Five Traits Of An Inspiring Presales Leader

I just finished filming a video to share with our Presales team on my views of leadership and what great leaders do. I thought I would share some of my thoughts here.DTW Leadership FIlming

In 2012 a really important blog post was published (one of the most powerful reads for any SE). You can find it here:

The ideas in this post have stood the test of time and will continue to be part of our  Presales DNA.If I were joining an organization in Presales, not only would I want to know what my role would be about (which the manifesto does an epic job of capturing) but also what is expected of my managers and leadership team.

So I wanted to share something further. Here are my thoughts on what makes a great Presales manager and leader within a Presales team. These ideas at the heart of being a great leader in my team:

  • Lead with Vision & Inspire: There’s many reasons that SEs give for joining a company and a team. It may be due to the company culture, management style, vision, career opportunities. So the question as a manager is do you understand what motivates your team. Do you carry a vision that inspires them? Do you understand what makes them tick as a person, what goals they have, what their career aspirations are, what gets them motivated? As a Presales leader, it is your job to understand this of your team. To communicate (two-way) regularly and to ensure that the awesome team you are building wants to continue to be part of that team every single day. After all, your team decides every day if they want to work for you. If you can unlock intrinsic motivation in your team, the why behind what they do, you will have a significantly more driven and engaged group of people. One of the most powerful talks to understand the basics of motivation can be found in Simon Sinek’s talk here on start with why.
  • Coach, Mentor, Develop, Communicate & Support: There are two ways to view management. The first is the traditional top down hierarchical approach, with the manager sitting at the top and dictating to their team. The second approach, the way I have seen as the most successful is bottom up. In this approach, the manager sees the individuals in the team as the most important contributors. The team is there not to be micromanaged, but to be supported, developed and coached. Great Presales leaders operate in a way that helps their team be successful. They are constantly looking for development opportunities for their team, new challenges, and areas where they can help their team grow. They are also looking at ways to remove road-blocks and challenges for their SEs. Ultimately SEs are there to achieve outcomes for customers, so the goal should be to help them be more successful every single day. Communication is really important in creating the team bond, and also understanding what is going on that is hindering success. While fortnightly one on ones are important for every team member with their managers (to discuss development, performance, challenges and gain feedback) an even more powerful technique I have learnt is the regular “just checking in call”. Where the manager find unplanned times, even if it is just 5-10 minutes, to check in on their team for no other reason to open dialogue and see what challenges they can help with. One of the greatest TED talks on motivation is from Dan Pink, where he discusses how autonomy, mastery and purpose is key to developing and motivating individuals:
  • Lead from the front: It’s easy as a manager to become internally focused. Like many roles, there is too much to do and not enough time in the day. The best leaders manage to find time and balance internal activities with external customer facing time. Why is this important? For three reasons (1) If you are going to coach, mentor and develop your team, the best way to do this is with them, by their side and in the field. There is no better way to observe and provide feedback than through this approach. (2) Talk to any SE and you will see that they have far greater respect for managers who work with them, help them and understand their challenges than those that do not. (3) If you are going to lead a Presales team and drive strategy, you need to understand your customers. Understanding what pain they are experiencing, what trends are going on and what is happening in the market is a key part of being a great Presales leader.
  • Foster collaboration and networking: No SE can achieve great outcomes for customers on their own. A big challenge in many sales organizations is that often people are great individual performers but not great collaborators. Presales needs to be the back-bone of the sales organization. The glue that ties sales and delivery functions together, the team that brings teams together to focus on outcomes for the customer. The biggest accelerator to achieve this is the SE manager. By continually creating opportunities for collaboration across the business, with partners and with customers, the team will be more successful. Collaborate with sales leaders. Make time to bring people together. Find ways to connect partners with teams. Ensure the customer focus is one of loose collaboration with constant communication, not tight control. In my team, managers have weekly or fortnightly team meetings where they foster team collaboration and team building, sharing ideas on what is working and how to overcome challenges.
  • Hire great people: It’s no secret that getting into our team is a challenge. That is because we take the time to hire the best talent. People with long term potential. With a desire to learn and passion for technology and innovation. When I asked one candidate why they wanted to join our team they said “because that is where the rock-stars are”. Some of the best Presales managers I have seen hire great talent because they know who they are going to hire a year or two before a role becomes available. They are constantly meeting new people, finding out who the best people are in the market and continually getting those people excited about the potential that the company can offer. Interviews should be as much about whether the candidate is right for the company, but also whether the company is right for the candidate.

Many people will say, “what about goals” or “focus on revenue”. In my view, if you focus on and prioritize these five leadership areas above, the rest will follow.

Of course it’s important to build a great culture, ensure the organization is a fun place to work and showing up every day with energy and enthusiasm are important. This is all part of these 5 important traits.