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Rising star of pre-sales in a C-economy

Recession Proof Careers Part II

"The New economy is shockingly defunct. Long live the Next Economy! The next economy will be knowledge-based. Success will be measured by profits and share of the wallet. And the focus will be on effectiveness in reaching, serving and retaining customers. Marketing will lead the charge in the battle for customer loyalty unprecedented in history."

Elliott Ettenberg (The Next Economy: Will you Know Where your Custonmers Are)

Measure performance in a C-economy
If you know the number of customers a company has, and the cost to the firm of acquiring new customers, the current revenues and earnings per customer, and the quality of the customer experience that company delivers, you're well on your way to being able to predict that company's future earnings. If investors and financial analysts had been gumming the customer numbers that I propose we track in The Customer Revolution, they wouldn't have been caught in the crossfire of the overhyped Internet economy.

Now that the downturn is upon us, and customers have become even more precious to our businesses than ever before. Will your company survive the Customer Revolution? Here's a quick preparedness test you may want to take.

If you don't know the answers to questions 1-4, find them out; if your answers to questions 5-10 aren't a resounding yes, your company is likely to become a casualty in the Customer Revolution:
1. For what percentage of your end-customers (individuals, not companies or accounts) do you have current, accurate customer profiles and interaction/transaction histories?
2. What's your average customer acquisition cost?
3. What's your current average customer retention rate?
4. What are your average revenues/profits per customer? By customer segment?
5. Do you have a high-level executive who is responsible for the total customer experience across interaction touchpoints (Web, email, call centers), distribution channels (retailers, distributors, agents, direct sales), and product lines?
6. Are you collecting customer satisfaction and customer loyalty ratings every time that customers interact with your firm and its brand? Are those ratings used in calculating executives' and employees' pay?
7. Have you determined what outcomes matter most to your customers and what key customer scenarios they care about when interacting with your firm and its partners?
8. Are you measuring your company's performance against these customer outcomes and monitoring the quality of the customer experience you deliver on key customer scenarios in near real time (e.g., every day and throughout the day)?
9. Have you noticed what your renegade customers are demanding and doing? Are you proactively redesigning your business practices to enable them to do business the way they choose to do so?
10. Do you have a customer-centric corporate culture? One in which execs and employees alike really care about customers and their outcomes?
In short, are you ready for the Customer Revolution? If not, it's time to take action!


oftening demand for IT services and unabated erosion in prices has whacked out earnings of IT companies. Flat IT budgets and intense competition in a multi-vendor economy has resulted in an unparalleled shift in the balance of power from companies to customers. Aware of their power, customers are punishingly demanding and are looking at innovative offerings, better pricing (no more 90 per cent margins) qualitative better service and timely deliveries. The index for success no longer depends on technological prowess alone but on another blunt metric: "What kind of customer traction does a company have?" In an excessively fastidious customer environment and an incredibly shrunk IT deal, technology companies are qualitatively redesigning sales strategies with a fanatical focus on the customer at the centre. The emphasis is on processes that enhance the quality of customer experience and add depth to relationship with customers. In the IT context companies are facing unprecedented pressure from customers to come up with technological precise solutions. According to a Giga report on IT trends in 2002, "Cutting-edge technologies and dramatic paradigm shifts have taken a back seat to better selecting leading-edge technologies." In the past, companies could come up with a neat piece of technology, and then figure out if there was a customer who wanted to buy it. Now the equation has been overturned by a technology savvy customer. Customers are fairly in control and squarely demanding that technology vendors relieve their pain points or they would unhesitantly hop, skip and jump to the next technology provider. To win under the new rules, companies are deploying professionals responsible for the total customer experience.

A direct spin-off is the emergence of the pre-sales professional. The pre-sales professional has helped companies change the fundamental nature of the conversation with the customer. Customer identification and acquisition no longer represent the high point in the sales cycle. The pre-sales professional is not the glib marketing professional, reeling the company's marketing spiel but a technology aware professional who understands the technology needs of the customer and communicates them to the company. The pre-sales vision aims to acquire customer mindshare by identifying the customer's biggest pain point and then reducing it by designing customised solutions. Wipro, for instance, has asked employees to reorient themselves to ask customers "What do you want rather than say what can we do? "Today, there are so many players in the market that customers need specialised proposals with a superior understanding of customer requirements, says Sunder a pre-sales professional with Apex Technologies.

Another demand driver for presales professional has been spawned by the need to conserve resources in a downturn. In a recession economy, companies often slash sales and marketing budgets fuelling a vicious cycle where low budgets bring in fewer customers. Hiring pre-sales professional helps companies to conserve resources as well as squeeze more value out of existing customers, increase the profit per customer and retain existing customers. Explains Sunder, "Most companies follow the hub and scope sales model. They do not want to maintain a large front-end team of sales professionals in the US. Second they do not want the front-end team to spend too much time with a single customer. Once the sales team establishes first-level contact, the pre-sales team at the India back-office, that is cheaper to maintain, takes over and can interact with the customer. This has dual advantages. It frees the sales team from day- to- day customer handling and focus on identifying new customers while the pre-sales team can interface with the customer, understand technology requirements and architecting precise solutions."

Not surprisingly, presales professionals are terribly scarce. The job involves problem solving and analytical skills, in-depth knowledge of the technology platforms in which the company operates as well as the client's domain area. Technology expertise needs to be wedded to business acumen, a rare combination of techno-commercial skills. Few Developers and Project Mangers are willing to move into this emerging yet vacant space, many front-end sales people lack tech savvy to address customer technology requirements. The best part the function is recession proof and will be carried forward tom the Next Economy as technology vendors know future earnings depend on a qualitative better and in depth understanding of customer requirements.

 

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