• Travis Strickland

From AE to SE/SC: Sales Skills for the Pre(Sales) Team

One of the many benefits of any PreSales team is the varied backgrounds of the individuals that make it up. Many times there will be a treasure trove of experience across a variety of backgrounds including but not limited to: ex-users / practitioners, native SC’s/SE’s, folks from professional services, technically-minded developers/architects, and those from the Sales or BDR teams. From my personal experience, one of the smallest representations I’ve seen is from the sales side of the house, which is why I wanted to share my experience of moving from an Account Executive to a Solutions Consultant/Sales Engineer. 

The year was 2016 and I’d cut my teeth in the Boston tech scene for a while before I finally landed an AE gig for a great local company that had all the perks, training, and high-caliber teammates that anyone could ask for. Even though things were going great I had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t optimizing my potential and having the biggest impact that I possibly could have. Unfortunately in sales, effort doesn’t always equal results and that was always challenging for me. So I worked to build great relationships with my Customer Success, Professional Services, and Sales Engineer colleagues and I explored my options while soaking up as much knowledge and experience as I could. It would take nearly two more years before I was finally able to step into my true calling as a Solutions Consultant and I’ve never looked back.


I’ve always been drawn more towards the ‘how it works’ side of the product/value equation so this was a very natural choice for me. Generally I felt like I could have a better impact both internally and externally from the SC side of the house once I was free of the burden of quota and the associated activities and metrics that go along with it. Specifically I was now able to put in effort (and now see the rewards) from projects that were interesting to me, things like: enablement, onboarding, stronger value ties, better competitive intel, better storytelling, and deeper industry and product knowledge.


Now, as one of a handful individuals on my team who have come directly from sales, there are a few key skills that have helped shape me into the SC that I am today that I want to share. 


Value Selling Frameworks.

Yes, I’ve learned most of them. Sandler, Basho, Challenger Sale, SPIN, MEDDIC, BANT, etc.

Yes, I’ve sat across the table from my Manager, Director and VP of Sales and sweat through

an in-depth pipe review and territory management plan.


How can a PreSales team leverage that?


Take a stab at learning a framework. I’m sure many of us have been exposed in one way or another but chat with you AE’s and take it a step further into understanding what the stages mean, how you get there, what they look for, how they respond based on what’s happening. It’s one thing to know the framework and another entirely to be able to fluidly utilize it during a call or a demo to get to where you want to go. 


Communication Skills.


I’d like to think I have them. I’d at least argue that nobody falls asleep during my demos and that’s because I’ve practiced. I’ve practiced and practiced and practiced. Not just my flow or my product skills, but I’ve practiced how to use inflection and power in my voice. I’ve practiced pauses. I’ve practiced working out my um’s and ah’s. I can tell you that all that practice was painful and at times embarrassing and exhausting. I listened to recordings, got up in front of my team, I role-played and I cut my teeth making lots and lots of phone calls. 


How can a PreSales team leverage that?


Practice! We get a lot of face time (maybe more remote now) with customers. Use that. Have people shadow your calls. Listen to your recordings or have others do so and provide in-depth feedback. Run mock demos or portions of demos until you feel comfortable with your delivery. I’m sure many if not all of us are doing this in some capacity but it’s something we can’t neglect or let fall to the wayside.


Psychology.


This is one of my favorites because a variety of different things like emotion, intentional positive/negative statements, body language, and verbal cadence can come into play to influence a conversation. It goes hand and hand with communication skills yet is more focused on how/why people do things. For example, many times individuals are unaware that they actually answered in a way that could be viewed very negatively and that a simple reconstruction of their sentence leaves the customer in a much better place. Or that with different delivery of the same sentence you are inspiring confidence and trust instead of uncertainty and fear.


How can a PreSales team leverage that?


In so many ways. We are value consultants that prospects and customers are looking to in order to lead them through an evaluation process and to solve their problems. We need to inspire confidence, even if it's confidently saying that we don’t know and that we will find them the answer. 


No Fear.


Well not exactly. What I mean by that is that I’m not afraid to go bug that person or ask that question or request that help or ask to shadow someone who I admire. I’m not afraid to bridge that gap with a new team, approach that executive or share what’s on my mind. After living and dying by the quota and making upwards of 100 calls a day, there isn’t much that scares me anymore other than my own complacency. Trust me, I know it's not easy. I’d consider myself an introvert so sometimes ‘getting out there’ can be challenging but at the end of the day we are all in the same boat having the same experiences and if we treat each other with compassion and humility then the rising tide will raise all boats.


How can a PreSales team leverage that?


That's easy, just look out for one another. Don’t be afraid to fail. Get back up and work together to improve. Complacency and apathy are the only things to really fear. 


Whether you are a technical PreSales Consultant or a quota-carrying AE, we all have something that we can learn from each other so that together we can have a more positive impact. Our delivery can always be smoother. Our understanding of the customer's business and pain can be more in-depth. Our compassion and support for one another can always be better. We are one team that participates in the sales motion in different ways and I’m confident that if we share our collective experiences and knowledge that we will become far richer and more diverse than any one person could on their own. 



Travis is a Senior Solutions Consultant at Adobe (formerly Marketo) and contributor for PreSales Collective.


Connect with Travis on Linkedin.

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