What is Presales ?

SE Team Working

If you ask a group of people in sales and presales “what is presales?” you will get a wide range of answers.  The reason is that there are so many different roles in presales and we work across so many different types of technology solutions.  Some companies sell just one product or service, while others sell thousands across different business units.  The presales role can differ significantly as a result.  However, the core skills will usually remain the same, and that is what we will discuss here.

 

But first of all we need to talk about the name of the role or the job titles that are in use.  You will hear many acronyms for the presales role, for example SE, SA, SC, TC, TS and various others..

 

The Name of the Role

SE will usually refer to Sales Engineer, Solutions Engineer or Systems Engineer, SA is Solutions Architect, SC is Solutions Consultant or Sales Consultant, TC is Technology Consultant and TS is Tech Sales.  Sometimes you will find specialisms within these roles, for example Cloud SE or Cyber Security SC.  I once worked at a company that was going to have Application Response SEs – but we didn’t go with that in the end.  I will let you figure out why…..

 

The name used for the role is often set by the sales leader or senior presales leader in the company.  I have heard many debates about what the acronyms actually mean and what the correct title should be, but I will come back to that in another post.  For this post I am going to use the term SE to refer to presales, but remember that, in my opinion, it can apply to any of the names that are in use.  The real question is : What does an SE do ?  Let’s dive into that now.

 

Objectives

An SE is the bridge between a company’s sales and technical teams and their prospective and existing clients. We help to win new business and retain existing customers.  You will often hear the SE being described as the Trusted Advisor to the customer.  Trust is the most important part of this phrase and you will hear more from me about trust, building trust and destroying trust in another post.

 

As an SE, we are part of a sales team that helps our customers during a sales cycle, which is usually at the same time as a customer is running a buying cycle…..  Well..  As long as the account exec – the salesperson or AE – has got their timing right 🙂

 

The primary objective of an SE is to help potential and existing customers understand our products and services and how they can help solve the customer’s problems. We help the sales team to determine what the real customer’s challenges are and then align our offerings with the customer’s needs so that we can help to drive successful sales growth for the company and gain happy customers.

 

Discovery

We start by helping out in the Discovery phase of the sales process.  The AE should already have determined if the customer is in a buying process, they have a budget to spend and that we should be able to help them.  Our role is to look at the technology side of the problem and how our products and services could solve their problems.  This is accomplished through meetings, demos and workshops and also by educating the customer about the technology and market from our perspective.  The goal is to build a list of what the customer actually needs to solve their problem and not just what they would like to see – their Required Capabilities.  We often work across different teams and departments to be able to build this list and so there can be many meetings, workshops and demos, each with its own specific focus.

 

Solution Design

Next we need to design a solution that addresses as many of the customer needs as possible, using our products and services.  If we feel that we don’t have a strong match for our solution at this point then we may recommend to the AE that we ‘qualify out’ of the opportunity i.e. tell the customer that we don’t think that we are a good fit for them.  This is a big topic for a later blog post.

 

Business Case

Once we have our design then we work with the AE to make sure that we have a great business case so that the customer will buy the solution.  There is no point building a million dollar solution if it only saves the customer $10k per year.

 

Proof Phase

Now we have to prove to the customer that we have a great solution for them.  We do that through a Proof of Value (POV) or Proof of Concept (POC).  The two are often confused, but for me, the idea of conceptual solutions should only apply to very new technologies.  Customers really want to understand how they will get value from the solution and how it will solve the list of customer needs – the Required Capabilities.

 

At the end of the POV we are aiming for the customer to tell us that we are the selected vendor – a status that we call the Technical Win.  Now it is down to the AE and sales team to go and negotiate the commercial win.  We might get pulled in for a few clarifying questions, but at this point our work is mainly done.  We just need to make sure that our documentation is completed and handed over to the Customer Success and Services teams so that they are ready to rapidly onboarding the customer once they sign the contract.

 

There are lots of other things that we do to support this process – respond to RFPs and RFIs, speak at conferences and industry events, work with Marketing on webinars and provide feedback to the Product Management and Engineering teams as well as working with Support and doing competitive analysis.

 

No Prize for Second Place

But here is one of the most important things to consider about the SE role.  The work that we do to design and build a great solution to solve the customers’ challenges is absolutely critical.  We MUST get it right, get it done quickly and get it done accurately.  At the Olympics you are going for 1st place to get the gold medal, but you might come 2nd or third and get silver or bronze.  In sales there are no prizes for second or third place.  You win or you lose – end of story !

 

Skills

The skills to be an SE are diverse and can vary significantly depending on the type of SE role that you have and also the types and numbers of technologies and services that you are supporting.  But there are a number of key areas that you should be really good at.

 

First of all, you need to have technical proficiency in your product area.  SEs need to understand intricate technical details of their products and communicate them effectively to technical and non-technical stakeholders.  Different roles will vary on the level of knowledge needed, and the longer that you are in a role the more you will learn.  You should also challenge yourself to learn about the technologies that are adjacent to your market space as well as the broader IT industry, for example cloud and cyber security as these will help you in your conversations with customers.  Always be learning..

 

You need to have great communications skills – both written and spoken word.  We are storytellers and so we need to be able to present, to use a whiteboard to visualise what we do and to be able to ask really targeted questions to help determine how we can help a customer.  We also drive a lot of documentation, both internal and customer facing material.  Each of these communications approaches need to be adapted to suit the audience that we are serving, from technical to C-level executives.

 

We need to be highly analytical, looking at customer trends, market trends, what competitors are doing to compete with us, and of course, how to build a solution for a customer challenge.  We need to be negotiators, confidence builders and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on.

 

Pull it All Together

We are team players as well as individual stars.  We are project managers – keeping our technical sales process on track, multi-taskers and context-switchers – handling multiple opportunities at one time.  But ultimately we are customer champions.  We put the customer at the heart of what we do.  We understand and address their needs and concerns, and help build trust and establish long-term relationships.

 

Being an SE is the linchpin in the sales cycle that pulls together technical expertise and effective communication, building trust with customers and paving the way for successful selling that benefits both the customer and our company.  If you want a role where every day is different, then consider being an SE.

 

Video Links:

YouTube video of this blog : https://youtu.be/IZovH0w0BvI

Blog Links:

The Trusted Advisor : https://thepresalescoach.com/blog/the-trusted-advisor/

The Future of Presales in 2024 : https://thepresalescoach.com/blog/the-future-of-presales-in-2024/

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