SPOILER ALERT: Skills and experience are NOT at the top of my list! You might be surprised by this.
Often the presales engineers and architects are seen as the geeks of a sales organisation, helping with the technical nuts and bolts of a solution proposal and tasked with explaining the value of a solution both internally and externally.
Presales can even get accused of being a little too honest with our customers but presales people often build strong relationships and can become a customers trusted advisor.
In my experience a strong presales team, made up of the right mix of people, can be an engine of growth to power technology solution sales.
This is my approach to hiring and the criteria I look for when bringing someone into the presales family.
1. Team Fit
- The Difficult Genius - team players, passengers and Lone Wolves
- Think about well functioning team dynamics - personality and skill mix
- Avoiding a team of clones
- Company culture - professionalism, respectfulness, awareness
You hear company culture mentioned a lot these days and hiring managers are keen to ensure people will fit in. As well as thinking of the organisation as a whole I also take it to the team level.
If you understand the personalities in your team, how do you think your candidate will fit in and assimilate? How will this person potentially change the team dynamic? Can you envisage any clashes? Are there opportunities for knowledge transfer and cross skilling (including soft skills)?
Unless you are assembling a robot army I would try to avoid building a team of clones. As tempting as it can be to try and hire five of your 'best SE', there is value in diversity. Not just skills diversity, but different personalities and backgrounds can bring different viewpoints and avoid a mono-culture developing. This helps break the echo-chamber effect and promotes outside the box thinking.
I also try to avoid the Difficult Genius and the Lone Wolf. These personalities aren't conducive to a team culture which presales so often depends on. More on those folks in a later post. Look for team players and people who love sharing what they know. Most managers cannot afford passengers - everyone must row and everyone is a contributor.
And of course how do you think an individual will cope in your organisation. For example, people who come from very large organisations may struggle in a smaller company that doesn't have the same level of resources available. A small company where everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets on with it is very different to a large, structured place where everyone knows their exact job boundaries. I always explore this with candidates to ensure they understand how my organisation will be different from their previous one.
- Can I provide what you are looking for?
- Be honest - Are our expectations aligned?
- Avoid a costly waste of your time and mine
- My responsibility to set you up for success
- Ambitious people - realistic expectations
- Remuneration expectations
I like to understand what a candidate is truly looking for. Sometimes this can be hard in an interview because there is a tendency for an interviewee to tell you what they think you want to hear. There's a lot of competition for some roles which sometimes drives people to try to get the job at any cost.
Expectations are important because if a candidate is looking for something that I can not provide we are both wasting time and there is a high likelihood the relationship will be short lived. I cannot emphasise enough how this is damaging to both the hiring organisation and the candidate.
A company can lose 2 years of productivity if, after 6 or 12 months in a new role, an employee realises they are not the right fit. This includes the time the employee was in the team, the time to recruit a replacement and the ramp up time to get new team members to full productivity.
The employee also wastes precious time in their career. 12 months in the wrong team is 12 months you haven't really been focused on improving and increasing your career and employability. It can also leave a trail on your CV that may be interpreted as a red flag to future employers.
As a hiring manager it is my responsibility to ensure everyone I bring in to an organisation is set up for success. If I can't do that, it is a failing on my behalf. So it is vital for me that expectations are aligned from the very beginning.
Let me say I have no problem with ambitious people, we all want a team that strives, stretches and steps up. But lets ensure that ambition is rooted in reality. If it is not, it will quickly turn into disillusionment and negativity which are absolute team killers. If your goals and milestones are realistic and achievable we can work with that and I am more than happy to build a development plan to get you on your way.
But please remember that a hiring manager is making an investment in a new hire and expects to get a return of productivity. There is nothing worse than the person who joins a new team and then starts looking for their next gig straight away. I try and filter for this and make sure this expectation is clear from the get go.
Alignment also includes package expectations which is a negotiation often left to the very end of the hiring process. We don't have to nail down a final figure but I need to know we are both in the same ballpark before we go through what can sometimes be a long and intensive process of getting to know each other. I'd rather not waste your time and mine by finding out my budget doesn't match your needs as the last part of the hiring process.
Savvy recruiters can really help hiring managers out by filtering these things early on in the candidate selection process.
- Two sides of the line - sales and technical
- Do you love what you do? (or is it just a daily grind)
- Life long learners - Are you excited about what's coming next?
- Where does inspiration come from?
- Do you generate ideas and have the confidence to promote them?
The sales part of presales means passionate people often stand out and become the MVP's of the team. I argue that passion is important in non-externally-facing roles too but in presales it can be the difference between a good consultant and a great one.
I know people in the IT industry that have no interest in technology. The last thing they want to do on the weekend is turn on a computer. Some of these people are very good at their job and are in well paid senior roles. But if I asked them to sell me their position and what they do every day they would struggle to be convincing. They just don't love what they do and it's hard to be passionate about things that don't genuinely interest you.
Are you constantly reading about your industry? Are you up to date on new developments and trends? Do you have a genuine curiosity to learn about these things?
Different folks will display their passion in different ways. It's not always the gregarious salesperson stereotype. You could be more reserved, even being slightly introverted is not a bad thing, but when you are talking about your passionate subject you will be knowledgeable, confident and best of all, persuasive.
Super passionate people will have their own opinions about their field - even potentially controversial or pointed views. This is a good attribute we can tap into.
4. Skills and Experience
- Matching seniority of role (senior vs a junior)
- Juniors willingness to learn and be mentored
- Seniors willingness to lead and mentor
- Real examples of real contributions
- Generalists, specialists and everything in between
Finally we get to the skills and experience. Don't think I am saying skills and experience are not important. But if you haven't passed the first 3 gates of Fit, Alignment and Passion then your skills and experience are going to need to be extraordinary.
An important thing to remember is hiring managers need to fit a candidate to the seniority of a role. If you are a seasoned veteran applying for a junior role there will be problems down the track. This is actually part of correct alignment I spoke about in number 2 but the point is matching a person to the right role level.
Team players appears here again. In the tech industry we are all learning - all the time - and it never stops. If you're not onboard with this or this doesn't appeal to you then you are in the wrong industry.
Juniors may have more to learn and may even need to 'learn how to learn'. Seniors still learn too and should have figured out their own personal style and methods for keeping up to date in their fields.
Experienced people also need to be teachers and be willing to impart their knowledge. In my teams senior people need to lead by example - No task is beneath anybody and the best way to teach is to do.
Be prepared to give real examples of real projects with real contributions. No need to name names of course but I am looking for real world experience. It's fine to tell me you are an experienced problem solver but I need to hear how you put this into practice.
Also be realistic with examples. If you played a part in a team effort, be honest - highlight your role in the team. It's rare that someone single-handedly brings in a large project and I want to hear how you contributed collaboratively in a team for a big win. Even if you were the lead person, I'm sure there was a team somewhere you worked with.
There's a whole future blog post on the merits of technical specialists and generalists. Depending on the team, the portfolio and the sales strategy hiring managers will decide on the right mix. Sometimes you can't afford to have specialists in a team, other times you can't afford not to. More on this in another post but I will point out that the generalist is not necessarily junior or less important than the specialist. Both play different roles and both are just as valuable to success.
So to sum up, not all interviews go exactly the same and the order in which I gather information and ask questions might change but when making a decision I try to prioritise on these key areas:
- Team Fit
- Skills and Experience
I hope this is helpful to new managers who are team building, recruiters who are helping those managers and also those of you who are applying for presales roles. I will be posting more in depth about the concepts I touch on here including the value of presales to any organisation and how to motivate and inspire technical teams to achieve greatness.