The Rise of the ‘Architect’ in SaaS Solutions Engineering

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Sidharth Balaji

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Sidharth Balaji

Feb 21, 2022

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The Rise of the ‘Architect’ in SaaS Solutions Engineering

Stepping into 2022 and come April this year, not only will I draw curtains to my roaring 20s, but I shall also be completing seven years in SaaS and particularly as a PreSales engineer.


Yet some things, like the never-ending confusion in the role’s title between PreSales, Sales, Solution, Solutions, Customer, Value Engineering, etc., haven’t changed. However, a lot has changed in the role’s outlook since then.


When I began my PreSales career in 2015 with Freshworks as a “Product Consultant,” my role primarily was to work together with sales and quickly convert hundreds of small business inbound prospects from mere trial users of our flagship help desk ticketing solution into paying customers by responding to their RFP/RFIs, conducting value-driven technical product demonstrations, answering any product-related queries and convincing them that their primary use-cases can be effectively met through our tool. This went on for a few good years so you can imagine the number of demos or the questions I would’ve ended up repeatedly answering, sometimes even in my sleep.


During my final days at Freshworks in 2020, I was doing all of the above, but on some rare occasions, I was also mapping data flows of customer interactions between the much more evolved omnichannel Freshdesk and other internal databases at some of our ‘marquee’ prospects in Europe to convince stakeholders that a 360° view of a customer could transform the overall efficiency of their typically large help desk agent teams, thereby turning their customer service department from a mere cost centre to an actual revenue driver. This time, the excitement was too high to ensure that I was not sleeping on these occasions!


Notice the change in the level of challenge there? I for sure did.


Did that bring the best out of me? Absolutely!


Do I want more of it? HELL YEAH!


In May 2021, I decided to join HubSpot, a company I subconsciously had started admiring from the early days, when work was based out of a city in southern India only during night hours as I was remotely aligned to the North American Sales team. Working every single day of the week during night hours meant that in-person mentorship, real-time coaching, etc. were hard to come by, resulting in only the internet and some of its hugely resourceful blogs (like this one, for example) as my ‘library’ of sorts to improve and grow on a professional level. Not only did I have the opportunity to join the company whose culture and the whole inbound methodology was inspiring, but the opportunity was also to join as HubSpot’s 1st-ever external Presales Solutions Architect (SA) hire for the EMEA region, which I felt was practically ‘irrefutable’. In simple language, The opportunity meant that I will be working on those particular challenges in the deals I worked on, the ones which occasionally excited me, EVERY SINGLE DAY.


Onboarding and interacting with my teammates and managers here over the last nine--and-a-half months have been nothing short of a rewarding, yet humbling experience as I am still learning and navigating through my new role. It also made me realise THREE important things:


#1 Personalising the SaaS software buyer experience matters more now than ever:


  • In 2022, the software as a service (SaaS) market is estimated to be worth approximately 171.9 billion U.S. dollars [1] and follow the expected approximate of a 20% YoY increase indicating that the adoption of SaaS is going to be higher not only across small and medium-sized businesses but also enterprise firms.
  • As more enterprise firms start to show interest in SaaS platforms, many SaaS software providers have started or will start ‘moving upmarket’ by expanding their product functionalities to cater more towards their use-cases. This means the range of problems their solutions shall solve are bound to increase, resulting in increasing the depth and complexity of these solutions.
  • The higher the complexity, the more the specialisations required in executives within the revenue-generating teams in these SaaS companies, leading to the birth of specialised roles in Sales teams —Solutions/Platform Architects, Solution Engineers (SE), Demo Engineers, Technical Proposal and RFP writers — to offer a more personalised buying experience, beating the competition. No wonder it is said that customer experience is "the new battlefield."
  • HubSpot, a SaaS software provider in the CRM space over the last 15 years, is no exception to this trend [2] and had already piloted the role of an SA internally before I joined, which made me feel strangely comfortable despite taking a huge decision to leave my comfort zone.

#2 Buying cycles continue to involve more stakeholders in decision-making:

  • According to the Harvard Business Review [3], the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today, and these stakeholders come from a lengthening roster of roles, functions, and geographies, bringing their own perspectives to evaluate how the solutions we position could solve their day-to-day challenges.
  • As much as Sales have reinvented themselves to identify barriers in decision making, and track customer progress, very little has gone into the technical side of the sale, and expecting your one and only PreSales superstar to handle everything that is “technical” in a sale and offering as many product demos as required isn’t going to help either.
  • By specialising my PreSales role as a Solutions Architect, HubSpot has offered a much-needed focus on some of these key stakeholders like the CTO, CMO, etc. in my upmarket deals to offer a vision of HubSpot’s product architecture and how it will relate to their infrastructure. After all, stats already prove sales may be a whopping 258% more likely to close than if they flew solo [4].


#3 Problem Solving (therefore, selling) is a team effort:

  • With the increase in tech depth and complexity in SaaS solutions for the reasons mentioned above, and with an ever-rising number of point solutions crowding every single software category, it is almost humanely impossible for individual PreSales Engineers to be complete masters in the technology/domain they are aligned to in a short period despite their roles, by definition, ask them to be experts. Quite a paradox, you’d think?
  • All through my journey so far as a PreSales engineer, I can confidently say that I’ve been the best version of myself when it comes to technical/domain expertise when I’ve been part of PreSales teams which had people with diverse strengths and were highly collaborative and deeply cared for each other's success.
  • HubSpot’s PreSales team, from what I’ve observed over my little time here, truly embraces the infamous “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack” Rudyard Kipling quote from “The Jungle Book” and holds diversity as one of its core values. Neither have I felt intimidated to ask any question in our team’s Slack channel, nor have I faced a situation within the PreSales team where I was told to “level up” my product knowledge because I wasn’t good enough — a problem we all know, unfortunately, plagues many knowledge-driven functions outside of PreSales.
  • As a Solutions Architect at HubSpot, I am expected and encouraged to look at the overall configuration of our most complex and strategic prospects' and customers’ Marketing, CRM, and Customer Service tech stacks and consider all possible options to offer the most personalised and scalable solutions during their software evaluation phase. So, relying on my teammates, SEs, Services Consultants, Sales Reps, Sales Managers, and sometimes Customer Success is a crucial daily part of my job that I thoroughly enjoy.


I’m confident that I’ll learn more as I gain experience in this role, but there’s a genuine feeling inside me that it’s only a matter of time for many SaaS providers, whose products today are going to become platforms of tomorrow [5], shall start creating more specialised roles within the Sales and the PreSales functions.


2022 is an exciting time for Solution/Platform/Business/Deal Architects and I have a dream that there will be a time when we carve a universal name to address us without the never-ending confusion in our role's title.


Superhero, perhaps?



References:

[1] Global public cloud application services (SaaS) market size 2015–2022 — Published by Statista Research Department — https://www.statista.com/statistics/505243/worldwide-software-as-a-service-revenue/


[2] Gartner, “Magic Quadrant for B2B Marketing Automation,” Noah Elkin, Julian Poulter, Christy Ferguson, Ilona Hansen, Jeffrey Cohen, 20 September 2021 — https://offers.hubspot.com/b2b-marketing-automation-magic-quadrant-report


[3] The Harvard Business Review, The New Sales Imperative — https://hbr.org/2017/03/the-new-sales-imperative


[4] Gong.io, If You’re Selling Alone, You’re Doing It Wrong (These Stats Explain Why) — https://www.gong.io/blog/team-selling/


[5] From Product To Platform: The Secret To Building A $10 Billion SaaS Business — https://www.forbes.com/sites/valleyvoices/2018/08/14/secrets-to-10-billion-saas/

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