The PreSales profession has been booming in recent years. And that means many PreSales teams have been growing rapidly along with their larger organizations. But how can you scale a PreSales organization effectively? We heard from some of the best in the business at the recent PreSales Leadership Collective Executive Summit session:
John Pullen, VP of Global Sales Engineering at Collibra
Todd Janzen, Global VP of Solution Engineering at Q Branch
Lara Meadows, Sales Engineering Leader at ThreatConnect
What is an Organizational Foundation?
John says that having an organizational foundation is essential for everyone. It’s like the foundation of a building - you won’t be able to expand and growth with stability and confidence if your foundation isn’t strongly and carefully built. A good foundation means your pillars, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
When should you start thinking about establishing this foundation? A year ago, you’ll wish you started today - it should be on the to-do list for even the smallest, newest startups.
Todd notes that when you’re a startup and just getting out of the gate, often you’re asking your PreSales team to go from the value floor to the summit of Everest every time they’re working on a deal. If you’re doing it right, you’re dropping them off at base camp instead so they can summit all day every day. That’s what the right foundation enables you to do.
What are the Pillars?
John explained that the organizational pillars are a set of components that sound basic but really are not:
- Standardization for processes and data. These are the things that are frequently repeated on those Everest excursions - they should be easily consumable and reusable. Don’t reinvent the wheel every month.
- Flattening the org. If you need to talk to someone but need to go up and down levels, that’s a barrier to getting things done and scaling. And flattening doesn’t need to be done structurally and based on rules, but also with communications tools like Slack.
- Accountability on a personal level, team level, and personal level. Real accountability is only established with authority - employees need to the have authority to make decisions. And make it ok to fail, as long as they fail fast. Be transparent about the metrics people are measured on, and always include the why, to make your accountability fair and effective.
Todd says that for him, demo environments are the first pillar of a PreSales team. If your SEs cannot spin up a demo environment with a few clicks in a few minutes, you need to solve for that fast. At Salesforce, they gave customers a free trial from day one so that was basically a built-in demo. Now, we need to get to scaleable demo environments fast - fortunately there are some new cool tools on the market to help with that.
Onboarding and Enabling SEs
John notes that when you’re onboarding SEs, you need to understand what you have in place to help them win - like enablements, certifications, etc. He’s personally a fan of certificates in three different areas: sales, platform and products, and the actual day-to-day activities like demo styles and presentations.
You don’t want to make it burdensome - you can overwhelm new people with 45 days of non-stop enablement when they’re just trying to get their feet under them in a new role. Instead, keep it light, focused, and targeted.
Todd emphasizes that you need to know what your SEs are demoing inside your solutions. What are the skews and features? There’s always the fear that SEs who have been around a while aren’t showing the new stuff. It’s also helpful to see what the new folks are doing, and looking at how your revenue targets align to what the team is showing. Coaching and/or more enablement might in order to get everyone on the same track.
Lara says that incorporating what’s most recent is essential - not doing the harbor tour. Make it relevant and tell a story instead, and her team measures for that.
John agrees - if he ever hears of a harbor tour demo taking place, he’ll push back hard on it because he strongly feels they’re not useful. His team recently revamped their GTM strategy into use cases, and then break down those use cases that SEs captured to get a good understanding of each one. Then they took those 8 use cases and made a succinct 8-10 minute demo for each one. This allows his SEs to target customers with increased relevance, and makes it easier for even new SEs to know what they’re doing.
The Importance of Automation
John says that automation becomes more important once you get past 40-50 SEs in the org. Those repeatable demos and offerings like his use cases and website resources let him take the burden off the team and allow them to focus on high-value offerings like differentiating from competitors.
Todd is a big fan of tool that allow you to click a few buttons and get highly personalized demos and tools that vocalize language. The internal tools he’s built have been around how fast the team can personalize the demo. The SE spends minutes on the demo and the customer thinks they spent days - “is that our data?” (which is the ultimate compliment for SEs).
His big focus now is figuring out how do we pull things further through the funnel? He says it’s time to replace the “Request a Demo” button on your website - it’s really just signing up to get harassed for a year by someone who knows nothing about the product, and everyone knows that by now. The buyer has changed - especially Gen Z, there’s no way they’re clicking that button. Instead there should be a “Send me a Demo” button.
How to Handle Change
John says that change is inevitable. The only thing guaranteed is change. And while it can be uncomfortable, it’s not a bad thing - people need to realize it’s what accelerates growth. It’s important to get the team used to change, which can be difficult, but then when change happens it’s just expected.
Todd notes that what’s required to be an SE has changed. When you start taking old stuff like coding or a CS degree off the required list because someone else does that now, it really opens up hiring opportunities as well. The real role of PreSales is to secure the win with the least amount of proof possible. It’s common to get too wrapped up in the details, but if you keep sight of that goal there’s a lot of different ways to achieve that if you’re not afraid to try new approaches.