Show of support

For a reseller - and the brands they represent - the availability and quality of pre-sales support can mean the difference between winning a lucrative deal and being edged out by a competitor. It is the responsibility of vendors to provide local partners with the technical and non-technical pre-sales resources they need to enhance their chances of success when submitting a bid or proposal. Channel Middle East asks the region's leading vendors to outline the level of pre-sales support they offer to partners and explain the role they have to play at this vital stage of the sales process.

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By  Dawinderpal Sahota Published  August 8, 2007

For a reseller - and the brands they represent - the availability and quality of pre-sales support can mean the difference between winning a lucrative deal and being edged out by a competitor. It is the responsibility of vendors to provide local partners with the technical and non-technical pre-sales resources they need to enhance their chances of success when submitting a bid or proposal. Channel Middle East asks the region's leading vendors to outline the level of pre-sales support they offer to partners and explain the role they have to play at this vital stage of the sales process.

What is your definition of pre-sales support and what role does it have to play in the overall sales process?

Don’t be afraid to break it down into basics, and try to keep it as simple as possible — don’t let the technology drive the solution, let the customer’s business requirements drive the solution.

Chris Moore: What pre-sales means to us is supporting both the end user and the channel partners in the process of helping the end-user get what they need. That can be a process of education, training them on latest technologies, helping them understand how to make best use of their existing technology - and the same applies with the channel partner. We work with the partner to teach them about the latest technology, clearly in the knowledge that they will work with the end-user to teach them. For us, that's the most valuable time we spend together in terms of pre-sales support; we deliver skills, knowledge and information to help people define what they need.

Johan Degroote: A pre-sales person would be able to go into technical detail and explain key differentiators of a solution. It is a person who can understand the needs that a customer might have, beyond the scope of NEC, and place that solution into the customer's requirements.

Mark Prosser: Pre-sales support is assistance and information at all levels that ensures the customer gets the right solution for their needs. This is probably the most important aspect of any sales activity, and is critical not only for the customer, but all the players involved in setting up the solution.

Neville Perry: We define pre-sales as the role of understanding the customers' requirements. We go through a series of interviews and meetings, adding that to a technically-sound solution. This is the key component of the overall sales cycle for us because it really determines the roadmap for the way forward for the customer.

Bashar Bashaireh: A pre-sales person takes the role of supporting the sales force through understanding and analysing the customer's current and future requirements. It involves presenting, proposing and demonstrating the technical solutions through various means such as proof of concept exercises, ensuring acceptable and compliant product installations, suggesting any necessary end-user training, providing initial technical support and finally doing a proper solution documentation and handover to post-sales support personnel. The technical role of the pre-sales support alongside the proper account management from sales will ensure the ultimate success of the sales cycle of any project.

Dave Brooke: It's very difficult to compartmentalise pre-sales as a specific activity, it really encompasses the overall relationship that we as a vendor have with our channel. At the end of the day the success of this relationship is measured by sales and the satisfaction of customers. In the short term you could probably separate the two, but looking at the long-term health of the channel, sales follow the satisfaction of customers; there is an absolute direct relationship, and the presales ‘world' encompasses all of that.

Bruno Haubertin: Pre-sales support in the business we are in is a key part of the selling process. Complexity of architectures and the high level of customer demand dictates very serious pre-sales investigation on projects. This concerns sizing with major ISVs, performance assessment and benchmarks, as well as reference sites and architecture design for environments like disaster recovery projects.

How would you assess the level of in-house pre-sales skills that resellers have in the Middle East region?

DB: It varies, and to some degree it's going to be dictated by what the channel partner is actually focused on. If you look at large system integrators and VARs, the capabilities and capacity of those partners is significantly enhanced over the SMB traders that are typically trading at a hardware infrastructure level. Having said that, you wouldn't really expect these resellers to necessarily have full integration skills and capabilities.

NP: I would say resellers are quite competent in general. The technology that we're involved with is forever evolving and adapting to the market needs. There are always lots of changes so it's quite difficult to keep up at the best of times, but where we're focusing - and we encourage our resellers to focus on more - is in the advanced applications field. Things are becoming a lot more software-orientated and much more application-focused, so a lot more consulting and understanding of the customer needs is required.

MP: This really differs from partner to partner. Some are very good at pre-sales, and this makes the entire sale and the solution building so much easier for all involved. Quite often we find that the salespersons do not have the necessary skills or in-house support on pre-sales, and this does affect the speed at which efficient solutions can be drafted.

BB: Usually enterprise resellers and system integrators have the necessary trained and certified pre-sales resources onboard, especially when you are talking about enterprise resellers and integrators of unified threat management solutions that cope with blended security threats. I see the challenge on the SMB side of the business, where again the security threats are similar but the resellers either don't have adequate necessary resources or have difficulty retaining them.

To what extent do resellers call on you for pre-sales support and assistance?

BH: Obviously, for vendors, the goal is to have independent partners able to recover and draft proposals in all situations. In practice, our pre-sales and engagement teams drive a lot of the technical choices for the most complex solutions with the partners. This is also true when service requirements are high, even if the partner will ultimately deliver the support.

DB: Typically as you move up the integration scale with your partners, your pre-sales engagement at a ‘deal-level' increases. When you talk about hardware infrastructure or consumer products, that's really about product understanding and how the consumer can generate the maximum benefit out of a particular product. As we move up the integration scale, our involvement with the partner increases on a deal-by-deal basis. With our large integrators and VARs, although they have a very high level of skill, our engagement is significant, particularly when you move into enterprise storage, datacentres and the big mission critical deployments.

MP: Resellers in the Middle East do depend on vendors for updated and on-going pre-sales support. As the market matures I believe we will see better quality pre-sales support, but I don't see the need for a vendor to provide updated information and assistance changing.

CM: The good partners which have become reasonably self sufficient have taken certified training courses with Extreme. We do unofficial ad-hoc training but also certified training for their sales, pre-sales and support staff; all three are certified. When we have a channel partner who has achieved that level, and when it comes to responding to an RFP, they'll typically do 95% of it themselves. What they'll need assistance with is features on functionality they just haven't dealt with before because the customer has an unusual requirement, or features on functionality of new products that they haven't yet dealt with.

Talk us through the most important aspects of the pre-sales support you provide to partners in the region.

MP: We are definitely not in an environment where one solution fits all, and so for us it is important that we get the information on the requirement of a customer, where it is clear what the solution will be. It is important that we get the product right, and are aware of all needs and implications of the specification. We focus on the support required and ensure that our partners are clear on the requirement of the customer. For us it is also important that our partners take into account logistics and value adds when getting information.

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