Trusted advisor is probably the term that personifies best an presales. Trust is not something you gain over a meeting. You can certainly demonstrate competency and expertise but only through a thorough engagement during which you’ll show continuous, genuine and empathetic interest for the customer’s success, will you be able to establish a trusted relationship. At some point, building trust might mean pulling off from a project if you don’t have the right solution. This will put you top of mind for when a new project arises and your solution is a good fit.
Being a good listener is part of those consultancy skills that a good presales must absolutely have and that will be essential to being helpful and insightful with your customers. Nothing worse than someone cutting you while you speak and pushing his agenda against yours.
Again, a typical consulting skill. No surprise that a big chunk of presales have a consulting background, we’re thriving to find solution to problems and especially looking forward to that moment when the penny drops for our customers.
Presales are the knowledge repository of your sales force. As a matter of fact, the presales’ turnover is pretty low in comparison to the Sales’ one and on top of being that common face for the customer aside a new sales guys every year, they are the one retaining the knowledge and the history of your accounts (alongside your CRM system hopefully). Also, as product specialists, they obviously need to know the product in and out, the various use cases and associated operational and business value. Ideally, they are technical enough to run workshops with the IT and security teams and implement POCs (Proof of Concept) to demonstrate certain requirements. As you can see, it becomes quite a stretch for one person to master all those skills. This is why presales organisations have different flavours of Presales, generalist, specialists and some POC consultants even.
As digital technologies are becoming more and more of a commodity and SaaS platforms are taking over on premise deployments, the presales role is also evolving drastically.
John Care, a reference in technical presales practice, is addressing it in a recent article: The 2024 Sales Engineer.
In the field I work, presales are not required to be as technical as they were 5 years ago. SaaS platforms have prebuilt connectors and documented APIs for integration with 3d party and if your product is used by few hundred customers, new customers won’t challenge whether they work or not 99% of the time. Now because the discussion will be less focused on the “how does it work?”, that leaves more time for “why do you need it?”. Certain vendors will have dedicated business consultants and digital strategists but that shouldn’t prevent presales to be knowledgeable in that space. Having the “technology” aspect nailed, getting a better understanding of the People and Process aspects will complement greatly their arsenal and will allow them to have much broader and holistic discussions with customers.
There’s a huge difference between running a 1-2h workshop/presentation to a dozen people and delivering a 10-20min scripted pitch to 3,000 people. Most Sr presales excel at the former but talking at major marketing events is a different story and will be a very stressful experience for most people. Managing your stress, building confidence and tuning how you deliver your message, the pace, the breathing, the pauses, are skills that can be taught and learnt. A marketing event is like a show, very similar to delivering a theatre play and the same techniques applies. With that logic in mind, I actually organised a custom training for my team delivered by the National Institute of Dramatic Art, focusing on improving their performance on stage, and this prior to our big Symposium event. It definitely delivered on its promise and almost every team member came out of it saying it was the best training they ever had.
If the “trusted advisor” is the right brain, the “sales” aspect of the role is the left one. All Presales will have to maintain that fine balance between driving a sales agenda and a close plan along with the Sales team and making sure the solution will deliver a successful outcome for the customer as per their objectives and KPIs. Not always an easy task and this is typically where the presales compensation plan need to be such that it drives behaviours towards long term relationship versus short term sales objectives.