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Salesforce Ventures’ Advice to CEOs and What it Means for PreSales Leaders

About the Author: Matt Darrow (LinkedIn) is an engineer- turned PreSales & Product executive – turned Co-Founder and CEO of Vivun, a company dedicated to building your Sales team’s technical Copilot. Matt serves as a member of the XC Executive Committee.   

In the last five years, we’ve seen the emergence of a global PreSales movement, with major 3rd party analysts, like Gartner and Forrester, finally recognizing the strategic impact of Technical Sales:

“A failure to invest in the Sales Engineering Function can position CEOs at a significant disadvantage.”

-Gartner, June 2023, Tech CEOs Must Leverage Sales Engineers to Improve Sales Effectiveness

As a former Sales Engineering executive, it’s gratifying to see this message go mainstream, both in analyst research and from visionary B2B brands. 

Early April, I was pleasantly surprised to witness it happen live, at the Salesforce Ventures annual CEO Summit, during a session led by Miro and Salesforce: “Selling in 2024.” 

Here are their top takeaways, and what each means for PreSales leaders: 

1.  In today’s market, there is a need for more technical acumen in the sales process.

Miro and Salesforce are investing in Sales Engineering, engaging them earlier in the sales process, and looking for ways to scale their expertise internally and externally. They are rewriting the traditional playbook of AE/SE collaboration and exploring new ways to scale Technical Sales expertise.

Great SEs are difficult to find and costly to obtain, so the “do more” equation isn’t about adding more headcount. It’s about broadening the reach of PreSales knowledge and insights.

We’re seeing two major shifts to accommodate the increased demands on SE teams:

1) Rethinking Org Structure:

  • Whether it’s uniting all technical teams under one leader, allocating SEs to customer accounts, or retiring CSMs in favor of full-lifecycle SEs, companies are making structural changes to improve customer access to technical expertise and reduce internal siloes.
  • (For more information about the structural changes teams are making, see this blog on evolving PreSales operational models).

2) Investing in Technology

  • According to Gartner research, 87% of CROs are exploring investments in AI to scale capacity, and CROs who deploy technology effectively see 15% revenue growth. For PreSales leaders, be aware of where new tools can provide lift in your team’s process, but be able to connect the impact back to the overall revenue org.

2. To win deals, you need to get to the CIO.

The CIO is becoming the most powerful stakeholder due to companies consolidating technology spend and needing to validate the risks / benefits of a vendor’s GenAI offerings. This can lengthen sales cycles, so GTM teams need to get comfortable selling to the CIO and engage them early in the deal process. 

SEs are the key to building this trust, given that the majority of buyers prefer engaging with them versus traditional salespeople (Gartner) and that trust of AEs is at an all-time low (G2). Indeed, I’ve noticed more teams are pulling in Sales Engineers earlier in sales cycles to meet increased scrutiny with technical expertise from the start. 

Moving forward, PreSales team members will need to be fluent in GenAI, LLMs, RAGs, deployment methods, data sharing, etc.

3. No matter how much technology you have assisting sellers, quota attainment is closely tied to product quality.

Even with the rise of GenAI , quota attainment has not yet turned a corner, because, while the Sales team may be able to “do more”, it still comes down to your product. R&D teams need to deliver capabilities that create real value. If Sales teams can’t get what they need from R&D, attainment will continue to struggle.

SEs’ technical acumen paired with their proximity to customers make them the critical connective tissue. When I was a Product executive, PreSales was my finger on the pulse of customer priorities.  

Technical Sales leaders: Product wants your feedback to ensure they’re prioritizing features and functionality that will unblock deals, stop churn, and win new business. It’s worth reaching out and building that relationship. 
It’s also worth having your SEs track this information so you can provide Product with a list of product gaps attached to deals so they can get a sense of the revenue impact of feature requests. 

(For more detail on how the Chief Product Officer values PreSales insights, see this blog)

Conclusion

All in all, I was surprised not only that these trends surfaced organically, but also that they were the key talking points from Miro and Salesforce, who led the discussion. It was the first time I’ve heard things like “PreSales expertise” and “R&D alignment” come up in a CEO and Sales Leader conversation for trends to success.

I’m taking it as a promising sign that the C-Suite is catching up to buyer-dictated trends. Traditional B2B approaches don’t work anymore, and CEOs and CROs are waking up to the reality that they need to evolve to survive.  

I hope Technical Sales leaders will be able to capitalize on this momentum.

Further Reading (Referenced Above)

PreSales Enablement is Broken. Here’s How to Fix it
About the Author: Kerry Sokalsky (LinkedIn), Co-Founder and Managing Director of Tech...
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Introducing the XC Executive Committee
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Creating a Culture of Value Consulting
Rew Dickinson (LinkedIn) is the CEO of Alpha Presales, an organization dedicated...
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