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Once Demo Monkeys, Now Sales Surgeons

Updated: May 17, 2021

Our story goes back in time and starts in a land far far away that few knew existed. Certainly, those who did know had little understanding of what happens in this land. What place are we referring to? The land of the Presales Engineer.

Up until recently, being a presales engineer was nothing more than being a demo monkey. Misunderstood and underutilized within most organizations, the number of demos you ran daily, weekly or monthly was a common way to measure a sales engineer. Quantity over quality, to a degree. Luckily, this is changing in today’s world. In part thanks to the proliferation of technology and information available to prospective buyers, even before entering your funnel.

The Value of A Great Demo

Before we move on too far, let’s recognize the value and importance of demonstrations. Cutting through complexity by providing a visual of the solution you are selling, demos allow for greater mutual understanding and agreement along with promoting greater implications by the customer on their use cases. In order to achieve this value, you need to follow demo best practices.

We plan on covering our demo best practices in a future article on our blog, but as a starter, the goal of a demo is never to merely show features, functionality, and how technologically “cool” your product is. The real goal is for the prospect to see - through storytelling - how they can leverage the functionality to make their lives easier. Engaging the right side of a prospect’s brain will emotionally lead them to realize how using your product can help them achieve success and meet their use cases.

Evolving From The Demo, Demo, Demo Mentality

OK. Now that we caveated this article by explaining why demos are valuable and briefly touching on how to make them most effective, let’s discuss all of the other responsibilities of a solutions engineer and how they bring value to the organization.

As we get into these, it is important to consider how a “demo, demo, demo” mentality makes these other areas suffer. Failure to realize this will get in the way of improving close rates and moving faster in the future. Balancing demos and building the necessary skill sets and processes is key.

Some other responsibilities and value-adds from the presales function include:

  • Assessing opportunity fit and speed up qualifying in/out. Most sales organizations have more sales reps than sales engineers and run 3:1 or greater AE:SE ratio. For this reason, it is imperative for presales to quickly assess opportunity fit to free up capacity for better deals.

  • Trackers with ears to the ground within the market. Serving as a front line team to the market; gathering and aggregating key insights for the product roadmap. Sales engineering insights are immensely important to inform, align, and validate product roadmap.

  • Providing checks and balances on opportunity status and health. Most have heard the phrase “happy ears”. In a sales rep's defense, it is good to stay optimistic about opportunities. However, solutions engineering comes in to provide a voice of reason and a practical assessment to opportunities; improving pipeline truth and visibility.

  • Acting as a challenger in deals. Presales works with customers to think differently about problems, broadening scope, shifting the conversation to a strategic level and increasing deal sizes. Another area here is uncovering the “why”. Why do you need this product and why is it important? A great question to get to this is, “what happens if you do nothing?”

  • Building and maintaining shared services. It takes a small army to support a well-functioning presales organization. Whether it is a few team members shared across a presales team or responsibilities fall unto each SE, time needs to be dedicated to building reusable shared services to improve the speed and quality of custom demos required in future deals. Build for today, and the future, so that you can go even faster.

  • Managing technical deal validations and progress towards technical win. Maintaining a technical pipeline with the most up-to-date information is crucial as it sheds light on important technical details, shows what validations we have or have not completed, and helps identify opportunity health and best next steps.

  • Identify and validate business outcomes to link product capabilities to value.

Let’s double-click on that last one. In our experience, it is the most important one and the area most SE managers should be spending the majority of their time coaching and working with team members to improve. Very seldom do people buy anything based purely on how technologically cool it is. Rather there needs to be some expected value or outcome as a result of having or using it. In the business world, no matter how geeked out you can get your prospect by showing them the bells and whistles of your product unless you tie those capabilities to an outcome or initiative and show the value, you’ll get to the 5-yard line and fall short. At some point, the spend needs to be justified and approved.

Sales Engineers are the sales surgeons. To continue the analogy out, the sales reps who own the opportunities are the primary care doctors. They own the relationship with the patient (client) and send a referral over to the surgeon once they find enough pain (qualification). Similar to how surgeons perform their consultation prior to a procedure, sales engineers do the same assessment to determine the appropriate and the best course of action. After determining this, and taking into account the patient’s desired outcomes, sales engineers schedule and prepare the procedure(s). A demo is one tool on their preference card. However, there are many other important tools to consider and understand how to deliver with precision. Solution Engineers must choose the right procedure in order to prove value and execute using the appropriate tools with precision to close deals effectively.

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