How presales can add strategic value to scenario planning

Scenario Planning


Did you say SUPPLIER? You talkin’ to me? “SUPPLIER”!

I’m enterprise software presales! Ambassador of the New World! Trusted advisor at least! Right?!


It is not enough for a professional to be right: An advisor’s job is to be helpful. (David H. Maister)

Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell them you were a trusted advisor. Show them.

As you read this, many businesses struggle through the impact of Covid-19. Their business resiliency is under fire while they revise their operations, tactics, and strategy. Some need your help to get through this. But: your help doesn’t necessarily mean your software.

I hear you say: Why would customers need MY input on strategic matters? Aren’t I here to find business problems and fix them with software?

Let me explain. With a story.

Imagine you are a fly on the wall of a large meeting room in the IBM headquarters. It’s 1980. Nine wise men sit around a heavy wooden table, discussing. Some of the brightest minds in IT those days.

They are discussing. Looking at a transparency on the overhead projector. A slide that will be said to cost IBM 200,000,000,000 US Dollars.

Subject of the discussion: should IBM invest in building personal computers? The slide: a sales forecast for PCs over the next five years.

It totals at 241,683 units.

Top of the wise men’s minds:

(1) We build mainframes powerful computing. Who would want a slow PC? We don’t believe in PCs.

(2) But we have to come up with something to compete against Apple and Commodore.

Their decision:

  • We don’t invest in building own intellectual property in microchips and operating systems here. Out dev costs would outweigh the sales revenue by far.
  • We use commercial off-the-shelf components. Take microchips from Intel, the operating system from this Gates-kid from Seattle,put it in a box, and stamp the IBM logo on it.

⏩  FAST FORWARD. Today we know:

  1. The 241,683 units forecast was wrong. People bought 30,000,000 PCs at that time.
  2. The shareholder value IBM left on the table is estimated 200,000,000,000 US Dollars, i.e. value that is now part of Microsoft and Intel who built their companies on the success of the PC.
  3. IBM nearly collapsed in the 1980s, also due to this decision.

⁉️  WHY did the nine wise men fail?

NOT because of the input to the strategic decision. Not because of the forecast figures. We don’t have crystal balls. No one can predict the future.

BUT because of the process of the strategic decision making. People involved were so captured within their limited perception of the world (mental maps) that they could not see the scenario of PCs permeating into the living rooms and offices of the world, breaking ground for the information revolution.

????  SO WHAT has this to do with Presales (me)?

We established: If you want to be a trusted advisor, then you have to be helpful; if you want to be helpful, be more than a supplier. The current pandemic pushed every company into a corner: they need to make far-reaching decisions under pressing operational issues and huge uncertainty. And they need to make them now.

For example:

  • Should we change our operating model to remote-first?
  • Should we adapt our business model and go to market differently?
  • Should we expect a lasting change in consumer behavior and change our products to better suit a post-pandemic world?

Complex questions that inherit a multitude of interdependent factors. One of which: technology. Your home turf. Your knowledge of technology, trends, solutions can be helpful for your customer as they evaluate their options for different strategic scenarios.

???? This is when you can position yourself as a trusted advisor.

Help your customer to avoid an IBM-PC-like decision. Apply your knowledge to extent their mental maps. Sounds fuzzy. I know. here’s more substance.

HOW can my customer make better business decisions under uncertainty then?

A helpful method for strategic decision making under uncertainty with many possible futures is Scenario Planning. It’s a multi-step process, driven by rigorous data analysis and creative imagination, that seeks to determine a number of plausible Scenarios of the future as a reference for decision making in the present. Opposed to usual planning exercises, Scenarios Planning looks beyond the own mental maps: it gets you to focus on what you don’t know or assume, uncovering blind spots you have at the moment.

Scenarios are descriptions (or stories) or plausible, coherent futures that are very uncertain and very impactful of nature. Like a pandemic. Scenarios are rich of data and analyses, follow an internal logic, and include “signposts”, i.e. signals which imply that this Scenario is unfolding. (Diagram: Sandburg, 2018)

Through Scenario Planing you turn Unknown Unknowns into Known Unknowns. The difference between the two: Known Unknowns can be monitored for signals.

Scenarios enable you to determine suitable action plans or strategies for different possible futures — so reveal how toreact to a specific future and which set of actions would make sense no matter what conditions ultimately unfold. (Gartner)

Scenario planning widens our mental map. To avoid another $200,000,000,000 slide.

In our case of an ongoing pandemic, Scenario Planning can even help to interpret current changes and respond rapidly to them.

HOW can I help my customer with my tech knowledge in their decision making?

There are great, detailed reads about the process of Scenario Planning. Some are referenced at the bottom of this article. I encourage you to read the breakthrough works of Salesforce Chief Futurist Peter Schwartz and Stratfor’s Jay Ogilvy.

Usually, Scenario Planning happens on a corporate level. Which is so strategic and non-disclosed that you might not get first-hand access to it. Scenario Planning can, however, also be run on a functional level. Say, in the IT Department, or the Sales Department. Functions you might have established a trusting relationship already so that they appear receptive of your advisory knowledge.

Here is where YOU step in

The customer will define the focal issue or decision in question, inside-out. You can help identifying external driving forces that may influence the decision. This requires a massive amount of research and creative imagination. You think free, think broad, write down, collect, rank and prioritize. The most impactful and most uncertain forces will be the axes of your 2×2 Scenario Planning matrix. Fleshing out the Scenarios, i.e. the stories and logic for each of the quadrants requires much creativity again. For each of the Scenarios, your customer needs a strategic response, an action plan. This where you can score with your solution know how. Lastly, you can help to identify the signposts of each Scenario. Indications that a certain Scenario unfolds. An early-warning system.


This is how a generic output looks like focusing on these two uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic (Diagram: Turner, 2020):

  • The nature of global coordination: “slow and inadequate” vs. “fast and efficient”
  • The nature of public response: “ill-disciplined” vs. “disciplined”

For further inspiration on roles, resources, and design components of an exemplary Scenario Planning Workshop, check out this planning guide.

Wrapping-up: WHY all this, again?

  • Your customers need you as a trusted advisor, not as a software supplier. Right now more than ever. They need to make far-reaching decisions under operational pressure and a lot of immediate uncertainty.
  • Scenario Planning is a tool you can use in Presales to enter conversations with your customer which will be more strategic than anything you had before.
  • You don’t have to follow the formal process to get there. But do understand how it works and what you could use of it to extend your customer’s mental map.
  • The customer will learn a lot from your insights on technology and innovation, you will learn a lot from their industry vision, and business challenges.
  • You will be able to design solutions that enhance your customer’s resiliency for the Scenarios created.

You will have to bring research. You will have to bring ideas. It will be hard work.

And: It will be rewarding!

“It’s all about looking into the future to see what could happen so that you can get all your ducks lined up to meet the challenges!” (Leila Ferguson)

Further reading

Contact me to find your path to presales excellence

Get in touch

Frankfurt region, Germany


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