Over the many years I have been in the technology sales arena, I’ve noticed an interesting change in the PreSales role. During my early years of selling solutions to various clients, the role of the PreSales person was focused on knowing the solution features and functions and being able to demonstrate various ways that the solution could be used.
In my personal career experience, I worked for a company that provided a handheld computer that was used by route truck drivers for sales and delivery of products such as beer, soft drinks, dairy and bakery items. Our company developed software that ran in the handhelds – we were the software developer as well as the VAR for the hardware company. As a small company, our initial PreSales resource came from our “vision” of having someone who could provide training, support and help the sales reps. I was tasked to start doing this job. I initially was hired to sell but we found my skills were better focused on the technical side of knowing how the software functioned with the hardware – learning to take support calls and doing product demos.
Our solution demonstrations did not require the need to know how to write scripts or do any programming. The key features and functions did require a technical resource that could work with the account rep. Not only was it important to know the software function to demo but also the hardware features that made the entire solution a better competitive offering. This was a true “value add solution” that the PreSales role was key to the sales message for a technical win.
This solution was all about automation of a business function from a manual task. Tasks such as invoice creation and inventory tracking were traditionally done with paper and pencil. This new technology solution provided a means to automate those tasks, and others, to save time and reduce errors – true business cost focus through automation and transformation of business operations.
In comparison, the early days of the other type of PreSales role were much more of a developer focused role, they were required to know how to build integrations and customize the product for technical demos and presentations. There was some discussion of the value related to the solution but much of the technical win was related to pure functionality of a “next generation” solution. My experience in this type of role was the early days of data modeling and how to use tools to reverse engineer databases. It was a completely new way to expose the data structures into models for visualizing, modifying and forward engineering changes back into the database platform. This role required knowing SQL in order to demo some of the more advanced features. But other than that, just demoing the powerful function that truly eliminated manual effort was enough to sell licenses to almost everyone who saw it.
As time passed, there has been a clear separation of business focused solutions and engineering solutions. Business focused solutions are based on value add, cost reduction and operational transformations. Engineering focused solutions are based on efficiency, technology injection and complex problem solving. In each of these areas you would typically see two kinds of products – tools to build applications and the actual application solution. The platform sophistication and complexity had a direct impact on the PreSales role. Business focused PreSales roles began to move towards using titles such as solution consultant and technical sales specialist. Engineering focused PreSales roles began using titles such as sales engineer and IT specialist.
Today we see the two roles have truly separated into PreSales resources that share some skills and also have unique skills. The key difference is the engineer focused role that typically requires knowledge of developer level skills such as scripting, SQL, API and coding use. You may find that these roles have their roots in people that come from system engineering or developer ranks. People in business focused roles have the roots in product management, end users of a solution, support and trainer roles. Their key skills are knowing the features that users will benefit from and realize personal productivity improvement using.
The shared skills between engineering and business focused roles are more important than ever before, though business focused PreSales roles may find that they will need these more often since they are likely selling to the business side of an organization versus the IT or system engineering users at a company. The shared skills are solution selling, collaboration improvement and operational transformation. Finally, business focused roles typically need to focus on value creation, automation and return on investment.
In closing, it is important for a PreSales focused person to know where their strengths lie and how to position themselves accordingly. This match between the focus area and the PreSales resource is very important for each person so they can build their confidence level in the solution they are selling.
Sam Courtney is a top performing Customer Success Leader and Senior Presales Engineer who develops strategy with client collaboration for improving their customer relationships. He excels in delivering responses to customer's needs by asking the right questions for informed solutions and providing expert mentoring to improve the customer's overall experience. Connect with Sam on LinkedIn!