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PM software as a sales argument - part 1

Why a good project presentation makes offers more attractive

Thomas Schlereth
08.02.2023 | 10 min reading time

project management software

skill and resource management

hybrid project management

AI-based software

Anyone offering a service to a prospective customer is often faced with a dilemma: what is being offered is not as tangible as a concrete product. The offer phase of services could certainly be made more attractive - and thus more sales-oriented: By proving to prospective customers during the presentation how much you have processes and projects under control! In a two-part article, Can Do founder Thomas Schlereth shows how good project management software (such as Can Do) can enhance sales presentations and make them more convincing.

PM Software as a sales argumentPM and sales: for whom is this an issue?

Providers of personal services have a much harder time than product providers in one aspect: The result of the offer is not really visible, but a promise.

An example will illustrate this: Software offered to a company can be shown and tested. Other customers of the provider can be asked to show the product in use. Here, the comparison with a new car is obvious, which can first be touched and test-driven.

This is much more difficult in the case of services, such as those offered by management consultancies, process optimizers, marketing companies, law firms, etc. Here, sales staff have to show the customer the product in action. Here, sales staff have to sell a vision, an idea, to the customer. This vision is primarily transported via two channels. One channel is trust in the people of the provider, in their seriousness, professionalism and also in the sympathy that customers - or rather the acting persons of the customer company - develop towards these people. The reasoning behind this is - in my experience - intrinsically motivated. After all, it is necessary to work with these people over a longer period of time - the project duration. 

The other channel is the content of the offer made to the customer.

The sales process

Project management meetingBusiness initiation processes are arbitrarily complex and lengthy and vary widely - depending on the industries. But sooner or later there will be one or more presentations with the client company. In this presentation, the concept and the procedure of the offered project are presented. This is very much about making sure that the people who decide on the business with the customer understand the content of the offer and that it meets their own interests. A negative example: reform or reorganization projects that ultimately result in the elimination of an area that is no longer future-oriented will not arouse enthusiasm in the responsible area manager in this presentation. Many industries with a wide variety of topics have made this experience in recent years. Making electric cars palatable to the "transmission" division manager at a car manufacturer is likely to be similarly difficult as making the "cloudification" of his division palatable to the IT manager with the planned elimination of 80% of his staff.

It is therefore very important that the customer's decision-makers are able to imagine the result and - above all - the path to it very well. Few people think in terms of the final result, but rather in terms of steps forward. Each of these steps must be understandable, realistic and comprehensible. And it is precisely at this point that a problem arises that sometimes leads to downright hilarity.

The way to the goal

Admittedly, I work for a manufacturer of project and resource management software and know the issues quite well. When one of our vendors from the target group mentioned above makes a project offer to us, the following situation actually always arises:

  • In terms of content, the technical topics are excellently presented in PowerPoint. The company that presents its project appears very competent and the offer is suitable in price and performance.
  • If the offer is presented by the provider to the management, this is an extract of the best providers, which was selected internally by the own experts. From a technical point of view, the decision-makers can get a rough picture, but the actual technical assessment of the offer is difficult or even impossible.
  • There are often two "neutral" issues left for the decision-makers to really see through. These are the price and the duration of the project.

The bid price and the project process

table full of project plansThe offer price is designed by good sales people in advance so that it is not completely unrealistic - in one direction or another. But, the price must also fit the course of the project. And this is where the project plan, which is always presented as well, comes into play.

What I was shown here as a decision maker at Can Do, as an advisory board, steering committee or consultant at companies, would be worth a comedy series ...

As mentioned, I deal with project plans professionally and have a particularly critical eye here, but it could be a little better than most of what has been presented here.

It often starts with a milestone plan, which was "drawn" in PowerPoint. Including exact dates, always nicely at the beginning of a month or quarter. In between painted bars and in some cases a drawn table on the left, with which the rough steps are labeled. Also popular are Excel tables in which cells are "painted" in color. The X-axis then corresponds to the weeks and months. Highlights are simple tables, where simply the steps are in a list, the dates in a table next to it.

Such presentations often include a lot of slides, the project flow usually only one slide.

This is why professional project management creates trust during a presentation

All decision-makers in the companies have repeatedly made the experience that the promises of a sales presentation of the supplier are often not kept in reality. It is also clear that the provider will not present a risk analysis that proves that the offer cannot work in the form shown anyway.

Time risks usually mean risks in effort. If these risks are priced into the offer phase, the offer becomes more realistic, but also more expensive. The customer's obligation to cooperate in the project - usually the decisive factor for the project's success - is underestimated. The prevailing mindset is "The supplier will do it ...".

In this subject environment, two factors mentioned above play a decisive role: trust and professionalism. The company offering the service must not only be very good in its field; most of them are anyway. It must also exude confidence that it can manage the project competently and to a high technical standard. So this is actually where another technical competence comes into play - professional project management.

No matter how good a provider actually is: If the decision-makers do not develop the confidence that the provider will also get the project organized, it will not be awarded the contract. At the very least, considerable doubts will remain, which will cloud the cooperation.

In many cases, the customer does not make a decision at all. Rather, the issue is postponed. Not because the provider is not convincing from a technical point of view or because the need no longer exists at the customer company, but because there is a lack of confidence in the provider's realistic ability to implement the project.

The planning of such service projects must therefore include more than a short slide. The provider must show that it will handle the project according to all the rules of the art, not only technically. But also organizationally. The decision-makers must understand, or at least trust, that the provider is very good at project management, based on high-quality planning. Perhaps even better than the people in their own company.

Elements of a professional project presentation

In the entire sales process, the focus is primarily on the technical skills of the provider. However, realistic planning and control of the project by the provider also play a significant role in a successful project.

Good project work consists of good project managers and good technical tools for project control. Good project managers are trained or, even better, certified. They have proven their expertise and learned the subject of project management. This knowledge should not be confused with experience or "we've done it before" at this stage.

A marketing or consulting project where the executing project manager is certified with one of the common organizations creates a level of trust with the decision makers that some of them do not have in their own project managers.

So why not present on a slide that the project manager is certified and has a project deputy to take over if the project manager fails? Maybe because the vendor doesn't have any trained project managers? A company that earns its money by selling projects to other companies and does not attach importance to this aspect?

As a decision maker, I can expect from a consulting firm that advises my company in the area of business processes within the scope of a project that the project managers are professionals. A certificate gives me an indication of this.

Three people discussing project plans infront of a computerThe project organization is not an insignificant side effect, but essential for the success of the project. This includes fully responsible project managers on the part of the customer and the provider. The rights and duties must be clearly defined to avoid competence disputes. In addition, there must always be a project steering committee that can intervene like a supervisory board with decision-making power. It must be clearly informed; either cyclically or - if the appropriate project platform is available - in real time, whenever it wants.

The project organization is definitely worth a slide! Why not show the roles of the people in the project, their rights and duties at the next project presentation?

Project planning is as realistic a look into the future as possible. Such planning is more than colored Excel cells or boxes in PowerPoint. The plan shows all people when and how something has to be done, on which goals the team focuses (milestones) and who performs which activities in the project. Project planning further shows the dependencies of the phases and work of a project. Here it is clearly shown that the release of a subproject by "stakeholders" has to be done e.g. already in June. If one of the decision makers does not have time for this, this will jeopardize the entire process. This creates attention, commitment and trust - all aspects that are so important for the successful completion of the deal.

Milestones are the fixed points of a project. No decision maker can assess or evaluate detailed work in the project. Phases (as predecessors of these milestones) must be formulated clearly and comprehensibly, in the sense and understanding of the decision-makers. A project phase that uses cryptic technical terms or, worse, abbreviations to demonstrate the vendor's outstanding technical competence is counterproductive. These cryptic terms may also indicate that the goal is not to seriously inform the people releasing the money, but to either show off or confuse. "The worm must please the fish, not the angler."

People cannot imagine a distant future in detail. Every calendar is promptly filled with many appointments. But these become fewer and fewer as the temporal view becomes increasingly longer.

But a project runs for months or years. Here, few but clear milestones must be placed. Their results must be measurable and understandable. To place these future milestones exactly on one day is actually ridiculous. However, this approach is often justified by the fact that the software used to create the planning cannot handle imprecise dates such as "4th quarter" or "October". This does not make these dates more realistic.

working on a laptopAny planning of a service project depends on the available people and their capabilities. Since the companies - client and contractor - usually have to work together, this capacity information is crucial for a timely project success.

The presentations of many providers are mostly limited to efforts in person-days for the respective topic. Who exactly is this person, whether this person meets the technical requirements and is available at all? The slides are silent about that.

This applies to both sides: The contractor must also provide the required resources - and this requires realistic capacity planning. In my industry, this is an inherent problem. Our customers come to us precisely because they do not have good capacity and skills planning. But because our project managers know this, we price it into the planning and present it.

A typical slide of a good presentation is therefore a workload planning of acting persons or teams over the course of the project, which has also been validated and confirmed. This is not seriously possible with Excel, but must be created with a project and resource management software.

So there is more to a presentation for a service project than just the one slide on project progress! What you should present:

  • The team leading the project, along with proof of their project management skills.
  • The project organization with all committees and all rights and obligations
  • A comprehensible phase and milestone planning
  • A credible capacity planning of all acting persons, which also includes the required skills

My good friend, Dr. Roland Ottmann, would now demand a few more slides - after all, he is an absolute expert in project management. He will, of course, miss risk planning, an exact cost history, cite serious methods such as Earned Value as a valuation tool, milestone trend analyses as a forewarning system, and so on. This is all true, but we are talking about a proposal presentation here.

These analyses and preemptive tools certainly add to the seriousness of the presentation. After all, they show that the provider has really taken a serious look at the project. However, it must not be forgotten that the technical content of the offer is still the focus. Risks and cost trends can be mentioned, but they can also make the decision-makers nervous: They want to believe in the success of the project. Risks are just a nuisance. However, if project management professionals sit on the decision-making committee, they will ask for such additional information! This rarely happens, but you should be prepared and have such slides up your sleeve if necessary.

Conclusion: Presentations, projects and PM software

If you want to convince your prospective customers, you should give them a transparent insight into the planned project execution as part of a sales presentation. This will quickly make it clear to future customers that you know what you're talking about - and are ideally positioned for the job.

In the second part, Thomas Schlereth looks into the question of why this type of presentation has not been standard for a long time and reports from his wealth of experience on how sales presentations should better not be run.

You already want to know everything about Hybrid Project Management, Can Do and the pleasant influence of PM on sales? Let us advise you without obligation - just get in touch!

Our two-piece at a glance:


Thomas Schlereth
Written by

Thomas Schlereth

As a member of the management board, Thomas is responsible for the operative management of the development including conception, design and further development of the software. He also advises customers on best practices and supports the roll-out.