Walking the Talk with Brett Crane, VP of Presales at Vivun

Aaron Sun Avatar photo

Recently, I sat down (virtually) for Q&A with Brett Crane, VP of Presales at Vivun. I learned how he carved out a path in Presales from individual contributor to manager, all the way up to the executive table. Take a peek at our conversation for insights into the evolution of a leader and how we do Presales at Vivun.

Perri: So, tell me Brett, how long have you been in Presales?

Brett: About 13 years, and I’ve spent basically the first half as an IC and the later half as a leader at various levels.

Perri: What about your “Hero origin story”; how did you end up in this field?

Brett: I really had no idea that I would end up working in the software industry. But I was looking for that first “real” job, and when I was offered a role at a small Boston startup called OpenAir, I figured that I’d give it a shot. I started out in Customer Success, which really translated into technical support for our customers.

I got to know the software inside-and-out, and decided to assist the sales team on their demos, thinking I might go into sales myself. But without really knowing it, I started performing the duties of a Sales Engineer, just without the title, and when my boss at that time connected the dots on what I was actually doing, he allowed me to create a new role and officially perform the Presales function. NetSuite ended up acquiring us, and so I joined a much larger, established SE team. That’s where I learned how things are done at scale.

Perri: How did you make the jump from IC to leader?

Brett: I knew that it would take a lot of preparation for me to earn the management job I wanted. I knew that I had to demonstrate strong results from a deal bookings standpoint. And I had a way of seeing things that were broken coupled with a willingness to invest time upfront to make improvements. I knew that to get in line for a management position; I’d have to go the extra mile to do things that benefitted the team as a whole. And that’s also what most excited me about the work that I was doing.

To actually get the promotion, it took a bit of luck in addition to the hard work. At the time, I was at Zuora, and we went through a restructuring of the field team. I knew that I’d earned the trust and faith from my SE leadership, and this was my chance to operate in an official leadership role. The other lesson here is to keep your network close. Presales is a small world. Fast-forwarding a few years, Matt Darrow and John Bruce, who were my Presales leaders back at Zuora, became the founders of Vivun.

Perri: Do you have any advice for new managers or ICs looking to become leaders?

Brett: Maybe this is cliché, but my advice is to focus on your people. I think about myself as a problem identifier and often a solver for the Presales org. I’m often the voice of the ICs up to the execs and across the rest of the company. If you make your team members successful and are passionate about the role and the company, then success will follow for you as well.

Perri: In a previous conversation, you mentioned that through much of your career, it was difficult to get all of your team’s insights and value up to executive leadership. How did you forge that path? 

Brett: I think that one of the perplexing things about my field is that there is so much creativity involved that often goes unnoticed. There’s not always a clear path to some execs, but often I found that interest at that level “follows the revenue.” So maybe I’d say the path to getting Presales noticed is to focus on how our team drives the company’s top-line revenue. The most successful stories that I’ve been able to convey about my team individually or collectively have been related to showcasing success in creating new solutions, new demos, new pitches, and new content when it’s tied to driving revenue and closing deals.

Perri: Ultimately, you’ve made the jump from leading and influencing Presales alone to being an executive stakeholder. What has it been like for you so far?

Brett: It’s been really interesting. Before now, I wouldn’t say that I had enough access to have really candid and hard-hitting conversations with many C-level executives. In the past, the interactions tended to be more in “presentation mode.” There were opportunities to share my team’s accomplishments and give status updates or answer questions about the deal strategy around “how is our team going to win this massive new logo or keep our biggest customer?”

It’s a big change to have a seat at the executive table and directly participate in the strategic conversations that lead to important decisions for the company. So, if we’re embarking on something new that might impact my team and our GTM, my voice is heard. Presales no longer has to react to new sales plans on the fly as they’re being announced to the rest of the company. I’m able to plan ahead, and that makes everyone more successful.

Also, as we scale, we move fast, and if I see a problem, I’m able to talk it out, and our executive team is brilliant and really agile, so we can roll out new plans or operating models quickly to keep pace with our growth.

Perri: I know SE leaders who went on to found companies (like Vivun!) and now run sales orgs as execs, but tbh you are the first VP of Presales that I’ve met. Is this becoming a commonplace title?

Brett: Well, it’s interesting; one of our values at Vivun is to “Be different.” I think about my role within a small Presales team as being slightly different than “normal.” After all, our company is empowering Presales professionals across the globe. So, my team is kind of special within the organization because we are our own customers. It reminds me of that Hair Club commercial: I’m not only the VP of Presales at Vivun, I’m also a client.

We “drink our own champagne” here, as I like to say. A lot of the decisions I’m thinking about in day-to-day deals and running my team internally all have a direct influence on the conversations we’re having about the enhancement of the products we sell.

So does every company need a VP of Presales at our size? No, but I think it makes sense here, given that our DNA is in presales, and many of our strategic decisions are made through the lens of Presales.

Perri: Do you have any final advice that you’d like to share with other Presales leaders?

Brett: In leadership, it’s critical to know what your team is doing. I don’t mean their calendar; I mean know how to do the job of your team members, live it for a bit. You cannot help them succeed or even recruit new presales team members if you don’t know the skill set needed and the pains they go through in the role. I have the luxury of actually working directly with prospects and customers here, which really gives me the hands-on experience and understanding of the value of our platform and what’s needed to be a successful Presales team member at Vivun.

Cheers to walking the talk as a leader and drinking our own champagne 🥂 

Brett Crane leads a growing Presales team as a direct report to the CEO, enabling him to formulate and execute the strategy for Vivun’s platform. Want to hear more from Brett? Check him out on the podcast.

Aaron Sun Avatar photo January 25, 2021