What is PreSales?

Matt Darrow Matt Darrow

Presales is the most important enterprise department you’ve never heard of.

To further complicate matters, presales professionals go by a variety of titles, without broad based standardization:

  • Presales engineer
  • Sales engineer
  • Field engineer
  • Solution consultant
  • Solution specialist
  • Solution architect
  • Sales consultant
  • Technical specialist
  • Technical advisor
  • Field CTO
  • And many more…

The common thread across every title under presales is sales acumen coupled with a deep understanding of technology.  A challenging skill set to hire for, presales professionals command high salaries and cannot be on-boarded fast enough by business to business (B2B) technology companies.

So, what is “presales”?

Presales is a department within a technology company that supports sales in closing business through solution expertise.

As every company becomes a technology company, the need for presales is only accelerating.

Sales account executives are phenomenal at opening doors and closing deals, but as technology becomes more sophisticated through artificial intelligence, big data, integrations, etc., and access to information is easier than ever, buyers want to work with experts to make their purchasing decisions.  This is where presales professionals thrive.

As a general rule of thumb, for every two sales account executives you can expect to find one presales professional. 

Does presales only work with prospects?

Another point of common confusion is with respect to the “pre” in “presales”.  Today, companies can become customers without ever speaking to a sales person by leveraging a free trial or a self-service starter edition of a product.  When it comes time to expand, or drive a larger deal over a contracted period, the presales team is called in even though the prospect is already a paying customer.

This is why companies like Atlassian (the makers of Jira and Confluence) who famously went public without any sales reps are now staffing teams of “Enterprise Advisors”.  These advisors drive expansion opportunities and create barriers against competitors. Their DNA is firmly rooted in presales, rather than traditional sales account executive or customer support personas.  

The way technology companies continue to experiment with new business models and go to market strategies is blurring the lines between how sales, presales, services and support teams work together to ensure the customer gets value from the solution and the business drives revenue.  It has never been more important to have a seamless interlock between sales and support teams to ensure customer retention. Presales professionals engaging deeper in post purchase activities are causing companies to rethink their traditional support ratios and compensation structures to drive and retain revenue as effectively as possible. 

Doesn’t that mean presales just delivers demos?

Presales professionals do configure and deliver compelling demonstrations; however, sophisticated technology, access to information, and insanely fast development timeframes are causing companies of all sizes to rethink the responsibilities of the role.  Not settling for the perception that presales is just the demo team who answers tough questions, leading companies are realizing that presales can be their most strategic asset. Their expanded responsibilities commonly include:

Driving the product roadmap

Presales teams are perpetually engaged in conversations with customers, so they’re in a unique position to collect meaningful feedback and use what they learn to help product managers prioritize development initiatives.  

While product management teams are occupied with feature design, working with engineering, and triaging issues with customers, they can rely on their presales counterparts to understand the needs of companies ready to buy and the overall direction of the market. 

“Sales engineers are the authentic voice of the field. Want to really know what’s happening in the field? Ask an SE. What are customers really looking for? Is your messaging working? What’s happening with competitors? SEs are always on the front-lines and are great at providing a spin-free perspective on what’s working and what isn’t.”

~ Tom Wentworth, SVP product marketing, Acquia 

from Sales Engineers are the MVPs of SaaS

Finding dormant revenue

For a variety of reasons, not all prospective opportunities make it to the finish line.  A leading cause of “qualified out” opportunities stems from poor product-market fit. The solution offering is either not compelling enough to make the customer abandon their current mode of operation, or functionality simply does not meet their requirements.  

Today, as companies take advantage of managed cloud services and continuous development / continuous delivery (CI/CD) processes, product innovation is happening faster than ever.  Unfortunately for most organizations, during the product development phase, sales reps come and go, sales territories change, and tribal knowledge of prior conversations are simply lost.  

After a major release it’s not uncommon for a company to try and recall the prospects and customers who could benefit most from the new innovation.  Having one foot in product and one foot in sales, the presales team is the most reliable source of this information. With traditionally less turnover and higher tenure than the rest of the sales organization, presales can help the business target the best opportunities after every release to uncover and close dormant revenue.   

Refining sales forecasts 

Sales forecasts are often overly optimistic. This can often times be contributed to the inexperience of a growing sales team and also the overall sales culture — “you cannot have a commit of zero”.

Typically working in a ratio, which allows presales team members to support multiple sales account executives, presales professionals naturally see and work more deals than anyone else on the sales team, knowing what it takes to close better than anyone. 

Presales also provides an alternative lens on the sales forecast because they’re armed with a solid understanding of the product-prospect fit.  Achieving a “technical win” has never been more important with an increase in both technology and buyer sophistication, and this knowledge is held by presales.

Utilizing the “technical conscious” from presales allows organizations to consistently increase forecast accuracy while uncovering the highest quality opportunities and avoiding deals up front that will inevitably lead to churn.   

Optimizing the sales process

The longest part of a technology company’s sales process is when a sales qualified lead (SQL) moves into the demonstration or proof-of-concept phase.  In the eyes of sales, the prospect has a catalyst to drive a purchase, budget, and now needs to be driven to select one solution over another.  

This part of the sales process is extremely opaque, leading to questions regarding why it takes so long to drive a prospect to a “technical win” so a proposal can be produced and a deal signed.  This is due to the vast array of strategies (i.e. custom demonstrations, value assessments, proof-of-concepts, persona deep dives, etc.) available to presales during this phase, with no way of tracking these activities, the people involved, and the sequencing of delivery.  

By tracking the work of presales, an organization is equipped to better understand how to optimize resources to close more deals, more efficiently. Presales teams are the key to understanding the specific activities of each and every technical sale and unraveling the mysteries that create bigger deals, faster.

Should the number of presales professionals be minimized?

CFOs frequently believe the easiest way to improve cost of customer acquisition (CAC) is to slash presales headcount. It’s time to put this thought process to bed. It’s wrong.  

Presales can be a company’s greatest asset in accelerating sales, targeting the right deals, finding opportunities that were long forgotten, and increasing the average sales price (ASP) on every opportunity as they work to create a compelling solution for a prospect — often leveraging multiple products in the company’s portfolio.   

The value of effective presales is immense—and expanding. It’s time to recognize these realities:

  • Buyers begin by helping themselves. Prospective buyers help themselves to all kinds of information about your technology through a plethora of easily accessible media. When it’s time to talk, they want to connect with your company’s foremost product experts. 
  • The product experience is now in the front-end of the sales process. It’s not only easier to learn about your company and product, it’s easier to take it for a spin. Freemiums and variations of test drives accelerate the buyers’ education processes, which inspires them to ask product specific questions. 
  • Technology is evolving faster than ever. Barriers to entry have become much easier to overcome. Development happens at light speed. On most playing fields, the competition is fierce and adapting quickly. Having a constant pulse on the market is a key to long term survival.  

What’s next for presales?

The role of presales has never been more important. The need to optimize presales resources and processes has never been more pressing. 

Highly successful technology companies get it:

  • Presales is precious, hard to find, and expensive.
  • Presales, when managed effectively, creates a big boom on the bottom line.
  • Presales, to date, hasn’t garnered the attention it should from any software provider. 

The companies that understand the value of presales and respond accordingly will be the ones that take—and hold—the lead. 

About Vivun

Vivun has created the world’s first software for presales, helping B2B technology companies build products the market wants for customers ready to buy them. Hero by Vivun unlocks the strategic potential of presales by keeping product and sales teams aligned, improving product-market fit, accelerating deals in flight and capturing dormant sources of revenue. It provides sophisticated tools for managing presales teams, identifies features the market wants and automatically alerts salespeople when new releases bring opportunities back to life. It transforms the way businesses go to market and makes presales their most strategic asset.

Matt Darrow Matt Darrow July 30, 2020