We deal with an overwhelming amount of data – daily. In our roles as PreSales professionals, we get the opportunity to gather, analyze, present, and harness data even more so than many other departments. Many times, we think of how we can use this to better our products and services to clients. However, there are so many more applications of the data we have access to that can be utilized to better not only our companies, but ourselves in our craft. Here we will explore a few of these aspects and provide use cases and tools, along with analysis methods for how we can improve.
When we are evaluating decision points in our industry, there are varying factors that help us drive answers to our questions. While each of our industries may differ, the decisions we make are often unified in the sense that they all are driven by key statistics that we are able to evaluate in coming to a decision. Whether you are a director, middle management, or an individual contributor there are metrics that you can gather that will help you continuously improve and drive strategic initiatives. So, I believe the first question we should ask ourselves in PreSales is – what data should I be collecting in my role?
Front-End vs Back-End Data Applications
I like to think of the types of data we encounter in our career as grouped into two main categories: front-end and back-end. My classification of these is derived on ‘front-end’ data points being those that we use to deliver our solutions to client and prospects. Data that helps us determine areas of our solution to show, products to recommend, and talk tracks we will employ. All of these areas tend to lend themselves directly to helping us win more deals. The ‘back-end’ data elements are ones that we can use internally to better shape ourselves and our products. Metrics such as product gaps, team member assignments, resource planning, etc. are items that can help us evolve in our roles and industries.
While at initial glance, these two buckets may seem like a clear separation between what roles would use each (ie: management as back-end and individual contributor as front-end), I feel as though they are of equal importance to anyone within a PreSales role. As an individual contributor you should always be evaluating ways in which you can improve your craft and bring value to your organization. As a result, you should be able to identify product gap feedback to communicate to Product Management and know where you align best from a resource standpoint on deal assignments. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is a critical element to helping you identify areas of improvement and to not overstretch yourself before you’re ready. At a manager level, you should be able to identify those front-end metrics that help shape a pitch to a client. Many times, your team members will turn to you for assistance in crafting a talk track and without knowledge on what solutions align well with the business needs – your value in solution design and talk track recommendations will be minimized.
In short, knowledge in both areas of data capture within the team will only strengthen the PreSales organization as a whole. Conversations will become more substantive and lead to more strategic level thinking.
The PreSales Data Toolbox
As someone who is a data nerd at heart, I love evaluating tools that can help me get the most out of my data collection and analysis. With all the metrics I highlighted above combined with some I’m sure you capture as well – the next question becomes – what tools are available for me to capture this information? While it may seem like there are new data stacks being spun up daily, I’ll highlight a few here that have come in handy for me personally and professionally.
As with any sort of data analysis, we’ll start with excel - the bread and butter of every data analyst who ever lived from 1985 to now (Microsoft first introduced excel in 1985). There are those who have made an entire career out of being excel wizards, and for good reason. The flagship electronic spreadsheet offers a wide array of functions, organization, references, etc. that make data analysis a breeze and while there are many newer and more advanced tools available, excel still reigns as the champion due to transferability and cost.
If you’ve ever received a large amount of data or were reviewing information in a report and wanted to do additional analysis or fact check the information, the likelihood that you opened excel is high. It’s the go-to resource for anything statistics and this is true for PreSales statistics as well. Whether we are talking front-end or back-end data, excel can be designed to capture the information and view it in a format that makes sense. Couple this pliability with the fact that almost every system operating today is able to export data into an excel format and you have a transferrable tool no matter the industry.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Being that ‘sales’ is literally in our job title; a solid CRM is a necessity to keeping our lives organized. The ability to construct hierarchical relationships among your accounts makes reporting much simpler to show the flow of information. Pair this with the never-ending amount of data points that many CRM’s offer out of the box, combined with their ability to add client defined fields and you have a system that can capture anything and everything you want on your client base.
The key with a CRM is to construct it in a meaningful way. With a system so vast and configurable it is easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the trees if we start getting a disorganized construct. Standardizing selection is a best practice (Hint: eliminate text fields) that can help solve some of these potential dilemmas and makes reporting on these metrics easier down the line.
The last point of emphasis with a CRM is that because not only we as PreSales utilize it, but often times every department in the organization – we need one that can also be open to connecting to external systems that are in use as well.
This brings us to a PreSales specific tools that is new to the market. These are tools built by PreSales professionals for PreSales professionals. It is designed to attach onto your CRM, like Salesforce, and provide management the tools to forecast effectively and provide C-Suite and board levels the metrics they need to justify additional headcount or team resources.
On a daily basis, individual contributors can login to see their pipeline of assigned deals, forecasted deals scheduled for this quarter closing, and organize their views to highlight top deliverables and activities where their attention needs directed. These in turn, lead to management level metrics like win rate, support ratio, utilization, and efficiency that are powerful points to have when presenting on team value.
Vivun is an example of a PreSales Platform that is built specifically for the PreSales market to help teams organize themselves and identify performance metrics that were previously only measurable using a combination of items like Salesforce and Excel.
Lastly, we have a business intelligence solution that starts to enter into that ‘advanced’ column we mentioned in our excel overview. While there are definitely not the only BI tool out there, it is one that has a considerable number of analysis tools built in that can make our lives easier in gaining insights.
Designed to be an advanced visualization tool that can attach itself to a wide array of systems, Tableau offers its users the ability to read data in and visualize it using their pre-built graphing methods. Whether you are ingesting data from a file or connecting directly to a server; Tableau reads the data into a table then provides prep tools to create joins, alter data types, and build additional calculations all within the Tableau layer.
Business Intelligence tools (e.g. Tableau) take the items mentioned earlier and extend their capabilities into the Artificial Intelligence space by providing scripting capabilities in languages like R and Python, or full Machine Learning models using additional add-ons. The future is bright in this space and could soon provide PreSales leaders with insights like ‘Best Team Member to Assign’ to an opportunity based on an algorithm that is designed around historical information collected through a PreSales Platform.
These are just a few of the tools that I have used in my career that have helped make data analysis easier and, in turn, led me to some groundbreaking presentations. There are a host of others not mentioned here that can be utilized by PreSales as well like pendo.io, which provides demo automation insights into where our clients are most active in our software products by identifying their click paths and usage.
So, whether you use the above-mentioned tools, competitive solutions, or other products the goal remains the same – find tools that help you add measurable and quantifiable statistics to your role.
Individual & Team Metrics
One of the most crucial elements to our roles is understanding our own value areas and team value to the organization. To do this, we need to utilize all of the aforementioned metrics and tools and start to build out our ideal set for analysis.
For those looking to understand a bit more about their own performance, there are a few metrics that can start to provide you with a baseball card on yourself. The below bullet list includes some of the items I track to help me identify my performance and benchmark where I stand to gain insight on my growth.
- Wins & Losses
- Close Rate
- Number of Deliverables (Demos)
- Number of Activities (Prep Items)
- Total Revenue Generated
- Total Revenue Lost
- Value Generated
While these are just a few it helps to think of them in terms of each identifying an area of performance that can be viewed in silo or as a collective group to identify an overall ‘PreSales WAR’ or Wins Above Replacement. How many more wins are you worth to your organization than a replacement PreSales resource? That is not always the easiest question to answer, but by collecting and evaluating these statistics and benchmarking against industry averages and internal team averages – it should give you a good idea of where you stand. This can be extremely beneficial during performance evaluations and as you make your case for raises and promotions.
Another view is the team performance. While we will always have strong individual performances on the team, the PreSales organization as a whole needs to be evaluated as well for headcount, raise pools, management evaluations, etc. For that we highlight the items in the bulleted list below.
- Team Members
- Win Rate
- Total Revenue Generated
- Opportunities Touched
- Total Hours Spent (Closed Won Opps vs Closed Lost Opps)
- Total Effort
These metrics are areas where management looks to be evaluated on to help them forecast their team’s effort, schedule resources across deals and ask for additional items like headcount from senior management.
While these metrics are just a sample of the ones that play into individual and team performance, the value is the ability to professionally evaluate ourselves and our teams. In addition, vendors supporting PreSales or PreSales Collective could potentially start providing industry benchmark statistics that could be incorporated into our analysis products to give us PreSales professionals even more insights into our performance.
In summation, the amount of data we generate in PreSales is vast. If we are not actively focusing on collecting, organization, and analyzing it we are missing an enormous opportunity to learn more about the job we do and how we can improve at it. I’ll leave with one final thought that came to mind during David Marsh’s podcast talk with James Kaikis regarding the need to ‘Continuously Improve’…
Data is the resource with which we can identify so many ways for us to improve and if we don’t take advantage of it – we are playing with a handicap.
Jeff Kortis is currently a Senior Sales Engineer at MRI Software
Jeff has published numerous articles, whitepapers, and blog posts for various magazines and industries and recently published his first book ‘Data Odyssey: An Epic to Understanding Our World’ in 2020.