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3 Strategies to Elevate Presales for Modern B2B Buying

*FREE* Activity Gap Analysis Worksheet Included

Don Carmichael spun up a convo on LinkedIn about a transformational shift in B2B. “We have conclusive proof that the Presales / Sales Engineer role is no longer just a Sales support role.” 

Not earth-shattering for most Presales pros, but the stat he cites from our 2022 SE Workload & Comp Report is pretty shocking: Less than 2% of Presales leaders say they support sales exclusively.

Sales creates most of the demand on Presales. 

But there’s something much bigger bubbling under the surface with Client Success, Marketing and Business Development all pulling SEs into customer meetings: the demand for Presales now stretches across the customer lifecycle and will only grow. 

A Surge in Demand for Presales

Buyers – their B2B behaviors, buying experiences, what they expect from suppliers – are obviously fueling this increase, along with most other disruptions in B2B.

We see how it affects Presales, though, more than in any other revenue function:

  • Bottlenecks: SEs deliver 40% more demos per week YoY and 30-50% are unqualified
  • Demo lag time: Buyers wait 5.6 days on average just to see their first demo
  • Talent management: SEs are burning out; it takes 2-3X longer to onboard SEs than AEs

It’s not all bad news, of course. A good number of teams are using these trends to force positive change:

from using Presales as demo jockeys to using them as buyer coaches

from engaging SEs in one part of the cycle to keeping them engaged long past the initial deal closes

from having little strategic influence to giving them a seat at the table

Buyers need what Presales brings to the table: custom demonstrations, consultations, mapping solutions to values, subject matter expertise throughout the buying journey, etc.

This buying need is getting stronger because of how messy buying has become.

The Problem: B2B Buying is Complex, Unpleasant and Slow

Gartner looked at buying journeys in 2022 and doubled-down on a previous claim, “The buying journey is not linear; it is actually often quite chaotic with the buying activities done in varying order and many of them being repeated multiple times.” 

It’s asynchronous and looks something like this:

Chaotic, asynchronous, repeating activities multiple times – linear sales processes just won’t work here, especially when buying journeys change from person to person. 

“B2B buying involves diverse buying teams working on multiple tasks concurrently or individually — without a consistent order or journey.” 

Still most Sales teams hold their buyers hostage to their own calendars. For all the talk we do about buyer-centricity, most (or all) of the training and tech in Sales aren’t pointed to the people who actually close deals: buyers.

Sellers don’t close deals, only buyers can. And buyers don’t follow your sales process. 

B2B buyers spend only 16% of their buying time meeting with all potential suppliers…They spend the other time conducting research independently, using a mix of supplier and independent resources, or meeting internally without suppliers present.”

If buyers only spend 16% of their buying time meeting ALL suppliers –  and there are, let’s say, 4 suppliers per B2B deal – each supplier only gets 4% of the buyer’s time on average. 

Most of our prospects’ time goes to their own research – in digital channels or talking with peers – and to their own internal meetings – in between your calls with them, building the case and winning over stakeholders on their own.

That space between your meetings with buyers – that’s where they do all of the selling. And you’re missing in action.

The problem is buyers are not good at buying. They don’t do it often and they’re not trained for it. “Buying teams often don’t know the required steps to make a purchase for their organization.” 

Apparently, most suppliers don’t help them.

The Promised Land: B2B Should Be Simple, Pleasant and Fast

Buyers don’t have to tolerate anything less anymore. You shouldn’t either. The goal is to help buyers make decisions (hopefully ones that include you) with confidence, organizational support, and more quickly than they otherwise would.

Fundamentally, this requires meeting buyers on their terms, and doing it in ways that enable them to move forward. 

That means at least delivering on-demand, guided and personalized experiences at scale so that selling internally for them is A LOT easier.

Here are 3 strategies you should adopt to get there:

  1. Take a Buyer Enablement approach for internal processes
  2. Analyze your demand and activity gaps
  3. Align to KPIs that reinforce Presales value

  1. Take a Buyer Enablement approach for internal processes

The buzzword of the day is PLG (product-led growth). It’s a great concept, but it fits under the umbrella of Buyer Enablement. On some level, you have to reinvent and restructure how you approach B2B, especially if you’re in technical sales. 

This includes how you deliver great customer experiences and how you get buyers what they need to make effective buying decisions, when they need it. Since buyers aren’t good at buying, your job is to coach them. 

  • You know, better than your champions do, what different stakeholder personas need in order to get on board with a solution. If you don’t, help them uncover it.  
  • You know the key milestones for achieving consensus within a buying group and can guide them. 
  • You know what content and questions different stakeholders usually have and can make those answers available in ways that are more likely to be consumed. 

Buyer Enablement isn’t about selling; it’s about facilitating, coaching and equipping the buying group. 

For reference, we created several guides and worksheets to help teams know how to do this. One of those you can access here: The 5-Step Guide to Buyer Enablement. 

  1. Analyze your demand and activity gaps

Scaling Presales means getting exponential results from the resources you have. There are two gaps you must define and measure if you’re to scale your Presales team and unlock their full capacity.

Gap 1: Increasing Demand Gap - The number of hours required to meet the increase in Presales demand without linear budget increases.

Somehow, demand is growing. Gaps emerge when you can’t keep up. For example, when your Sales team is hiring new reps, Presales often does not get a correlating budget for new SEs. And even if they did, remember that AEs ramp 2-3X faster. You won’t keep up with Sales through hiring. 

Similar demand constraints pop up when teams move down market – high touch doesn’t work because the margins break, so you have to figure out how to do more with less. 

Measuring the increasing demand gap means 1) identifying what’s causing the gap, and 2) which internal teams are driving it, as well as 3) calculating the gap in your capacity to handle it.

Gap 2: Key Activity Gap - A comparison of what SEs are spending time on vs. what they should be spending time on. 

This analysis takes more effort. Start by first calculating your AE:SE ratio. Research shows the median AE:SE is 4:1. If scaling your Presales team is important, maintaining that ratio isn’t the first priority, but it gives you a baseline to plan against.

Next, look at your team’s current activities, along with the customers they’re engaging. Refer to your increasing demand gap analysis here. 

To make this exercise simpler, we built an Activity Gap Analysis worksheet, which you can download for free here.

Most teams don’t realize how much of their SEs’ time goes to low-impact tasks, like repetitive intro demos. On average, those are the 3rd biggest time-suck, despite being the 3rd least impactful activity. 

Once you know how they spend their time, you can determine which tasks – including demos – ought to be eliminated, automated or delegated. AND you can reallocate time to more important things.

SE workloads can be a black box. But if you don't know how they're spending their time, how can you know how to adjust your processes or KPIs? Survey your team if it helps you to directionally find out how many hours per week they think they spend on certain tasks.

Here’s a list to get you going. We put it together with some of our customers, thought leaders and from our research:

  • Discovery
  • Technical Demos
  • POCs
  • Consulting Calls
  • Repetitive “Micro Demos”
  • Repetitive Standard “Qualifying Demos”
  • Repetitive FAQ and Closing Demos
  • Customer Support
  • Improving Product Knowledge
  • Planning and Architecting Solutions
  • RFPs
  • Training and Mentoring
  • Customer Support

  1. Align to KPIs that reinforce Presales value

Presales teams need to do a better job of tying their performance to revenue. It’s one of the chief problems Sales leaders observe in their Presales counterparts.

It’s not as though Presales leaders aren’t aware. 70% of leaders say Revenue is a top KPI, and 48% also say Feedback from Sales is critical. 

But just listing Revenue as a top KPI doesn’t translate into demonstrating value or influence. Adam Freeman, Buyer Enablement Director at The Access Group, said, “I look at direct vs indirect revenue association to give me an idea of how much we have influenced.”

He also suggests creating a balanced approach. “Have you got the financial outputs/indicators you need for today to keep stakeholders happy, and also do you have non-financial indicators you need as a leader to give you certainty about tomorrow and about the year after that, which your entire leadership team needs in order to know performance is in safe hands.” 

For his team, a combination of data points includes things like:

  • Deal success rates where Presales is involved vs. where they’re not
  • Customer satisfaction where Presales is involved
  • Perception of the market
  • Win ratios
  • Where SEs spend their time (to look for burnout, not to micromanage)
  • How efficient the processes are
  • How quickly demo requests are being addressed
  • Hours spent doing non-revenue tasks such as demo prep

Consistently measuring all of these is a tall order, but finding a set which your team can predictably monitor is the only way to ensure you’re making the right decisions about priorities together. 

It all comes down to scaling Presales

All of this reinforces the need for Presales to scale. SEs are stretched. It affects their effectiveness, and prospective buying groups end up not getting what they need to move deals forward. 

Buyers have to wait for the one person in your org who they really want to speak with most. The experience negatively disrupts their journeys, which is how these bottlenecks blow up and how deals fall through.

John Care, Adam Freeman and others have each shared the idea that, “A great Presales team is like oil in the engine. It’s always there. It’s always getting better; there’s always the next generation of oil. But we notice when it’s not there. That’s when the problems start.”

The 3 strategies we outline above should help solve that problem.

About Consensus

Consensus can help with Intelligent Demo Automation. Our platform scales Presales instantly, and makes B2B less complex and unpleasant. Customers automate repetitive intro demos, FAQ demos, closing demos and more in minutes, making them interactive, available on-demand, and personalized to each customer. It automatically qualifies demos, uncovers net new stakeholders, and shows Presales and Sales teams exactly what matters most to their buying groups. 

If you’re interested in learning more, watch an interactive video demo for yourself or visit us at www.goConsensus.com.

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The Leadership collective is a group designed for PreSales leaders in a management capacity (Manager+ title) who are looking to network, grow professionally, and actively participate.

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