Modern PreSales Definition – Far Beyond Technical Sales

Presales is often described as a sales supporting role – but its not! Presales is all about empowering and educating your buyers.

Instead of primarily focusing on your duties along the sales cycle, it is more important to enable your buying champions to accomplish all their challenges throughout their buying journey! You are supposed to become their sparring partner and advance together towards accomplishing their objectives and overcoming all obstacles during their purchase.

Presales means guiding your buyers through their buying journey and proactively anticipating challenges that might occur. Its far more than technical sales and knowing about your solution. It is knowing about your buyers’ needs and being an expert how to successfully advance to the finishing line.

Looking just at the job title of a presales consultant, their primary mission is relatively clear: carrying out a set of sales supporting activities before a customer is being acquired. Presales is supposed to support account and sales executives by taking over the role of the technical and product expert.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, presales is part of a wider sales organization in order to make more sales and increase efficiency.

But most importantly, a highly skilled presales consultants needs to take care of their clients and their respective needs!

Presales might be described as a sales supporting role – but in my opinion, it is clearly not (just that).

Supporting sales is just a tiny fraction of what presales is supposed to do. Instead, it has to be their key objective to support their clients with know-how and expertise to advance them throughout their buying journey. As a presales consultant, it is your role to enable your buying champion to sell your product internally and become their sparring partner along their buying journey.

Presales resources spent for certain activities

Selling enterprise and B2B-software sales has become a lengthy and tedious process. Depending on the level of complexity of your product, the deal size and number of decision makers involved, sales cycles can easily take months if not years until final signature. And the longer it takes, the more likely it is that the deal gets cancelled for reasons beyond our control and imagination (recession, corona, M&As).

What can be super frustrating from a sales point of view is pretty much the same from a buyer’s perspective. Whilst selling complex software solutions has become more challenging than ever before – so has purchasing!

On the one hand, prospective buyers do have more information available than ever before thanks to the world wide web and boom of content marketing. On the other hand, this can easily lead to information overflow and the paradox of choice.

Instead of feeling empowered by all the input, buyers become paralyzed and overwhelmed, not being able to process all data. Instead of making meaningful progress its is very likely your potential leads are getting lost in detail. Once they have consumed a certain number of information, “FOMO” kicks in they might be missing out on other relevant that could undermine their recommendation and management summary for their line manager.

Things get even worse looking at a topic that has been coined as “Group Buying Dysfunction”. Since years, the number of decision makers involved in a B2B-software purchase has been steadily increasing. Today, the average number of decision makers is somewhere between 6 to 10!

With just six stakeholders involved, your chances of closing the deal are automatically down by 68%! The reason for that is simple: internal misalignment. Divergence in personal and organizational priorities makes it difficult for buying groups to agree to anything.

Procurement is looking for the most cost-effective solution, IT sec wants to make sure your data is hosted in the most secure way and someone else wants to give the business to a friend working at one potential supplier.

Gartner has illustrated today’s buying journey in the acurate but frightening map below. What might have been a linear process in the past has turned into a labyrinth of dead ends and endless revisions:

Each stage of the buying journey requires your buying champion to accomplish various tasks and overcome unforeseen challenges. For many of your prospective buyers it is probably the very first time they are purchasing a product like yours. That’s why the risk is high they don’t necessarily know about every pitfall and entity that needs to be involved into the purchase decision along their buying journey.

Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder!

Petyr Baelish. Game of Thrones

Petyr Bealish might have died at the end of Game of Thrones. But he has said many smart things like the quote above.

The illustration of today’s buying journey might indeed look frightening. But what seems like chaos actually provides you with great opportunities!

Knowing about the troubles of purchasing complex enterprise software (and not just complaining about the hustle of selling it) is your key to become your buyers preferred choice and show of your expertise not just with regards to your software.

That presales needs to know about their product and technical implications is a no-brainer. However, what has changed is the key objective of guiding your buyers along their journey, through the chaos and towards the finishing line.

This new responsibility has been named “Buyer Enablement”. According to Gartner, it is defined as follows:

“Buyer enablement helps buyers buy by providing them with prescriptive advice and practical support to make the buying process easier to navigate and complete“

Gartner about Buyer Enablement

As per one of the previous paragraphs, purchasing complex enterprise software is often new to most of your buying champions (until procurement gets involved). And it is your job to help them avoid any of the pitfalls described in the map.

Your champion has never been through a similar process, but you have – multiple times! And guiding them with your expertise, proactively anticipating potential challenges and time-consuming setbacks is what makes you their preferred choice.

You need to make sure they engage with the right stakeholders at the right time or not risk a last-second veto because the server location has not been confirmed by the IT security team. You need to manage their expectations and sometimes even intervene if they are working towards unrealistic timelines. If they fail, so will you.

Anticipating problems and next steps does not only accelerate your sales cycle. In my opinion, it is the single best opportunity to gain your buyer’s trust and establish a deep, personal connection.

Arguing and differentiating on a software and feature level makes it significantly harder to differentiate from your competitors. Of course, there are different ways to position your tool and more or less efficient approaches to demo your product. Yet, it is much harder to systematically predict the outcomes playing this game and going on and on about little and less important technical details takes forever.

And far too often it comes down to the money if the perceived value of your relationship and product does not really differ from all the others.

But once you are able to establish yourself as the go-to-guy and they appreciated your input beyond your product, you can make a critical difference for your buyers and your company. If they respect your guidance and support, you quickly become their authority.

In return, your chances of winning the deal increase significantly. The earlier in the buying process you can establish your authority, the more influence you will have how things will go.

You cannot always avoid that your buyer has to issue an official RFP that goes to a wider group of suppliers. However, often you are able to influence the RFP design and questions if you have managed to become their authority.

In other cases, I was even able to get around the official RFP process by designing a proof concept offering that was below the monetary threshold (which I have been told about by my sparring partner). Hardly anybody likes RFPs. Neither do we, nor do most buyers. Its just extra pain for all parties involved.

And there are certainly ways to avoid any similar action if you manage to establish the right level of rapport and authority.

Surely, it is a team effort between you and direct sales to convert an opportunity into a client and maximize the chances of winning the deal. As a presales consultant, you are both supporting sales and your clients as a trust source of information about the products, services and next steps.

Some may argue that it is the responsibility of the sales guy to enable the buying champion to get closer to the finishing line and own the relationship. But in my experience, it is a simplified interplay of “good cop and bad cop” that sales and presales need to play. Neither sales nor presales are supposed to be the “bad”. Please don’t get that wrong.

However, each party needs to wear specific hat(s) in order to advance an opportunity closer to signing the deal. For presales, its is a.) being the technical expert and b.) becoming the trusted and knowledgeable authority and consultant your buyers can rely on.

Sales on the other hand is responsible for a.) the commercial aspects (proposals, contractual obligations) and b.) using various forms of commitment (scarcity, price) to create compelling events. Sometimes, buyers require some kind of push to finally make a purchase decision.

Because presales is often not carrying a direct quota, buyers are less suspicious that presales is working in their own interest. As a result, presales appears to be more trustworthy and reliable compared to a quota carrying sales guy who is highly incentivised for closing the deal.

Sales on the other hand, can act more direct and target oriented. And once an opportunity needs to be pushed towards the goal line, you don’t have to risk the close relationship between your clients and presales.

Instead, it is up to sales – engaging on a different level than presales is used to do. In my opinion, this interplay between sales and presales is the most promising way to move an opportunity closer to the finishing line without putting the personal relationship with your buyers at risk. Presales leverages the personal connection and authority while sales is supposed to apply the final “push” to sign the deal.

To sum up my findings:

For many years, presales has been seen as a technical support role to sales executives. However, it is far more customer-centric than sales oriented. Of course, sales and presales need to work together closely and efficiently, both having the best interest of their clients in mind.

But besides being the technical experts, presales consultants needs to know about the challenges and objectives buyers are facing during the different stages of their buying journey to facilitate their purchase.

Buyer behaviour has changed and so did the buying process which is full of pitfalls, complexity and dead ends. The role of the modern presales consultant includes helping buyers buy by providing them with prescriptive advice and practical support to make the buying process easier to navigate and complete.

Establishing authority and rapport by guiding and enabling buyers – especially during the early stages of the buying process – is significantly more powerful and promising than educating buyers solely on a software and feature level.

Great presales consultants and engineers proactively support their buyers through their buying journey by anticipating common obstacles and challenges. They work as a team and establish authority which leads to a high level of rapport. Rather than being reactive and passive, they provide actionable advice and enable their buying champion to take the right direction at the right time.

Applying your presales resources beyond technical expertise does not just make sales more predictable, it does also accelerate sales and boost your revenues.

Buying behaviour has changed and so needs your presales approach. It’s a customer-centric function that has a great impact on your business. Differentiate from your competitors by becoming an authority and sparring-partner that goes beyond technical support and helps your buyers by facilitating their purchase.

Use this knowledge as your unfair advantage against your competitors and avoid stupid “beauty contests” and bidding wars because you have established a great personal relationship with your clients right from the start.

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