Simply the best. Better than all the rest. Whatever you call it - PreSales, solution consulting, sales engineering - we all know how fulfilling and rewarding a career in PreSales is, but the truth is not everyone understands this yet. When you’re aggressively recruiting for hypergrowth, this lack of understanding from your next generation of PreSales adds another layer of challenges to the exciting task ahead.
Whether a leader or an individual contributor, sales or PreSales, how do you maximize your reach to the right talent? And how do you hire and truly set new team members up for success, when growing at speed?
Over the last 18 months, I have embarked on a thrilling journey in the Docusign EMEA Solution Consulting team in Dublin, Ireland, as the leader for the fantastic SMB team. My first big ticket item was to hire multilingual PreSales talent in record time, to fuel the organisation’s growth in the region.
EMEA is the world’s most diverse region from a linguistic, cultural, and socio-economic perspective. In the European Union alone, 24 languages are spoken. Most customers, in their decision-making process to invest in a solution, will expect an account team to speak their language and align with their business culture. Keep that in mind. We had to double the size of the team over the course of two quarters, in a region where the competition for any multilingual tech talent is absolutely ferocious. To make it even more thrilling, the pandemic meant that we were doing this at a time when uncertainty was on everyone’s plate, every single day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This meant that many potential candidates were less likely to consider a new role in a new company, no matter how promising it might appear.
So how did we succeed, and how might you succeed, too?
1. Recruit for Potential
Spoiler alert: we did not recruit “ideal” candidates; the much-coveted tenured PreSales with a cloud background. Don’t get me wrong, we would have absolutely loved to hire them but given the hiring environment, this was not always possible. So we strategized, considered, and took another direction without compromising on the quality of talent we brought onboard. We decided to hire, almost exclusively, candidates who did not have previous experience in PreSales. We had two non-negotiable characteristics in mind: candidates had to be highly motivated by the prospect of becoming PreSales professionals, and they had to have endless love for technology.
As a starting point, we took a step back and asked ourselves fundamentally - what makes a great PreSales professional? We thought about the great PreSales colleagues we worked with and the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that made them stand out from the crowd. What did their Account Executives and colleagues say about them? What did they bring to the team and to the business that was truly unique?
We identified several characteristics to look for in candidates that showed PreSales potential:
- Strong understanding of the role: Asked candidates to describe in their own words what a PreSales professional role would entail, and share with us any past experience of PreSales.
- Excellent and inspiring visual and verbal communication: Invited candidates to reflect on their personal and professional journey and its relevance to the role of a PreSales. Had candidates prepare a customized presentation and demonstration in response to a bespoke customer scenario.
- Love of technology and understanding of customer value: Created space for passionate conversations around technology to take place. Asked candidates to share their definition of value for customers and the business.
- Growth mindset (PreSles is a lifelong learning experience): Feedback was always provided following panel presentations. Every candidate we hired had a plan in mind for learning and progression and expressed willingness to work outside of their comfort zone.
- Agility, self-awareness, and curiosity: Threw in last-minute changes to the bespoke customer scenario, to test adaptability and agility. Once their presentation was over, we asked candidates to reflect on how they did. Space was given to candidates to ask any questions they wished.
The Result for our Team and the Business
We hired great talent from a wide variety of backgrounds: Account Management, Customer Success, Business Development, Technical Support, Business Analysis, and Management Consultancy.
Interestingly, we also ended up hiring twice as many female candidates as male candidates as the majority of quality applicants were female. While our skill-focused recruitment approach alone might not explain this outcome, I believe that it may have had an impact. Weaving requirements into the job description, as opposed to a straightforward request for PreSales experience, may have contributed to attracting both more women and candidates from diverse backgrounds than in previous recruitment drives.
2. Phase to Go Faster
When onboarding our recruits, we used a phased approach to accelerate the journey from new hire to go-live to help meet a number of challenges. We focused on the highest priorities for the business:
1. How could we be set for success as an account team as early as possible?
Our Account Executive (AE) teams were hiring great talent at the speed of light, and we...at the speed of a Supernova. Both stellar, for sure, but not comparable. The differences in our hiring speed were many, starting with the fact that there are fewer great PreSales candidates out there than sales. The thing is, AEs need their PreSales partners in crime on their side from Day One to support them in the joint execution of their territory plan.
2. How would we compensate for the disappearance of the office environment?
With the onset of the pandemic, most of the organic learning opportunities for new joiners disappeared as we no longer sat together as a team. Opportunities to naturally and dynamically share learnings from customer interactions, and opportunities to observe the day-to-day challenges and successes of the team had to be reimagined.
Responding to these key challenges, we decided to entirely redesign our onboarding program:
- New Onboarding Material. We introduced a more visual playbook which was easier to leverage as part of a remote mentoring approach. Coupled with a week-by-week onboarding timeline, this was a vital tool in establishing goals for the new hire. Setting crystal clear expectations is essential in ensuring a collective understanding of what good will look like when a new hire completes the onboarding program. This is even more so when working remotely as a multicultural team where 7 out of 10 team members have a language other than English as their mother tongue...myself included!
- Phased Approach to Go-Live. New PreSales team members were introduced to their new AEs in two steps - a partial go-live midway through the new onboarding timeline, followed by a full take-off near the end. Think of it as an early soft launch in advance of a full one. This allows the new team member to support their AEs on the customer interactions at an early stage in the onboarding process, as well as applying and developing their newly acquired PreSales knowledge through those live customer interactions with AE support.
- Accountability is at the heart of the program. We embedded accountability into the program by introducing a Mentor and Mentee charter, laying out clear expectations of what commitment mentors were required to give. This was matched with joint success objectives for mentors, mentees, and managers alike.
- Weekly Operating Cadence. Giving staff objectives and expectations for going live was supported with specific weekly objectives around online learning. Training included products, soft skills, PreSales skills, product mock certifications, call shadowing, discovery calls, and demo mock dry-runs.
- Onboarding Ownership at Team Level. Mentors, who are amongst the most experienced team members, and managers grade the certifications of the new PreSales team members together with their votes having the same weight. Mentoring project leads are also introduced - owning the programme and with responsibility for leading ongoing improvement to ensure continuous relevance.
- Go-live was reduced to 6 weeks from our original 12-week timeline.
- The team was set up for success -within 2 quarters from go-live, every new joiner was either achieving or overachieving expectations in revenue contribution and by demonstrating best-practice PreSales behaviors.
- We established a clear program to allow us to grow at scale, rapidly, in a structured way.
Would this work for you?
As we PreSales know all too well, there is no cure-all to any set of complex challenges. However, if you are faced with the hiring pressures (and the thrills!) of a hypergrowth environment, then seeking the potential in candidates, as opposed to focusing only on ideal candidates, will make a huge difference in your ability to grow your business and build tightly integrated, more diverse, and more successful teams.
When bringing new joiners onboard, redesigning your onboarding program to give them the best setup for success is key. Weaving in accountability for everyone (mentors, mentees, and managers alike) helps to further set up your new team for success in what is simply the best tech job they’ll ever have.
For myself, the team, and the business, it’s been a challenging, yet deeply rewarding experience. From a results standpoint and from the learnings acquired as part of the development process this has taught us what we can do to grow not just bigger but also better. Because hypergrowth is here to stay.
We hope you will dare to give it a try.
Mélissa Coyne is a resilient leader with strong people, sales, technical and communication skills in three European languages. She is a Certified Information Security professional with 16 years of international experience providing advisory services to EMEA businesses throughout their digital and cloud transformation. Connect with Mélissa on LinkedIn!