This post is inspired by a recent conversation I had with a large cap Chief Revenue Officer who has been in the business for 30+ years and oversees thousands of sales and presales professionals. As he and I spoke about the value of presales, he commented “I love my sales engineers. Behind my sales people there are sales engineers supporting them.” Don’t know why but the comment of “behind” really bothered me. It made me feel that sales engineers are still seen as “sidekicks” and primarily as a supporting function, when all the recent buyer trends indicate something very different. 

According to Gartner, buyers want to spend less time with sales reps and more time with the trusted technical advisor, the sales engineer. In today’s digital selling era I feel that beside every sales engineer are several sales reps. Today’s technical sales motion between the salesperson and sales engineers is more like two members in a rowing crew, where both parties have equal roles to play throughout the technical sales process. 

If you are a presales professional that shares this sentiment and want to change the perspective of presales within the sales c-suite, here are nine principles to enact change now. 

  1. Accountability – Whether you are a presales leader with 25 years of experience managing 250+ professionals or an individual contributor with 2 years of experience, change starts with doing whatever is in your power to elevate your value and that of your team within the sales organization. If someone does “not get the value of presales,” ask yourself, what can you do to help them get it? Understand your environment, your audience, and associated blind spots to assess what you can do to quantify the value of your role and that of presales.
  2. Discipline – No professional athlete attains elite status without being disciplined in their craft, investing in their skills, and taking care of their physical and mental health. Take the initiative to self-assess, and ask people you trust to analyze your technical and sales skills. Identify your professional gaps and develop a plan, possibly including formal or informal training, and/or mentoring.
  3. Relationships – Invest in relationships within your presales peers and sales engineering leadership, but expand it to include your sales account executives, product managers, customers, and engineers. Make the effort to understand the things they care about to empathize with how they will receive your requests and how you can frame your needs to align with theirs. For example, your own sentiment toward an opportunity may be contrary to the salesperson’s, so make sure to convey your point in a way that doesn’t tarnish your relationship with your sales counterparts. Bringing data or referencing mutually agreed upon “opportunity playbooks” can help inject a third-party element to create mutual agreement on an opportunity sentiment that may have opposing views between sales and sales engineering.
  4. Data – Bringing opinions to a conversation doesn’t hold as much value as bringing reliable data. Track your activities, outcomes, and impact in a way that doesn’t encumber your day-to-day value to the go-to-market organization, but make sure you always distinguish between what you know and what you think. Additionally, don’t get caught up on “vanity” data that can set you up to lose credibility with your go-to-market peers.
  5. Trust – To gain trust from your sales peers, you must also gain their trust. Make sure you invest the time to understand what it will take to earn their trust. For instance, if you want to advocate to product management for a particular feature for one of your prospects, make sure you trust that product management wants to genuinely serve the market and your prospect. That way, when you present your feature enhancement request, you can do it in a way that builds trust, not animosity.
  6. Humility – Most presales and sales engineers are highly intellectual and acutely familiar with what the market is asking for, given the number of conversations they have with prospects. They also must be intimately familiar with the product(s) they present, demo, manage evaluations for, and act as the prospect’s trusted technical advisor on. But don’t let expertise come off as arrogance; it will be counterproductive to establishing value within your sales peers, even if you are right. Most people rarely remember what you said, but they often remember how you made them feel. So, when you work with your peers, make sure to stay humble to ensure better collaboration
  7. Automate – Just because you can do the work, should you? Continually ask yourself what steps of your day-to-day workflow, as both a leader and individual contributor, can you eliminate or augment with automation. But be careful to not get caught up in the AI/ML hype from presales commercial vendors. Instead, look at the low-value areas of your business that consume your time and ask yourself, “How can I automate this mundane work?”
  8. Invest – Sales and presales engineers are natural problem solvers and hackers who can build tools themselves. But even if you know to build a radio, say, is it a good use of time if the right radio exists? When possible, evaluate and purchase presales tools and platforms that can help you automate mundane work, reclaim some of your time, and enhance your productivity and impact on the sales organization. Every go-to-market peer has access to a suite of sales and marketing tools. It’s okay to advocate for your own toolset.
  9. Deliver – Don’t lose sight of what matters in the sales game, which is delivering outcomes that meet or exceed objectives. Make sure you always have clarity of your latest “North Star” from your C-suite and go-to-market leadership. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for clarification and contribute your own points of view on what you, the presales team, and the whole sales team must deliver to help the business succeed.

The sales engineering profession has been around for decades. There is no better time than right now to claim and gain your equality in value, recognition, and influence with the sales C-suite. Do your part to make that happen. You deserve it, your peers will appreciate and respect it, and your business will thank you for it.