Most commercial software companies employ technical pre-sales engineers to help potential customers see the value of a particular product or solution. In many companies these engineers combine deep technical knowledge with soft-skills to understand the customer’s problem, establish a foundation of trust with the customer, resolve their concerns and become their trusted advisor. The position is a key member of the sales team but sometimes gets overlooked as they do not officially carry a quota.
In most cases, the performance of pre-sales engineers will have direct impact on the outcome of a deal. Thus it is important to ensure the pre-sales team is operating efficiently and effectively. So how does a company know if the pre-sales engineers are being the most effective? How can an organization improve the effectiveness of their pre-sales teams? I am a firm believer in the saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” So that leads to the question, what are the key things that pre-sales teams should measure?
While there are many things that could be measured, I use six key metrics to gauge the effectiveness of a pre-sales team.
- Revenue Influenced per SE
- Time Allocation and Utilization per SE
- Attrition Rate
- Proof of Concept Effectivness
Revenue Influenced per SE
Pre-sales teams should track the amount of revenue that an SE influences each quarter, each year, and through the entire time they are part of the SE team. I use this metric to identify those who are consistently influencing revenue and looking to incorporate their best practices back into the wider team.
Time Allocation and Utilization
I am a firm believer that leaders of the most effective pre-sales teams establish a foundation of ‘correct principles’ and then gets out of the way and allows the SEs to do their job. In addition, I also believe that with great flexibility comes great accountability. Tracking time allows for an SE to be accountable for where and how they spend their time. Furthermore, managers can see what the SEs are spending their time on, and if those activities are influencing revenue. As a general rule of thumb, I expect that the top four or five activities should be customer facing activities. This also gives great insight to those SEs who might be over or under utilized and allows for specific course correction by management.
It is important to track attrition to understand how many SE candidates should be in the hiring pipeline at any given time. It also provides an indicator that there may be some deeper issues in the organization that need to be quickly addressed.
Proof of Concept Effectiveness
Doing a proof of concept (PoC) is sometimes necessary as part of the sales process. However, if not managed correctly, doing a PoC can prolong sales cycles and potentially do more damage than good to the account. Tracking the number of PoCs per quarter and the amount of revenue tied to the PoC is critical. Furthermore, what % of PoCs resulted in revenue is just as important. In addition, tracking the amount of time from PoC completion to revenue realization is important to help organizations understand the overall effectiveness of the PoC on the sales process.
I am a big believer in continual education of an SE team. As technologies change and evolve, it is important to provide the SE team with the skills necessary to be successful. How much training do they get, and what kind of training is important to track. Knowing who has had what training, and the last time they had the training helps establish a training plan to ensure a high performance team. In addition, the training should not just be technical training. Soft-skills are such a critical component to the job of an SE, that this type of training should be at least 50% of the training received over the course of the year.
Most, if not all, pre-sales teams have no profit and loss (P&L) responsibility. They are usually considered an expense as part of the overall cost of sales. Being able to track expenses such as travel and other items required to do their job can help better insights to a company’s overall cost of sales which is usually a key management metric. By tracking expense and managing to an overall budget this can help both the SE team, and the larger sales team ensure they are doing the right things to close the deal, and to help avoid unnecessary expenses.
While it may be possible to come up with more things to measure, I have found these six metrics provide the most insight into how well the pre-sales team is doing. I’m interested to hear what metrics you use to measure the effectiveness of your pre-sales team.