How to Build Solid Sales/PreSales Relationships

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Jon Ayers

Jan 16, 2023

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It should go without saying that effective, mutually beneficial relationships are fundamental to our happiness in life and the key to long-term success in business. There, I said it anyway. One of the most important relationships you will ever build as a PreSales professional is with your sales counterpart. Investing time and effort here increases your chances of success, and can help you make more trips to the bank to deposit bigger and bigger checks. It can also dramatically improve your overall job satisfaction.

You and your seller represent the very tip of the spear. The two of you are primarily responsible for the achievement of your organization’s revenue goals. However, sales and PreSales aren’t always in alignment. As with any relationship, it takes work and there are some fundamental pillars that must be in place for it to be successful and mutually beneficial. 

When sales and PreSales have a solid relationship, everyone benefits — including and especially the customer. When it’s out of balance, conflicts occur, deals are lost, customer satisfaction suffers, and revenue goals are missed. I have been there, and it isn’t pretty. I have also been part of some outstanding relationships with my sales counterparts, but they took time and dedicated effort. Each of these relationships were built on three fundamental pillars: trust, communication, and constructive friction. We will look at each and how they come together to create a successful relationship. 

Trust

Trying to make a relationship work that has no trust is like trying to drive a car blindfolded with a cougar in the back seat while hoping you won’t get eaten before you crash (Yes, that is a “Talladega Nights” reference). The foundation of a solid sales and PreSales relationship starts with trust. Simon Sinek once stated that trust comes over time and comes from taking lots of little risks. In a word, you must be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is not something we as human beings are necessarily always comfortable with. Vulnerability comes with the potential of failure, or worse, being deeply hurt. It also comes with the potential for massive success and relationships you will carry beyond work. 

The best relationship I ever had with a sales executive started off on shaky ground. He was very skeptical of my abilities, and he had every reason to be. He was a perennial Presidents Club winner who had worked with some of the best solutions consultants in our organization. Then comes me: First year as an SC, loads of sales experience but a true greenhorn in PreSales. It took vulnerability and being open to risks for us to build what would become a life-long friendship. We did this by constantly sharing our hopes and goals and setting our egos aside to become the best team we could. In the end, we crushed our goals every year we were together. Don’t get me wrong, we also had our fair share of failures, but we learned from those losses to get better together.

Communication

One of our biggest challenges as complex, thinking, feeling beings is our perspective that communication is often a one-way street, that it only comes from you and only involves what you want or believe. This is not dissimilar to many conversations I have had as a sales executive and a solutions consultant. 

I remember a conversation with a client that took place early in my solutions consulting career. The client asked a simple question about the ability to skip an approver in a workflow. I went on a lengthy diatribe on how easy it was to skip approvers and all the ways you could do it without support’s involvement. To which the client responded with, “I don’t want to skip approvers; it doesn’t look like your system will work for me.”  I completely failed to listen with the goal of understanding. 

You have probably found yourself on this one-way communication street at some point in your career. The conversation typically starts with you sharing your thoughts or opinions on a deal, meeting, or project and ends with you learning nothing other than what you already knew. That is because we, as human beings, love to be heard and love to feel we are right. This is exactly the opposite of what we should do if we want to have meaningful open communication with our counterparts. 

In order to have effective and impactful communication with others, start by focusing on being a world class listener. I have a recommendation: Right now, go search, “how to effectively communicate.” What you will find are numerous articles and videos on becoming a better listener. A common theme across all these sources is the simple act of listening for understanding. It makes sense if you think about it. When was the last time you communicated with a counterpart, significant other, or family member where you asked a question to better understand their point of view before sharing your own? Listening is more than hearing the words someone else is saying. 

World-renowned psychotherapist Jordan Peterson stated in “How to Really Listen to People” that listening has no goal other than to make things better, it is not to prove you are right. Taking that further, Simon Sinek shared in “The Art of Listening” that listening is the act of making sure the person speaking feels heard in a space where they can share openly without the fear of reprisal and judgment. Imagine how much more progress you and your sales or PreSales counterpart could make if you adopted a listen-first approach to communication. 

Constructive Friction

As unique individuals, each of us develop different belief systems over the course of our lives. These ground our thoughts, opinions, and ultimately influence our actions and decisions. As PreSales professionals, we develop a set of beliefs that govern our work life. Most of us want our interactions with others to be as non-confrontational as possible. I say most of us because there are people who actively seek out confrontation. Please understand that is not what I am advocating for here. 

Being challenged on something we have done or said is uncomfortable. Faced with this type of friction activates our primal fight or flight instinct. When our ego steps in the room we come out swinging and shift into fight mode. We defend everything we have said or done as justified and beyond contestation. As the expert in the room, how dare the sales exec call us out on something. The ultimate outcome of this fight instinct is that our sales counterpart now feels we don’t listen — kind of how our customers feel when we haven’t done proper discovery before demos…but that is a subject for another post. Yes, I have been there, done that, and am not proud of it. 

On the other hand, when the flight instinct takes over, we seek to pacify and end the discomfort as quickly as possible. This just leads to an unbalanced relationship with your sales counterpart, which won’t help either of you make more trips to the bank to deposit larger commission checks. And trust me, 99% of sales executives aren’t looking for you to fold every time they provide constructive feedback. They want an equal in the room.

Constructive friction is an integral part of the sales PreSales relationship. You don’t always have to agree on everything. The keys to constructive friction are trust, listening, and encouraging debate. The single best thing I did to improve shaky relationships with my sales executives was to ask for feedback and open a debate. I asked questions and actively listened, then provided my input. Before every demo I forced a prep session where I asked them to give me feedback on my approach. This didn’t mean I wholesale changed my presentation just because they said they wanted to go a different direction. Rather, this opened a debate where my sales executive and I could find a balance. Ultimately, that balance would make us one of the most successful teams in the entire organization. After every presentation, we debriefed where, again, I would actively seek feedback. 

For this to work, you must set your ego or your desire to appease aside completely. Approach these sessions with a desire to learn and let your curiosity dominate the debate. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. Will it take time? Yes. Will it make you better as a team? Absolutely. We don’t grow when we are comfortable. Growth and improvement only come when we are outside our comfort zones. 

Conclusion

As with any relationship, the one you have with your seller is only as good as the focus and effort you both put into making it work. Take time to understand each other, and develop a trusting relationship built on open communication and constructive friction. Not only will you improve your chances of success, you might also gain a lifelong friend or two along the way. I know I have. 

Written by:

Jon Ayers

Jon Ayers

Head of Global Solutions Consulting at Qualio

Jon Ayers is a professional sales and PreSales leader with over 25 years of experience. He is currently the Head of Global Solutions Consulting at Qualio. Prior to joining Qualio, Jon spent 10 years at SAP Concur as an account executive, solutions consultant and PreSales leader. His passion is enabling the next generation of solutions consultants/engineers to build successful careers in PreSales.

Unlock this content by joining the PreSales Collective with global community with 20,000+ professionals
Read this content here ↗

It should go without saying that effective, mutually beneficial relationships are fundamental to our happiness in life and the key to long-term success in business. There, I said it anyway. One of the most important relationships you will ever build as a PreSales professional is with your sales counterpart. Investing time and effort here increases your chances of success, and can help you make more trips to the bank to deposit bigger and bigger checks. It can also dramatically improve your overall job satisfaction.

You and your seller represent the very tip of the spear. The two of you are primarily responsible for the achievement of your organization’s revenue goals. However, sales and PreSales aren’t always in alignment. As with any relationship, it takes work and there are some fundamental pillars that must be in place for it to be successful and mutually beneficial. 

When sales and PreSales have a solid relationship, everyone benefits — including and especially the customer. When it’s out of balance, conflicts occur, deals are lost, customer satisfaction suffers, and revenue goals are missed. I have been there, and it isn’t pretty. I have also been part of some outstanding relationships with my sales counterparts, but they took time and dedicated effort. Each of these relationships were built on three fundamental pillars: trust, communication, and constructive friction. We will look at each and how they come together to create a successful relationship. 

Trust

Trying to make a relationship work that has no trust is like trying to drive a car blindfolded with a cougar in the back seat while hoping you won’t get eaten before you crash (Yes, that is a “Talladega Nights” reference). The foundation of a solid sales and PreSales relationship starts with trust. Simon Sinek once stated that trust comes over time and comes from taking lots of little risks. In a word, you must be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is not something we as human beings are necessarily always comfortable with. Vulnerability comes with the potential of failure, or worse, being deeply hurt. It also comes with the potential for massive success and relationships you will carry beyond work. 

The best relationship I ever had with a sales executive started off on shaky ground. He was very skeptical of my abilities, and he had every reason to be. He was a perennial Presidents Club winner who had worked with some of the best solutions consultants in our organization. Then comes me: First year as an SC, loads of sales experience but a true greenhorn in PreSales. It took vulnerability and being open to risks for us to build what would become a life-long friendship. We did this by constantly sharing our hopes and goals and setting our egos aside to become the best team we could. In the end, we crushed our goals every year we were together. Don’t get me wrong, we also had our fair share of failures, but we learned from those losses to get better together.

Communication

One of our biggest challenges as complex, thinking, feeling beings is our perspective that communication is often a one-way street, that it only comes from you and only involves what you want or believe. This is not dissimilar to many conversations I have had as a sales executive and a solutions consultant. 

I remember a conversation with a client that took place early in my solutions consulting career. The client asked a simple question about the ability to skip an approver in a workflow. I went on a lengthy diatribe on how easy it was to skip approvers and all the ways you could do it without support’s involvement. To which the client responded with, “I don’t want to skip approvers; it doesn’t look like your system will work for me.”  I completely failed to listen with the goal of understanding. 

You have probably found yourself on this one-way communication street at some point in your career. The conversation typically starts with you sharing your thoughts or opinions on a deal, meeting, or project and ends with you learning nothing other than what you already knew. That is because we, as human beings, love to be heard and love to feel we are right. This is exactly the opposite of what we should do if we want to have meaningful open communication with our counterparts. 

In order to have effective and impactful communication with others, start by focusing on being a world class listener. I have a recommendation: Right now, go search, “how to effectively communicate.” What you will find are numerous articles and videos on becoming a better listener. A common theme across all these sources is the simple act of listening for understanding. It makes sense if you think about it. When was the last time you communicated with a counterpart, significant other, or family member where you asked a question to better understand their point of view before sharing your own? Listening is more than hearing the words someone else is saying. 

World-renowned psychotherapist Jordan Peterson stated in “How to Really Listen to People” that listening has no goal other than to make things better, it is not to prove you are right. Taking that further, Simon Sinek shared in “The Art of Listening” that listening is the act of making sure the person speaking feels heard in a space where they can share openly without the fear of reprisal and judgment. Imagine how much more progress you and your sales or PreSales counterpart could make if you adopted a listen-first approach to communication. 

Constructive Friction

As unique individuals, each of us develop different belief systems over the course of our lives. These ground our thoughts, opinions, and ultimately influence our actions and decisions. As PreSales professionals, we develop a set of beliefs that govern our work life. Most of us want our interactions with others to be as non-confrontational as possible. I say most of us because there are people who actively seek out confrontation. Please understand that is not what I am advocating for here. 

Being challenged on something we have done or said is uncomfortable. Faced with this type of friction activates our primal fight or flight instinct. When our ego steps in the room we come out swinging and shift into fight mode. We defend everything we have said or done as justified and beyond contestation. As the expert in the room, how dare the sales exec call us out on something. The ultimate outcome of this fight instinct is that our sales counterpart now feels we don’t listen — kind of how our customers feel when we haven’t done proper discovery before demos…but that is a subject for another post. Yes, I have been there, done that, and am not proud of it. 

On the other hand, when the flight instinct takes over, we seek to pacify and end the discomfort as quickly as possible. This just leads to an unbalanced relationship with your sales counterpart, which won’t help either of you make more trips to the bank to deposit larger commission checks. And trust me, 99% of sales executives aren’t looking for you to fold every time they provide constructive feedback. They want an equal in the room.

Constructive friction is an integral part of the sales PreSales relationship. You don’t always have to agree on everything. The keys to constructive friction are trust, listening, and encouraging debate. The single best thing I did to improve shaky relationships with my sales executives was to ask for feedback and open a debate. I asked questions and actively listened, then provided my input. Before every demo I forced a prep session where I asked them to give me feedback on my approach. This didn’t mean I wholesale changed my presentation just because they said they wanted to go a different direction. Rather, this opened a debate where my sales executive and I could find a balance. Ultimately, that balance would make us one of the most successful teams in the entire organization. After every presentation, we debriefed where, again, I would actively seek feedback. 

For this to work, you must set your ego or your desire to appease aside completely. Approach these sessions with a desire to learn and let your curiosity dominate the debate. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. Will it take time? Yes. Will it make you better as a team? Absolutely. We don’t grow when we are comfortable. Growth and improvement only come when we are outside our comfort zones. 

Conclusion

As with any relationship, the one you have with your seller is only as good as the focus and effort you both put into making it work. Take time to understand each other, and develop a trusting relationship built on open communication and constructive friction. Not only will you improve your chances of success, you might also gain a lifelong friend or two along the way. I know I have. 

Written by:

Jon Ayers

Jon Ayers

Head of Global Solutions Consulting at Qualio

Jon Ayers is a professional sales and PreSales leader with over 25 years of experience. He is currently the Head of Global Solutions Consulting at Qualio. Prior to joining Qualio, Jon spent 10 years at SAP Concur as an account executive, solutions consultant and PreSales leader. His passion is enabling the next generation of solutions consultants/engineers to build successful careers in PreSales.

Unlock this content by joining the PreSales Leadership Collective! An exclusive community dedicated to PreSales leaders.
Read this content here ↗

It should go without saying that effective, mutually beneficial relationships are fundamental to our happiness in life and the key to long-term success in business. There, I said it anyway. One of the most important relationships you will ever build as a PreSales professional is with your sales counterpart. Investing time and effort here increases your chances of success, and can help you make more trips to the bank to deposit bigger and bigger checks. It can also dramatically improve your overall job satisfaction.

You and your seller represent the very tip of the spear. The two of you are primarily responsible for the achievement of your organization’s revenue goals. However, sales and PreSales aren’t always in alignment. As with any relationship, it takes work and there are some fundamental pillars that must be in place for it to be successful and mutually beneficial. 

When sales and PreSales have a solid relationship, everyone benefits — including and especially the customer. When it’s out of balance, conflicts occur, deals are lost, customer satisfaction suffers, and revenue goals are missed. I have been there, and it isn’t pretty. I have also been part of some outstanding relationships with my sales counterparts, but they took time and dedicated effort. Each of these relationships were built on three fundamental pillars: trust, communication, and constructive friction. We will look at each and how they come together to create a successful relationship. 

Trust

Trying to make a relationship work that has no trust is like trying to drive a car blindfolded with a cougar in the back seat while hoping you won’t get eaten before you crash (Yes, that is a “Talladega Nights” reference). The foundation of a solid sales and PreSales relationship starts with trust. Simon Sinek once stated that trust comes over time and comes from taking lots of little risks. In a word, you must be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is not something we as human beings are necessarily always comfortable with. Vulnerability comes with the potential of failure, or worse, being deeply hurt. It also comes with the potential for massive success and relationships you will carry beyond work. 

The best relationship I ever had with a sales executive started off on shaky ground. He was very skeptical of my abilities, and he had every reason to be. He was a perennial Presidents Club winner who had worked with some of the best solutions consultants in our organization. Then comes me: First year as an SC, loads of sales experience but a true greenhorn in PreSales. It took vulnerability and being open to risks for us to build what would become a life-long friendship. We did this by constantly sharing our hopes and goals and setting our egos aside to become the best team we could. In the end, we crushed our goals every year we were together. Don’t get me wrong, we also had our fair share of failures, but we learned from those losses to get better together.

Communication

One of our biggest challenges as complex, thinking, feeling beings is our perspective that communication is often a one-way street, that it only comes from you and only involves what you want or believe. This is not dissimilar to many conversations I have had as a sales executive and a solutions consultant. 

I remember a conversation with a client that took place early in my solutions consulting career. The client asked a simple question about the ability to skip an approver in a workflow. I went on a lengthy diatribe on how easy it was to skip approvers and all the ways you could do it without support’s involvement. To which the client responded with, “I don’t want to skip approvers; it doesn’t look like your system will work for me.”  I completely failed to listen with the goal of understanding. 

You have probably found yourself on this one-way communication street at some point in your career. The conversation typically starts with you sharing your thoughts or opinions on a deal, meeting, or project and ends with you learning nothing other than what you already knew. That is because we, as human beings, love to be heard and love to feel we are right. This is exactly the opposite of what we should do if we want to have meaningful open communication with our counterparts. 

In order to have effective and impactful communication with others, start by focusing on being a world class listener. I have a recommendation: Right now, go search, “how to effectively communicate.” What you will find are numerous articles and videos on becoming a better listener. A common theme across all these sources is the simple act of listening for understanding. It makes sense if you think about it. When was the last time you communicated with a counterpart, significant other, or family member where you asked a question to better understand their point of view before sharing your own? Listening is more than hearing the words someone else is saying. 

World-renowned psychotherapist Jordan Peterson stated in “How to Really Listen to People” that listening has no goal other than to make things better, it is not to prove you are right. Taking that further, Simon Sinek shared in “The Art of Listening” that listening is the act of making sure the person speaking feels heard in a space where they can share openly without the fear of reprisal and judgment. Imagine how much more progress you and your sales or PreSales counterpart could make if you adopted a listen-first approach to communication. 

Constructive Friction

As unique individuals, each of us develop different belief systems over the course of our lives. These ground our thoughts, opinions, and ultimately influence our actions and decisions. As PreSales professionals, we develop a set of beliefs that govern our work life. Most of us want our interactions with others to be as non-confrontational as possible. I say most of us because there are people who actively seek out confrontation. Please understand that is not what I am advocating for here. 

Being challenged on something we have done or said is uncomfortable. Faced with this type of friction activates our primal fight or flight instinct. When our ego steps in the room we come out swinging and shift into fight mode. We defend everything we have said or done as justified and beyond contestation. As the expert in the room, how dare the sales exec call us out on something. The ultimate outcome of this fight instinct is that our sales counterpart now feels we don’t listen — kind of how our customers feel when we haven’t done proper discovery before demos…but that is a subject for another post. Yes, I have been there, done that, and am not proud of it. 

On the other hand, when the flight instinct takes over, we seek to pacify and end the discomfort as quickly as possible. This just leads to an unbalanced relationship with your sales counterpart, which won’t help either of you make more trips to the bank to deposit larger commission checks. And trust me, 99% of sales executives aren’t looking for you to fold every time they provide constructive feedback. They want an equal in the room.

Constructive friction is an integral part of the sales PreSales relationship. You don’t always have to agree on everything. The keys to constructive friction are trust, listening, and encouraging debate. The single best thing I did to improve shaky relationships with my sales executives was to ask for feedback and open a debate. I asked questions and actively listened, then provided my input. Before every demo I forced a prep session where I asked them to give me feedback on my approach. This didn’t mean I wholesale changed my presentation just because they said they wanted to go a different direction. Rather, this opened a debate where my sales executive and I could find a balance. Ultimately, that balance would make us one of the most successful teams in the entire organization. After every presentation, we debriefed where, again, I would actively seek feedback. 

For this to work, you must set your ego or your desire to appease aside completely. Approach these sessions with a desire to learn and let your curiosity dominate the debate. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. Will it take time? Yes. Will it make you better as a team? Absolutely. We don’t grow when we are comfortable. Growth and improvement only come when we are outside our comfort zones. 

Conclusion

As with any relationship, the one you have with your seller is only as good as the focus and effort you both put into making it work. Take time to understand each other, and develop a trusting relationship built on open communication and constructive friction. Not only will you improve your chances of success, you might also gain a lifelong friend or two along the way. I know I have. 

Written by:

Jon Ayers

Jon Ayers

Head of Global Solutions Consulting at Qualio

Jon Ayers is a professional sales and PreSales leader with over 25 years of experience. He is currently the Head of Global Solutions Consulting at Qualio. Prior to joining Qualio, Jon spent 10 years at SAP Concur as an account executive, solutions consultant and PreSales leader. His passion is enabling the next generation of solutions consultants/engineers to build successful careers in PreSales.

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