The Experts Answer 2021’s Burning Presales Questions

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The best of the best get to the heart of the burning-est questions in Presales

So many questions, so many great answers. We launched the Burning Presales Podcast in November 2021 and already have 18 info-packed episodes with experts answering the most, best, greatest, burning-est Presales questions in the universe. 

In the spirit of bringing you more value more quickly, we’ve highlighted the creme de la creme from each episode. No fluff or fat. Just the good stuff.

Q1 – “What’s the first thing Presale leaders need to understand today vs 10 years ago?”

Peter Cohan, our first guest, said the big thing today is less about finding a ratio, as so many try to do, and more about making your team efficient. 

“How can I scale in a way that actually enables a better scaling algorithm than simply 2 to 1 and double everything?” If new leadership develops an overall vision for their team, they can use that vision to establish goals and the objectives to achieve those goals. By using tech to track and automate processes, you can improve your team’s effectiveness and productivity.

Q2 – “How do frontline managers create better alignment with sales?” 

“In some cases there are some good solutions, but it is a nut that has not been completely cracked.” It’s a difficult subject for sure, Presales shouldn’t tell sales how to do their job just as much as sales shouldn’t tell Presales how to do theirs.

“What I found to be very, very successful… is to hold up as examples senior sales people within the org that do a good job, who consistently make their numbers and are a delight to work with from the standpoint of Presales. They’re successful, so they will influence other sales people, and if they’re a delight to work then they understand, respect, and execute the roles in a mutually beneficial way.”

Q3 – “How can Presales leaders solve their retention and recruiting problems?

Don described the struggles Presales leaders face in keeping top talent: “This is a massive problem…Presales leaders are going to have to realize that we need to take a very different direction for how we build talent, where we get it from, and we need to reward it more.” 

Don suggests several low hanging fruit areas Presales leaders can start with, such as performing retention interviews to suss out concerns before they become reasons for reps to leave, auditing your company culture and values to make sure they are aligned, and recognizing Presales accomplishments throughout the entire organization. 

Q4 – “What’s the role of Presales and how do you turn it into a career?” 

Presales goes beyond what people typically think of the role. “You’re an influencer. You’re influencing people, convincing them to overcome some risks or overcome their doubts about technology and the business outcomes they can achieve.” He talks about the many skills required to do the job and why Presales are in such high demand right now.

Q5 – “How Do you Create Balanced Presales KPIs?” 

“A great suite of KPIs is balanced. Have you got the financial outputs/indicators you need for today to keep stakeholders happy, and also do you have non-financial indicators you need as a leader to give you certainty about tomorrow and about the year after that, which your entire leadership team needs in order to know performance is in safe hands.” 

Some of these non-financial indicators include:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Perception of the market
  • Hours spent doing non-revenue tasks such as demo prep

While finding these KPIs can be a challenge, it’s the only way to ensure you’re making the right decisions for your organization.

Q6 –  “How do you measure the impact and influence of Presales?” 

Adam: “I look at direct vs indirect revenue association to give me an idea of how much we have influenced.” In addition to indirect vs direct impact on sales, Adam looks at:

  • Customer satisfaction where Presales is involved
  • Win ratios
  • Where Presales spend their time (to look for burnout, not to micromanage)
  • How efficient the processes are
  • How quickly demo requests are being addressed

Measuring these allows Adam’s team to spend their focused time on the deals that matter and still be involved, albeit indirectly, with the deals that don’t need the same kind of special attention. 

“I have more sales people to support per Presales person than ever before, but I’m comfortable doing that because I’m deflecting to technology. I’m comfortable that the customer’s getting the right service. But I’m also comfortable that my team’s impact is greater than it’s ever been despite that.”

To put it another way, “A great Presales team is like oil in the engine. It’s always there. It’s always getting better; there’s always the next generation of oil. But we notice when it’s not there. That’s when the problems start.”

Q7 – “What’s the biggest mistake reps make in their first demo?” 

Focusing too much on your product, instead of the customer. “It takes a different set of muscles to put that aside or focus on that less, and show a high level explanation or overview. But then ask the question, how do you solve this problem?” 

Asking questions about the customer not only builds trust, but gives you insights on what areas to focus on for future meetings. 

“Start with reassuring the customer that this is a common problem that we see, explain the reality of solving that problem, and show here’s how we help get you there. Use this as an opportunity to draw customers out more and get more information from them.”

Q8 – “How do Sales and presales collaborate together better?” 

Turns out, empathy goes a long way to solving the problem. “I don’t believe most problems are communication problems. I believe that most problems are interpretation problems.” 

If both sides can put ego aside and think about what the other has to deal with on a daily basis, then the team can work more harmoniously together. 

“I tell SE there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into just getting you in front of a customer…AEs work for months in many cases, just to get the meeting. So there’s a tremendous amount of work that happens before SEs are invited to the party. But the SEs are responsible for saying the right things, delivering the demo, for staying current on the technology and the product.”

Q9 – “How do you get into Presales and succeed?” 

“If you’d had asked me a couple of years ago, it would have been quite a simple thing. It would have been to plan your 3 year plan and 5 year plan…Given the rate of disruption over the last year, I don’t think we can use traditional 3 or 5 year career plans anymore.” 

Instead, he suggests using the things you love as inspiration for which career you would succeed best in.

Q10 – “What is the reality about automation in sales and Presales?” 

“I think automation is wonderful. It loves the jobs we hate.” Because automation can be used to remove the parts of Presales that are repetitive and annoying. 

“I would happily have automation replace some of the things I do day in and day out if it benefits the people that I’m doing that for in the first place.” He suggests finding ways to use automation to make the buying journey smoother for both customers and sellers. “People are adopting a digital hybrid view of the buyer interaction journey. There are times where buyer needs info, and they need it at a specific time.”

Q11 – “How do you get more attention from buyers at the very beginning?” 

Robert Beattie is a visionary sales leader who’s currently the Head of Sales Acceleration at Modernizing Medicine, previously worked as Vice President of Sales at Thomson Reuters. 

“I’m a big believer of being able to show people chunks of things along the way.” His strategy for this developed naturally with the new buying landscape. “What I think has happened, especially in this digital age of selling, is there’s no longer this formulaic A plus B equals 3.” 

“It’s now A plus M plus 4 plus 7 plus content plus another A. Everybody’s journey is so individualized.” Having the proper proof for each customer makes this easier. “You have to give them this proof. Whether it’s social proof, business proof, product feature business proof. The proof is the most important thing. You’ve almost go to give them proof before you even know what you’re going to prove.”

Q12 – “How do you increase Presales influence in your org?”

Tony Francetic is a solution consultant leader at Thomson Reuters and a passionate Presales thought leader. Tony said the first step is to have your own plan for what your team will do for the organization. 

“Make sure you’ve got your own team behind it…The first step is creating the vision behind it. What are you going to do to get your team on board to basically take on some more responsibility? When you look at what drives revenue, Presales is at the heart of all of it.” 

Presales leadership can take that influence to other departments to elevate their team. 

Q13 – “How do you retain top Presales talent?” 

One struggle lots of Presales teams have is career progression. “You’ve got to have a clearly defined career path, and some organizations don’t have levels and ways for growth to happen besides volume.” 

When there’s a clear path towards their career goals, more Presales talent will stay and grow where they are.

Q14 – “The top 5 Presales struggles as seen from a sales leader.” 

If you’re keeping track, you’ll notice we haven’t included a blurb about one guest, our very own Rex Galbraith. That’s because we did better than that! We had Rex on to talk about “The top 5 Presales struggles as seen from a sales leader.” 

Those struggles are:

  1. Presales does not effectively tie performance to revenue
  2. Sales engineers waste time on unqualified demos
  3. Presales teams don’t promote their own contributions well
  4. Presales teams want, but struggle to get, a “seat at the table”
  5. SEs and SCs value dependence over independence

Then we took all the many, many insights from Rex’s podcast and turned it into a whitepaper. There was simply too much to distill down into a single paragraph.

Q15- “How can leaders evaluate how Presales reps perform with clients?”

Sales has several software options that track and coach performance, but Kerry argues it’s not so simple for Presales for several reasons. Coaching Presales requires observing more than just what’s being said to customers; you have to consider what’s being presented as well. 

“The easiest way is to leverage 3rd party experts to take on that mantle. It’s a time consuming and fairly difficult to scale process, but ultimately it is the most effective way because you’re spending time watching and listening to everything they’re doing live in front of the prospect.” 

And this isn’t just a one time fix. To really cement these practices, you’ll have to continually work on these skills.

Q16- “What is the most pervasive problem in the first demo?” 

“What I see universally across almost all of my customers, is there seems to be a general lack of customization or configuration of any kind in intro demos.” 

Since customers are often inexperienced with buying software, they lack the experience to connect the dots between generic demos and their situation. 

“The more we can change the demo itself and the language we use to describe it to fit each of our prospects’ specific use cases, approaches, and situations, the more likely they are to truly understand how applicable and how useful that solution can be for them.” 

It doesn’t have to be large changes. Things like industry specific terminology and similar use cases go a long way.

Q17 – “How do you help buyers navigate their Emotional ROI?” 

The emotional ROI calculation goes something like this: I’m going to have to 1) risk my reputation, 2) risk my home life perhaps, 3) risk other projects I’ve got going on.” 

To the buyer, this is hard to quantify. You have to help them through the emotional implications of this calculation. 

“Provide a very specific implementation plan. Start during the end of the sales cycle, then outline who needs to be involved and how many hours it will take.” 

Mapping out the process very precisely for customers gives them security while implementing a new system leading to higher adoption.  

Q18- “What does it mean to scale and how do you scale Presales?”

“A lot of times when people talk about scale they mean hiring lots of people…that’s not scaling. Scaling is getting increasing exponential results from existing individual resources.” So how do you actually address it? 

Garin recommended three things:

1 – Perform a gap analysis by looking at your SC to AE ratio (i.e. 1:4) and calculating what they need to deliver. Compare that to the resources you have and see where you fall short.2 – List all high value and low value activities for the Presales team by percentage of time spent on each.

About the Author

Aaron Janmohamed

Aaron Janmohamed

I started out in enterprise sales and had a great run for a little over 10 years. But I was always interested in brand strategy, messaging and positioning. At one point near the end of my sales run, while still carrying a quota, I took on some marketing projects and eventually owned the product marketing function. And I loved it! I've always gotten myself engaged in building strategic narratives, generating demand and strengthening brands. I just do it at scale now for high-growth SaaS.