It is an art, it is a professional profile, but it is also a crucial point of view in every organization. It comes really in dozens of forms and several articles have tried to describe the terms interfering with such role; let me mention Technical Account Manager (TAM), Field Consultant, Product Manager, Sales, Trusted Advisorsetc.
It has fascinated me since the beginning of my professional career, when I worked as a Sales Consultant for a big Italian retail company (in 2009).
The main reason is because its transversal two wide areas of competencies; business and technology. It remains a grey area to me how much of these two is needed in business talks with customers once in a conference room.
And, of course, personal attitude and consultancy style sometimes make the difference.
But, let’s start from defining the role of a PSE. According to some specialized websites:
“Pre-Sales Engineers (PSEs) and Sales Engineers (SEs) are the technical glue of a technical sale… They perform technical presentations for the product. They own the demonstration script for the product”.
Therefore, it is important to understand that a SE is not a Salesman. It seems as a two-way round to become a SE having started as a technical (which is my case – in 2014 I started to work as a System Engineer for an Italian consultancy-based firm and then became a Sales Engineer of a machine-data analytics product) or starting as a salesman and then becoming a technical profile. Sincerely, I do not know exactly which of the one-way reflects more difficulties! I mean, for a technical, to adapt to a more business-oriented role should be tough (abilities to communication with passion and treat various related arguments), but it depends fundamentally who you are, your personal attitude and skills. I will come back later on this topic.
However, surveys show that companies with strong presales professionals have a higher win rate. Results strongly verified that almost no deal renewed if no presales activities were involved since the beginning of a customer-organization relationship.
But, how does a PSE fit into an organization nowadays?
In many job descriptions, we read as main responsibilities for a Pre-Sales Engineer:
- Proactively scopes the technical solution required to address customer requirements, assesses customers’ met and unmet needs, and recommends solutions that optimize value for both the customer and the firm.
- Secures input from all necessary solution stakeholders within the customer firm. Adapts solutions, as necessary, to ensure appropriate support.
- Identifies leads (potential sales contact).
First, from my past experience, I can admit that being a Pre-Sales Engineer (let us take Salesforce as the example) of a third party product satisfies the following facts:
- Know product lifecycle significance
- Enforce relationships with Sales
- Engage with the customer
Know product lifecycle significance. Elastic materia
Extremely useful when dealing with customers who already have their own idea about your product (it could be a service, software or hardware) and the related market is the significance of your product; why do you continue to promote it? It may feel like an easy question, but the correct answer should be the next one: You do believe in it.
We all know; people do not buy what you manufacture or produce, people buy because they understand and believe the reason why you do it.
I suggest considering these steps before starting any PoC (Proof of Concept) or other product demonstration.
Having a couple of years of experience with business-to-business model, accepting customer business requirements and matching them to the product in a few weeks does not mean the job is done; everything evolves and the best results come in a long-term fashion! Staying up-to-date reminds you to learn continuously, but it is still not enough; you should learn from your mistakes and of course, what actually concurrency makes better. Only in this way you could provide the quality of adaptability; the ability to adjust solutions according to customer needs.
There is no perfect product for all imaginable needs. A perfect product is perfect only if the requirements do not change. Soon, it becomes obsolete or surpassed by something else. This happens all the time.
The conviction “do not change it unless it breaks” will not help you in the digital era. If we look around, any service provider or product vendors release deliveries three times (and even more often) on a business year.
A perfect product is the one that fits appropriately by changing dynamically its features. Elastic materia!
Enforce relationships with Sales. Stay decoupled
In terms of differences with the Sales people: you do not have to know contract terms, discount or promotional strategies. A PSE supports productivity and assures to close technically a sale.
Presales are the only people inside an organization who can anticipate what will trigger a deal renewal (they perceive customer next needs and, more important, the right time for taking decisions). With more experience, they can standardize tools and knowledge, establish a systematic behavior and enlist best practices across the Sales team. The final goal is the automation (read here my article/obsession about Automation) of processes through defining a workflow (keep in mind Salesforce) in order to send alerts and recommendations in advance of a contract’s renewal date (the famous follow-up). Therefore, organizations that do this well can make special offers and promotions that will encourage a quicker renewal.
While you have to collaborate with Sales team to ensure the opportunities are effectively covered and then advanced, keep well in mind that these roles tend to be separate. Stay decoupled!
Engage with customers. Tangible and the intangible
A Pre-Sales exploits the customer needs in a new perspective, maybe in a manner that the customers do not expect. Often the customer illustrates itself much brilliantly than it is in reality, enhancing quality of service and their requirements for an excellence in provisioning the service. Of course, this is the norm, but usually, other top issues hide behind this approach like dysfunctional flows of communication, lack of concrete projects, non-continuous employees training, chaotic company role hierarchy, old problems without solutions and a kind of continuous urgency in resolving small inner conflicts.
Understanding the priorities in the activities of a Pre-Sales engineer means to engage honestly with the customer. Proposing the product is essential. A PSE should be smarter because he/she owns something (tangible or intangible) that customers actually do not have inside their reality. What a PSE brings is exceptionally new and there is no evidence it will not work until time determines the contrary.
Converting the customer’s smooth interest in valuable business carries benefits, but also high level of responsibility and accountability.
Paying a constant and special attention to the customer as well is a necessary approach.
Another suggestion: psychologically be a profiler, capture the real interested part of what you are telling, do not explain details of each feature (who can illustrate all the technical specifics of what happens in telecommunication when we call with our smartphone?). The customer needs to know two things:
- If he/she could trust you and
- make sure you are capable of doing what you are describing
And please, limit the use of slides and other digital material; use the whiteboard or paint a sketch (or simply design in a piece of paper if it is a tête–à-tête meeting). I was not particularly good at the beginning, but now I prefer and enjoy using it a lot. Studies show concentration is lost within the first few slides from a small class of attendees!
Let me bring two real cases here.
When illustrating (with only a chalk) a simplified sketch of a 3-tier Web application architecture in the Cloud (for example a Web server, an Application server and the data tier); speaking sound more natural and fluid. This encourages the audience for spontaneous reactions and immediate impressions.
Human beings are driven by emotions and are not good at multitasking!
The same thing happens if you are a experiencing a presale activity of a Capacity Planning product and try to explain to the customer cost saving with a graph (two axes, time and cost per service uptime). While you write down and draw the lines, X-axes and Y-axes, you can ask and wait for answers, by anticipating the discussion and the real argument, which is the introduction of your new product!
Attitude and style. Put some personality
Last but not least: personal attitude and style. As someone mentioned in other posts: practicing the art makes you perfect. It derives from your observations and vision, virtues, past experience and cultural predominance.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, during my experience as a Sales Consultant years ago, I often asked my colleagues: why propose a NFC smartphone to a customer who buys a wireless digital camera? Why not propose the evidence, a tripod or an alternative camera lenses? Cross-selling initiatives was the correlation. Things which apparently do not have any features in common, turn out be in relationship, in a narrow line of reciprocal interest. In this case, the connectivity between the two devices helped to transfer and share pictures faster.
Almost everybody has a style; from simple daily activities such as walking, to how you dress, how you make greetings, what words you use, how do you treat people round you. It depends what you do in your life, what you read, what you think and what you believe. I am not giving you any suggestions; you choose if sitting on the table in a conference room makes you feel powerful and comfortable or you just want to transmit subliminal messages to the audience. Perhaps you simply like to share your vision, serve and help others (by not manipulating them). It depends on you the style you embrace in your daily job!
That is why I imagine the customer main need or interest as a big natural river. Moreover, there are other smaller, but relevant issues as channels of water, which flow in parallelism or just bifurcate. Perhaps they merge in the future if loose relevance or turn out to be independent rivers. Once you capture these “channels” (of contributions), try to deepen and add value to the main focal point.
It is the same when you zoom in and out or when you drill down to a graphic to obtain the granular details.
This is a perception translated as “an opened mindset” and the facts show you keep a wide vision about the overall market and developing new businesses.
Finally, as an enthusiastic person I consider myself, I think that if Pre-Sales Engineers satisfy all these features, the relevance of their perspective is definitely attractive!