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Driving Efficiency & Avoiding Burnout: Revisiting A Conversation with John Care


In June, John Care, PreSales expert and Chief Content Officer of Mastering Technical Sales, joined the Xpert Community for a discussion on how to foster operational efficiency, process overhaul, and team adaptability.

With the macroeconomic shifts of the past year, PreSales leaders have been asked to “Work Smarter and Harder” with less or the same headcount, budget, time, resources, etc.

In order to adapt, John recommends 3 major ways PreSales leaders can protect SE time and scale capacity:

  • Empower SEs to say no
  • Leverage automation where SEs have less impact
  • Audit PreSales processes to remove areas of waste and innovate to improve them

Empower SEs to Say No

In hard times, “Do More with Less” demands fall disproportionately on PreSales. Given their breadth and depth of expertise, Sales Engineers become the organization of last resort, called in to supplement and fix the efforts of other departments. 

SEs need to be empowered to decline out-of-scope work if they are overtaxed. PreSales leaders must model this behavior and encourage individual team members to deny ancillary requests if their customer-facing workload is overwhelming.

John recommends Quit by Annie Duke as a useful resource. He has also given trainings like this one on teaching SEs to negotiate and own their own time, rather than be at the beck and call of other teams.

Automate to Get Time Back

In John’s experience, SE burnout correlates with time spent in “Superhero Mode” compensating for other teams. A key offender, Sales, whose bad behavior can include inadequate discovery, jumping too early to demos, and relying too heavily on PreSales to customize solutions for less-qualified buyers.

PreSales teams should leverage automation in areas where their involvement has less revenue impact, saving their time for strategic interactions. This can take different forms but aim to enable greater self-sufficiency for either Sales team members or buyers.

With demos consuming a disproportionate amount of PreSales effort, demo automation solutions often represent the lowest-barrier-to-entry opportunity for automation. For example, SEs can create 1:many demo vignettes or an interactive product guide for downmarket segments to reduce live-demo load. Alternatively, SE leadership can train Sales to give an introductory demo.

Other opportunities for automation eliminate manual data entry, such as solutions that connect to SE calendars and track efforts automatically, or notetaking/productivity tools.

Audit and Innovate PreSales Processes

According to John Care, every PreSales org must be metrics-oriented. Any asks for headcount, software, or resources need to be backed by data. The goal is to get data to “Kick Out,” not “Kick Down.” PreSales leaders should not use metrics to assign blame, whether to other departments or SEs. Data is an objective voice and will solidify the link between PreSales and greater business impact.

Some activity tracking will be a necessary evil in order to identify areas of waste. To improve adoption, be transparent with your team and let them see that the data is used to justify more resources for them or to protect them from overwork.

As you gather data, John recommends the SCAMPER Model (Bob Eberle, 1971) as a methodical framework for auditing PreSales processes and identifying opportunities for efficiency. SCAMPER (pictured below) is a framework for process innovation to help you answer this key question: How can we use fewer people to do things faster and spend less or save more money?

Here are some sample questions to consider in a SCAMPER PreSales audit:

  • Substitute: What tasks can be delegated to other departments or partners?
  • Combine and Adapt: What can be templated/ compiled from other SE resources or other  teams’ projects? Can we assemble best practices from exemplars? Can engineering stress test data sets be used for demo systems? Can you get an anonymized client data set? 
  • Modify and Eliminate: What steps/approvals can be removed? Who really needs this report or should be on this call? Do we need to keep collecting this data? What can be generalized to be rolled out worldwide? What needs to be customized by geo or vertical?
  • [Re]Purpose: What existing resources can we use for partner enablement, marketing, etc.? Can we turn POC setup scripts or internal training into a customer-facing guide?
  • Reverse: Can SE modifications (to slides, demos) be fed back to Sales, Marketing & Engineering? Can steps of big-ticket items (i.e. POC, demo) occur in parallel vs. sequentially?

Conclusion

As new demands on PreSales arise, you’ll need to be creative and resourceful to find the right solutions to drive efficiency for your team. Something John discussed that is important to remember: don’t seek a one-size-fits-all solution for your entire PreSales org.

Different market segments, verticals, product lines, regions, etc. might be best served by different tools, processes, systems, and strategies. Standardization can drive efficiency in many ways, but flexibility allows you to maximize and work well with the resources to which you are constrained.

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