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Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Closing a sales deal is a big win. And that’s especially true for businesses selling complex products to other businesses. […]


Category: Tag: Presales

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Closing a sales deal is a big win. And that’s especially true for businesses selling complex products to other businesses. It takes a lot of work to reach the point where a team of buyers is ready to invest in your product. 

But beyond the point where a prospect says “yes,” a sale could still go wrong. If a new client has trouble making your product work with the technology and systems they already use, then the hard work your salespeople put into landing that deal could be wasted. To avoid that, many companies now have multiple teams involved in the sales process: the traditional sales team we’re all familiar with and presales professionals who play a crucial role. 

But for anyone new to the concept of presales, or still trying to figure out where a presales team would fit in, you may wonder what the difference between sales and presales actually is. 

Sales vs. presales: The short answer

The main difference between sales and presales is that sales is responsible for developing customer relationships. In contrast, presales is involved in helping with the technological side of the sales process. Sales is concerned with the customer fit—ensuring a lead falls within your target audience and is likely to buy. Presales is concerned with the solution fit—ensuring your product is a good solution for the customer’s pain points. 

While the two roles are distinct, they’re both important. 

What is presales?

The B2B sales process is long, complicated, and often too much for a salesperson to handle alone. A presales team takes on a number of steps to allow the sales team more time to focus on building the relationship with prospective customers. 

In particular, presales engineers handle parts of the sales process that involve advanced technical knowledge. It’s their job to understand the product well enough to grasp precisely where it will fit into a customer’s tech stack and answer any technical features and implementation questions. Your typical sales representative doesn’t necessarily have the specialized training for that. Presales enables them to do their jobs more effectively and ensures they don’t inadvertently mislead customers about technological features they may not understand. 

Common presales responsibilities

Each company can work out how to break down responsibilities between sales and presales. There’s no one right answer here. But to give you an idea of the kind of work presales professionals typically take on, some common responsibilities include:

  • Sending discovery emails
  • Setting up and/or joining discovery calls
  • Hosting demos
  • Providing proof of concept
  • Drafting sales proposals
  • Working on RFPs (requests for proposals)
  • Completing security questionnaires
  • Helping with instance configuration and setup
  • Building documents for sales and other teams that support a seamless transition

Presales may work alongside a sales representative on some of these tasks, and take on others independently. You’ll want to create a clearly defined presales process that outlines their responsibilities and priorities. 

What is sales?

Sales is responsible for gaining a lead’s trust and convincing them that they’re in good hands if they choose your product. They’re in charge of the process’s more persuasive and personality-driven parts. The work presales does leaves the sales team with more time to focus on their primary job: building relationships with prospects and convincing them to buy.

Common sales responsibilities

In some companies, sales representatives may be involved or in charge of some of the tasks listed above. But generally, their most important responsibilities are:

  • Performing prospecting work to identify clients who are a good fit for your product based on factors like budget, size, and need
  • Deploying negotiation tactics to prime prospects for a sale
  • Closing deals
  • Providing ongoing support to customers to keep them happy after purchase (and drive retention)

That list may look short at a glance, but each responsibility is a big one that takes a lot of time and work. By taking on a portion of the sales process, presales ensures sales representatives have the time they need to successfully tackle each step. 

Defining the rules of engagement for presales and sales

Collaboration between sales and presales is key to both teams accomplishing their goals. But you must ensure both teams understand when and how to work together. For that, define clear rules of engagement to avoid any confusion around who’s responsible for what. 

Think through every step in the sales process. Then create clear guidelines for who should be involved in each step, along with instructions on when and how to bring others into the process to fulfill their roles. You can break this down based on the stage in the sales process, the type of customer involved, and/or specific types of sales tasks. Make it clear to sales when they should be reaching out to presales to help with something and vice versa. 

Clarity here ensures people are in charge of the tasks they’re best suited for. And it helps you avoid conflict that can arise when there’s confusion around who’s responsible for what. Both teams depend on each other for success, so you want a system that makes cooperation seamless.

Technology enables sales and presales collaboration

A strong, well-defined process is the best way to ensure sales and presales work together effectively. But the right technology can make collaboration easier. RFPIO provides software that helps sales and presales teams work better together. The content library lets you track common questions you receive from prospects, then easily save and access the best answer to each one. The internal communication features enable natural handoffs between team members and helps you keep customers from falling through the cracks. And automation features cut down on hours of work spent on proposals and answering questions.  

Are you ready to build a better process for aligning sales and presales on content and engagement? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help.

 

How to build a presales process

How to build a presales process

In most companies, no one questions the importance of the sales team. The entire company depends on new sales to keep running, so the people closing the deals are (rightly) valued. But what about the people that help the sales team get prospects to that point? 

The role may not be as flashy, but many of those deals would never get off the ground without the work of a presales professional. And a good presales team doesn’t just need the right skills and knowledge to work effectively; they also need a presales process that sets them up for success. 

What is presales?

In the B2B (business-to-business) world, the sales process is slow and involves complexity. Reaching the point of purchase requires a lot of steps, and some of them involve work that the sales team lacks either the time or the knowledge to manage on their own. That’s where presales comes in.

Presales professionals take on some of the most important steps of finding and nurturing prospects leading up to the close of a sale. The presales process involves learning the details and needs of each opportunity and providing the sales team with the information they need to do their jobs effectively. Responsibilities range from answering complicated product questions to joining or running sales demos to helping with proposals. 

4 Benefits of a presales strategy

The more complicated a sales process is, the more valuable a presales strategy is. Creating one leads to a few notable benefits.  

  1. A presales strategy produces higher conversion rates in the early funnel stages – Most salespeople report that fewer than 50% of their leads are a good fit. If they devote time to every one of those leads, that’s a lot of wasted time that they could spend pitching relevant prospects. They’ll close more of them when they have more time to spend on quality leads.
  2. Presales provides important sales enablement – A presales support team enables the sales team to work smarter rather than harder. They possess the product knowledge needed to provide personalized, accurate information to every prospect. When customers have a technical question, presales helps sales find the correct answer faster. Shorter response times translate to a faster sales process, and happier leads are more likely to turn into customers.  
  3. A presales strategy contributes to an improved customer experience – “Presales” can be a bit of a misnomer. While most of the presales process occurs before a prospect becomes a customer, presales is also frequently involved in helping clients set up and use the product after purchase. That leads to a better customer experience, which is essential for ongoing retention. 
  4. Presales leads to higher profits –  By helping sales close more deals and keeping customers happy enough for improved retention, presales contributes to the most important goal of all: higher profits. Put simply, presales is good for the bottom line.

The benefits of a presales strategy only come about if you manage to build an effective presales process. 

Define your target customer – B2B products tend to have a very specific customer base. Salespeople waste their time focusing on prospects outside their ideal base. To enable sales to focus on the right prospects, clearly define your ideal customer. Look at current customer data to understand which companies most need and value your product. Pay attention to your most valuable customers (those who spend the most and consistently re-subscribe). Note what they have in common for insights on what makes for a valuable lead.

Use that information to create a detailed customer persona to guide your marketing and sales efforts. Then also apply your analysis, along with input from the sales team, toward creating clear criteria for qualifying leads. If you prioritize attracting the right leads, and consistently weed out those that aren’t a good fit, your sales team will be able to focus their time on those most likely to convert.

Clarify presales priorities – Presales can get chaotic. Part of what a good presales process accomplishes is bringing order to the chaos and making sure the presales team spends their time wisely. To achieve that, start by thinking through the various tasks that make up a typical presales process and assigning priority value to each. If a presales engineer is torn between multiple competing priorities, they need a way to determine which should take precedence. Should that proposal be the top priority, or can it wait until after their scheduled sales demo?

This process should involve all the departments that depend on presales, so they can weigh in on the relevant importance of various tasks. But you should also look at your data: what does it tell you about which tasks are most likely to lead to successful outcomes like sales and retention?

Analyze and define process steps for each priority task – Now we reach the inception stage of building a presales process (processeption?), where you want to define all the smaller processes that make up your larger process. Defining process steps ensures everyone involved is on the same page and understands their role in the broader sales process.

For every priority task on your list, sit down and work out the ideal approach. Include:

  • Documenting typical steps and timelines – What does the process of completing each task look like? What steps have to occur, and in what order? How long does each one typically take? 
  • Defining the roles and responsibilities – Who’s in charge of what? What does the presales team need from other contacts to do their part well? And what will they need to provide to others to adequately support them? 
  • Establishing communication methods – A lot of presales work requires collaboration, and finding the right communication channels can be vital to keeping the lines of communication open. What’s the preferred channel for each team and contact? Should presales communicate with sales within a project management tool, email, or meetings?

Use tech to make the process smoother– Clarifying these steps can also make it easier to see how tech can improve your processes. Are there tasks presales spends hours on now that could be automated by technology? Are your current communication channels working, or do you need a better tool for collaboration? Do you have a solid process in place for recording and reusing knowledge, or is presales having to answer every question anew each time it comes up?

Matching the right tech to your processes can cut down on the time spent on each task while also increasing success rates. 

Analyze and improve over time – Another benefit to establishing a transparent process is that it helps you spot opportunities to improve. Some of the technology you use to facilitate your presales process will also collect data on your typical actions and results. Use that information to strengthen your process over time.

Building a pre-sales process has never been easier with tools like RFPIO. By recognizing and addressing all stages of your customer journey, your business will be able to become more efficient while wasting less money and time.

RFPIO provides features that help presales teams:

  • Capture knowledge and share it with the right internal contacts
  • Make answers easy to find to cut down on answering the same questions on repeat
  • Automate much of the process of responding to RFP’s, RFI’s, and Security Questionnaires.
  • Simplify collaboration between individuals and departments
  • Track data on the presales process to better understand how well it’s working and how to make it better.

Set up a demo to learn more. 

 

5 steps to healthy RFP collaboration between sales and presales

5 steps to healthy RFP collaboration between sales and presales

Friction can be a good thing. With the right amount, sales and pre-sales teams share productive exchanges, respectful pushback during disagreements, and shared admiration for jobs well done on all sides.

Too much, and those relationships can quickly flare up with resentment or burn out in an unwinnable blame game (“It’s pre-sales fault for losing the RFP!”). Too little, and silos develop, making collaboration difficult and agility nearly impossible (“It’s sales’ fault for not not giving us what we need to create a winning proposal!”).

Sound familiar? It’s OK. Sometimes when the kids are bickering in the back seat you have to follow through with your threat to pull the car over right this instant. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Namaste. Let’s move on.

How do you maintain that ideal level of friction? Glad you asked. I have five steps to help.

Before you skip ahead, remember that everyone in your organization is always working toward the same goal: Win conversions based on responses, whether they be reactive requests for proposals (RFPs) or proactive proposals designed to solve specific prospect or customer problems.

When your organization commits to the unified goal to win through proposals, then it’s just a matter of creating the best game plan to do so.

5 steps to improve collaboration between sales and presales

Step 1: Add transparency to RFP roles and responsibilities

Attempting to collaborate without transparency is a bit like playing the card game “Go Fish”: One person knows what they want, but they’re not sure where to get it. You can avoid this first by documenting all RFP processes. If you have a proposal manager or, better yet, a dedicated proposal team, then you can ask them for this information.

As soon as assignments are delegated to sales and pre-sales teams, then make sure each team is aware of the roles for both teams. You’ll also want to include responsibilities that don’t fall under either sales or pre-sales.

For example, if your responses consistently rely on polished product marketing documentation, then your resource is likely someone in the marketing department. Calling this information out will help avoid unnecessary blaming from either team when they know it’s neither of their faults.

If you use RFP software, then your platform can help promote transparency. I cannot speak for other solutions, but with RFPIO you can:

  • Give every sales rep and pre-sales person access to the project dashboard.
  • Assign deliverables to respective teams to avoid confusion over who is responsible for what.
  • Provide a project timeline so both teams can keep up with RFP progress.
  • Monitor all deliverables to help identify bottlenecks.
  • Gather and contain all communication related to the RFP, including emails, Slack, Salesforce/CRM communications, as well as any alerts or messages initiated from RFPIO.
  • Store all questions, answers, and RFP content for unified knowledge management across every team working the RFP.

Step 2: Write the executive summary

Sales must lead the way. There’s no avoiding it. Sales is responsible for the customer relationship. Without their unique insight, pre-sales is flying blind on the RFP. If sales wants to cross the finish line with a win, then it has to guide pre-sales in the right direction. Back at the starting line, that means writing the RFP’s executive summary.

Write the executive summary first to help set the tone for the RFP. Again, RFP software can help here. After you write the executive summary, your RFP software can make an automated first pass at answering all of the questions based on the content in your Content Library. From there, pre-sales will be able to review the answers under the direction that sales established in the executive summary. Sweet, fancy efficiency…

As the owner of the customer relationship, the salesperson should actually demand to write the executive summary. It explains the entirety of the RFP and sets up the narrative for the customer journey. If you have a proposal team, then sales can at the very least outline the executive summary so the proposal team can flesh it out and add polish.

“Sales owning the executive summary is extremely important, because it provides context and color into how the company will position itself throughout the RFP. From there, PreSales can bring insight into where the product or platform may fall short, and discuss a strategy on how to approach the response.”
James Kaikis, Co-Founder at PreSales Collective

Step 3: Schedule a kick-off call

If you have a proposal team and documented proposal processes, then a kick-off meeting for RFPs may already exist. If so, make sure sales and pre-sales are invited. If not, then take the initiative to include a kick-off meeting in your RFP response process.

Three of the main reasons you need this touchpoint are to:

  • Give all parties involved a chance to set expectations and clarify roles.
  • Exchange unique insights about the prospect, your relationship history, and how to differentiate your response from competitors.
  • Insert a Go/No-Go evaluation in your RFP response process to solidify team commitment to responding to a winnable RFP.

Step 4: Play an active role in responding to the RFP

Sales teams sometimes make the mistake of washing their hands of an RFP as soon as they hand it off to pre-sales or proposal teams. From the standpoint of the customer relationship and the reasoning behind the RFP, the sales team is the SME! Just as SMEs for product, SLAs, support, legal, pricing, etc. are expected to contribute their expertise to a response, so too should sales be expected to contribute their expertise about the customer.

Sales-related answers and content can also be managed in the Content Library of your RFP software. That way sales can focus on the review process and personalizing content after the automated first pass takes place.

Step 5: Reflect on the results, win or lose

When you hear back from the issuer, come together as a team to reflect on how the RFP landed — win or lose. If you lose, talk about what you could have done better. If you won, talk about what you did well.

This win-loss review gives your team an opportunity to close the loop. It also gives you an opportunity to heap some well-deserved praise where it’s due. Sales knows that it cannot survive without pre-sales. Sometimes pre-sales likes to be reminded. There’s no better time to do so than after a win, when you can call out the outstanding job that pre-sales did in composing the response.

You can also use this opportunity to make sure what you learned in the finished RFP is carried over to the next RFP. Win or lose, factoring in what worked and what didn’t will make it easier to determine the next Go/No-Go decision.

Good collaboration = good content

Winning proposals resonate with good content. And behind every piece of good content is the collaboration that made it happen. The better the collaboration between sales and pre-sales, the better your proposal will be.

In our new proposal management Benchmark Report, we found that 75% of organizations plan on responding to more RFPs in 2021 than they did in 2020. The only way that can happen is if sales and pre-sales are collaborating at a healthy rate of friction.

If your sales and pre-sales teams need a collaboration tool to kickstart that healthy friction, then schedule a demo today!

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already bought into the importance of customer experience in your sales cycle. A simple product backed by great customer experience will always have more conversions than a great product with a terrible customer experience. Many of the world’s leading enterprises concur. Data points that support customer experience are plentiful, indeed. The one that stands out to me is from PWC’s Future of Customer Experience report: 73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision. 

73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision.

Obviously, pre-sales is not solely responsible for good customer experience — that’s an organizational responsibility for every department, from legal and security to executive and marketing, to product development and engineering. Whether your pre-sales function is its own entity or a responsibility tacked on to product management or sales or technical support, it can be solely responsible for strengthening (or damaging) trust with prospects and customers. 

The pre-sales process: A quick level-set

What is pre-sales? The short answer is.. It’s complicated. Most organizations differ in how they define pre-sales and the pre-sales process. Often, the definition is intentionally vague to give teams the flexibility necessary to respond most effectively to a customer.

For the sake of this article, I’ll say the pre-sales process takes place from initial contact to demo or proof of concept (POC) presentation. From here, pre-sales hands off the relationship to the appropriate sales entity, such as a business development representative, a sales development representative, or even an account executive.

The overarching key to customer experience success resides in every hand-off. Prior to presenting a recent webinar, I surveyed registered participants—most of whom were pre-sales professionals. Only 50% were confident that commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled. 

Only 50% of pre-sales professionals are confident their commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled.

The only way to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks, or that promises made by one department aren’t met by another, or that any other pitfalls don’t derail the overall customer experience is through process. Process in a scaleup company is like a guitar string. If it is too tight, the quality of music is not great, and if it is too loose you cannot make any music at all. 

I apply an 80/20 rule to my pre-sales model. Basically, it means that 80% of the rules of engagement between teams during pre-sales are streamlined. The remaining 20% gives teams wiggle room to personalize customer buying journeys and react to exceptions pertaining to customer needs. 

Keep this in mind as you consider my model for creating trust during the pre-sales process.

Step 1: Collect and analyze data

Remember that from the customer perspective, their experience needs to be seamless. They expect consistency across channels–but different internal owners of parts of that experience can cause inconsistency. Take a longitudinal view of the total experience to spot inconsistency.

Data-driven insight is just as valuable in pre-sales as elsewhere in the organization. It’s just that at the pre-sales stage, much of the customer interaction involves gathering data. In my webinar survey, 33.3% of participants agreed that access to customer feedback data that allows them to measure customer experience would be helpful. And only 9.3% said they always have access to up-to-date information to answer customer questions. Easier access to data about prospects and your product or solution will always help pre-sales stay a step ahead during the evaluation process.

Most pre-sales professionals strongly agree developing customer trust is their top priority.

Research the company, business model, values, and funding (if applicable) 

Examine any existing CRM notes or call recordings all the way back to the first touchpoint. The first discussion should be as consistent as the most recent one. Get in sync by going through any previous activities and speaking to personnel who have been involved. Best practices say to automate this as much as possible through your CRM and other sales enablement tools.

Summarize and confirm findings-to-date during discovery

Get on the same page with prospects first, and then ask them if you have missed anything. Acknowledge their effort in the buying process so far. This is the first step in establishing trust and opens the door for a prospect to reveal new details because they view you as their advisor in the buying process. 

Next, ask open-ended questions to unearth details you can use to personalize your demo or POC engagement with the prospect. This can range from getting their core triggerpoint to identifying the details of their standard buying process to gaining insight into high-value stakeholders. Document all the discovery details.

Analyze data to inform your personalized engagement plan

You now have two critical data sets to help personalize your engagement and take the customer experience to the next level.

  • Research Data: Company, industry segment, persona role, timezone, culture, etc.
  • Sales & Discovery Data: Tone, intent, urgency, problems, specific features, success criteria, possible effort into evaluation, etc.

Evaluate all of this data to develop a personalized engagement plan for each prospect.

Step 1 to improving customer experience: Create a personalized engagement plan

Step 2: Personalize engagement

How does a touring stand-up comedian win over her audience in every new city by pointing out their local cultural idiosyncrasies? Carefully, respectfully, and by setting the right tone. In essence, this is what a pre-sales professional has to do: Point out what in the prospect’s process is not working to find the true selling opportunities. 

Build your ‘Persona 360’

So far, you’ve gathered intel on the prospect company and one or a few key individuals who have been involved in product evaluation to this point. Be transparent about the plan and share it with the prospect. For the demo/POC, expect additional stakeholders and testers to join the process. 

Use the initial discovery call and LinkedIn to find out more about these new additions: 

Fill out your Persona 360, which is a combination of the roles, work locations, industry segments, cultures, time zones, ages (estimated, by Generation X, Y, Z, etc.) and more of the entire evaluation team. 

A day or so before the demo, resend the personalized engagement plan to update expectations. Be sure to mention new members by name and ask them if they would like to see something specific in the demo/POC. 

Grow a library of demo/POC models

Always maintain a variety of demo/POC models. Match the most relevant version to the audience based on your Persona 360, weighting it for those who you deem to have the greatest influence in decision-making. Consult sales when you finalize your demo model. Each model may differ based on talktrack, flow, order of features shown, and time allocated to specific sections. 

The Persona 360 should also give you insights into optimizing the structure and timing of your demo/POC. You can personalize the demo/POC with prospect’s problem statements agreed upon during discovery and emphasize how your product’s features help them solve those problems. Educate the new audience without surprising the existing audience to further build trust. 

Create personalized success criteria templates

Improving customer experience is about showing your prospect you understand their needs. Do this by sending a personalized success criteria template

After the first demo with the majority of the evaluators from the prospect’s side, send them a success criteria checklist to illustrate how your product or solution directly addresses some of their key pain points. This checklist will also give the prospect an easy reference to compare how your offering measures up to a competitor’s.

The more activity around this checklist the better. It’s a strong signal of their intent to proceed further with the evaluation or even to purchase. It’s not a mandatory touchpoint. If the prospect already has a standard process for evaluation, respect that and only suggest best practices as a trusted advisor. 

Step 3: Prepare for hand-off

When we board a bus or a train, we trust the vehicle will take us to our destination because:

  1. The journey is short.
  2. The route (process) and destination (value) are defined.

Length of the buying journey varies according to product and industry. Customers are more likely to notice when the journey is too long or arduous than they are to notice that it’s too short. In SaaS, the higher the price point, the greater the customer expectation that they’ll have ample opportunity to demo and evaluate if it’s the right fit. No matter how long the buying journey is in your customer experience, always make room to deliver incremental value.

A feedback call is a mandatory checkpoint after the initial demo/POC to determine where you stand on the overall evaluation. On the feedback call, be ready to review your account handbook, which covers relationship details from discovery, Persona 360, user journey, feature wishlist, and information about post sales implementation and support.

The account handbook documents any business case you can build with the prospect to help advance evaluation to purchase. It also shows the prospect everything that’s been accomplished so far on their buying journey and gives the impression that you’re ready to proceed to the next step. Perhaps most importantly, the account handbook can be used as a hand-off document to the post sales team to ensure a seamless transition for the customer. 

If you want more details…

Check out the webinar I presented on the importance of pre-sales in providing a positive customer experience. You can learn more results of the participant survey (very enlightening) and access some of the nitty gritty details I didn’t have space for in this article. It’s especially valuable if you’re in B2B SaaS because I spend a lot of time discussing how to deal with feature requests throughout the customer experience.

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