The Role of Pre-Sales in Customer Success (Part 1)

The Role of Pre-Sales in Customer Success (Part 1)

The following piece is a collaboration between Mergeable’s CEO, Edward Czech, and Valuize Consulting’s CEO, Ross Fulton. In Part 1 they dig into the role of pre-sales to determine if they’re being overlooked in the age of Customer Success. Part 2 will be dedicated to providing you with some tips for implementing an effective customer success strategy across pre- and post-sales. This series will be followed up with a webinar on the topic. Register here to reserve your spot.

Pre-sales teams play a crucial role in not only acquiring the customer but also ensuring that the customer realizes value quickly from their investment and, ultimately, becomes a successful customer with a high lifetime value.

Yet, in today’s customer success driven (and dependent!) software industry, the pre-sales organization (sales engineers, solution architects, field engineers, etc.) is perhaps the most underserved group when it comes to headcount, support, and software.

Is this justified? Are many software companies missing a huge opportunity for their business and customers when it comes to more effectively leveraging pre-sales teams to drive customer success?

For additional insight, Mergeable and Valuize reached out to some leading sales engineers, solution architects, and solution consultants to learn more about what pre-sales means to them. We asked three questions:

  1. How would you define the pre-sales role?
  2. Why is it important?
  3. In the age of Customer Success, do you think the role of pre-sales gets overshadowed?

Defining Pre-Sales

First, we’ll try and define the functional role of pre-sales. What we consistently heard is that ‘pre-sales’ is a solution-oriented job with elements of sales, product management, and customer success.

According to Roy Scheer of ServiceNow, pre-sales are the “subject-matter experts” who can shift between a ”very business-oriented consultation to a deeply technical and tactical consultation”.

George Pollard, Technical Account Manager for the CloudHealth team at VMware, believes pre-sales should be the “fountain of knowledge and a source of truth” whose core responsibility is to partner with the end user to identify the key challenges and start developing a long-term solution.

At the core of the pre-sales role is the software solution and some kind of plan or prescription for long-term customer success through the adoption of the software. We break the role down into four specific responsibilities:

  1. Diagnose. Discovery and qualification skills are the foundational elements of an effective pre-sales person. However, these elements should not only be focused on assessing the prospect’s fit against the Ideal Buyer Profile. Discovery and qualification must also be applied to the prospect’s fit against the Ideal Customer Profile. This increases the likelihood to buy AND the likelihood to succeed with the software solution being offered.
  2. Prescribe. Only after the pre-sales team has validated that the prospect fits the Ideal Customer Profile can you then begin to prescribe outcomes and the solution for a customer to achieve those desired outcomes. The outcomes and solution prescribed should A) contribute towards the achievement of the strategic goals diagnosed in the Diagnose stage as important to the prospect and B) be efficiently and effectively deliverable by the post-sale customer success team
  3. Quantify. The value of the prescribed outcome(s) should be clearly embedded and quantifiable in the prescription provided by pre-sales. Through the diagnosis work already performed and ongoing discovery by pre-sales with the prospect, pre-sales works to quantify the current state of the prospect and the achievable future state should the prospect make an investment. For example, process A for the prospect costs X today but will cost 25% less once the prescribed solution is adopted.
  4. Sign Off. The prescription of outcomes and solutions that drive quantifiable value for the customer are pointless if the customer doesn’t agree with them. These prescriptions serve as the baseline against which the customer should be measuring their value realization (ROI) from the software product. Obtaining the customer’s (starting with the customer’s exec sponsor) sign off on this baseline is the final milestone for pre-sales and is key for the successful retention and expansion of the customer.

The Importance of Pre-Sales

We can all agree that a well run pre-sales organizations can have a lasting impact on the customer’s perception of, and attitude toward your business, oftentimes having a significant influence on the customer during the renewal period. It’s the first “proper interaction the customer has with the product/solution so the pre-sales group sets the standard and tone for the technical support and engagement they will receive” throughout their lifecycle.

There is a nice contrast that the pre-sales team provides a prospective customer. In a complex, multi-step sales cycle with several decision makers sales is unquestionably a full-time job, so making the distinction between these roles provides the end user with a definitive point person for business and tech. The sales rep is very good at opening the door to an account, identifying the closing steps and moving it forward, and ultimately the negotiation. Furthermore, the motivation of the sales team is crystal clear, facilitate the transfer of money for a good or service.

Counterbalancing this, and swayed less by the terms of a deal, pre-sales teams act as the domain experts, acutely aware of the problem and potential solution. To do this effectively, the pre-sales resources should be focused on developing their knowledge of the industry, use cases, and product on a daily basis. The truth about their solution should never be tainted by quotas. As George Pollard so eloquently stated, “most of the time you’ve only got your first impression to work from, so you want to ensure that you strike perfectly every time. To do that you need experts in the field who can interface with a customer at the right level.”

We break this down into four key reasons that the pre-sales team is valuable:

  1. Help to accelerate the sales cycle.
  2. Increases the chances of the prospect making a bigger upfront investment.
  3. Shortens time-to-first-value for the new customer which is critical to the ongoing retention of the customer.
  4. Enables a predictable path toward the vendor’s expansion of the customer’s value realization and therefore LTV.

**Points 1 and 2 are important for any business seeking growth. Points 3 and 4 are important for any subscription-based business seeking sustainable growth.

Pre-Sales vs. Customer Success?

We often get asked, should we be allocating more of our resources — time, money, and people — to our pre-sales or customer success teams? The short answer is… probably, both but we understand why so much attention is on investing in Customer Success strategy. With that said, let’s determine if the focus on Customer Success strategy is wrongly (albeit unintentionally) diminishing the role of the pre-sales team.

First things first, let’s all admit that pre-sales teams are already living under the shadow of the front-line sales teams…the sales reps. It is fact that a sale is not ‘won’ until that signed contract/PO is executed. The signing of the contract is perhaps the most emotionally human and vulnerable milestone of the entire customer acquisition process for the vendor and even the customer. Therefore as the role/team that is accountable for and most highly incentivized milestone that the entire organization, especially the leadership, is emotionally connected to, the sales rep is inevitably going to cast the largest shadow.

However, as software companies adopt subscription revenue models as standard, the shadow in which pre-sales teams are often lost is increasingly being cast by customer success teams. Software companies are realizing that the renewal and the expansion of a customer is as important as the initial sale.

Conclusion

The signing of the renewal PO or upsell/x-sell PO is becoming just as emotive a milestone as the PO signed at the point of customer acquisition. Customer success teams are increasingly becoming the role accountable and most incentivized to achieve these renewal and expansion milestones. So the investment into customer success teams grows. In the most successful SaaS companies, customer success is beginning to overshadow sales, not just presales. This should continue as a trend across all companies.

That said, we don’t believe Customer Success strategy should necessarily be a functional role inside of an organization but more importantly, a methodology or practice that a company adopts across the customer’s lifecycle. Pre-sales teams play a critical role in Customer Success strategy and a light must be shone on this fact and this team.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore how you can implement an effective strategy across the customer’s entire lifecycle by using data more effectively and eliminating the silos that exist between teams.

Want to learn more? Mergeable and Valuize are hosting a webinar to explore this topic even further and answer any questions that you might have. You can head here to register and reserve your spot.

Mergeable built the world’s first Customer Lifecycle Management solution that allows technology companies and MSPs to accelerate sales, improve customer experience and reduce churn through customized account management and predictive analytics. And do it at scale.

Mergeable’s CEO, Edward Czech, has spent almost a decade at the forefront of business development, sales, product management, and customer success for leading enterprise startups including Actifio and CloudHealth (acquired by VMware). Most recently, he worked directly with Fortune 500 senior IT executives as the General Manager of the Velocity Network (General Catalyst & CRV).

Valuize Consulting enables B2B SaaS companies to drive sustainable growth by unifying customer acquisition, adoption and expansion strategies and technologies. The Valuize team are experts in subscription unit economics, B2B software sales and customer success strategy and customer lifecycle technologies including SFDC, Gainsight and Zendesk.

Valuize’s CEO, Ross G. D. Fulton, has 16+ years in software go-to-market strategy, sales engineering and customer success leadership roles, Ross has led on both sides and astride the wall that separates Sales and Customer Success in many software companies.