How presales is transforming sales… and why sales leaders need to pay attention

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One of our biggest customers recently told me that all of the tech, the training, the certifications, the money that’s poured into sales is designed to 1) help sellers get in front of customers quickly, 2) lead good conversations and 3) follow a process to close.

That’s not all bad—at least the first two points.

The seller who gets there first has the best chance of sealing the deal. That’s still true. And we need soft skills. We need to listen just as well as we talk (better in fact). We need to know stories and products.

But there’s definitely something missing, especially on the process and tactics side. B2B sales teams, with their enablement programs, are way too linear.

I’m not hating on process, but how many sales leaders do you know still think like this:

“We’ve got X many reps putting in Y many hours leading to Z results, so if we want to increase Z we need to throw this many more bodies at the problem.”

More bodies, different comp plans, rearrange territories. All pretty common, right?

And AEs, they still push for a lot of live meetings on the assumption that landing even a few will give them control. Maybe they do get some control. Not all live meetings are a waste.

But the idea of it is mostly a mirage. Linear thinking like this from leaders and reps are wasteful. And they don’t reflect how buyers today behave or who’s really doing the selling.

Buying is asynchronous—buyers don’t follow a straight line process, but they do involve a lot more people. That gets complex.

And so it’s not about headcount or about cranking out live meetings any more. It’s about the quality of the buying experience, and the role you need to play to improve it.

That’s Buyer Enablement—the new game of making it easier for buyers to promote you and to close deals.

What is it about the buying experience that presales teams need to get right?

B2B buyers expect a better experience—digital, personalized, consistent, on-demand.

And within that experience, they still want what presales offers: knowledge. Knowledge about use cases, impact, integrations, but mostly about the product. Not just the WHAT of a product, but the WHY and the HOW of it as well.

That means demos—different types for different stages—and personalized content, authentically delivered.

Sales engineers and solution consultants are trained to do this—to consult buyers in stages, to go deeper into the product than anyone else. Some AEs are expected to do it as well.

But new SEs and SCs take an incredibly long time to ramp, and they’re expensive. And still a lot of them don’t actually spend their time consulting buyers.

Especially in organizations where sales leaders haven’t yet caught on to the vision of Buyer Enablement.

Instead, they’re in back-to-back meetings repeating the same demos to unqualified leads. They’re spread thin. They end up habitually forcing their process on buyers.

Buyers, in turn, pressure Presales and Sales to show the product NOW, and subsequently more times as new stakeholders are added. Delays, friction, waste….it’s all amped up.

Where it’s working, though, Presales teams aren’t forcing their process on buyers—they’re guiding them through theirs.

There’s a shift in mindset and in tactics that sales and Presales leaders need to embrace

There are no complex sales, just complex purchases. Think about it. You don’t close deals, only the buyers can. And since buyers sell to the other stakeholders, your job is to make it easier for them.

You have to think of yourselves less as sellers and more as buyer coaches to win in this new game.

*By the way, if you want a great resource on Buyer Enablement, read Selling is Hard, Buying is Harder by our founder Garin Hess. Caution: it will make you rethink how you sell and will probably keep you up at night.

Unpacking the truth about who’s selling

Buyers spend only 17% of the buying process in direct contact with ALL vendors. What’s happening on their end the rest of the time?

They’re negotiating with colleagues, navigating competing budgets and priorities, pitching to teams who feel just fine doing what they’ve always done, reigning in executives who get distracted by shiny objects.

Outside the very little face time you get, they’re making the case internally and involving people to spread the risk.

So yeah, we overestimate how much “selling” we actually do, and how much control we have. Conservatively, Gartner says your reps have 5% of your buyers’ time through the buying process. Personally, I think it’s less.

That’s humbling, no? Even as a marketer, it kind of makes me cringe to think how disconnected our tactics and tone sometimes are in light of what’s really going on.

Equip buyers for the time between meetings

How do you take advantage of the space between meetings where the magic really happens?

In whatever contact you have with your champions, if you don’t make them more effective in that time—about 5% or less of their buying process where you’re in contact—fuhgettaboutit!

Buyers don’t need an endless stream of live meetings anymore. And they certainly don’t want to wait 1 to 2 weeks before they get a peek at your product (which is about average by the way).

They want less friction. They want to stop guessing just as much as you do.

Don’t be afraid to let buyers self-navigate with content and resources they can share with others. That’ll put them in a better position to credibly amplify your story.

Make it easier for them to promote you and close deals

Buyers are funny. On the one hand, they can build 70-80% of their buying criteria before ever engaging with a rep. By 2025, Gartner predicts 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels.

On the other hand, they want to experience and see the product in stages (with technical demos at the top of the list).

So coach them based on the stage they’re in (we’ve published some killer content on the 6 demo types and when to use them….check that out here).

Remember, they close deals, not you. So make it easier for them to promote you with the other stakeholders so they can move towards a closed-won deal with some confidence and credibility.

This is where that shift needs to come in, where you begin to think like a buyer coach, not a seller.

The best thing you can do is influence a buyer’s thinking and tactics so their experience with you is pleasant and they find enough value to invest (time, money, risk) in.

If buying for them is digital and asynchronous, meet them there. Give them tools for that digital experience—ones that guide their selling, that let them choose what matters and in what order.

Yes, the experience economy is real. Yes, buyers hold the power in that economy. And yes, they’ll advocate for the right experience, if you’re offering fundamental value.

Winners have already caught on. I’m seeing some of the world’s coolest brands recalibrating their processes, their trainings, their tools, their content and everything else for this new B2B game (Salesforce, Autodesk, Sage, SAP, etc.).

Motivations have changed to one of helping champions do the selling.

Closing arguments for the jury

The old process—linear, manual, forced onto buyers, etc.—generally creates waste and bottlenecks. You have little influence between meetings, or maybe it’s just that you have a lot less control. Either way, you’re guessing more than you should about who and what matters.

There are ways out of it. You can stop burning your most expensive calories (SEs and SCs) on unqualified buyers and repetitive, manual tasks. You can automate and digitize those parts of your workload, then scale.

Take some of that enormous spend on training and certifications and tech, and apply it to Buyer Enablement strategies; to learning how to coach buyers to close deals.

That will free up time for the really important consultative engagements with the really important buyers (demo-qualified buyers!).

Most importantly, though, when you let people choose what they care about and give them a value-adding experience, with flexibility to move at their own pace, they’ll go to bat for you and will be confident doing it. Those are the experiences they’ll feel are worth sharing.

Consensus is Intelligent Demo Automation that scales your presales function.