Top Tips from Sales Engineering Experts

Neil Mclean
November 12, 2022

We gave SEs the spotlight with our SE interview series. We spoke with top members of the presales community and they shared their favorite tips and tricks for new and experienced SEs.

Read on to learn how to step up your presales skills and upcoming trends to expect for presales.

Tips from presales experts

During our SE series, we interviewed some of the most prominent presales leaders. Hear is what each so far had to say on on how SEs and SCs can level up.

Center questions around the “magic 3”

John Care, an author, speaker, and professional trainer at Mastering Technical Sales, emphasized the art of patience in his interview.

“Although you might love your technology and you really want to talk about it, always take the time to pause for a second or two before someone asks a question. Or ask one more question before you start diving in.”

Care suggests that SEs shape their questions around what he calls “the magic 3” - time, people, or money.

Pulling out those details from the customer allows you to craft a much more relevant demo, showing that your product can solve the customer’s specific business challenges.

Avoid the familiarity trap

Kerry Sokalsky, President and Founder of Presales Mastery, warns SEs of falling into what he’s deemed the “familiarity trap.”

It’s easy for SEs to forget that they’ve already mastered the product they’re demoing. They are intimately familiar with every feature and don’t take the time to lay the foundation for their audience. And often, they underexplain concepts that prospects don’t know.

“The easiest example I can give is the use of jargon. Your audience probably won’t ask for clarification because they don’t want to seem ignorant or naive in front of their peers or boss. So, unfortunately, the overall messaging that the term is a part of falls flat.”

Sokalsky tells SEs to frame their presentation like they’re giving it to their grandparents to ensure their message gets across. That probably involves adding more stopping points for questions, changing their tone, and reducing the use of acronyms.

Create meaningful connections

For Chris White, founder and CEO of Tech Sales Advisors, presales is all about creating meaningful connections.

“First and foremost, people buy from people. So we need to be human in our jobs and we need to be authentic.”

White tells SEs to concentrate on cultivating an engaging two-way conversation. People don’t like to be sold to, talked down to, or talked at. SEs and SCs can demonstrate their commitment to finding the best solutions for their clients by showing an interest in prospects and their needs.

White also reminds SEs that they must work harder to capture an audience’s attention over a video call. They should make an effort to look straight at the camera, speak slowly, and offer sincere help and advice.

Embrace cross-pollination

Our interview with David Hayes, CEO of Demo Gorilla, centered around the idea of cross-pollination. In his mind, SEs can learn a lot from each other, but they can learn even more from employees in other departments.

He tells SEs and SCs to get involved in company hack-a-thons. In his organization, “This got [sales engineers] really engaged and proud of their work – many showed it off on LinkedIn.”

Hack days give SEs a chance to flex their skills and build rapport across engineering and product teams. Plus, participating in hack days makes it much more likely that product will prioritize the bugs or enhancements SEs request.

Another way to cross-pollinate is to watch demo recordings of other SEs, PMs, or CSMs.

“Someone always knows some aspect of the product better than you do. And it’s easy to get complacent when you know you know the product way better than your AE.”

Get inspired by the great one-liners people use or the special flair they bring to their demos.

Focus on industry and intent

Tony Frencetic is a Senior Manager of Solutions Consulting at Thomson Reuters, urges SEs to focus on the industry they are supporting.

“The more you craft needs analysis-type questions around what’s important to the customer, the better demos go.”

Francetic passes along that same advice to the sales team to help them refine their qualification stages to match prospect intent and readiness.

He also encourages people from non-technical backgrounds to get involved with presales. In fact, he calls his the “Island of Misfit Toys” because of their unique previous experiences.

“I’ve hired a few teachers over the years, and they’ve been amazing – they are an untapped resource in our industry.”

In our five interviews, we noticed several common themes. Below, we detail three of those topics and share how they impact the presales experience.

Growing resources and budget

Several of our interviewees mentioned their excitement for the growing budget companies are willing to spend on presales tools. A few years ago, there weren’t many presales solutions available, and it wasn’t clear how the ones that did exist would actually improve the demo experience.

But now, Kerry Sokalsky explains, “the value prop for these solutions is much more relevant and obvious.”

And it’s bolstered by the research of major institutions. Experts at McKinsey found that companies with strong presales capabilities consistently achieve win rates of 40–50% in new business and 80-90% in renewal business.

Chris White also noticed how this focus on new tooling has rapidly increased.

“[When writing] the Presales Buyer’s Guide about a year ago we identified and interviewed over 20 vendors that have brought new solutions to this space.” He adds, “It’s a great time to be an SE – sales leaders and CROs are recognizing the value of presales professionals.”

Demo automation tooling

Getting rid of the harbor demo was echoed in almost every discussion – mostly as a way to check activities off solution engineers’ to-do lists.

As Chris White says, “It’s great to have software to take some monotonous and tedious tasks off presales team members’ plates, such as the introductory demo. Those can be automated through software like Navattic and sent to customers through email.”

John Care also mentioned automation

“Demos are a great proof point, but you still need to do discovery. You can’t hope to hit the target unless you paint it first. And there are a ton of companies helping automate certain parts of the job, streamlining demos, filling out RFPs, or tracking key KPIs about the SE org as a whole.”

Kerry Sokalsky also points out that G2 introduced a presales category recently and that he’s “seen more organizations adopt [presales tools] wholeheartedly.”

Tony Frencetic chimed in as well, saying that automation can cut down the back and forth with a prospect. “If you think about the customer journey, they might start through a BDR or downloaded a whitepaper. Then they’ll have a few touchpoints with a salesperson. By the time they talk to an SC, they’re in the third or fourth iteration of learning and hearing about the product.”

Everyone emphasized the need to maximize the amount of time SEs can spend on high-value activities like discovery and deep dive demos.

Presales getting more recognition and say in the sales process

Another positive subject that came up in the SE interviews is that presales is finally getting more influence in the go-to-market motion.

John Care shared, “The presales profession is getting far more respect than when I started doing it 35 years ago. You can tell because of the investment in this area. There have been nearly half a billion VC dollars going to this industry.”

And with that new investment came more agency. SEs build their own relationships with prospects – something that only AEs were allowed to do before.

Tony Frencetic says, “This year, I’m seeing SCs recognized as an influencer in the business. [Before] most companies took for granted all the talent solutions consultants have and the insights they gain from prospects. But now I’m seeing more attention being given to SCs as an influencer, not just as a component of sales.”

David Hayes is concentrating on forming more cohesive pods with SDRs, AEs, SEs, and CSMs all working together, collaboratively.

“Even if the AE is the highest leverage person in terms of when the deal closes, there’s a reason why there are other people in the pod.” He continues, “The SE is just as important in getting it closed. It doesn’t matter how many golf metaphors the AE uses if the product does not shine. The team should be operating as peers.”

Top resources for presales professionals

Books

Nearly all of the presales professionals we’ve spoken to referenced outstanding books that changed the trajectory of their career. Some of these books include:

  • Mastering Technical Sales - Written by John Care and Chris Daly, this book serves as a manual for the 3+1 rules of SE Leadership.
  • 6 Habits of Highly Effective Salespeople - Written by Christ White, this book outlines some of the most common mistakes made by sales engineers and how to overcome them.
  • Presales Buyers Guide - Written by Kerry Sokalsky and Chris White, this guide evaluates 19 vendors focusing on solving challenges faced by modern presales organizations.
  • The Social Sales Engineer - Written by Patrick Pissang, this resource helps sales engineers and consultants differentiate themselves with their professional brand.
  • Great Demo! - Written by Peter Cohan, Great Demo! is a classic presales resource, teaching SEs and SCs how to increase their chances of closing business through informative, memorable demos.

Groups

A wonderful thing about the presales industry is that virtually everyone is willing, able, and excited to help others grow. Presales experts recommended several online and in-person groups that connect SEs with each other.

  • We the Sales Engineers - This active group helps aspiring SEs at all levels improve their skills, make more money, and be happier at work.

  • Presales Collective - The Presales Collective is a global community with over 20,000 experienced presales professionals who can expand each others’ resources, knowledge, and network.

  • SENY - Sales Engineers of New York is the premier close-knit community for sales engineers, solutions engineers, and solution consultants in New York City.

Solution engineers and consultants are only just starting to gain the recognition they deserve, and we’re excited to be a part of the presales revolution.

Check out all of our SE series on our blog or on our YouTube channel.

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