Rethinking Presales Support (SEs and Consultants)

June 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’ve spent the week interviewing presales consultants in the Chicago area this week…next week I’ll be teaching a sales class to presales engineers over in Singapore (yes, its live onsite).  This is an under-served group needing some attention in most organizations.

An Undefined Job

When I talk with a presales consultant (A job I personally have quit of bit experience doing), I am struck by the varying definitions and responsibilities these people give when asked, “What do you do?”  It’s kind of undefined.  This make the hiring process difficult.  It’s not like sales where the person simply says, “I sell stuff.”  Some interface with very technical people and therefore spend most of their time staying up on very technical things.  Some do a lot of speaking, others don’t.  Some design for free, some are generalists, and still others are product specialists.  The commonality is, few have ever had any formal sales training.

Yet, these people are expensive, largely non-billable, and as most sales people would agree, critical to the selling process. A great presales consultant is worth their weight in gold, and many sales people are asking for more resources in this area.

Considerations

A few things your sales organization should consider:

  • Clearly define this role.  Since these people are expensive, it makes sense that the sales management should clearly write out the job description for this person, even though most of these people will not actually report to the sales manager (Something else to consider).  The description might look different for different organizations, but in most reselling organizations this person will be a shared technical resource.  I recommend resellers hire sales people with strong consultative sales skills, and then hire presales consultants (and stop calling them SEs) that are aligned with some area of expertise – such as security or data center, etc.
  • Pay them on commission.  These people should be responsible for driving business, so they should have some skin in the game.  More leverage means more risk – but risk and commission motivate strong work ethic and allow companies to pay out more to high performers.  The higher the risk/reward, the better, however, many of the candidates for this job are not interested in a 50/50 split or more on commission.  At some point, higher risk takers will opt for sales jobs if they think they can take more home at the end of the year.  I also recommend making this a limited resource in your company, forcing sales people to set things up before actually taking this person in.  Reserve them for qualified calls only and use the phone often rather than making the trip to the client’s site – Webex also works well here, with the sales person onsite, and the consultant speaking from a remote location.
  • Train these people.  Sure, they get training – but most of it is product knowledge.  This is largely a waste of time. Hire presales consultants who are willing to do some reading and tell them to learn the products they support.  Let them visit with local vendors and Google the rest.  But then, teach them to sell.  Of all the people I have trained on sales and marketing, this group has been the most responsive and the most teachable.  Once they see how they can improve their game, and more importantly, communicate effectively with non-technical audiences, they get excited.  It is likely that your presales consultants feel confident in front of IT people, but lack confidence in front of C-Level people.  Training is the answer.
  • Teach them to present.  Another aspect of training is presentation.  Twice this week I had presales consultant candidates tell me, “You won’t be able to read my writing on the white board.”  Are you kidding? – in both cases I replied, “It’s a requirement of this position.”  They responded with a chuckle…I wasn’t laughing.  One candidate is currently enrolled in Toastmasters…this is a wise move.
  • Teach them to write.  Writing is not easy.  I guess we assume people can write, but there are all kinds of writing and not many technical people write well when it comes to addressing management in written form.  I once took a group of sales people through a class on writing called Information Mapping.  It was one of the best investments I have ever made.

© 2013, David Stelzl

P.S. If you are a presales consultant looking for a job, make sure you spell check all of those acronyms on your resume.  Since Word won’t  recognize most of them, it’s all up to you.  Is it HIPAA or HIPPA?  Two candidates failed on this point this week.

 

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