If you're selling a complex product (technology or software) then the quality of your sales engineers / solution consultants / presales team is vital to gaining the trust of your clients, explaining your value add and winning competitive sales.
We often get asked what's the perfect profile for a Presales Solution Consultant? What should you be looking for when you are interviewing?
The Perfect Profile
Our view is that the perfect profile would be someone who is equally skilled in three areas:
a deep, working knowledge of your product or service and, ideally, experience of implementing the product (so they can talk about the go-live journey and the change management impact). They should have enough knowledge of the product that they don't become 'dangerous' in front of the customer. That is where they promise the product can do something it can't (or can't profitably be developed).
Industry & Value Knowledge:
especially where you are selling to a specific vertical or industry (retail banking perhaps), you need to be able to speak the industry 'language', know what's happening in that industry and know what users and decision makers perceive as value (individual or company).
Presentation & People Skills:
not just the ability to stand-up and present the solution or product in its best light to an audience but real 'people' and social skills; someone who will be likeable and trusted by the client and feels comfortable taking on 'difficult' conversations with the client.
In the pie chart, the perfect profile is 33% Product Knowledge, 33% Industry & Value Knowledge and 33% (34%) Presentation & People skills.
To recruit someone who has had the time and experience to develop a perfectly balanced profile, that person would have to have already been doing the job for some time (so is already in your team). The pressure to reduce the 'time to value' (from recruitment and on-boarding to actively supporting close-able deals) leads to some of the large software authors recruiting direct from their partner / reseller network (partners who are selling and implementing the same product in smaller clients or into niche industries or marketplaces).
As it can take 3 to 6 months on-the-job training to get up-to-speed in some complex products, you can see the attraction. Unfortunately, too much recruiting directly from partners penalises the partners who won't want to invest in Presales skills training; eventually leading to a reduced ability to win deals which hurts both the partner and ultimately the larger author.
The Imbalanced 'Real World' Profile
In the real world, its almost impossible to hire someone with the three skills in equal proportions.
If, as a Presales recruiter, you know you'll have to hire applicants who have an imbalanced skill set then what should you be looking for.
The most typical profile recruited into Presales is someone who has come from your product implementation, consulting or support team. This usually means a vast amount of knowledge of your product (60%) but less developed presentation skills (20%) and industry knowledge (20%). Make sure you invest in soft skills training and allow lots of time for dry-runs and shadowing more experienced Presales staff.
Recruiting someone who's already in Presales but at a competitor can be a good strategy because it shouldn't take them too long to learn your product and they should have, at least, moderately developed presentation and value skills. One danger with these recruits in their early career can be their confusion on the capabilities of your product versus their previous product. We've seen Presales staff promise functionality that only exists in your competitors product, with very painful consequences.
A good rule is that if you recruit someone who has two of the three skill sets you can train the third.
Sometimes it can be a good policy to recruit from your users. They will be extremely credible talking to clients but may need lots of product training and certainly won't have had much experience in difficult presentation scenarios.
The Sweet Spot, your 'A' Players
Of course the aim of all this recruitment, on-boarding, and constant soft skills and knowledge development is to build an 'A' player; someone who hits the 'sweet spot' with their mix of skills and competencies. They're the ones who've got trust, credibility and demonstrate empathy in front of potential clients. You already know who these people are because they're the ones your sales team constantly request and they've got 110% utilisation.
Thanks (and apologies) to the brilliant Russ Cram for the original idea which involved a 'wonky' Frisbee.