Presales leaders are familiar with the same story.  The business wants to add quota carrying sales reps, yet no one is sure how many presales team members need to be hired to support them.  Add in multiple product lines, complex sales processes, new geographies, and the challenge escalates.

Unfortunately, planning is typically driven by little more than a cost conscious spreadsheet.  What is the smallest number of presales resources we can hire to support the maximum number of sales reps?

So why are so many companies asking their presales teams to support four, five, even ten sales reps per presales team member while others have two presales team members per one sales rep?

Why are companies asking a single presales team member to be an expert in the technology, the industry, and the business value model across all product lines while others have four to five presales roles within the same team?

It’s because businesses are unclear how to quantify the work and impact of presales while gathering the data needed to make the most important decisions when it comes to growth efficiency:  What roles, skills, and activities lead to the biggest deals in the shortest time frame at the lowest cost?

We’re going to tackle this challenge by outlining “The 3 Presales Metrics That Matter”:  

  1. Presales Opportunity Outcome
  2. Presales Activity Distribution
  3. Presales Support Ratio

The following series of articles will go in depth into each metric, how to use them to make the right organizational decisions, and how to measure them over time.  No presales team should operate without them.

Metric 1: Presales Opportunity Outcome

Many companies witness over 50% of their presales time being spent on opportunities that are poorly qualified, too early in the buying process, or have poor product-to-prospect fit.  Layer in a growing sales team with limited experience at the company and presales begins to be stretched.

Understanding what happens to opportunities after a presales team member gets involved will help the business understand where problem areas exist in the sales process, as well as protect the time of presales which will ultimately lead to better growth efficiency.

In order to track and trend this metric over time, it is critical to ensure your business is in a position to capture every team member that works an opportunity, the date they became part of the opportunity team, and whether the deal was closed/won, closed/lost, or qualified out.  The latter being an opportunity that was not lost to a competitor, but instead resulted in no decision. The metric trend will look like this:

It is easy to understand the opportunity outcome after a presales team member has engaged in the trend above.  The illustrated trend is common in an organization with many new sales reps. Things were going well in July with little wasted time and few competitive losses, but when a wave of new sales reps came online, presales was driven into poorly qualified opportunities leading to a spike of wasted effort in August.  In September, things are getting better, but it’s going to take the right adjustments by the business to minimize presales time spent on qualified out opportunities with a return to prior win rates against competitors.

For the utmost rigor, systematically capturing the reason behind the qualified out opportunities will enable data driven retrospective analysis.  If opportunities are qualifying out because of a lack of catalyst you may do something very different as a business than if opportunities are qualifying out because of poor political alignment or general unresponsiveness.  

When organizations begin tracking this critical presales metric they will most likely witness a staggering percentage of presales engagements ending in qualified out opportunities.  This wasted effort by presales creates intense friction in building a business with best-in-class growth efficiency. In order to drive initiatives internally to rectify the problems, this metric becomes the central discussion point and reference to measure progress against.

Tracking this metric will also allow presales leadership to further drill down to understand team performance for compensation, leaderboards, and at risk employees.  Due to this metric being an aggregated measure of individual team member opportunity outcomes, leadership can easily understand the following as an added benefit:

  • What amount of bookings did a single team member or group of team members influence?
  • How many opportunities are being supported and subsequently won or lost by a single team member or group of team members?
  • Are certain team members or regions winning more often than others?  If so, who are the individuals and their skills that are driving the positive outcomes?
  • Are certain sales team members or regions creating more wasted time than others?    

In addition to analyzing the data to find the weak points in the sales process, there is an additional strategy which is highly effective in ensuring presales engages on the right opportunities so the business can scale — Presales Team Member Requests.  Creating a formal process for presales to be requested and subsequently assigned will begin to change the company culture for the better. Presales time will be valued and not seen as an unlimited commodity.

Presales leadership will also be in a position to scrutinize opportunities which are requesting presales support to ensure the sales process is being followed and proper qualification is being done by the sales rep in the early stages of the deal.  Further importance is placed on clean opportunity details being captured by sales in the CRM to allow the presales leader to make the appropriate assignment. Sales management will be thrilled to witness an increase of clean data from their teams as well as better visibility into pipeline as fewer “favors” or opportunities being managed outside of the CRM will exist.  

But it doesn’t end with Presales.  Many organizations require assistance from engineering, product management, security, etc. in order to work and close opportunities.  A similar cultural shift is encouraged to expand to any team member who is supporting a sale, regardless of department. Time is valuable and operational maturity is required to be successful.  

Metric 2: Presales Activity Distribution

In Part 1, we introduced “The 3 Presales Metrics That Matter”:

  1. Presales Opportunity Outcome
  2. Presales Activity Distribution
  3. Presales Support Ratio

Here, we’re going to focus on Metric 2:  Presales Activity Distribution; how to use the metric to make the right organizational decisions, and how to measure it over time.  

Few roles have work activity as diverse as presales.  Team members are frequently called upon to configure software, integrate with third party partners, and customize demonstrations to tell a desired story.  An hour later they may be in front of a Fortune 500 client on the whiteboard, describing system architecture or business process transformation. Later in the day they’re creating presentations to help close a deal or act as leave behinds.  On the side, they’re squeezing in ROI analysis to justify the solution cost against a customers internal rate of return or net present value. Only to be handed an RFP the next morning with an inordinate amount of use case questions specific to a prospects industry.

With such an assortment of required skills and competencies it’s hard to believe that companies continue to associate presales with a single role:  “Sales Engineer,” “Solution Consultant,” etc. An individual extremely difficult to hire who is adept at handling a diverse workload. As companies expand, acquire new products, begin to specialize in different vertical markets, and seek to win large deals, the effectiveness of the presales team begins to diminish.    

This is why Presales Activity Distribution is the most important metric to track to understand: ideal presales team roles, headcount required to support the business, and common patterns that lead to closed/won opportunities.  Here is what it will look like over time:

It is important to highlight that the “Type” of activities may be dependent on a particular business.  In the illustration above we’re looking at an array of typical activities that range from customer facing, to internal, to unrelated to any opportunity at all.

The activity distribution is the cumulative contribution of each activity type out of 100%, trended over time — weeks, months, quarters, etc.  Activities are specific to an individual team member. They have a start date, duration, and may be associated with opportunities, accounts, or nothing at all.  Grouping duration of activity type across all individuals in the data set will yield the visual above.

For companies with a generalist “Sales Engineer” or “Solution Consultant” role you will now be in a position to start driving a conversation around how the presales team should begin to evolve into multiple roles under a single team umbrella.

  • Large percentage of activity spent on building demonstrations?  Potential solutions are hiring a Demo Officer with supporting team to manage all environments while providing resources necessary to aid in complex customization.  Product enhancement requests may also make it easier to demonstrate the product. Without a reference back to time spent on demonstration build activity it is nearly impossible to make the case internally.  
  • Increasing percentage of activity spent on business value modeling?  A straightforward solution may be to propose a “Value Engineering” role under presales which acts as an overlay across multiple geographies.  An alternative strategy would be to begin collecting anonymous, system generated, data from your user base to quantify value. This will allow the business to bring the value discussion into the sales process earlier without the need for complex financial analysis later in the opportunity.
  • Inordinate amount of non-opportunity activity?  Depending on your solution set, presales may be requested to support account management activities from the Customer Success team or to engage with Professional Services teams during deployments to ensure the customer realizes the value sold during the sales process.  The above activities may be necessary for your business to succeed, but the current team structures at the company may not be optimized to deliver the desired outcome by solely leaning on presales.

Prior to tracking any activity, it is important to spend time selecting the appropriate activity types in order to draw meaningful conclusions around optimal presales team makeup and responsibility.  A few of our favorites include:

  • Demo Build – Helps make the case for a demo build team or product enhancements
  • Enablement – Helps make the case for effective sales enablement
  • Meeting Preparation – Helps make the case for focused product marketing assets
  • Presentation – This is what a field presales team should seek to maximize
  • Value Analysis – Helps make the case for a Value Engineering team or product enhancements
  • Internal Meeting – Helps make the case for a culture change around team collaboration
  • Learning – Helps make the case for dedicated presales enablement

Many more activity types are out there and interesting to trend as part of the Presales Activity Distribution metric.  Helping the team and business understand the importance of the data and how it will drive changes across the company is critical to get buy in and internal support.

METRIC VARIANTS

Further constraining and slicing the Presales Activity Distribution metric will illustrate additional compelling trends for the business:

VARIANT 1:

If you group the individual activity data against the context in which they were completed, you will get the following:

This is a critical picture as certain activities such as delivering presentations, building demonstrations, etc. may not always occur in the context of a sales opportunity.  Presales team members may be supporting Account Managers or Customer Success Managers. Presales team members may also be working to enable partners or resellers which are not directly tied to any customer or sales opportunity.  

Aside from aiding presales, this data will alert the company to areas of opportunity in other parts of the business.  If presales is working to support implementations or account management activities post sale, the business may need to enable or restructure those groups or expand the responsibilities of the presales function with appropriate headcount and compensation structures.

VARIANT 2:

If you group the individual activity data by opportunity and filter only for closed/won or closed/lost, you will get the following:

Now you are in a position to understand how much effort is being expended to win or subsequently lose opportunities.  This insight can be used in a variety of ways. First, the business may wish to investigate the activities related to won deals vs. lost deals to identify patterns which may highlight the best presales selling tactics.  The opportunities under investigation can be further sliced by geography or market segment as the steps required to consistently win may vary across international boundaries or size of company.

Second, presales leadership gets a much better picture into the effort it takes to support and win deals in each segment — information which will directly impact the proposed presales support ratio and headcount allocation.  If the business can validate that a more involved presales process leads to larger deals, more consistently, then you may wind up investing in more than one presales headcount to support a sales rep if the economics make sense.

DATA CAPTURE

While the insight into the business using the Presales Activity Distribution metric is extremely valuable, the ability to capture this data remains the biggest challenge.  Inputting activity into a system after it has occurred can be a massive time sink. It is difficult to remember what happened, when, on what opportunity, and for how long. The act of entering the data manually further exacerbates the issue.  

Tool sets which synchronize calendar invites are fraught with the same difficulties as many important activities to track such as building a demo, prepping for a meeting, and building an ROI model are not calendar events and would be a burden to create them.  The only solution which leads to user adoption and can produce this critical metric is one which can capture activity and duration in the flow of the activity in which it occurs.

Providing a seamless way to collect activity as the work occurs, coupled with detailed explanations to the team regarding the reasons the data is being collected, is critical to get the widespread adoption necessary to populate this critical metric.  When the presales team begins to split into multiple purpose built functions with greater work-life balance and success within the company, every team member will be glad they did.

Metric 3: Presales Support Ratio

In Part 1, we introduced “The 3 Presales Metrics That Matter”:

  1. Presales Opportunity Outcome
  2. Presales Activity Distribution
  3. Presales Support Ratio

In Part 2, we explored the most insightful yet most difficult metric to gather: Presales Activity Distribution.

Now, we’re bringing it all together with Metric 3:  Presales Support Ratio; how to use the metric to make the right organizational decisions, and how to measure it over time.  

Presales teams are unique in that they’re required in order to close business, but are simultaneously viewed as a cost which must be minimized.  As companies search for ways to increase profitability and growth efficiency, presales is frequently a highlight of the discussion. Presales team members are expensive due to their skill set, yet add no direct quota capacity to the business.  Even post-sale Account Management or Customer Success teams can be directly related to key financial metrics such as net retention, churn, add-on bookings, etc. This puts presales in a tough position. A group that is required to close business, which is looked upon by the business as a cost to be minimized.  

This tension between presales and the business comes full circle with Metric 3:  Presales Support Ratio. When we discussed Metric 1: Presales Opportunity Outcome, we identified a systematic way to understand where top of the funnel issues were hiding in order to ensure the presales team only worked truly qualified opportunities.  Metric 2: Presales Activity Distribution then allowed us to understand the mechanics of the selling motion, and which diverse set of presales activities led to the most efficient closing strategies across various market segments. Both metrics were in acknowledgement that presales needs to use data and analytics to run as lean as possible, as they are a cost center for sales.  

So now, as a presales leader, you use team member requests to control your opportunity staffing.  Presales activities are being captured and analyzed to craft the right team structure and selling competencies.  Now the business wants to double the sales team in all market segments and the question at hand becomes how many presales team members do we need to hire to support the business?

Unfortunately, most organizations do the following: out of the hypothetical 100 new account executives to be hired in the mid-market and 20 new account executives to be hired in the enterprise, the CFO has approved a ratio of 4AE:1SE in the mid-market and 2AE:1SE in the enterprise.  Why? Well, that’s because the business heard other companies were doing it.

As a presales leader, after controlling resourcing with requests and measuring activity, who is to say you can’t support the 100 mid-market account executives with a 10AE:1SE ratio as long as you hire a demo build team who runs a 20AE:1SSE ratio?  Or that due to the rigor of the enterprise, if you ran a 1AE:1SE ratio with a value engineering team in a 10AE:1VSE ratio, you could book deals twice as large?

The challenge is no one is using data to make the decision on ratio. They’re lacking Metric 3:  Presales Support Ratio. The true measure of how many account executives the presales team can support at any given moment.  Here is what it looks like:

A seemingly simple outcome is nuanced in how it is tracked.  To calculate the Presales Support Ratio metric, you will first want to ensure all team members who touch opportunities are associated in the context of their role (i.e. Sales Engineer vs. Industry Specialist).  Then, we are only concerned with looking at open opportunities to get an understanding of how many deals can be supported, in flight, at any given moment. Lastly, we want to organize the data to count the unique opportunity owners, to get a sense of how many individuals can be supported, not just the number of deals.  Remember, the business will say “we’re hiring 100 more account executives,” not “we’re trying to work 100 more deals,” so ensuring you determine the count of unique opportunity owners is critical for this metric.

Interpreting the example in the image above, we’re in a position to definitively say that we are running a 1.5AE:1SE ratio.  The data also shows us that some Sales Engineers can support more unique opportunity owners than others, meaning that we have a path to getting the ratio to 2AE:1SE if we can train up the others or better distribute the workload by separating presales regions from sales regions.

From the image, it’s also clear that Sales Support Engineering (i.e. demo building) and Industry Expertise are necessary, and can support higher ratios of AE:SE.  Now the business is in a position to operate based on data, not assumption, and can accurately budget and forecast the presales hiring required to support account executive hiring.

All done?  Not quite. The next question presales leadership will be faced with is how can we increase the ratios.  Presales is a cost after all, and doing more with less is on the mind of anyone working the P&L. This is an opportunity to put all three presales metrics that matter to work at the same time.

When the business asks the above, they’re really trying to figure out how to generate more bookings per presales headcount, not necessarily driving the support ratios up across each team member type.  Three strategies are highly effective to make this possible:

STRATEGY 1:  MODIFY SELLING TACTICS

Referring back to Metric 1:  Presales Opportunity Outcome, we need to identify the segments of the business that are creating wasted presales effort.  This manifests itself in opportunities touched by presales which have subsequently qualified out.

Many times this occurs as the prospect is just not ready to engage.  They’re early on in their buying process, gathering information, and understanding the scope of the initiative they’re trying to solve internally.  This creates tension as this buyer wants to understand your solution even though they may be quarters away from a real sales cycle. You may also find, that after learning a bit more about the prospect that your product is just not a fit for their initiative.  

Addressing this unique challenge without burning presales time and energy can be accomplished through interactive and guided product “test drives.”  Not a trial, but a way for the prospect to get their hands on the solution with in-product guidance to ensure the company positioning and value comes across.  Sales keeps control of their buying cycle, the prospect gains a deeper understanding in order to engage more deeply with sales, all while presales spends time working other, more qualified opportunities.  

To pull this off companies will need help from product management to ensure the solution can be cloned with mock data sets which tell a compelling story, while also embedding or building technology to provide intuitive and engaging guided flows for the prospects.  

With Metric 1 by your side, presales leadership will be in a position to make the case.

What about qualified opportunities?  They eventual result in a win or loss, but the method of the sale may not be optimized.  Here is where we will lean on Metric 2: Presales Activity Distribution to take a different look at the world.  If the presales team is able to track activity during the deal cycle, we can create a new variant of Metric 2, which will show us, on average, what type of presales activities are accomplished in which sales stages in order to get deals done.

Here is what it will look like for closed/won opportunities:

Here is what it will look like for closed/lost opportunities:

Above, we can see the type of activities the presales team accomplishes at different stages of the sales cycle.  The example here highlights a quick insight. Deals that the company loses tend to start out as RFPs which then result in time consuming custom demos.  Deals the company tend to win start out with detailed discovery and an agreement on the value the solution can provide prior to any deep demonstration. Sound familiar?  Use this data to take the conversation from gut feel to analytical truth.

STRATEGY 2:  OPPORTUNITY TARGETING

Not all deals are created equal.  Some have better product-to-prospect fit.  Others have strong political alignment. Others are in your sweet spot industry while others are on the edges.  If the company is going to book more per presales headcount, the team and company need to focus on the opportunities with the highest probabilities of closure.  

Innovations in data science are making this possible.  Scraping the key characteristics of opportunities and scoring them to provide immediate visibility into where the priorities may lie.  The challenge with existing solutions is their reliance on only account executive generated information. The real story of the opportunities lies with presales.  The unbiased point of view from the team member who most likely has a much longer tenure than the new account executive. Systematically capturing the collective consciousness of presales in a data set which is easy for any team to adopt is required for the most insightful opportunity scoring.

STRATEGY 3:  PRODUCT RELEASE PRIORITY

Often overlooked is the impact strong product-market fit can have for the field when it comes to closing bigger deals and doing it faster.  Many presales teams spend an inordinate amount of time customizing, positioning, or dancing their way around product gaps which create friction in the sales process.  Yet, most companies lack a robust way to enable collaboration between the field and product. Product requests from the field wind up as anecdotal stories in a slack channel, or a littering of issues in a PLM system like Jira by Atlassian.   

Putting structure around what the field is hearing, so it can be tied to metrics such as how often the field hears the need, the severity of the need (i.e. is it a deal breaker or not), the dollars at stake for the business, and the associated industry, will provide the structure the product management team needs to make a decision quickly and then build the right solution.  

Taking The First Step

We built Hero by Vivun based on our experience working with and building sales, presales, and product teams at companies of all stages of maturity.  Hero by Vivun was designed to help presales teams operationalize the strategies outlined above and more. Contact sales at vivun.co to learn more or watch a demo on the Salesforce AppExchange.