What is Pre-sales in SaaS? (A guide for beginners)

What is Pre-sales in SaaS? (A guide for beginners)

Is it a good career choice to make? What does a Pre-Sales Engineer do in a SaaS? What is the difference between Pre-Sales and Sales?

Aug 11, 2021·

6 min read

Software-as-a-Service in India is booming. No surprises there!

But just for the sake of clarity, let us have a look at some of the overarching numbers. According to a recent Bain & Company report titled 'India SaaS Report 2020'-

  • Over the last five years, the number of funded SaaS companies has doubled and the number of SaaS companies drawing Series C or later stage capital has quadrupled, representing significant traction.

  • With distinct competitive advantages enhanced by a level playing field around the world, Indian-heritage SaaS companies are well poised to reach $18 billion to $20 billion in revenue and capture 7% to 9% share of the global SaaS market by 2022.

  • Over 50 companies have breached the $10 million ARR milestone, and many more are expected to follow.

With well-established companies like Zoho, Freshworks, Chargebee, Postman, Zenoti, etc laying the foundation, a lot more entrepreneurs (some who were employees in these firms) are now building extraordinary companies in this space. The availability of abundant talent and the relative cost arbitrage has played a huge role in pushing the ecosystem to where it is today.

There is no doubt that the SaaS sector is going to be the space to be reckoned with in the days to come. This also means a lot of talented folks will go on to build very fulfilling careers in this sector.

Pre-sales is one such exciting career to be in.

What is pre-sales?

Before answering the above question, here's a very surface level explanation of Business-to-Business (B2B) SaaS. B2B SaaS companies sell their software to other businesses to help them solve a certain problem. Example- A helpdesk software from firm A is sold to say firm B which is a DTH operator to keep a track of customer complaints and do better customer service.

With that context in mind, let's see where a pre-sales executive fits in.

A typical customer discovery journey goes like this-Contact--Lead--Prospect--Customer. Please remember this sequence, we'll come back to this in a while to close the loop.

Now, going back to the example.

A person (hopefully a decision-maker) from firm B will learn about firm A either through a blog, ad, whitepaper, word of mouth etc and land up in firm A's website. S/he will fill up the 'Talk to us' form and get on a call with the company's representative to talk about the problem statement and see if firm A's product could help solve it. This is where the pre-sales executive/engineer comes in.

The pre-sales executive needs to first understand the problem statement completely and then go about explaining firm A's products and features that could help firm B solve their problem.

While this seems simple enough, it is not that easy. A solid pre-sales engineer will have to 'tailor' the product and its features to find the right solution for the customer. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that a good pre-sales engineer is the backbone of a SaaS company's revenues. S/he is the first touch point for a potential customer and their explanation and hand-holding might very well set the tone of the relationship. Pre-sales engineers qualify a lead, propose a solution and also help in renewing deals. We'll learn more about this in the coming section.

What does a pre-sales engineer/executive do every day?

While we now know where the pre-sales engineer fits in, let's see what are the different components of the job:

  1. Understanding the problem statement - As explained above, the pre-sales executive understands the problem statement of the potential customer. This isn't just a surface level task, they need to know the nitty-gritty of it so as to design the perfect solution. At this stage, the pre-sales engineer also knows if the product can potentially solve the customer's problem. In that sense, they can "qualify" a lead.
  2. Designing the ideal solution - Once the problem statement is clear, the pre-sales engineer goes about finding and explaining the right product features that could be the best fit to tackle the problem. At this stage, they 'propose' an ideal solution.
  3. Demo - As they say, the proof is in the pudding. The pre-sales executive will go about giving a live demo of the tailormade solution to the customer and explaining what end-results the customer can expect with this solution.
  4. Submitting proposals - Once the potential customer is convinced of the product, the pre-sales person is involved in raising an RFP (Request for Proposal). This is important in pushing the customer to the next stage i.e prospect.
  5. Coming up with collaterals- Pre-sales executives create collaterals to show where and how the product can fit in the potential customer's company. They also come up with case studies to showcase similar success stories.

Additionally, pre-sales engineers also help product teams with feature roadmap because they deeply understand customer needs.

What are the skillsets of this job role?

Continuous learner -A pre-sales executive has to know the ins and outs of the product. S/he should continuously learn about new product features and also have a good grasp of the trends in the industry.

Customer success oriented - A good pre-sales engineer should genuinely care about ensuring the success of the customer. Since they are usually the first touchpoint, a customer heavily relies on them to know the product and in turn the company. A sour start at this stage might very well sound the death knell for the deal.

Good Communicator- Being a good pre-sales engineer isn't just about knowing the product but also about conveying the product features in a simple-to-understand and real-life oriented way. The idea is to convey the benefits of the features and not sell the features themselves.

What is the difference between Pre-Sales and Sales?

As it is conveyed in the name, pre-sales is the sum total of all the processes 'before' the actual sale of the product. Once a pre-sales engineer qualifies the lead, proposes a solution, the sales team takes over for final negotiations. In most cases, these two teams work hand-in-hand to ensure a successful deal.

What are the career prospects for a pre-sales engineer?

As discussed above, SaaS is making a big splash in India and since the whole idea of SaaS is to customize product features to suit customer needs, pre-sales becomes a very crucial cog in the wheel for SaaS companies.

This role works closely with sales, product, customer success and marketing and hence a smart pre-sales engineer could also move on to these jobs over the course of their career.

The starting salary for a pre-sales engineer is around Rs 4.5 lakhs.

What are you waiting for? If you think pre-sales is the role for you, join NextStop's Pre-Sales course and learn from the best! This course will be taught by Sanjeev NC, who works at SuperOps and was previously with Freshworks. Join now!