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:
- 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.
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.
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: