About a year ago I started a new job. It was a completely different role than most of what I’d done in my career – I’d switched from the customer side to being on the vendor side. I had run a software-as-a-service business and an IT managed services company a few years back but as Managing Director, your interactions with customers is fairly limited – there are people who deal with that and you are really just meeting customers to build deeper relationships.
In my new job, I am consulting directly to clients and selling solutions to them, so I’m much more at the coal face. I really enjoy it and honestly, it’s not entirely foreign – my online businesses have taught me a lot about selling and putting together solutions. Plus, as a customer for a long time and having bought literally hundreds of millions of dollars of hardware, software and professional services over the years, I know how the game works.
But in my current role, inside my first month, one of the people I work with said something to me that I’d never heard before. He said, “Ahhhh! The mistake you’re making is that you’re not separating sales from delivery.”
For some context, we were talking about a fairly wide-ranging consulting and professional services engagement for a client. I had raised the issue that while the proposal we were making sounded great, I wasn’t quite convinced it would be that easy to deliver and in fact, I wasn’t sure we had the right people to deliver.
That’s when he trotted out that line. He said that once we had the solution approved internally through our governance process and sold it to the customer that the field services managers in our respective teams would be responsible for getting the right resources to do the delivery. Our job was to sell it, their job was to deliver it – the two shouldn’t be confused.
And we were successful. We sold a $250,000 consulting engagement and then at the end of that backed it up with a $2.5m professional services piece of work – that’s what consultants refer to as “pull-through”. If you’re not familiar with “pull through” it is the work you set yourself up to get going forward off the back or off the side of current work you are being paid to do.
This is going to be a slight tangent around “pull through” as a consultant, so allow me to contextualize that a bit for you. If you’re doing an SEO Audit for a client, you might notice that they aren’t really creating good content for their site, so you mention to them that you can help with that. That’s “pull through off the side” – you’re getting ancillary work that you noticed opportunistically. Then when you’re done your SEO Audit, your report highlights areas of weakness in the site and alongside your report, you drop a proposal to do the work to remedy the situation – that’s “pull through out the back”.
There’s one other rare unicorn that I’ll make you aware of and that’s paid presales. This is one of my favourite things as a consultant. Using our example above, paid pre-sales is when the client knows their site is broken, they want you to fix it, but they pay you first to tell them what’s wrong AND deliver them a report that outlines what you’ll charge them to fix the problems you uncover. This is getting paid to produce quotes and getting the client’s full cooperation to uncover more things for you to charge them for going forward.
Anyway, let’s get back to the crux of our story.
I’ve been working on an engagement now for weeks. This was supposed to be a short, sharp six-day effort to pull together a quick document that outlined a high-level strategy for a client. From that, we had expected to get the pull through to deliver the outcomes we identified in the strategy.
Unfortunately, it just hasn’t gone to plan. We separated sales from delivery to the point where the two things were unrecognizable. The client expectations were off the charts and have grown over the course of the engagement. Our resources working on the engagement weren’t scoped correctly and now I find myself stepping out of selling the solution to actually having to get involved in delivery.
The lesson I already knew but had to re-learn again the hard way was you need to be careful with separating sales from delivery.
In the world of online business, you see this all the time. Marketers start selling software that they’ve had made promising that it will do a variety of things that they’ve told their developers to build, but when customers get their hands on it the product is a complete disaster and nothing works. That’s a case of the person pitching the product having less than no idea about delivery.
I see people all the time talking about buying software and systems from marketers and they always ask why I’m generally quite negative about it. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that if you don’t understand delivery, you’re largely selling fresh air and make believe to people. Not always, but most of the time.
My friend and Casual Marketer Newsletter member, Jake Hower, is a classic example of the exception to the rule. Jake owns a SaaS product called Fuzed that does abstraction of integration between various software products in interesting ways – for example, if you have a video in Wistia and you want to start and Infusionsoft automation when someone watches nine minutes of that video, Fuzed can help you do that pretty easily and get you good results.
Now Jake isn’t a programmer, but despite his protestations of not being technical, he’s pretty switched on and gets technology at a high level. I have a pretty deep understanding of Amazon’s AWS services and how to pull those together to create true, cloud-based applications. We had three or four conversations about the different ways to solve problems and Jake was able to architect a high-level design for a whole system built atop AWS.
When Jake sells his software he knows that he can deliver because he’s close to it – he’s thinking delivery first, then selling.
Now this whole sales and delivery thing needs to be a balancing act in your business because it can totally go the other way. These are the people who do the “build it and they will come” approach – they never finish building because they are so lost in delivery that they’ve forgotten about sales.
To be successful, you need to understand your limits and your workload. You need to know with a certain degree of confidence that if you sell something, you can actually deliver the goods and the outcome for your customer.
The key is having them in balance; understanding the importance of selling, while at the same time knowing what you need to do to deliver the result you sold.