The Pre-Sales Equation

Charlie Van Norman
6 min readFeb 2, 2021


Hello! My name is Charlie, and I work on the Presales team at SoftServe Inc. on the Customer Journey Navigation Team. My official title is Solutions Consultant, and it’s my role to help our sales team discover, qualify, manage, and close deals.

After reading this article, my hope is you will

  • Better understand the many factors that may impact a deal
  • Use the equation variables as a guide for conversations and deal design

Quick primer on the Enterprise Presale

During the first client meeting, it’s our task to establish a potential engagement between our two companies — this includes doing some legwork ahead of time to know the right angles of approach, and there’s also a deep conversation to be had¹ around framing client calls around business value (rather than purely technical solutions.)

A typical sales cycle has 1–10 meetings over 1–10 weeks before either closing or disqualifying. It is tempting to say Yes to whatever the client (or partner) requests, but it is important to say No where appropriate, otherwise we can easily begin setting the expectation that we will take on a deal that is not a good fit for us. I’ve uncovered several deals that worked for us, simply by saying “No” to the first request — and quickly finding that the client actually had other needs that were a great fit for us.

[1] The Five Whys is one great starting point for insights based selling.

Qualification and Deal Design: an example

In this article I’ll refer to an imaginary client, “Client, Inc”. We learn in the first meeting that Client Inc has an urgent need around migrating 10 users off an obscure technology, T, which would take just a few weeks to do (perhaps with a $XX,000 price tag). On the surface, this is not a deal for us. Our ROI including time, money, effort, and overhead only becomes positive above $XXX,000 in revenue over the next 12 months. Here’s the simple equation in pseudocode:

if ($XXX,000 ≤ $Expected_Value), then GO;
$Expected_Value = $XX,000;
Therefore, NO-GO

Note: I’m using “XX,000” here instead of real numbers, as this is a nonexistent example.

So, no-go, right? Well — not so fast! There is often more to the story. We expand the conversation: “What led you to needing this now?” Answer: “We aqua-hired a company and after an internal review, decided we needed to do a bunch of migrations. This is one of them.”

My ears prick up. A bunch of migrations, you say? Further questioning leads to a deeper business case: “We realized our employees could be roughly 2x more productive if they had a unified set of internal platforms and tools.” We end up discussing the horizon on when this 2x productivity boost is expected to realize (6 months), as well as the top line impact (we can reduce development costs by $X00,000/yr and invest an additional X000 hours into R&D). Let’s assume the initial need is $X0,000, but these additional migrations including a discovery and program management is worth a lot more. The client agrees that the first migration can be a Phase I of the total migration project. In the biz we call this the “tail” because it comes after the first deal. Let’s revisit the equation:

if ($XXX,000 ≤ $Expected_Value + $Tail), then GO;
$Expected_Value = $XX,000;
$Tail = $XXX,000;
Therefore, GO

Simple enough, right? :-]

The Equation

Ok, that was a simple example. Reality is often much more nuanced. Here’s a more complete picture:

One version of the Presales Equation — far from complete or definitive. Please treat as a starting point.

It’s easy to see how complex deals could be! Note that this is not really an equation per se, but rather a set of variables to consider. We simply cannot have a true cut-and-dry equation for presales, so this is meant as a guide to help you navigate your next deal.

How do I use it?

This Presales equation exists as a conversation framework, a common language we use to align on which deals make sense, and to understand which variables to tweak. I will articulate a few example deals, by each variable below, along with a hypothetical example of when and how to tweak it to make a deal work. When you engage with your next presale, if it’s not clear whether or not you should continue to invest in this client or how to approach it, you can review this equation and look for items that may help you make (or break) that deal.

  • SOW size: Very straightforward. We’d like it to be over $XXX,000.
  • Logo value: If the SOW size is too small, we may pursue it anyway if it is a strategic logo. Any executive or account manager would tell you closing Apple is worth a lot; it doesn’t mean you give your work away for free, but you’re also not playing by the same rules.
  • Client simplicity: The initial SOW size looks good, but the complexity indicates too much overhead — there are 20 stakeholders that all need to approve from the client’s side, as well as a complex MSA process, so we may disqualify based on the expected complexity and effort to close the deal.
  • Preferred roles & SoftServe ownership: SoftServe performs best when we can add value at the business level. We can certainly staff engineers, as it’s our legacy business, but we’ll be able to create much more value for the client if we are managing and owning the project, and working with executives on the client side to align on business drivers for the work. This often means the roles for the project include Architect, BA, and Manager. We may even take a smaller deal if we’re engaging on these terms, because it can often lead to larger deals and a long term symbiotic relationship with the client.
  • Conversely, even if the up-front deal is large, if it’s a pure temporary staff aug it may not be a good fit. Then it would depend more on our circumstances and available resources. Some temp-staff-aug deals do work, but it’s not our preferred model.
  • Tail size: Simply put, if we estimate a higher value of future work, we may invest in a smaller deal. It’s often difficult to quantify the tail, so strategize with your team about the possibilities here.
  • Partner sales model: This is a tricky one. Every situation must be handled on its own. Be aware of partner dynamics, personalities, and preferred engagement models. This warrants its own post, so I’ll only say that each partner you work with has a different process and expectations, which can influence the way you pursue those individual deals.
  • Partner Alignment: If the deal is small, but it satisfies a strategic goal with a partner, we may invest with the expectation of a healthier partner relationship and future deal flow.
  • Competition: It’s always a factor, but sometimes we are one of just a few options, while other times we’re competing with dozens on an RFP. This can help you decide whether your team’s time is better spent on other deals, depending on the level of competition and your other options in the pipeline.
  • Risk Tolerance: If our team is risk tolerant, we may invest in smaller deals that have a chance to pay off later. This can be seasonal or situational, and differs greatly on many factors. It’s not something I can codify into an equation, but if you’re working with your local business unit, you should already have a good idea about what risks you’re willing (and unwilling) to take together.
  • Resource Availability: If the deal is well qualified, we find a way to deliver. If it is not, then our available resources may make or break the deal.

I hope this article and equation may help you with future deals, as well as your conversations with your team and partners! Simply letting your clients and partners know what works for you can unlock new possibilities.

A Final Note

Remember when crafting deals is that it’s rarely about price. Harry Propper, our president, likes to compare client calls to a doctor’s visit — they may start with, “My foot hurts, can you cut it off?!” (I’m paraphrasing.) Once we start asking the broader questions about what led to their foot hurting, we can elevate the conversation above a bidding war for cutting off the foot, which isn’t what the client really needs in the first place. So before you go qualifying or disqualifying your next deal, make sure you’re doing it from a value-based point of view, and not on the cost-centric view that the conversation may have started with.

The opinions in this article are all mine, and do not necessarily represent that of my company, SoftServe — and I welcome and encourage any feedback or dialogue that this article generates. Thanks for reading, and happy selling!