How A Career in Pre-sales Prepares Us to Lead in Tumultuous Times

By Karen Kosloff

We are in a pivotal and historic moment. As I write this from my home in central New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in New York City, with protests raging across the country, as we lumber toward the most contentious and divisive presidential election in modern history, I find myself struck by – of all things – hope. Hope for the future. And hope that no matter our differences, we’ll unite in common purpose and emerge from this turbulent moment with a new vision for our collective future; a vision of fairness, respect, and empathy for one another. It won’t be easy, but as pre-sale professionals in the most diverse nation in the world, we are uniquely prepared to lead our companies and communities through this fractious time.

For many APMP members, our profession is more than just a job – it’s an extension of who we are. We don’t just project manage from 9 to 5 – we’re assertive go-getters who get tough jobs done, around the clock. We’re not just strong business writers – we’re skilled communicators who influence the way those around us think and behave. The core skills of pre-sale professionals are far more powerful than winning any one bid or pitch; we have the power to inspire and help shape the way people see the world and their places in it.

Halfway through 2020, it’s safe to say we’ve all had moments of despair, where we feel helpless to affect real change and the sources of what divides us feel overwhelming and insurmountable. But I encourage each of us to look within and reflect on the ways our profession has prepared us to respond to this moment. Here’s why the APMP community is uniquely prepared to lead our organizations and local communities through this tumultuous time:

Weathering Change and Ambiguity

One of the first things any pre-sale professional learns is how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Whether you work in proposal management, presentations, capture management, or business development, our work is rife with ambiguity and change is ubiquitous. There’s no clear-cut playbook, and the nature of our work requires us to continuously make judgement calls that can have serious consequences.

The ability to step up and lead when others shy away from ambiguity is precisely what’s needed during any period of substantial change. As pre-sale professionals, we’re not afraid of uncertainty; our work requires us to embrace the unknown, roll up our sleeves, and figure out what needs to be done. Over time, pre-sale work affords us the hard-earned confidence to move forward in spite of ambiguity – and that confidence often inspires others to move forward alongside us.

Crisis Management

Picture this: you’re working on a high-stakes opportunity and find yourself in the eleventh hour, deadline looming, still missing key information – and your subject matter experts are unavailable. Maybe you’ve just shipped an important proposal, only to learn that the shipment has been delayed and you’re now at risk of being disqualified. How will you respond? In pre-sales, crisis comes with the territory.

Of course, no pre-sale problem can compare to the current state of turmoil in our country. The smaller-scale, day-to-day crises that accompany pre-sales work do however illuminate one of the unique attributes of APMP professionals: we work well under pressure, when stakes are high and others are counting on us. We routinely rise to the occasion, figure out what needs to be done, and enlist others to help us execute and ensure a positive outcome. At a time when so much about daily life feels so uncertain, there is tremendous need for the steady hands of leaders, and pre-sale professionals are especially well-positioned to meet the moment.

Leading and Uniting People

Pre-sale work cannot be done in a vacuum. From sales partners to subject matter experts, we rely on other people in order to do our work. We act as cross-functional liaisons and intermediaries, and as a result, pre-sale professionals are particularly adept at influencing without formal authority and mobilizing others to act with us.

Now more than ever, there is a need for this type of grassroots leadership. You don’t need to hold an elected office in order to bring diverse groups and perspectives together and unite them in a common purpose and shared vision – we do that every day in our roles as pre-sale professionals. What we may not have considered is what this looks like outside of our professional roles. How do you use the same skills you bring to work every day in your personal life? What would it look like if you applied those efforts in your local community? There’s never been a more prescient time to find out.

Identifying and Amplifying Value Messages

Finding the good in things is what we do. As pre-sale professionals, we identify attractive features and value-adding benefits. We figure out what’s important and communicate compelling value propositions that sway buyer behavior. Fear and uncertainty can also be powerful motivators, but rarely does a proposal win by highlighting risk alone. We understand that perception is reality, and we have the skills necessary to alter perceptions and shape new realities. How powerful is that?!

In this historical moment marked by instability and fear, there is a palpable thirst for a new vision, and a new reality. Messages of hate, fear and suspicion ring louder now than ever before in many of our lifetimes, but they’re fickle; we can counteract and overcome these misleading messages, but it will take many more of us speaking out. Imagine the impact we could have if each of us applied our skills to identifying the positive values in our local communities, and amplifying a message of unity, fairness, peace and progress.

Inspiring a Call to Action

Every good proposal inspires a call to action in its audience. You can craft the most elegant value proposition or messaging, but it only matters if you can convince your audience to take action. Pre-sale professionals are uniquely adept at this; we understand what resonates with people and motivates them, and we know how to tell stories and deliver messages that influence other people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

This same idea applies to social, political and cultural contexts. Achieving peace and unity requires a convincing and repeated call to action for the public, especially in times of instability and division. No one voice alone is enough; it will take a chorus of voices speaking up in our organizations and local communities to heal hatred, overcome fears, and instill a new vision of peace, justice and prosperity for all.

Consider this a call to action to the APMP community: you are powerful. You can make a difference. You have the tools and skills necessary to enact real change in your local community and world at large. To those of you already leveraging your talents to enact change in your local communities, thank you and bravo to your leadership. To those who have yet to apply their skills beyond our profession, I implore you to reflect on what you can do to help. Start small – a simple conversation, physically showing up, volunteering – there are so many ways to enact change, and the world needs you.

Karen Kosloff, CF APMP is Presentation Lead at Guardian Life Insurance, with 12 years of experience in proposals, marketing, and presentations. She is a recipient of APMP’s “40 Under 40” award and frequent contributor to Karen holds an MBA in marketing and buyer behavior and a Masters degree in rhetoric and persuasive writing.