A Seat at the Table – A Case for Pre-Sales Leadership

Market Insight
By: 
Bob Riefstahl

Perhaps you can relate to a situation from your past. You are eight years old and attending a large family holiday dinner. It is time to eat, and as the adults and teens find their way to the big table, you see it. The dreaded children’s table. Your older brother or sister gives you that smug look as they sit down with the adults. It isn’t until years later that you finally get a seat at the big table. For today’s technology companies, presales leadership often feels like that eight-year-old child when it comes to having a seat at the product roadmapsales forecastresource analysis, and planning tables. What a travesty!  It is time that everybody grew up and realized that presales leadership belongs to each of those tables. 

 

Product Roadmap 

Software development teams have struggled with product development priorities since the beginning. This struggle led to the creation of the product management role many years ago. Product managers have traditionally been the liaison between sales and customer requests and product development. In this model, it isn’t long before the product manager begins losing a connection to the market’s current needs as the PMs become more and more bound by tasks that are crucial to the software development process. The demos that they see become few and far between, and thus they lose that critical connection to the needs of the market. 

In many organizations, the sales team funnels the voice of Presales. Requests from the sales team are often emotionally focused on the business that they “could have won if only they had…[ insert feature name].” It is true that most product development roadmap tools offer weighting and ranking analytics. However, those analytics are rarely based on financial metrics. Presales is in a unique position to provide product enhancement recommendations that are less emotionally driven than opinions from Sales or customers. Additionally, Presales have the unique ability to deliver enhancement requests driven by use cases, competitive differentiators, and pure innovation. 

My organization has trained over 100,000 presales professionals across the globe. In those trainings, the presales professionals learn how to accentuate their competitive differentiators and move away from feature function demos to customer-focused, contextual, use case demos.  The demos are organized around client processes and essential functional needs. If something is missing in the solution, a natural conversation occurs with the client that Presales addresses using our question and objection handling techniques. If no solution to the client objection can be achieved, Presales will often workflow the client’s solution for further research. These gaps provide perfect data to present at the product roadmap table. What’s been missing until now is a free-flowing capture mechanism that helps Presales assemble and prioritize the requests in a dynamic, organized, and objective fashion. An organization is woefully underserved by not placing presales leadership not only at the product roadmap table but at the head of it armed with that type of information. 

Presales is in a unique position to intake product feedback, since “natural conversations” occur when prospects recognize that something is missing in the solution. My friends at Vivun have automated that process and made it easy for product management teams to sort through all of the noise from the field and prioritize the enhancements that are most likely to impact revenue. 
 
Product teams often figure out what enhancements or features to prioritize by doing customer surveys, market research, or simply listening to the loudest salesperson in the room. None of these methods help with product prioritization when the backlog of Jira requests becomes a dumpster fire of noise and opinions. 
 
It’s critical to synthesize the product feedback captured by Presales in the field. Even though presales team members enter input with freeform comments and description fields, leading companies invest in solutions to sort through all that data, identify common themes, and surface product needs directly tied to revenue. For example, Vivun uses AI for product gap clustering to give context to the whole initiative of product development, providing a “north star” to the product team tied to actual data, rather than random opinions and Jira tickets. 

 

Sales Forecasting 

Sales forecasting methods have matured in many organizations. For example, at 2Win, even though we are a services company, we capture metrics within each sales process stage and apply analytics to determine what is likely to close in the coming month and quarter. If you are like most software companies, you do something similar. Here’s the question. Do you involve your presales professionals and leadership within your forecasting models?  If not, you should. Let’s use the demo stage of a sales process as an example. It tends to be a simple gate for most forecasting models. The demo has either been completed or not. But answering “Yes” or “No” to the question, “Has a demo been performed?” doesn’t tell the real story. Salespeople are highly subjective when evaluating the “fit” and “success” of a demo. However, most presales professionals have a more objective sense of the “fit” post-demo. Additionally, presales leaders know when demos are being requested to salvage poorly qualified deals or as a desperate attempt to close an opportunity at the end of a quarter.  

The best presales teams leverage data to quantify the technical conscience of every deal. Generally, if you ask a room full of presales people if they’re working deals that they don’t expect to close, every one of them will raise their hand. To elevate your team’s concerns, take a systematic approach for providing a technical lens on opportunities to inform the general sales forecast. 

 

Resource Analysis and Planning 

Determining the number of presales resources is an inexact science in most of our clients. Many companies use a ratio approach to staffing, such as a 2:1 ratio of salespeople to presales. The shifts in the market over the past five years have turned the staffing ratio into an algorithm. The introduction of more business development representatives that require demos, client success managers, and account managers are primary contributors to this complication. Optimizing presales resources requires a more sophisticated analysis of the entire client engagement process. Metric-based resource analysis and planning tell you part of the picture. The metrics are grounded in the current skill set of your presales, business development reps, salespeople, client success reps, and account managers. Improving the skills of these team member’s demonstrations plays a crucial role in optimizing your resources. At 2Win, we provide targeted discoverydemo, and storytelling training for each of those roles. With the clarity of metrics and optimized skills, every organization will improve their competitive wins, increase renewals, expand licensing, and reduce losses to the largest competitor of all: “No decision.” 

Top Presales leaders justify their resources with metrics, dashboards, and reports for capacity planning and resource allocation. What’s more, they identify the “winning patterns” in Presales based on the sequence of deliverables—such as RFPs, Discovery, Demo, POCs, etc.—that result in larger deals closing faster. 

 

Conclusion 

Presales Leaders can finally confidently claim their place at the executive tables with the data they need to influence the product, forecasting, and ultimately drive higher revenue. Taking action on skill improvement and implementing technology that will vastly improve their entire enterprise’s performance is the first step. Funding these initiatives will offer sales enablement the best return on investment for the 2021 skills and technology budgets. 

 

About the author

Bob Riefstahl founded 2Win! Global on the simple concept that if we focus on more than best practices and correct our bad practices (as Bob calls them, “Crimes”) then we separate ourselves from the competition. Bob is a thoughtful, practical senior executive with a passion for helping pre-sales professionals advance their careers and their lives.

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