If you're in presales, how many times have you heard one of these?
"Hey, can you jump on a phone call this afternoon? There are a few technical people on it.”
- AE to the SE
"I need one of your SEs to support this deal. It's not qualified, but I think there's a lot of opportunity.”
- Sales RVP to SE Leader
"Can you cover for me in this interview?”
- Your Boss
One of the best things about being in presales is that you’re in high demand. Yay for job security!
You have tons of people clamoring for both your time and your team's time. This is a struggle if you don't know how to handle it effectively.
For many years I struggled with being a people pleaser. That’s not a problem all by itself, but it is a problem when your work quality slips as a result. This is true for both individual contributors and managers.
Let’s be honest, saying “No” to people you care about isn’t fun. And even though SEs and AEs love to make jokes about each other, most AEs and SEs truly care about each other. Over the years, I've often said "Yes" to a number of seemingly innocuous requests. They seem small at the time, but then I'd find myself scrambling at the last minute to put together the one very important thing that is the defining moment in a large sales opportunity. After making that mistake more times than I'd like to admit, I was forced to change my ways.
At first, I started fixing my people-pleasing problem by saying “No” more often. I had a great mentor that would do this and he was extremely effective, although sometimes he rubbed people the wrong way. He personally didn't mind that people didn't always like him, because he was focused on results. I tried this and it was definitely an improvement over saying "Yes" to everything, but I too would rub some people the wrong way. That didn't sit well with me because I try to strike a balance between results and relationships.
After saying "No" for a while, I tweaked my approach yet again and started asking clarifying questions to try to qualify the importance and urgency of any request that I was getting. I would build my own mental 2x2 matrix in my head (if you don't know what I'm talking about, just google "Covey Matrix"). This was yet another step in the right direction. Still not perfect, but better.
Recently, I came across what I believe is the single best time management question of all time. Now whenever someone asks me to do something, I still ask clarification questions, but if we can't reach an agreement on how important something is, I ask this one question.
“What would you like me to de-prioritize in order to make room for this request?”
When I ask this question, I am able to visibly see people's brains kick on. They have to think hard because their brain is now realizing that by asking for this thing to be done, they may potentially lose something else. Fear of loss is a huge motivator for people.
Frequently when I ask this question, the requester tells me, “Oh, I wouldn’t want you to de-prioritize anything." That's great because now I'm not the bad guy who said no. Instead, they came to their own realization that their request is either lacking urgency or lacking importance or both.
But sometimes I hear the opposite. For example an RVP might say, "well I don't need your best SE for this one, we just need to have someone technical in the meeting. You can give me a junior SEs and you can take them off that demo build that I asked for." This is an answer that I love hearing! I'm always looking for low-risk opportunities to get my junior SEs out in the field. It's the ultimate win-win situation.
While this is a great tactic for keeping control of your own schedule, it's a great way to keep the presales organization focused so that you can drive the most revenue possible. It’s too easy to let the loudest voices hog all of the presales team’s time. This is an easy and effective alternative to putting up walls, instituting onerous qualification processes for AEs to follow, and other bureaucratic measure that ultimately slow sales cycles and hurt the customer.
Try it out. It works great in sales, and it even works great in your personal life. Your time is valuable, preserve it.
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