How to innovate in presales like The Verve and Gifford Pinchot III


Picture this guy. Brown hair, brown eyes, brown belt, brown shoes. Not too tall, average weight. Black backpack over one shoulder. Blue suit, no tie. Regular. Looks a bit exhausted maybe.

As he closes the door of meeting room 3.C.06 behind him, his footsteps echo through the almost empty hallway. Late night at the corporate HQ.

The name’s Tom. And he just sat through a 3hrs loss review. Felt like the Spanish Inquisition really, he wonders.

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Tom works in presales. He designed the solution for an eight-digit dollar deal. The moby dick of this quarter. Of this year, really. The deal was lost last Friday. Now, his solution just got ripped apart by the Inquisitors, his reputation beaten down badly.

Tough day?” Tom looks up. Sees a friendly face. Beard, mild smile, pair of wise eyes behind glasses.

Tom nods. As they walk down the third floor of their corporate HQ, he recapitulates what happened in the last 9 months. Complex customer, complicated bidding process. RFI, RFP, Due Diligence, Negotiation. The full package. Exciting though. Transformational stuff. It could change everything for that customer.

Complication: the customer needed a solution Tom’s firm didn’t have. Neither did anyone else in the market. But it was possible to build it. It had to be done quickly, though. Thing is: Tom’s large firm can’t do ‘quickly’. So he took three partner components and convinced a small team of engaged colleagues to help. Decent guys. Very talented in their home domain. Architecture, integration, process automation.

They built the solution below the corporate radar. Tom knew he didn’t have the time to sit through the formal corporate process of launching this as a new product. So they took that idea and ran with it. Until they had a working POC, a delivery commitment, specs and design papers written, a price tag. – Everything to formally introduce it to Product & Portfolio Management, after they would have won the deal…

Now that they lost and management found out what he did, they went ballistic on him.

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You know, it’s only labelled ‘mistake’ if you lose“, says Friendly Face and adds: “You guys were the self-appointed general managers of a new idea – Intrapreneurs!

He goes on. “What you did in here is what entrepreneurs do in their start-ups. You are the ones that take on responsibility for creating innovation within a business.* But you gotta be smart about it, kid.”

Tom is all ears.

An intrapreneur in the grip of an idea often sees the grand potential of it in the many different innovations it makes possible. You are thrilled by the overall significance of it and the huge difference the idea and its children can make for the company.

In selling it, you are tempted to say something that implies, “This will change everything.” You are tempted to tell everyone about it and the massive benefits that will come from it. That is exactly the wrong message.”**

Friendly Face smiles.

When a manager hears this, at some level it scares the heck out of them. When trying to sell an idea, don’t ask for anything that causes important stakeholders to say ‘no‘ to it. Always ask for something to which they will say ‘yes’.And what is the one thing that people are almost always willing to give? Advice! So that is the place to start.”***

As they approach the elevators, Friendly Face hands out a blue notebook to Tom. “Have a look. Here’s what might help you.” He salutes Tom, heads for the stairs down, and is gone.

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Tom riffles through the notebook. First slowly, then faster, and faster. Eyes wide, head spinning. Thinking, Maybe I’m no complete failure after all.

First, Tom stops at the chapters on How to Sell Your IdeasBrilliant, he thinks.

Next, he turns to the 10 Intrapreneur’s CommandmentsLet’s have a closer look at this one.

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Thoughts begin to sink in. Tom smiles. Radical, bold, true.

Tom realizes… The key to an intrapreneurial mindset is emancipation. Freeing myself from the need for applause and appraisal, cause there won’t be hardly any. From doing what makes money now to what matters in the long run. From what is expected by my firm to what is needed by my customer.

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On the parking lot. What a day, Tom thinks as he gets into his car. He puts the blue notebook on the passenger seat, carefully.

Now, what? How is all that good for presales anyway?Tom wonders. As he drives off the company premises, his mind wanders to other customers of his. People that fight to change their companies from within, for the better.

Customers can be intrapreneurs too. In fact, important value-creating initiatives often times start with a small nucleus of visionary individuals, the drive to change, and a sponsor who has their back. The larger the company, the more trained the corporate immune system, and the harder to change the company.

If I want to be more than software vendor to my customers, I have to become part of their intrapreneurial team. Coach them, enable them, get stuff done with them, build something useful together that lets them shine. I have to make them successful.

Sounds simple, isn’t easy.

No applause, hard work, hard resistance. There’s no playbook for bottom-up transformation. Just principles. Like those Ten Commandments.

That’s the way forward, he smiles. Time to get home. As he hears the song playing on the radio, he turns up the volume with a laughter, and steps on the gas.


One month later, Tom learned that they had lost the deal due their price. Their competitor made a better offer. At the same time, Tom’s solution was ranked first in the customer’s evaluation criterion “innovation”.

Six months later, Tom heard that the customer did not award the contract at all. After reviewing the case, they found they could not get the level of innovation they desired for the budget they had – and stalled the contract signature with Tom’s competitor to take a new trie at a later stage.

Two years later, Tom’s solution design, POC, and documentation were still alive in the firm. Meanwhile they found their way into many other customer proposals – it actually became a product.


Sources for Quotes

*) Pinchot, Intrapreneuring, 1984)

**) Pinchot, Avoid Triggering the Organizational Immune System, 2017

***) Pinchot, How to Sell Your Idea, 2017


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Gifford Pinchot III is an American entrepreneur, author and inventor, who coined the term “intrapreneur” in a white paper titled “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship” he wrote with his wife in 1978. He authored three books including the bestseller “Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur“. Gifford is the President of Pinchot & Company, an online training company specializing in innovation, intrapreneurship, forestry and other environmental issues.

Check out Gifford Pinchot III’s website for more content on Intrapreneurship and Innovation: Here’s a link list of the series on “How to Sell Your Ideas” on LinkedIn:

Main picture courtesy: The Verve, Photograph (c) by Chris Floyd (

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