For more than two years, “scaling presales” has topped the list of hot button challenges that leaders—presales and sales—have tried to solve.
What we mean by scaling presales is the adoption of strategies (which may include tech) and tactics that help teams get more of the right things done beyond the typical constraints of time and resources. It’s about bridging productivity and effectiveness so that output and quality both increase. So often teams thin in terms of growing through headcount. Scale is not about growth, at first, but about getting more from the headcount you have.
But if you want to pinpoint the best strategies for your team, ones that don’t break processes or create friction with sales and buyers, you need to first define two critical gaps: the increasing demand gap and the key activity gap.
Increasing Demand Gap
This refers to any surge in demand for presales resources—content, consultations, demos, etc—from any stakeholder, which now includes not just sales and buyers but also marketing, customer success and product. Broadly speaking, presales is now in demand across the funnel.
The increasing demand gap can occur for a number of reasons:
- Marketing spends more, creating an influx in leads
- Demo qualification deteriorates causing an increase in time spent on unqualified demos; demo lag time balloons as does demand
- Sales ramps up new reps, but presales isn’t given a correlating budget increase
- Demos are occurring down-market where volume is higher
There’s an even longer list but the point is, when you face this gap, you have to conduct a gap analysis, which inevitably begins by asking yourself:
What’s the gap in our capacity to handle current and projected demand?
What are the primary factors driving this demand gap?
The simplest method for diagnosing the factors behind your demand gap is your AE:SE ratio.
If you look toward projected growth and anticipate the need for SEs, you can compare it to your current AE:SE ratio.
For example, if you have an AE:SE ratio of 4:1 and you project staffing sales up to 230 AEs, you will need 58 SEs to accommodate the surge in demand just from sales (assuming demand levels are maintained on a per rep basis, and assuming you make no other changes like purchasing tech to scale your presales function). If you have 40 SEs, you’d need 18 new hires to maintain your ratio.
The challenge here is hiring additional SEs to maintain the same ratio is a linear growth strategy and not actually a scaling tactic.
Often, sales ramps new reps without accounting for presales to hire at the same pace.
Even if you plan to hire at the same pace, the reality is it takes a lot longer to find qualified SE candidates, and even longer to onboard them. In some cases, the time delta between AE and SE onboarding is 4 months vs 1-2 years.
If you don’t hire enough SEs or onboard them quickly enough, you will have to either reevaluate workloads—which usually means each SE takes on additional projects or puts in more hours—or come up with a strategy to actually scale and not just grow.
But continuing the example above, if you need 58 new SEs to maintain the ratio but can’t hire them, your new ratio drops to 5.75:1, which translates to 22 additional hours of work each week per SE or a 45% increase in demand.
If you have the budget to hire 6 new SEs, the ratio drops to 5:1. That is still a 25% increase in demand for the existing (and new) SEs, which means an increased demand gap of 12.5 hours of additional work per SE per week.
This is why scale is so critical. You can’t just think in terms of growth through hiring new people. You need to understand the demand gap to determine how much scale your team requires.
Key Activity Gap
Next, is the key activity gap analysis. This requires taking a deeper look at the activities your sales engineers are currently doing and comparing them with the activities they need to do to meet the increased demand gap.
For example, if SEs are doing too many repetitive micro or vision demos at the expense of qualified discovery calls, strategic consulting or other key activities, then you should reengineer their tasks, especially the repetitive ones you can automate, so they stop wasting time.
Let’s assume we’re doing a key activity gap analysis using the earlier example of an increasing demand gap of 12.5 hours per week per SE.
Begin by asking: What activities are the SEs spending their time on?
It’s not unusual to not know the answer right away given the technical nature of their work. However, if you don’t know, and can’t figure it out, you won’t be able to adjust processes or KPIs. Figuring this out is key.
Talk to different team members and even survey your team to see how many hours per week they spend on different tasks. Those could include:
- Discovery calls
- Technical demos
- Consulting calls
- Repetitive “Micro Demos”
- Repetitive standard “Qualifying Demos”
- Repetitive FAQ and closing demos
- Customer support
- Improving product knowledge
- Planning and architecting solutions
- Training and mentoring
- Customer support
That’s a lot of “stuff” to do. Looking at such a list helps to crystalize why there’s a lot of SE burnout, but it should also reinforce why this function is so important.
Back to the list, what are the best tasks for SEs to take on? If you could scale some up and others down, which would you put in either bucket to change the game?
Rank order them. And keep in mind, this is just a list and doesn’t even factor in tasks or time spent on qualified vs unqualified prospects (that’s an entirely different conversation).
Each organization will have different priorities. What are they for your company? If you could have your team spend 80% of their time on just the most essential activities, how much more effective would they be?
If you find, in going through the list and surveying your people, that you’re spending too much time on things that fall outside your “essentials” list, don’t be surprised to discover they’re also wasting time on unqualified demos—sometimes at a rate north of 50%—or that you have a two-week lag time between, for example, presales demo request and demo delivery.
Quickly create a simple spreadsheet to help you organize and rank the activities with a column showing the percentage of time spent on each task and a column for ranking the essentials all the way down to the non-essentials. With input from colleagues and reps, you’ll be surprised how often efforts doesn’t line up to expectations.
It may seem overly simplistic, even trivial, but it’s surprising how many people don’t look at these gaps! A simple assessment will give you a good idea of where and how to scale. It could be the lowest-hanging force-multiplier to drive both better productivity and effectiveness.