In B2B technical sales, such as software sales, sales processes are sometimes divided into sales and pre-sales so sales teams can give prospective buyers as much information and attention as they need to feel comfortable with purchasing a complicated product.
The difference between sales and pre-sales is that the sales portion begins when the salesperson, usually an Account Executive (AE), holds an initial discovery session with the prospect and gives them a general overview of the product. Once the AE has sparked interest in the prospect and found a basic business need, the pre-sales phase begins.
Yep, it comes after some sales activities have already occurred.
Pre-sales is the technical portion of a sales process. A pre-salesperson, often called a Solutions Consultant (SC) or a Sales Engineer, is an extremely technically knowledgeable member of the sales team who helps the prospect see the technical value in the solution. They spend time learning about the buyer’s specific needs and give them product demos. The SC then develops and shares a specific solution for how they can use the technical product to improve their business.
When the prospect is happy with the presented solution and ready to sign, the AE takes it from there, handling pricing negotiations and contract details.
So, now that we’ve gone over the difference between pre-sales and sales, let’s dive into the responsibilities of the two roles involved:
- Account Executive: Sales
- Solutions Consultant: Pre-Sales
Difference Between Sales and Pre-Sales
Account Executive Responsibilities
The Account Executive (AE) handles the sales portion of a technical sales process. They will qualify the lead, hold the initial discovery meetings, and identify a business need for the solution. If during this process they receive any questions that are too technical, they will ask for assistance from the solutions consultant. And, after the business need is identified, they will bring in the solutions consultant to create a custom value proposition and give a demo.
Handle Initial Discovery
First, the AE must learn as much as they can about the prospect’s business, goals, pain points, and internal processes. To do this, AEs ask open-ended discovery questions meant to get the prospect talking. During this process, the AE is thinking about whether the prospect’s company is a good fit for the product. If they are, the AE starts looking for a specific business need that the product can address.
Since there is often more than one decision-maker involved in the process, sometimes this initial discovery can span over a few meetings, as AEs try to learn as much as they can about each role in the company that will be involved in buying, and ultimately using, the product.
With a basic understanding of the inner workings of the prospect’s business, the AE can deliver a pitch or short presentation that outlines how the product will provide value for them. Essentially, they are creating the initial feelings of interest and curiosity about the product — feelings that will keep the prospect happily moving along through the sales process.
Identify A Business Need
The AE tries to figure out the exact reason why a prospect should want to continue evaluating the solution. If you were selling proptech software, that reason might be to increase the rate at which their team performs building inspections and maintenance work. Once the need and technical requirements are defined, the AE will call in the solutions consultant, who will now attempt to craft and demonstrate a customized way in which the product can satisfy that business need.
After pre-sales, the AE will be in charge of closing the deal. They will have to ask the prospect to buy, deal with final objections, and handle the pricing, paperwork, and legal side of the deal.
Solution Consultant Responsibilities
The solutions consultant (SC) is a member of a technical sales team who is responsible for providing extensive technical knowledge, answering tough questions, and providing demos of the product to prospects. They handle the process referred to as pre-sales, which, misleadingly, actually comes after the prospect has had a few meetings with the Account Executive.
Often, SCs have trained on the technology for a year before ever interacting with a client. That’s because they need a deep understanding of the product, the industry, and the interplay between certain product features and customers’ businesses.
Conduct Technical Discovery
Sometimes an AE is not informed enough about the technology to figure out how it can help the customers’ business or if it will harmonize with their current technology. For instance, if an AE were selling marketing software that needs to integrate with another larger software used by a prospect, they might bring in the solutions consultant to figure out how that will work.
Solutions consultants will also ask the prospect more technical questions and use the answers to figure out how their product can solve their problems or provide value.
Often, technical products have a lot of nuance in how they operate. Products often do different things for different clients and can be set up and implemented in different forms.
For instance, software like Airtable would be far more difficult to implement in a large organization than in a small one. Therefore, the sales team might require the assistance of a Solutions Consultant to help the prospect visualize how they will set up the software to play well with their business processes.
So, someone with a deep understanding of their intricacies will be best suited to find effective solutions for the prospects.
Give a Product Demo
Solutions consultants will usually be responsible for delivering product demos to interested customers. These demos can range from introductory tours of the solution to in-depth dives into one unique feature that the prospect has asked to learn more about.
SCs not only have to know a lot about the product, but they also have to develop strong presentation skills to keep prospects engaged and interactive throughout the demo.
Support The Account Executive
During the later phases of the sales cycle, the AE might need the SC’s knowledge to handle certain objections or to answer specific questions about the product or its implementation. For instance, if a client has questions about the nitty-gritty details of integration with another software, the AE can call in the SC for backup.
Bottom Line: Difference Between Sales and Pre-Sales
If you are looking for a high-paying and rewarding job in technical sales, both a Sales Consultant and an Account Executive will fulfill those requirements. Usually, those with more of a hunter mentality who like to generate new opportunities, manage pipelines, and close deals lean towards the Account Executive role. Meanwhile, those with a strong interest in technology and how it works will thoroughly enjoy a Solutions Consultant position.