Best PreSales Hiring Practices

Sam Wortman Avatar photo

It’s not surprising that with the buyers’ increasing demands for deeply technical evaluations, and demonstrated value before purchasing, the number of PreSales positions has risen astronomically.

Companies like Snowflake have gone from 70 PreSales team members to over 450 in a little less than a year, and Zoom has gone from 50 to 350 in a similar time frame. At this scale, best practices for hiring must be implemented to snag the most qualified candidates and transform them into quality, revenue-generating team members. 

At Vivun, we believe the key to hiring and building a successful organization lies in identifying the ideal characteristics of the individuals being hired while having a systematic way to test those characteristics across every candidate with consistency.  

Without a planned approach, hiring may become based on gut feel or the opinion of the most senior individual in the hiring process, and consistency in the approach will ensure every candidate is treated equally to establish a baseline for comparison. Arming all individuals involved in the hiring process with a clear questioning objective will produce the most holistic sense of the candidate in the shortest amount of time.  

What are the 7 ideal characteristics you should be testing for in PreSales candidates?

  1. Intelligence

In PreSales, individuals must be capable of quickly learning and mastering new and complex topics to understand SaaS products and deliver winning demos. 

Identifying intelligence in candidates can be easily sourced by looking for key pieces of evidence like an undergraduate or graduate degree in STEM. Backgrounds in consulting from companies such as Accenture, Deloitte, Bain, and more have proven to be valuable assets in PreSales team members, as well as having the ability to mentally problem solve and use critical thinking on the fly. 

This skill can be systematically tested by asking the candidate to deliver a mock demo and/or by preparing a common puzzle or critical thinking challenge for the candidate to walk you through that is relevant to your business. 

  1. Making the Complex Simple

When dealing with highly technical products it’s often essential that candidates can turn complex ideas into simple ideas for non-technical audiences like business executives, who are the decision-makers, to understand.

Asking candidates about prior experiences in which they had to teach a group of non-technical people a new technical subject, and the techniques they employed to effectively communicate is an excellent way to gauge this skill. 

Also asking them to chat about the most complicated area of your product and quizzing them on how it works helps to define the candidate’s ability to excel in this area. 

When thinking about making the complex simple, we are reminded that PreSales team members should have a skill set that is both sales-human and technical expert. 

  1. Experience 

Nothing can be substituted for a candidate’s experience in a PreSales role. So when looking for a candidate who is easy to ramp and get started on day one, you should inquire about their previous experiences. 

Not every hire is going to have an SE background, in fact, many don’t, and they are equally—if not more—successful than their seasoned SE peers. You can hire for technical or industry experience, relying heavily on subject matter expertise (SME), knowing that sometimes you’ll have to develop a SE skills like giving good presentations, working with sales, conducting good discovery, and more. 

If the candidate has a SE background, asking interview questions related to their current AE:SE staffing ratio will give you insight into how candidates are able to handle and support times when there are higher ratios. 

Simply chatting shop and having candidates describe the best custom demos they have developed and what made that experience important to the customer can be an eye-opener into the candidate’s process and workflow. Testing their ability to identify what needs are solved by their demo and product for buyers can reveal the way they see themselves as human leverage to get the deal done. 

Perhaps, my favorite piece of evidence to look for in the experience characteristic is asking candidates an extremely simple question: What is the role of PreSales in your mind? Does the candidate see PreSales as the owner of the entire customer journey or just discovery to demo? 

  1. Technical Acumen

Not every PreSales candidate needs to be an SME in areas related to your product, business, and customers. 

When working with complex SaaS products, every PreSales candidate should be tested on how your product or another works, whether that is via a demo and/or a Q&A-like discussion within an interview. You can also quiz the candidate on ideas that they consider themselves SMEs on and ask them how that skill and knowledge will apply to the position they are interviewing for. 

Candidates can learn to become SMEs on your products, and it’s more important to see how they demo and explain topics they already know really well. This gives you insight into whether they have the sales chops and technical acumen to whiteboard your product to interested buyers. These candidates—most of the time—can easily learn your product if they are SMEs on others. 

Also, coming up with business cases that test their IT system knowledge and ask candidates what systems they might purchase, why, and how they ultimately fit together is a great way to understand how the candidate thinks technically about the big picture.

  1. Business Acumen

PreSales isn’t based only on technical skills, candidates must be able to understand technology as a business enabler, not simply a set of features and functions. 

They need to come prepared for interviews, having done their research about your competitors and what differentiates you from the rest of the industry. Testing candidates on the spot about how they would build ROI around your company is an excellent way to see if they have done their homework. 

You want candidates that are always learning and have worked on deals with decision-makers that are across multiple functional departments. Business-savvy skills sometimes are what gets the deal done at the end of the day, and the candidate must be prepared to win over each decision-maker based on their various interests. 

I can’t end talking about this key characteristic without saying that another very simple question that can make or break the success of a candidate is their ability to answer the following: What value does our product or service provide for our customers? 

  1. Work Ethic 

At Vivun, we often refer to this as grit. And simply ask ourselves does the individual have a strong work ethic that demonstrates integrity and a cultural fit?

Asking other questions outside the world of PreSales like did you work or volunteer your time through college or high school? What was the most challenging job you ever had? How did you get through it? What would your superiors say about you, and then most importantly, your peers and those that answer to you? 

And then back into the world of PreSales: Can you describe a time where you worked with product management to drive new capabilities? What were the results? How were they measured? 

Work ethic is a characteristic you can’t teach, it’s who you are.

  1. Soft skills

A candidate must be able to be engaging, personable, confident in demos and in the office, and must leave a strong first impression that instills confidence in buyers and employees. 

To help identify what candidates think are the ultimate soft skills it is important to ask them to describe the best leader they have worked for and what qualities made them strong. 

VP of Sales Engineering Lara Meadows in a podcast said she always likes to find out if candidates like to “tinker” or “build” things in their spare time, as it reveals if they have a curiosity and desire to always be learning. She has seen this characteristic translate consistently into hiring great SEs for her teams. 

In today’s world, it’s also hyper-important to review a candidate’s Linkedin page to see how they present themselves to companies and colleagues. This helps companies see if the candidate values what it means to excel in all areas in the business world, not just the technical aspects. 

And it’s always important that candidates come to interviews with meaningful questions about your company and customers. If someone is truly interested in becoming a part of your team, you will feel it. 

Wondering how to test these skills efficiently?

In today’s world, the average PreSales candidate goes through several interviews with a company, and it’s important to not have interview questions from multiple interviews overlap. To avoid that, building a framework to ensure cross-communication between all team members involved in the recruiting process is critical. And taking detailed notes to promote efficiency and avoid time spent getting team members up to speed will significantly help. 

We are excited to announce that later this year we will be providing a PreSales Interview Framework that is easy to use and highly customizable with a scoring system to aid the decision-making process. 

Until then, we leave you with our best practices on how to identify a winning candidate and ensure they become quality hires and team members as quickly as possible.

And as a reminder often the best team member you can hire is the technology you invest in. Our platform Hero by Vivun enables PreSales teams to lead their organizations toward increasing and accelerating revenue, growing market size and share, and optimizing the return on PreSales.

Sign up for a Hero Demo and we’ll show you more!

Sam Wortman Avatar photo June 26, 2021