A guide to help presales, technical sales, sales engineers, system engineering and solution architect management implement a framework for onboarding and enablement.

A prominent technical sales leader for a fast-growing multibillion dollar company recently talked to me about  the value of distinguishing between onboarding and enablement. While most people in technical sales management understand the difference between the two, other folks within the organization may not have good grasp. This post is intended to arm technical sales management with a framework to educate the C-suite and Go-To-Market (GTM) leadership on how to think about  onboarding and enablement, build plans around them and fund investments for both.

What to Consider When Onboarding Technical Sales Professionals

Let’s first start with onboarding. This is the critical phase of ramping up new hires to where they can be productive. In sales it is common to give sales representatives a quarter, or in some cases, more time to ramp up and be fully productive. In sales engineering, the time for someone to be equally productive is about the same, but the onboarding process is highly dependent on product complexity, the GTM sales model being supported, and time.

As depicted in the illustration above, the greater the product complexity, the longer one should plan to ramp up, which could be as long as 90 days. These longer ramp times are typically associated with GTM sales motions that target named or enterprise accounts  where the per-unit economics, especially the deal size of six to seven figures, can support the company to incur the cost of ramping up a technical sales for an extended period of time.

I have heard that, in some cases, certain vendors with really complex products won’t even let a technical sales professional do their first sales call until they have six months under their belt. While this may be an edge case, it goes to show that the more complex the product and higher deal size, the more a company will need to invest in presales onboarding.

In contrast, when a product’s complexity is low and supports a more transactional sales motion most commonly found on products that target SMB (small and medium-sized businesses), the onboarding ramp time for presales may be 30 days, for example.

Understand your per-unit economics, product complexity and type of GTM focus that your technical sales professionals will support to calculate your onboarding time.

Why It Pays to Enable Sales Engineering

Now that we have put a framework for onboarding, let’s move on to enablement, essentially the continued investments that a company must make on their technical sales talent.

Enablement can be contextualized at a high level to developing technical skills, sales skills, product knowledge, competitive intelligence and personal development.

Let’s examine each of these presales enablement investments in more detail.

  • Technical Skills: Technical sales professionals must establish themselves as trusted technical advisors. Therefore, they must be technically proficient in their corresponding subject matter. To earn that trust, they may need to obtain industry certifications that empower them to talk with authority about their specific  technologies and industry trends.
  • Sales Skills: Knowing how to sell value vs. just focusing on features and technology requires ongoing education. It is common for presales to be exposed to models like MEDDIC and challenger sales, for example, to clearly map technology to value.
  • Product Knowledge: It is imperative that technical sales professionals have a deep understanding of the products and solutions they sell. They must know the ins and outs of the product and be ready to showcase the product’s strengths and sell around its weaknesses.
  • Competitive Intelligence: Enabling the technical sales team with actionable competitive intelligence is key to helping them manage traps set by the competition. It also helps presales set traps for the competition. Competitive pressures are very dynamic, so determining a plan that allows for actionable insights is critical as competitive static content can get stale very quickly.
  • Personal Development: It’s not the job of technical sales management to be a therapist to individual contributors, but people are people. In some cases,individual contributors in technical sales may need some personal development skills, such as learning how to work with their sales counterparts. Technical sales management may need to invest in their staff’s personal development to  give individual contributors the tools they need to understand what makes them and others tick.

Ongoing enablement is multi-faceted. Determine what areas you should invest in based on the individual profile of your technical sales team.

As companies consider onboarding and enablement of their technical sales talent, it behooves technical sales management to develop a budget, socialize it internally within the C-suite and execute based on the profile of their presales team.

Freddy Jose Mangum is the CEO of Hub, which provides a productivity platform to help technical sales professionals win more business. Freddy has over 25 years as an operator in businesses pre-revenue to $1B+ in revenue. He is a venture advisor at ForgePoint Capital and mentor to the Stanford Incubator Program (StartX).