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The 4 “Rocks” of Building, Managing, and Scaling Presales

Brian Cotter

Secrets from the Brian Cotter Method 

Brian Cotter, SVP of Global Sales Engineering at Seismic, was a guest on our Burning Presales Podcast, and is one of the world’s top authorities on building high-growth / high-performing Presales organizations. 

The stuff he shared on the podcast was so freakin’ good, we had no choice but to blogify it.

Let’s dive in shall we?

The 3 Tenets for Re-calibrating Presales

Before you start messing around with your organization, pause for a minute and take stock of the current Presales landscape. Where do SEs live? Brian says, “We live in qualification to the start of negotiation. That’s the Presales impact zone.”

Within that zone, pay attention to these 3 areas of influence:

  1. The voice of the SE really needs to be better amplified. The insights SEs uncover can help drive go-to-market strategy to the point that Presales should get a seat on the C-suite. They can impact sales, product, marketing, product marketing, etc, and customers are a driving force demanding their involvement in deals. 
  1. Storytelling is key. Most people connect when the conversation follows the formula Brian calls:
    I + E = M.  If you have Information where someone can learn something, and you add something Emotional, you connect with them and become Memorable. That’s the power of storytelling. When SEs do their due diligence to understand how that story is going to be informative and connected, they will basically differentiate themselves just by the fact that they care what that customer is trying to accomplish vs just trying to sell a product.
  1. We are living through a Presales renaissance. Brands like Consensus and communities like the PreSales Collective are helping to shape what the next generation of Presales teams look like. Traditionally, AEs were like, “I need a demo from you.” Now, they’re like, “I need a strategic partner to tell a story…and everything in between.” 

Building the Team

So how do you build a functional, manageable, and scalable Presales team? With 4 big rocks. They’re your foundation. “It’s about building a team, building a story, building alignment and building a community. And they’re all interconnected.  If you do one really well, it leads and builds to the next.”

The 4 Big Rocks:

  1. Building a TEAM. It’s the SEs’ job to help sell more, more quickly with the least amount of friction. Account for your specific industry, understand the demand for Presales from buyers within that industry, and properly scope the support and resources your team requires to meet that demand quickly and cleanly. 
    At the individual contributor level, have a strategy for career development and opportunities for growth. Burnout is a big problem right now in Presales. Most leaders don’t account for individual growth, and instead run their teams into the ground. Put things in such a place that you can demonstrate what they can expect next in their careers. 
    Another big part of team-building is cultural. Find ways for your team to collaborate with all business functions in the building process and in ensuring they’re trusted experts in the company’s offerings vs. just building and training a bunch of product SEs. There’s a big difference. The former gives you an opportunity to do anything and everything you want across marketing, sales, finance, strategy, etc. The latter just teaches reps a lot about the product.
  1. Building a STORY. This goes further than just the SEs presenting the product to the customer. It’s making sure you understand all facets of the product, your organization, and the market. 
  • Do we understand what we built, why we built it, how we built it? 
  • Do we understand  the competitors, the addressable market? 
  • Do we understand the use cases and the personas? 
    Once you have a solid grasp of all these concepts, you have to build them into a machine that in essence gives everyone who works with the customer, not just the SE, AE, and account Managers, the ability to show and present the best version of your product in a way that’s impactful and value driven. This allows every interaction with the customer to be impactful so they can learn something and connect to it. You become memorable (remember  I + E = M).
    Building the story is only the first step. Continuing this process as your product develops has a lot of moving parts. It’s not just arming the SE to be able to tell the best story once. It’s arming the engine to build the best version of that story and also iterate and evolve.
  1. Building ALIGNMENT. Understanding how to partner with the other departments who work to build the customer experience. This includes product, sales, and product marketing. It means being able to say “We have a group problem to solve. Let’s collaborate. Let’s cross-train. Let’s mentor each other, so we can each actually be on the same page and know who owns what.” 
    Once the work is done, share the credit. Be able to say “We did this together.” That is the power of alignment. When people trust you to do the right thing and work together, that allows you to build a community.
  1. Building a COMMUNITY. Community encompasses both internal and external. Be an internal influencer at your company who is either part of a change or a drive to change something within your company. Help mentor teammates or run initiative outside your normal duties. Create the environment you want to work in.
    Don’t forget the external community. Become a part of the PreSale Collective or any of the different Presale groups around the world. Be involved in opportunities to elevate Presales in colleges and universities
    When you build a community, internal to external, it highlights who is willing to help out the broader community, allowing you to build stronger alignment. If you build stronger alignment, you know where to go, how to work with each other, how to trust each other.

All this together, strengthens your stories, builds better alignment, stronger teams, and creates closer communities, allowing you to impact revenue more quickly. 

Challenges You May Face

The 4 rocks are each huge undertakings with unique challenges. They have nuances because SEs are always evolving their skill sets based on changing markets and buying behaviors. Misalignments and even organizational growth present additional problems. 

As your organization grows, you need to figure out how to play with all these different groups who are constantly changing. Growth and hyper growth companies go through it all the time. You still need to create a community even if the people in it are continually in flux. It’s a challenge, but even so everyone is trying to nail the social element of social selling. 

The hardest part for your sales counterparts is slowing down the front side so you can speed up the close side by taking a moment in the beginning to know where to aim. If you take the time to evaluate the hundreds if not thousands of deals going on, you can easily understand where to aim. Once you’re aligned to the same target, then I+E=M plays out every single time.

“At the end of the day, I think the number one thing is getting aligned with your top level sales persona and say, ‘We’re not going to slow down sales, we’re actually going to speed it up, but we need to do the following things’.”

The one that’s probably the most difficult is building a story. The product changes on a continual basis, the narrative changes as the product does, and the value and impact you think your product has might be different when it’s released. You have to build  procedures to make sure those things are updated every 3 months for your customer facing assets. 

“I believe the companies that are involved in ensuring this next generation of buyers and sellers are constantly being enabled so they can engage with their buyers to drive towards the outcome.”

This is why building a story is probably the most challenging. It takes so many points of view, so many details, and you still have to be able to communicate in such a way that the buyer sees the value and impact, and they trust you. Trust is critically important when it comes to closing a deal. If the customer doesn’t trust you, they won’t listen to anything you say.

Worth the Effort

If these are such huge undertakings, is it worth it to set up these foundations and then spend precious time updating them consistently? Absolutely! Understanding your products, the personas you’re selling to, and the competitive landscape enables you to do solid discovery every time. 

You can use those details to tell a story that has an outline, a narrative, and memorable moments. “Once you can deliver those with confidence and conviction, that gives you the ability to have situational fluency where that buyer can take you wherever they want to take you, but you know exactly where they need to end up.”