Podcast Feature: Being a Swiss Army Knife in Tech w/Semir Jahic on the Presales Collective

Presales Podcast

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining James Kakais on the Presales Collective podcast to talk about what it means to be a pre-sales engineer in a high-growth startup. We touched on how I see the role of Sales Engineers being a multi-purpose Swiss Army Knife and what recommendations I have for others who want to explore the career path.

First things first – What is presales?

Presales, Solutions Engineering, or Sales Engineering (SE) is the crucial function that supports sales cycles together with salespeople. It is often found in B2B SaaS companies like Adobe, Salesforce, and Zoom. Some people look at sales engineers as the technical salespeople, others think of  SEs as the technical backbone of the go-to-market motion. Wherever a complex product has to be sold and assessed to be fit for purpose, chances are likely that you will not just find a salesperson selling to you but also a sales engineer acting as a wing-man/wing-woman.

What role does presales play in a tech company?

The function exists because selling is a lot of effort and often involves a lot of technical selling too. This is done through product demonstrations, security reviews, product capability qualification, and competitive market positioning. The SE in a sales cycle makes sure what is promised will work and ensures to sell the value of the solution, so that the prospect in convinced your solution is best.

In contrast, the salesperson will focus on the sales process overall from the start, finding a qualified lead, and following through including pricing negotiations, organizing all the stakeholders, ensuring contracts are fine.

Many SEs argue that being an SE is the best of both worlds. One world being knowing the product, working at the forefront of the company’s innovation, and being an expert. The other world being that you are always customer-facing, talking to prospects, and not somewhere stuck in a back office all the while you have much less pressure than the sales rep.

Why do I call presales engineers Swiss Army Knives…

You probably can already imagine that supporting the sale of a product will vary hugely depending on the product that you’re selling. This also means that SEs can come from a variety of backgrounds. From my time as a Sales Engineer, I can say I’ve seen successful SEs come from all walks of life like:

  • Florists
  • Teachers
  • Dancers
  • Consultants
  • Photographers
  • Bankers
  • Programmers
  • Salespeople
  • Product Marketers
  • …and many more

One thing all Sales Engineers have in common is the unstoppable eagerness to learn new things and be helpful. In that, SEs support their organisations as internal competitive experts, product marketers presenting the demos at roadshows, enablement supporters helping new hires ramp, and many other things. SEs are technical and non-technical. They have a set of skills – beyond being the technical expert – they can do really well. Unlike the jack of all trades who is a master of none.

Personally, as an SE I’ve done a variety of things: presenting at conferences, building better internal processes using tools we had, and doing charity pro-bono projects. It’s rewarding, especially as the role in many organisations is what you make of it.

Sales Engineers Presenting Products at a Conference

How did I get into presales? – Career Principles

My career principles are very simple, do more of what you like and always be growing. It’s as simple as that, I enjoyed working with customers while bringing innovation to them as a CRM consultant. Then, I joined a tech company to just do that as a pre-sales engineer. Now, at a startup, I can bring all my previous skills to the table whilst wearing a strategic hat and planning an overall business expansion.

How can you get into presales?

Talk to Sales Engineers. We’re a great bunch. Learn about the role, the various paths in different companies and go from there. A sales engineer at Salesforce selling CRM is very different from a sales engineer at MongoDB who sells a database solution. It gets more technical if you want to be a sales engineer at AWS or Google Cloud where you need a solid understanding of the technology to be able to prove the value. Some SE roles will require you to be more technical, others are a lot less technical and require more creativity or project management skills.

One way to learn more is by visiting the presalescollective.com, a community of pre-sales engineers worldwide.

It’s a diverse, satisfying, and very exciting career path for driven people who like to learn new things and talk to customers every day.

Conclusion

Now you know what a Sales Engineer is and why it’s such an exciting career path open to people from so many backgrounds. If you want to know more about my path and how I see the presales role fitting into a technology company, check out the full podcast below:

Presales Collective 

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2CwKZTy 

Apple: https://apple.co/30yRvBq 

Google: https://bit.ly/3hk9YbB 

Presales Podcast
Presales Podcast

Featured on CNBC – Work from Anywhere

CNBC

This week was fun, I got featured in a CNBC article online. Check it out here or here on my LinkedIn if you want to follow the discussion.

CNBC Article
CNBC Article

The silver lining in this pandemic is that working from anywhere is a real possibility and allows us to explore new places, spend time with families and get out of the big cities and closer to nature.

I absolutely appreciate the hardship many are going through and see myself in a very lucky and privileged position compared to many others.

Making the most of what is a catastrophic 2020.

Work from anywhere

This pandemic is making it possible for workers in tech to work from anywhere. Big cities have lost their appeal. Since I moved to London, there was so much I learned, people I met and things I’ve experienced that now are not possible any longer. Musicals, concerts and even meeting friends is an endeavour.

As my wife and I both have office-type jobs where a stable internet connection and a laptop are the only hard requirements, we can pretty much work from anywhere. So we made some plans. After spending a few weeks at home with families in Switzerland during the summer we thought we should do this again.

Our plan is to visit our families again but this time we will leave our flat. We want to move to a bigger place anyways. So, in between flats in London, we will just spend a few months saving on rent and live with our in-laws in Switzerland.

If the situation in 2021 improves and we can travel again we might even get ourselves into a nice AirBnB in Spain and spend a few weeks there before returning to London to hunt for a new and bigger flat.

Why move flats?

Two people on Zoom calls all the time is hard if you’re bound to a 1-bedroom flat. A centrally located flat in London is a great thing if you can take advantage of the city. Sadly, that’s not been the case in the last six months and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

We’ll move to a bigger place to be able to work alongside each other much better. Also, we’ll get ourselves closer to a large park just outside the very center.

Using the gap of a few months will be perfect to save some money too and get our finances on track for future projects. Hint: buying real estate.

“Work from anywhere” here to stay?

I changed jobs in January. I joined a startup, Clari, a team of five in Europe building the international expansion. No office. Few perks. Massive personal and professional growth opportunity.

When I was in the fancy Salesforce Tower in London, people would often ask but will you not miss the office?

Salesforce Tower London - Top Floor
Salesforce Tower London – Top Floor

Probably I will miss it a bit, is what I would say but I would not base a career decision on the office. What happened later in that year is something I could have not imagined. Most of my former colleagues would not enter the Salesforce Tower either for 6 months and counting.

Work from anywhere has made people appreciate simpler things, access to nature and shown that the important bit for productive work is not necessarily an office. A great culture outshines the great office and lives on remotely, in Zoom background, Slack channels and how you treat people.

Many companies and employees see the benefits of work from anywhere. Commuting to an office will become much less frequent in the coming months and years I believe.

 

How to pick the right startup to join?

How to pick the right startup to join?

You want to change your career and the big corporate job is just not what you want to do anymore. Well, let me first discourage you a bit from joining a startup in the first place.

 

A) You will have to work really hard

B) Your current company benefits are probably better

C) Most startups fail

 

I could go on. There are a lot of reasons not to join a startup but if you’re still reading you came to the right post.

 

When I was at Accenture and later at Salesforce I always had an urge to do more than what was prescribed in my role. There was always an inherent entrepreneurial spirit in me and finally, after 5 years in big companies, I felt it was time to join a startup.

As you want to evolve in your career and grow there are a few things to consider and look for when you join a startup.

Not every startup is created equal and you can definitely make mistakes joining the wrong startup. 

 

The 5 things to identify the right startup for you 

 

These are my 5 things and I would say they apply to everyone considering joining a startup. There will inevitably be more factors but these are a good starting point. 

 

1. Founders & Exec Team

The founders and executive team are crucial. Check each one of them out on LinkedIn and see how long they’ve known each other. You want them to be pros at what they’re doing. They need a track record of success. Ask yourself:

  • Are they a tightly-knit team that trusts each other?

  • Have they been successful in the past?

  • What are the values and the culture they’re building?

     

Don’t underestimate the values. The company’s values matter a lot in how they will navigate good and bad times. There will be both, trust me. In my interview I asked everyone very directly, how are you living the values in your company? Which is the top value? What value do you think exemplifies the CEO the most?

Check: LinkedIn, find videos, tweets,… to get a taste.

 

2. VC Backing

Startups most of the time will need some kind of funding to the started. They will get this from so-called Venture Capitalists (VCs). A great VC will bring great board members to the company that can help and ensure success.

Some of the top tier 1 VC firms are Sequoia Capital, Benchmark, and Andreessen Horowitz. You can always visit Crunchbase or PitchBook data to see who has invested in the startup you think of joining. If it’s a list of no-names, then think twice. If you see a Tier 1 VC firm, that is generally a good sign.

Check out VC firms on CB Insights.

 

Once you know who the VC is, check out how much the startup has raised. Ideally, they will have enough cash in the bank for another 12 or so months when you join. Typically, a startup is funded by VC for 18-24 months and then the expectation is to get more funding. 

 

If your startup hasn’t raised money in 24+ months, then ask them, how are things financially? How are they making money? These are questions you should not be scared to ask.

 

Here’s an example of Gong, a B2B SaaS startup with great investors and a big recent round. This will mean they are in growth-mode, have a lot of capital ready and probably an amazing team of board members that can advise the company on their scaling journey.

Gong Crunchbase
Gong Crunchbase Source: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/gong-io/company_financials

 

 

3. Product-Market-Fit

Most likely you want to pick a company that knows what they’re doing. If you’re in a stable job now then you want a startup that works. In a nutshell that means it has to pay customers. The startup will only have to pay customers if it’s solving a real problem and that’s what people call Product-Market-Fit. 

In your prospective startup, check who are current customers, can you find testimonials? If yes that’s great. Read up on reviews on portals like G2

That will give you an idea if it’s just a college drop-out’s pipe dream or something that could become a company of consequence.

Sometimes a good sign is competitors. If there are competitors, then you know there’s a market to be won.

Here’s an excerpt from G2 and customer reviews. A great resource to identify what is happening in that market and what horse you want to bet your career on.

G2
G2 Grid Comparison Project Management Source: https://www.g2.com/categories/project-collaboration#grid

 

 

4. Trajectory

This is a hard one. What are good indicators if the company is growing? There are a few things that you can find out while doing your research but then always use the interview as an opportunity to find out how much growth there is. Are they signing more deals, increasing revenue, hiring people?

A few things you can look at:

  • How many employees do they have and what functions?

  • What do Glassdoor reviews say?

  • Are they hiring many people currently on their careers page?

 

For example, on Glassdoor, you will get a great idea of the culture, how the company is doing and what people are saying about the prospects of the business.

The example here is by Seismic. 

 

Glassdoor Seismic
Glassdoor Seismic Source: https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Reviews/Seismic-Reviews-E1151159.htm

 

5. Personal Opportunity

Lastly, the key question is, what does this mean for you personally? Let think back to the start of this post. You want to escape the 9-5 grind and do something more exciting.

Ask yourself, what is it that you are expecting to do in the startup and are you sharing this with them? Of course, you will fill a box on the org chart but if you talk to the hiring manager he or she should know what you want to truly achieve in that company. Do you want to become the foremost expert in a field? Do you want to build a new office in a new location? Do you want to become a leader?

Always ask yourself:

  • Will you get a position that fits your personal ambitions?

  • What is the role you will have in the company?

  • How are they developing, coaching, leading people?

One more time, I suggest you read up on Glassdoor what it says about the company and ask in the interview. Ask the hard questions, how do you ensure a great culture of learning and development? Many startups don’t think about this early and well enough. These will struggle to attract and retain great talent in the future. You want to bet on the right opportunity for your personal career. 

 

My final words

That’s it. These are the five things I looked for when joining Clari. You might have more factors than those. I would suggest researching these as a bare minimum and then in the interview ASK all the hard questions.

You should interview a startup just as much as they interview YOU.

What have I missed and what are you looking for? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

 

 

How to Start a Podcast in 2020 And 3 Reasons Why You Should Do It

Listening to podcasts is great while commuting, working out or cooking at home.

The question we’ll answer today is how to start a podcast in 2020 and 3 reasons why you should do it. I want to give you a few clear steps on how to start a podcast with some great resources I’ve put together and also explain why it’s such a great way to promote your business, your project or your own brand.

Podcasting has been around for years. You probably listen to many of the short or long-form audio on your commute, while you’re pumping at the gym or when you’re cooking dinner. You’re not the only one 51% of the US population listen to podcasts regularly to some of the 550,000 active podcasts on the internet.

There are podcasts on pretty much every topic you can imagine from science updates to cooking lessons, even how to negotiate in business or what you need to know when investing. They’re the perfect complement to our dull commutes and help us stay on top of the news, technology trends or they just entertain us. Whatever, you want.

It’s flexible to use, the podcasts just arrive in your app, often their short, bite-size ranging from 5-30 minutes and the good ones are really engaging and fun.

A quick look at Google Trends shows that podcasting has been around since the mid-2000s but recently it picked up again and this is an opportunity for you.

Why? Read on.

Podcasting in Google Trends
Podcasting in Google Trends

For any aspiring entrepreneur, established professional or even student, it’s a way to have a voice and be literally in the ear of your audience. It’s a growing medium to reach your audience in a very direct way.

Listen to some of my favourite podcasts which include Reid Hoffmann’s, Masters of Scale and the Planet Money Indicator by NPR.

Entrepreneurs, journalists and companies can reach their audience and build a community very easily and I get to learn from the most respected voices about entrepreneurship, economics and many other topics.

By now you’ve probably got a good idea of how this could help you but let me spit it out for you exactly.

So, why should you start your own little podcast business?

3 Reasons For Starting Your Podcast

Here are 3 reasons why you should start a podcast and not just listen to them.

Start a Podcast for Networking

Starting a podcast means you’re starting a platform. This platform will allow you to invite people who need a platform. It’s little effort for your guest to spare 30-45 minutes and appear on a podcast to talk about their business, passion, project or whatever the case might be.

You’ll be able to invite whoever you like to network with and you’ll already have something to offer to them, a platform for promotion. It’s a win-win situation. You get to learn from your interviewee whilst your interviewee gets a promotional platform too.

If you don’t start a podcast think about this the other way, try to be featured on a podcast to promote your business. It’s a great way to reach your audience especially as there are podcasts for every niche.

Start a Podcast for Marketing

It’s not just networking that you’ll get out of meeting new people you’re interviewing but there is much more than that on top. So many people listen to podcasts and just like with any content, if it’s valuable people will listen to you too.

You get to share your expertise which you’ll have anyway as your running a business, starting a project or fighting for a cause. Add little bits where you promote your business. Think about the call to action that you want to position.

Start a Podcast for Branding

This is an important one, regardless if you’re a single consultant aiming to acquire new clients or a business already which aims to build a strong brand to find new customers and employees.

A podcast adds a whole new flavour to your brand. It’s audio. It literally gives you a tone, a voice which is a much richer channel emotionally.

This is so important today as podcasting is growing and it is an untapped opportunity. You can be  recognised as a great business or great employer. Imagine a podcast where the founders of a company talk about how they focus on building a strong culture, working to achieve customer success and innovating a product. That gives you a much better insight to the company than a website or Glassdoor ranking.

How to Start a Podcast

Here’s a clear, quick, step-by-step guide on creating a podcast.

  1. Choose what you’re objective for the podcast is (marketing, branding, networking, …)
  2. Write a clear mission statement, just a paragraph of what your show is about
  3. Create a nice looking artwork cover
  4. Define a plan for the episodes you want to create
  5. Define a clear structure for each episode that you can use consistently (e.g. intro, interview, fire round, outro)
  6. Make sure you have the right equipment and test it
  7. Start inviting people to create a pipeline for interviewees
  8. Record the first few episodes and edit them, so they’re launch-ready
  9. Launch your podcast to your audience and publish episodes regularly

As we’ve established the why. I hope the above gives you some ideas on the how. But this post isn’t focused too much on the logistics. Here are a few good examples of resources on how to start a podcast.

 

Good Mic – Make or Break Your Podcasting Success

There is a massive list of equipment you could buy for good podcasting but nothing is more important than a good microphone. Invest in this and you’re already succeeding in half the battle.

Here are a few commonly used mics that are great.

Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS USB Microphone

Rode Microphones RØDE NT1-A Vocal Pack

Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone – Blackout Edition

You can also go overboard if you want to but for now if you have a computer already, then all you need is a mic. Later on you can think about adding

A complete resource guide is here for example.

How to Publish Your Podcast

There are a ton a few popular publishing options that do most of the heavy-lifting for you.

And of course, you can always Google for more great podcast publishing platforms. Before I leave you to get started with podcasting, here are some great podcasts short and long-form.

Some Great Podcasts to Learn From

Check out Masters of Scale for amazing editing. The show is engaging, keeps you interested and is also easy to follow.

The next one is a short-form podcast by Chris Guillebeau about others who start a side hustle. He’s basically built his hustle on talking with other people about their hustles. Great, right?

Then, you’re not so smart, a great podcast, very informational and good editing.

Lastly, Inside Intercom, a great example of how a company can promote thought leadership add a personal tone to their brand and provide real value to their listeners. They regularly interview amazing people from around the industry and I always finsih it with something that I learnt.

    

It’s up to you now

I hope that was useful for you and that you see how the digital world is constantly changing and podcasting is becoming an increasingly interesting channel to strengthen your brand, drive your marketing and build your network.

Leave me a comment and share how you’re getting on!

More Resources

There are many great blogs out there that focus even more in-depth on this topic. One to call out is fellow blogger Andrew on myaudioplanet and his epic “How to start a podcast in 2020” post.