someone gets off the track of the
presentation, the pursuit leader should say, “let’s address this at
the end of the presentation -Joe Bob only has a half hour. Okay,
where were we?”

This point must be taken seriously. Presentations fail because
the decision makers run out of time to hear the important
points.

Things to watch
Look out for the “Eric-the-Klutz’s” of the world. At a recent Open
Source Expo in Austin, I watched a confrontation between a panel
member and a participant. The event triggered criticism of the
participant who said the panelist was dominating the panel
presentation and then called him a “bubba”. The participant
articulated the feeling in the room, but his insult of the panelist
gave audience sympathy to the rogue. When I read the panelist’s
biography, his turned out to be an advocate of Microsoft and NT in
particular. His whole natter was about the superiority of NT. He
had no studies to quote and yet the other panelists came prepared
with benchmarks and surveys. But the rogue panelist wouldn’t yield
the microphone.

You will have your share of “Eric-the Klutz’s”. Manage them,
don’t let them manage you. Treat them with kid gloves. You can
differ with their opinions, suggest that they might have taken the
discussion off track, ask them not to dominate the presentation,
but don’t insult their person. You’ll lose your audience’s
attention and you might as well pack up and leave.

The corporate business environment can exude treachery.
Preparation and strong product knowledge can help you recover if
you get blind sided. Be patient and let emotions settle down.
Suggest that everyone take a five minute break.

If you don’t like the odds at a presentation, start it off by
having each person introduce themselves and explain their interest
in the project. If you run into a situation where you’re out
numbered, break up the presentation by suggesting a longer break
and then start over after fifteen minutes. The disinterested
parties usually won’t return. They’ll get on telephone calls and
wind up out of the way.

Conclusion and parting notes
This article is the third in a series on Consultative Sales and
Marketing. The first article, How to Successfully Sell
Linux
, introduced the idea of starting a consulting practice.
The second article, Consultative Selling,
explained the seven phases of a consultative selling effort. This
article on pursuit teams describes how to begin implementing
consultative selling.

In describing the pursuit team approach, we stressed the
importance of having correct information about the client. We also
discussed how to create a presentation or “demo” by taking a
project approach. In the next article, we’ll discuss how to
prospect for Linux consulting opportunities.

The first example of prospecting can be taken from this article.
Our client contact, Nancy, did all the right things to set the
proposal stage in motion. We’ll cover additional examples in the
next article.

Tom Adelstein, CPA, is the CIO/CFO of Bynari, Inc.
He’s the author of several books and articles on business and
technology and has management, consulting and hands-on experience
in the Information Technology field.