The Pre-Sales Diary: Data Profiling before Proof of Concepts

The Raison D’Etre for many Pre-Sales Engineers is to carry out Proof of Concepts. Although for most of the potential leads, Proof of Concepts are to be avoided because they incur greater costs in the sales cycle, increase the sales closing time, increases chances of failure but there are certain cases where proof of concepts are really much more helpful for the Sales cycle then anything else.

Some of these cases include when there are competitors involved touting the same lingo/features/capabilities etc, others include a genuine customer scenario which needs addressing in a proof of concept either because the scenario is pretty unique, it is part of their due diligence, or your product hasn’t been tested on those waters before.

Pre-Sales folks are pretty comfortable on their technology which they like to showcase to such customers but they are totally new to the customer’s scenario. There are always chances of failure and there are many failures abound.

Before embarking on a scope for a proof of concept and promising deliverables, it is more than required, infact mandatory not just to analyze the customer organization, but also processes, metrics and ofcourse data.

The last part is where I find most proof of concepts depending on. Everything is set, you took extensive interviews with the stakeholders and know what needs to be ‘proved’, you scoped out a business process or two, figured out some metrics and one or two KPIs and they gave access to their data pertaining to it. Now the ball is in your court, but before you know it, your doomed!

The data is incomplete, inaccurate, and have tons of issues which data governance and MDM were meant to solve but didn’t, they don’t exist yet. In most likelihood, the customer is quite unaware of such issues, that is why you are offering them a Business Intelligence solution in the first place, to tap into their data assets. They have never done so before themselves or done so quite limited way to be able to uncover such obstacles. In other scenario when they are aware of these issues, they either are unable to tap it or it is a trick question for you, they want to check whether you cover this aspect or not.

You can either proof the ‘time’ challenge by jumping right into the proof of concept and ignoring all standard practices which are pretty standard during project implementations but then you ignore all of them (or most of them) simply because ‘its just a demo’!


I always carry out a small data survey activity before promising any value to be shown in the proof of concept to make sure what we have in store before we can do anything. Simple rule, GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. If you want to have a good quality, successful demo, profile your data first, understand the strengths and weaknesses and above all let the customer know fully about the limitations, if possible, get enrichments in your data based on your profile to make your demo successful.

This one single step can lead to drastically different outcomes if it is performed or not.

Data Profiling:

Data Profiling is defined as the set of activities performed on datasets to identify the structure, content behavior and quality of data. The structure will guide you towards what links, what is missing, do you all have the required master data, do you have data with good domain representation (possible list of values), what granularity you can work with. Content Behavior guides you on what are the customer’s NORMS in terms of KPI and metric values. e.g. if the dataset contains age groups of 40+, then there is no need to showcase cross selling market basket targeted to toddlers. You can simply skim it out, or ask for data enrichment. if you dont data pertaining to more than one year, then you can’t have year’ as a grain level which for certain metrics and analysis might be critical. Data Quality assessment, albeit a general one, can save you many hours ahead. Most notable of quality issues are data formats, mixed units of measurements, spell checks. e.g. you have RIAD, RIYADH, RIYAD, RYAD all indicating the same city, mixed bilingual datasets like names and addresses etc.

There are many tools available out there which can aid in Data Profiling, including the ubiquitous SQL and Excel. However, Data Profiling, being a means to an end and not the end in itself does not warrant more time and energy than required, there fore a purpose built RAD enabled data Profiler is one of your most critical investments in your toolbox.

One which I have come across recently and which fits the bill very nicely is Talend OpenProfiler, a GPL-ed, Open Source and FREE software which is engineered with great capabilities and power. You can carry out structure analysis, content analysis, column or fields analysis, pattern based analysis on most source systems including many DBMS, flat files, excels etc with readily available results in both numerical and visual representations to make you get a better sense of your data.

I believe all Data Quality tools are (or should be) equipped with good data profiling capabilities, most ETL vendors have data profiling capabilities and some data analysis packages like QlikView can also be used albeit in limited ways to profile data in limited time.

The Data Profile can also be later shared with the customer as a value deliverable.


Happy Demoing!


The Pre-Sales Diary: Don’t Sell, Set Expectations!

Yep, that’s true, salesmen and selling is a turnoff for many corporate customers. There is nothing worse than having the feel that you are being sold something, the ego kicks in, nearly all the time.

The biggest secret of successful selling is to not ‘sell’ your product/services/concepts or whatever it is that you sell do.

What we need to do instead is to create a NEED of our products/services/concepts or whatever it is that we do.

That need comes from understanding what the business does, you have to ‘feel’ the pain. Really, you have to have real customer intimacy built into you. And that happens with good sessions where you don’t talk, but just listen!

The advantages you get are:

1. The customer does not feel threatened (by your sales attitude). When you set the right expectations (with scopes and limitations), you appear not to be ‘over-selling’.

2. She/He finds at least someone who is really ready to listen to their pain points before proposing their offerings (or at least pretends*)

3. You have a better idea of what is the environment like, let the customer give you insights into their experiences, sometimes they even share your competitors’ info with you.

4. You have a better idea of knowing their expectations. This will lead you to carry out a proper gap analysis of what is needed and what you can offer.

5. This way, you will propose them a solution which is much more customized for their unique needs rather than propose them a generic (sub par) solution.

6. You can set the expectations right from the beginning, this way, they don’t think you will deliver them a rocket ship while you are only offering them a bicycle.

7. Setting the right expectations also means that you set the right value as well. Do you ever get those concerns like ‘You’re offering is expensive?’ Yes, to a point, being cost competitive is always nice but by setting right expectations, you can negotiate to something close to what you might like.
8. Setting right expectations lead to better success in deliveries.

9. Setting right expectations let you gain trust and that brings repeat business and you get good referrals.

10. Setting the right expectations also allows you to understand the right product/marketing gap and enables to feedback the two divisions on how to close this gap.

11. By learning how to say NO and pass out possible business tasks, by drawing lines, having those tough talks (with high risks of losing deals) earlier on, head on, you will be able to gain the right trust immediately.

* its all about Business, nothing personal.

The Pre-Sales Diary: The emerging role of the presales and its infinite landscape.

I must admit, thinking of a professional which has anything to do with ‘Sales’ at first seemed quite demeaning, especially for an IT guy. No offense meant to my fellow Sales professionals whose career I respect a lot but one which is quite plagued by stereotypes.

Let me get this straight, Sales professionals are kool, dynamic and at times quite creative people. They are experts of deals, know how to conquer the social network within companies, markets, industries and regions. They represent a driving force in business development. Yet when it comes to technology and professional services, not many sales professionals get it!

That is why we have Presales. People who bridge the gap, the chasm so to speak between Sales and technology acquisition. Presales are subject matter experts who romantically guide the potential customer with the right solution and solve their business problems. They are not driven by Sales targets nor have quotas (usually). What they do have (again, very ideally speaking) is a knack to solve business problems using their technical skill set and prior vast experience in delivering solutions and consultancy.

Frankly speaking, the first time I heard the term ‘Pre-Sales’, I felt the connotations like a Preview of Sales, or what is to come. Something felt Premature.  I also got the feel that this bunch is not comfortable implementing solutions. All my misconceptions are getting cleared now as I see this as a role made for those who like to tread on unchartered territories all the time, who like to be paratroopers and land into new environments, understand the patterns, recommend the best solutions all in a competitive, game like environment where most of the time, you are dealing with a staunch nemesis.

Pre-Sales is an infinite landscape because you get (and represent) a breadth of knowledge both in business functions and technological environments. Most presales i’ve known are usually product specialists but the role demands a very good idea of enterprise software and how to really place your product with the right mix of configuration and services. AND YOU MUST WEAR THE BUSINESS HAT!

The role demands credibility, agility, and competency, more so than anyone else as this role is the brand ambassador for the company and product(s) he/she represents. Most of the times, the potential customer trusts the pre-sale to give the right advice which is devoid of commercial interests. This puts the pre-sales into a position which demands authority and responsibility.

It is by no means a job for everyone but for those who live it, enjoy it by the lead…

What I learnt from the ‘Confessions of a Public Speaker’

Scott Berkun has written an excellent, witty and comical book about Public Speaking which does not take the traditional what to do on stage approach. It is filled with little gems of do’s and don’t all based out of personal experiences. confessions-of-a-public-speaker

My Pointers:

  • All speakers, even the best of them make mistakes, their written scripts and orations don’t match.
  • The unexpected will strike! Don’t Panic, many unlikely, unexpected circumstances will come, the beauty is how to give a winning reaction.
  • Presentations and speeches never go according to plan!
  • Embrace the Butterflies: Fear will be there, even for seasoned speakers, don’t deny it, don’t dodge it, learn to bare it.
  • Know what to say: Always create an outline of what to speak
  • Learn by Doing: Practice makes perfect and look into the mirror
  • Do a Sound check: Before starting, always check the high and the low so you don’t bore the audience or scare the audience.
  • Create a sense of control: if you feel in control, you will be better equipped to take care of hecklers, or uncertainties.
  • Sleep Well: If you sleep well, you speak well and vice versa.
  • Bring them closer: if you have an empty hall, ask the few people attending, to come closer, then imagine a smaller room.
  • Imagine yourself the mood of the audience and that it will be.
  • If a crowd is hostile, you react by showing more excitement.
  • Always do your homework, if you are not willing to put in 5 to 6  hours to prepare for a one hour speech with 100 members, you are actually
  • Quite egoistic to claim superiority of your 5 to 6 hours over 100s of hours of others.
  • Audiences are very forgiving. Collectively, they want you to deliver them a good speech
  • Eating the microphone is a term used among public speaker to represent absent mindedness during your speech. you lose track of what you are
  • Supposed to talk and do.
  • Customize your speech based on your audience. never deliver canned speeches.
  • Don’t bore the audience. seek attention, then utilize the attention well, else lose the crowd.
  • Set the pace; keep it moving steadily forward.
  • Direct the attention: throw in the attention grabbers every now and then.
  • Play the part, you are the star: Give a better presentation than what people expect from you.
  • Know what happens next: your next points should be in your mind as you speak.
  • Tension and release: a speech should be composed of a series of tension and release cycle. a cycle is about defining the problem and then the resolution or point of view.
  • Keep it live: involve the audience, let them be part of the experience.
  • Always end early: don’t stretch it beyond what the audience can bear.
  • Cherish the feedback: take audience feedback both during the speech and afterwards, consider it as a step forward in the art of speaking. But do take the feedback with a pinch of salt, audiences don’t like to be too true…
  • Relate to the audience: it is vital to deliver a speech which is of interest to the audience. choosing the right topic for the right audience is half the battle won
  • Learn by doing: practice, practice, practice. I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand
  • Adapt to the response: you can know during your speech whether it is going downhill or to the skies, adapt to improve or at least reduce the damage.
  • Words of Wisdom: If you want to know how good a speaker is, watch him/her give the same speech twice

Public Speaking as a Knowledge Creation Tool

In the web2.0 era, we are engulfed with technology driven collaboration. Data driven societies are emerging and it is the rise of the business analytics which deliver insight and drive companies forward. The medium of communication is highly diversified, greatly expanded in scope and reach and information is accessible to levels not imagined before.

However, concepts are changed, paradigms shifted, motivations rise, focus reigns only when leaders put context to information. This concept is what Japanese philosophers called the ‘Ba’.

Concept of ‘Ba’

Nonaka, who coined the SECI model of knowledge creation redefines ‘Ba’ as the shared space and time when individuals cease to just interact but create valuable knowledge. Individuals, groups and groups of groups can also share common goals, ideals and mindsets besides space and time.

‘Ba’ represents a shared space where human interaction takes place for knowledge creation. This space can be physical (meeting room), virtual (webex, twitter etc) or conceptual (shared ideals, experiences).

In other words, ‘Ba’ gives context and meaning. Its the place where individuals start feeling to be a part of the whole, and blend into their environment for a common goal.

“Ba is the platform for the resource concentration of the organization’s knowledge assets and the intellectualizing capabilities within the knowledge creation processes.”

According to the SECI model, knowledge creation is an infinite, iterative spiral between Socialization, Externalization, Combination and Internalization. Further detail is given here.


‘Ba’ and the SECI Model:

Nonaka’s extension to the philosophy of ‘Ba’ can be found when he related his SECI model and determines what role the ‘Ba’ plays in each role and phase of the project.


Public Speaking as Knowledge Creation Tool:

Public speaking is a perfect platform for Zen Learning. The entire audience of individuals come together on a single place, share the same time, and attend the same speech(es). The speakers(s) initializes the ‘Ba’ by setting the tone of the knowledge creation.

Public Speaking, thus, is a fantastic platform to enable knowledge creation as it serves as a very strong ‘Ba’.

Originating Ba:

According to Nonaka, ‘New knowledge begins from chaos’.

Chaos is the ideals, the thoughts, the concepts a company’s leadership communicates to the people. Usually this message is metaphorical and motivational and it identifies common goals.

Nonaka says it is during socialization where ‘Ba’ originates.

Nonaka argues that ‘Ba’ is the fundamental reason d’etre for Socialization (because) “when knowledge is created, the personnel possessing knowledge and the knowledge base of a company are focused at a defined space and time.”

Love, care, trust and commitment emerges from Originating Ba. This is the phase where public speeches arouse feelings, emotions, experiences and mental models.

Public Speeches arouse knowledge, vision and culture: the fundamentals of Ba.

Interacting Ba:

During the speech, the audience starts forming a group based on fused ideas and points of view on the speaker’s oration. Thus, public speaking entices externalization as well.

Depending on the type of speech, self-transcendence allows the audience to integrate into groups based on the different view points.

One of the factors which enable externalization through speeches is the articulation of Tacit Knowledge. This is where the speaker communicates his tacit knowledge and thus makes it explicit.

Dialogue is key to convert tacit to explicit knowledge in this externalization phase. The use of metaphors is very important and an interactive dialogue helps. Engagement is key to create shared value.

Cyber Ba:

This phase is made up of three primary activities. Public Speaking helps in all three of them.

i. Collection:

Public speeches are (usually) based on prepared, well collected and summarized narratives which represent the intended zeitgeist.

Group knowledge is preserved, well documented usually through multimedia technology and in forms, which are easy to comprehend.

ii. Dissemination:

Speech delivery is direct and has uninterrupted attention of the audience as compared to other forms of communication. The shared ‘Ba’ has the same message and thus focus is intact. Distribution is direct and usually interactive.

iii. Processing

Audiences of public speeches are able to process and deduce their findings based on their personal thoughts and those of the group. These group thoughts are captured through discussions, questions posted to the speaker, applause and other emotional reactions.

Exercising Ba:

Conversion of explicit knowledge back into tacit knowledge through practice and action.

Public speakers understand the concepts only by practicing to communicate the same to others. Through delivery, their externally sapped knowledge becomes internalized as a result of practice.

Focused training with senior mentors and colleagues by allowing for open discussions and participation by the ‘crowd’, each can get a feel of the message imparted through practice.


Leaders of many companies and other organizations have  kept a direct communication channel with the employees at times and the message is usually quite personal and motivational. Most of the times inspiration can spark the energy in an organization which defy traditional theories of performance management and productivity.Public Speaking is an important tool in Knowledge Creating companies.

To conclude, do watch this:

Article++: (Leadership by Strategy Execution – Palladium Group)

This is a brief synopsis of an excellent article by Palladium Group, arguably the home of Balanced Scorecarding. Here is my summary.

Its a statement of manifesto by Palladium about their belief in the single most important requirement for (a successful) strategy execution:

A Visionary and Effective Leadership

These leaders:

1. Consider Strategy Execution as their Job.

They are directly involved and actively participate in the activities required to execute the strategy, rather than just delegating them.

2. Have keen understanding of the process of change.

They have the ability to motivate and create a shared vision of the organization by winning hearts and minds of people. They create the impetus for change.

3. Take Decision Accelerating.

Change can be either incremental or transformational, they know when to take one of the approach.

4. Stay the Course

Focus is important, shows commitment and embrace resistance by engagement rather than compromising or confrontations.

5. Put a Premium on Communication

Transparency is key.Their shared vision is highly communicative (and collaborative) and it empowers people.

6. Delegate Roles with Responsibilities and Authorities

They create roles and ensure these roles have the right set of authorities for actions and decision making. Later on, they develop a proper system for accountability for each such role.

7. Avoid Shortcuts, Support Process Development

They know the power of creating robust processes for +ve change for strategy execution and do not rely on adhoc and quick fixes.

8. Plan and Budget for Strategy Execution:

They treat strategy execution as an investment of time and resources which will bear fruit. They appoint the right change agents and assign them roles to fulfill.

9. Analyze the right information

They make information driven decision making by employing good systems of governance, conduct frequent management reviews and create key strategic performance indicators.

10. Are open minded and flexible in behavior

They are continuous learners and encourage a direct feedback for their own performance improvement and insight.


Data Discovery – The BI Mojo

Gartner’s Q1-2011 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence was recently released.

Without much surprise, the four quadrants hosted some of the best BI offerings. As expected, QlikTech moved to the Leaders’ Quadrant thanks to its growing customer base, bigger deployments and a successful IPO back in October last year.

Other players also shone, inlcuding the likes of Spotfire (TIBCO) and Tableau earning the challengers title. This is what we see a trend of the Magic Quadrant, no vendor directly moves to the Leader’s box without entering the Challengers zone first. It is well expected that sooner or later, Spotfire and Tableau will join the ranks of the leaders while it is also quite possible that one or two existing leaders might start fading in history.

The Zeitgeist:

Data Discovery tools have the greatest mind share, success and momentum. They have proved to be highly disruptive and have pushed aside slowly moving elephants aside. Although elephants might be able to dance, tools like Qlikview, Tableau and Spotfire represent the new wave of BI both from both adoption and approach perspectives.

These vendors are business friendly, analyst-savvy, agnostic to (traditional)reporting and have very agile development approaches. That is why the buying criteria are reporting to be

1. Ease of Use

2. Rapid Deployment

3. Functionality

These in-memory offerings compete on OLAP’s limitations and thus add a value addition to functionality, which is pretty much appreciated by IT as well.

However, this addition to the Leaders and Challengers quadrant by these new wave BI tools have caused a chain reaction resulting in SAP, Microsoft and Cognos innovating with their own in-memory offerings and interactive visual discovery tools. However, the post-2007 acquisition hangover lingers on and still customer dissatisfaction caused due to these acquisition and merger into larger product and services suite of the mega-vendors is the cause of concern for these players.

For these new wave BI tools, old adage problems are surfacing including Data Governance, Data Quality, Master Data Management, Single Version of the Truth and the curse of the information silos. Some of these new age vendors  are solving this by having a larger portfolio of products to cater to this, like TIBCO while others focus more on OEM partners to deliver these important facets, like QlikView, while still others rely on a symbiotic relationship with existing (traditional) BI deployments like Tableau.

The Observations:

  1. Both Traditional BI and Data Discovery tools are required, therefore, saturation in the Leaders Quadrant is far from reality while emergence of new vendors will still be observed.
  2. The overall BI maturity is being observed with the trend shifting from measurement to analysis to forecasting and optimization
  3. Cost is an increasingly important factor in purchasing and thus alternatives like open source offerings and SaaS deployments are gaining potential.
  4. Niche players will continue to flourish but need to have a viable road map amidst constant threat from mega-vendors to replicate or acquire (similar) technology.