A Seat at the Table: How to Elevate PreSales to Board Level and Beyond

Josh Perk Avatar photo

Two PreSales leaders walk into a bar…

I don’t have a great punchline to this joke, but I’ve certainly been in that exact scenario at dinner with my sales engineering peers. It seems, those conversations always have similar themes:

  • What’s your AE-to-SC ratio?
  • What tools are you using for demos?
  • How do you balance “Big S” with “Big E”?

But no question comes up more often than this: “How do you get a seat at the table?”

From 2018 through 2023, I built Drift’s sales engineering function from 1 to roughly 20. During that same period, my team went from being under the management of “whichever sales leader had enough time” to the highest performing, highest retained, highest eNPS, and most demanded cross-functional team. While a great team, personal brand, and hard work played a massive role, perhaps nothing was more important than my push to “get a seat at the table” reporting directly to our Chief Revenue Officer.

As daunting as it may seem, elevating your PreSales team to the board level is critical, and involves part art, part science. Here’s my ultimate guide to mastering both.

Impact > metrics (but still metrics)

Metrics are crucial for demonstrating the value of your PreSales team. However, it’s not just about the numbers themselves but also the impact they have on the organization. As the leader of a default-technical team, it can be tremendously easy to get lost in the analysis and spreadsheets. This can often be an area of contention between SC leaders and CROs. Stereotypically, CROs are previous “bag holders”. They move fast and can — generally — be a little less patient than their more analytical counter-parts.

This isn’t always a bad thing. The first CRO I reported to challenged me to move fast and, break things but also intimately relied on my analysis and judgment. Tactically, I relied on a concept I learned in the Air Force to balance this dynamic called “BLUF” or “bottom line up front”. Similar to giving a demo, I’d start by communicating the most impactful data, then work my way into supporting evidence, if necessary.

Here are some of the metrics I tracked that had the greatest impact to my leaders:

  1. Win Rates: Compared to deals without my team, how much more likely were we to close an opportunity?
  2. Deal Velocity: How quickly do deals move through the sales pipeline?
  3. Time to Value: Often overlooked (specially if your team doesn’t include post-sales functions), but PreSales architecture, scoping, and getting stakeholders aligned can directly impact TTV and even longer-term LTV/churn.
  4. Impact on Revenue: Ultimately, the PreSales team’s contribution to the company’s revenue is a key metric. This can include both direct revenue generated and the influence on upsells and cross-sells.

Having “the talk”

Okay, you’ve got all your metrics, talk track on impact, and spreadsheets/SFDC reports galore. Now what?

Aligning with your Chief Revenue Officer is essential for gaining a seat at the table. This involves understanding the CRO’s priorities and demonstrating how the PreSales team contributes to achieving them. Here are some tips for finding alignment:

  1. Understand their goals: One of the tips I always gave my reports when they asked me “what can they do to help me or improve their careers” was “don’t make your career my task”. I know this sounds harsh, but hear me out. Your CRO has a million tasks on their plate. They’re probably stressing about the upcoming board meeting and; frankly, your AE-to-SC ratio isn’t on their short lists of problems. Your objective is to figure out their objectives. Then figure out how to leverage your team to move the needle.
  2. Communicate impact: As silly as it sounds, most professionals don’t cheerlead themselves enough. This is the one place you should throw humility to the wayside. Clearly communicate how the PreSales team’s efforts impact key business metrics such as revenue, customer acquisition, and retention.
  3. Collaborate across teams: As  leaders, we have an unfair advantage — we sit cross-functionally between sales, marketing, product, success, and engineering. When done effectively, your CRO should be surrounded by peers (CMO, CPO, CTO, CCO) that are singing your team’s praises.

With that foundation laid, you should be positioned to have a meaningful conversation, presenting your thesis on why elevating your team would serve a greater purpose to the organization and your CRO.

Parting advice

Now that I sit in the role of CEO at Vector, I find myself giving advice to a range of personality types. Last week I was talking to a particularly technical early-stage founder who hated selling. He understood that he needed to sell, but couldn’t stomach the idea of doing so. My advice was simple: don’t think of it as selling. Think of it instead as product interviews — talking to your users, hearing if what you’ve built solves a need. If they say it has, ask them what features are missing that are preventing them from buying today.

PreS-sales leaders might find themselves in a similar boat. Pitching to get a seat at the table might feel like some unnatural selling out to a political game you never wanted to play as a technically-minded professional. But what process or outcome in your business is worse off by you not elevating your team? Chances are, probably a lot.

In addition to gamifying your mentality, always:

  1. Build Relationships: Develop strong relationships with sales, marketing, and product teams to ensure alignment and collaboration.
  2. Focus on Value: Always focus on delivering value to the customer. This will not only lead to more successful deals but also enhance your reputation within the organization.
  3. Be Data-Driven: Use data to drive decision-making and demonstrate the impact of the PreSales team’s efforts.

By mastering the art and science of elevating your PreS team to the board level, you can position yourself as a strategic leader within your organization and drive greater success—for both your team and the company as a whole.

Josh Perk Avatar photo March 7, 2024