How Twilio, mParticle, and Cloudflare Build All Star PreSales Teams

Aaron Sun Avatar photo

In a world where every successful company is also a technology company, the role of PreSales is indispensable. So, it’s no wonder that industry leaders are growing their Solutions teams to keep up with buyer demands and stay ahead of the competition. Whether you call them Sales Engineers, Solutions Architects, or Consultants, finding professionals who are both technical experts and deeply empathetic with your buyers is never easy. How do PreSales leaders identify these mythical creatures and convince them to join their teams? How do you bulletproof your hiring plans in PreSales? 

To answer these questions, I sat down with Richard Armstrong, Head of Solutions Engineering at Cloudflare; Justin McManus, Director of Solutions Engineering at mParticle; and Darlene Volas, Director of Solutions Engineering at Twilio.

Here’s what I learned.

First things first, PreSales leaders have to get approval for hiring. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of backfilling. But when it comes to growth, you may need to get ahead of an expanding Sales team, a new product line, or entering new markets. Getting headcount is easier when you have the data points that back up your request. McManus, who is currently building an international team in the US, EMEA, and Australia, highlighted the importance of leveraging metrics to evaluate hiring needs and get leadership approval to execute. Solid evidence can range from AE to SE ratios to utilization and outcomes by effort, to name a few. For more specifics on how to get the data you need to justify headcount, check out this post by Vivun’s CEO, Matt Darrow.

By the time you’ve got the go-ahead to hire more PreSales pros, you better have a clear understanding of the skills these newcomers need to be successful. There may be some overarching things to seek out. From Armstrong’s troves of experience, he boils it down to finding engineers who have the sales gene, but he cautions to make sure they don’t have two sales genes because that means they could easily go to the “dark side.” Jokes aside, he makes a great point. The role of PreSales should not only be the technical resource; it’s also about introducing healthy friction to ensure the buyer’s needs are adequately represented from the PreSales perspective. This is a key component in what we at Vivun call the deal’s technical conscience, which plays a critical role in forecasting.

When asked what pitfalls to avoid when creating job descriptions, Volas revealed that her early hiring instincts resulted in teams that were too much like her. It’s human nature to surround ourselves with people we relate to, and it requires conscious effort to land talent that operates differently, with other strengths and unique perspectives. Over the years, she learned the importance of deeply considering her needs for each person she hires. Today she crafts bespoke descriptions for each job req to maintain a balance of skills on her team–which grew 2X in 2020!

Of course, there are technical aspects of every PreSales role. The group discussed ways to tease out a candidate’s ability to solve technical challenges. Pretty much every PreSales leader I know leverages take-home assignments to help with this tricky process. An interesting idea that I heard from Armstrong was intentionally leaving out certain information in the instructions to measure how candidates fare in ambiguity. It’s not all about getting to the “right” answer. It’s also about the process they took, how resourceful they were, and if they presented their solution in a compelling way. 

Finally, we discussed the ever-critical topic of ensuring diversity on PreSales teams. Going back to what Volas had to say about hiring people who are different from herself, assembling a group of individuals with distinct backgrounds is essential to the team. Inclusivity is not a checkbox; it’s a recipe for the success of the entire team and the business. Armstrong discussed how you’re probably going to need to explore new ways of sourcing candidates if you want to make your team more diverse. For example, McManus recently connected with the Women’s Engineering Program at the university where he earned his degree in hopes of powering his team with a better gender balance. Historically, most find themselves in the PreSales profession as a happy accident, but as the role becomes increasingly essential in modern companies, more and more “career SEs,” are starting fresh out of college. You might consider an internship program that gives people from all walks of life the opportunity to develop a career in PreSales. That means branching out beyond your network and forging relationships with programs that serve different communities.

Watch the talk for all of the tips on how to bulletproof your PreSales hiring plan.

Aaron Sun Avatar photo March 3, 2021