The story begins years ago, when I was working at a small tech company. I was helping a growing team develop processes around onboarding new customers, maintaining customer relationships, and building the customer success playbook. I enjoyed working with my boss and my teammates. And the work itself was engaging.
Until one day, we had a “reorg”.
Is there a more dreaded word in corporate speak? Part of our team was being disbanded and several of my colleagues lost their jobs that day. Many of these folks were friends who I had worked alongside for years. It was a tough day.
I faced a choice. Either follow my colleagues out the door or join the sales team. On the sales team, I could apply to be a “solutions consultant”. When I first heard the title, I thought it was something that was invented in a slapdash manner by management consultants of a bygone era.
Initially, I couldn’t find many credible accounts of what this position would entail or figure out what the career path looked like for an “SC”. From the little information I found, I realized that much like a product manager, the experience of each SC varies from company to company. And to make things more daunting, we were just starting this function at our company. This meant there weren’t many data points from which to extrapolate.
In most cases, a solutions consultant is a trusted part of a company’s sales team. SCs primarily provide guidance during a sales cycle with prospective customers (“pre-sale”). It’s not unheard of for SCs to also be quite involved after the sale is complete (“post-sale”).
Depending on the size of the sales team, an SC may work with the same set of sales representatives (or “sales reps”). Sales reps at a tech company are usually organized by region and company size, which impacts how an SC spends their time. For example, a sales rep may be asked to look for customers within the western states of the USA (i.e. California, Oregon, and Washington). This is referred to as their territory. And depending on the size of the company, the sales rep’s territory may be further divided to only include companies with a certain amount of revenue or headcount (e.g. small businesses/SMB, mid market businesses, or enterprise businesses).
Once a prospective customer is funneled to a sales rep, the sales rep and solutions consultant have an initial discovery conversation. During this conversation, the customer describes their challenges they are trying to solve. The sales rep & SC are listening for whether they can solve the customer's problems through the products and services they can offer. Often these challenges get translated into “requirements” around features, functionality, or other criteria that a given software solution must meet for it to be considered. Professional services can be offered here too.
Once the sales rep and SC agree that this customer could benefit from using their company’s software, it is up to the SC to now demonstrate how they can solve the customer’s challenges. This is the “solution” part of the title. Most SCs really enjoy this part of the job.
During this time, the sales rep is also performing a variety of tasks. This can include: continuing to qualify whether the prospect’s team could truly benefit from the solution, evaluating the size of the prospect’s team/software implementation size, getting ahead of information security requirements and legal hurdles, thinking through pricing & packaging, identifying how to put together a compelling business case, and many, many other tasks. The characteristics of a good sales rep are outside the bounds of this post, but perhaps a topic for another day.
Either before or after the SC presents what the solution will look like in a persuasive and confident manner, there are often related activities that take place. These can include: an online or in-person software demonstration, a “proof of concept” where the SC gives access to the software to the customer so they can test it for themselves and under the SC’s guidance, and other activities.
Once the customer is confident that the software will solve their challenges, the SC and the rep establish steps to close a deal. This can entail working with legal, information security, and accounting or finance teams from both sides to establish the business terms of the agreement. The SC is generally less involved at this stage, though they can still offer guidance.
One of the other enjoyable aspects of being an SC is that you get to work with colleagues in a broad variety of teams. This can include: customer success, marketing, product, partnerships, and others. SCs have a unique perspective given the time they spend in front of prospective customers (and current customers too). This knowledge is invaluable for teams who are looking to understand, is the company is positioning its products advantageously against the competition? Are new unserved customers are showing interest in the company’s products? What aspects of the product customers are getting the most value? Additionally, good SCs stay up to date on the trends in their field. There’s also potential for lots of travel and facetime with prospective customers.
Some key questions to ask when comparing SC roles (which could be a post on its own) include:
- What are the details of the compensation plan?
- What size are your prospective customers?
- How big is the SC team?
- How technical or complex is your product?
- What % of revenue is from software vs. services?
- How experienced is the manager(s) of the team?
- Is the company hitting its growth targets and looking to hire more SCs?
After that difficult day, my former colleagues did find other, often very exciting opportunities to continue their careers.
I’m glad I took on the risk of working in a position I hardly understood since I’ve enjoyed many of the days ever since.