A Place for PreSales: Creating a New Sales Community

If you don’t know exactly what “presales” entails, you’re not alone. But this sales function is well on its way to becoming (if it isn’t already) one of the most important functions of your sales team.

Presales encompasses many different functions and titles–sales engineers, solutions engineers, presales consultants, system sales engineers, technical sales consultants, solution architects, the list goes on. 

The presales profession is in higher demand than ever, yet because it’s a relatively lesser-known and not concretely defined sales function, it historically hasn’t had many resources. That is, until James Kaikis and Yuji Higashi set out to create them.


A Much-Needed Resource

Kaikis stumbled into presales while working in customer engagement at Revinate. His team took him on a few sales calls and he realized he enjoyed the presales process much more than post-sales. Soon after, he joined Showpad, where he was tasked with building the presales team from the ground up. At the time, Kaikis was located in San Francisco and was surrounded by sales groups, communities and resources. But when he relocated to Chicago he realized resources for presales professionals were nonexistent, especially at smaller startups and companies.

Higashi, on the other hand, was consulting at Deloitte and Apptio before he was hired to build the presales function at Outreach in 2016, back when the company had just 30 people (now it’s closer to 600). Funny enough, Kaikis and Higashi are not quite sure how or when they met, but what they do know is that as they both built presales teams at small companies, they leaned heavily on each other for advice, ideas, sanity checks and support.

It wasn’t long before Kaikis and Higashi realized that, with the exception of each other and the local communities they’d built, there weren’t many other places to go to get information and make connections with other presales professionals.

“Other functions have communities, institutions, and associations for their role and profession, but there was nothing that existed for presales,” said Higashi.

Together, they realized a huge opportunity to create a space for presales professionals to connect and share knowledge. 

“We started thinking about the challenges presales professionals face and decided to start a community,” Kaikis said. “The pandemic actually accelerated our timeline. We took a chance at the end of March/start of April with launching the PreSales Collective and haven’t stopped since.”


Defining PreSales Once and For All

As technology becomes a larger part of the global economy, the need for the presales function will continue to grow. But presales is still a loose term, with many different definitions, standards and understandings. That’s one of the first issues the PreSales Collective hopes to tackle.

“This is part of the problem we want to help solve, this industry is so interesting, it’s all over the place. But there’s a lack of standards across the board,” said Kaikis. “We created the PreSales Collective to 1) elevate the role of presales, 2) ensure this profession has a seat at the table, and 3) provide resources/community to this amazing profession that has been left to its own devices.”

This lack of cohesive standards and a clear trajectory for presales professionals also creates issues with longevity in the profession. “So many times people think ‘you can’t make a full-time career in presales,’ and they switch to product marketing, product management, or sales,” said Kaikis. “The presales career track hasn’t been established yet, and we want to lead the charge in defining it.”


What PreSales Professionals Actually Do 

Although many job titles fall under presales, they all have one goal in common: Demonstrating product value to win sales. But demonstrating product value takes more than a high-level understanding or product or service–something any SDR or AE would have. Presales exists to bridge the gap between engineering and the business side of sales; offering a combination of deep technical understanding and the ability to turn this understanding into a cohesive story. 

“The role of the sales rep has changed as buyers have become more educated and more people are involved. They now do more project and resource management, but their value is with qualifying opportunities in the beginning of a sales cycle, and closing the deal when it comes to negotiations,” said Kaikis. “With this shift in how people are selling value and the amount of buyers involved in the sales cycle, the presales role has naturally transformed to fill these gaps.”

“Some presales professionals (sales engineers, etc,.) work post-sales as well. But generally, once you have a qualified buyer you have the sales engineer or solution architect come in and work with the buyer to demonstrate value,” said Higashi. “The sales engineer owns the technical track of the sale, while the AE owns the business track.”

It’s the ability to own this technical track of the sale that makes presales professionals so valuable. 

“What we all look for in a great presales hire is the perfect blend of technical proficiency and aptitude, as well as business acumen,” added Higashi. “They can speak to someone at an engineering level, and also a CIO or someone at the executive level–someone who can go technically deep and understand how that technology drives business outcomes.”


The PreSales Collective’s Impact

Within just the first few months after its launch, the PreSales Collective has already expanded to over 5,750 members, and is growing at a rate of 1,000+ new members month over month. On top of this impressive growth, it has already created a Slack group with over 1,500 members, webinars, a podcast, leadership roundtables, a blog and newsletter, virtual job fairs, communities within the PreSales Collective, and a Women in Solutions Excellence program. As if that weren’t enough, Kaikis and Higashi are also hosting an executive summit at the end of October, and are actively empowering individuals around the world to create local presales groups to raise awareness and eventually provide in-person meetups.  

But it hasn’t been a walk in the park. On top of running the PreSales Collective, Kaikis and Higashi have also been juggling their full-time jobs at Salesforce and Outreach, respectively,  working 14-plus-hour days to make it all happen. 

“It’s a struggle, but one of the things we try to do well is to empower others to contribute, build their own brand, and lead,” said Higashi.

“We have around 35 people who are in charge of the local geos and 60-75 people who are involved in helping run the PreSales Collective in some capacity,” Kaikis added.

“Resources, education, and networking. That’s what we really tried to create because there was such a huge need,” said Higashi. “We are helping people find jobs and helping them connect with others, there’s a lot of good that’s happening. What motivates me most is seeing people further their careers and make an impact in their own world through the connections and resources we are able to provide through the PreSales Collective.”

“We’ve put our foot on the gas and we haven’t taken it off. It’s been invigorating to see the traction we’ve gained with both ICs and executive leaders. Executives with 100, 200 and 300 people organizations have reached out and said they really need this resource. That’s what really powers us forward,” said Kaikis. 

“We have a long-term goal of being able to serve everyone in this community. From resources, education, networking, and, eventually, a global summit. There’s so much we want to do and we’re excited about what the future holds,” added Higashi.

To learn more about the PreSales Collective, click here, and don’t forget to check out the upcoming PreSales Collective Executive Summit for PreSales leaders. You can also find co-founders James and Yuji on LinkedIn.

  • Originally published September 28, 2020, updated January 16, 2021