Just a few years ago, pre-sales was seen (by some) as a reliable route to boost revenue. And if you were a software-as-a-service company, a sure way to increase renewals. Though Harvard Business Review reported in 2015 that pre-sales often received little attention from the C-suite, “souping up the presales engine can yield a five-point improvement in conversion rates, a 6–13% improvement in revenue, and a 10–20% improvement in the speed of moving prospects through the sales process.” 

Well, as Bob Dylan said, the times, they are a changin’. Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm with an eye for startups and up-and-coming tech, believes the pre-sales role just isn’t what it used to be. Martin Casado, a general partner focused on enterprise investing, broke down the move away from pre-sales — and what’s on the horizon for sales teams.

A new focal — and entry — point

As Casado explains in his Twitter thread, pre-sales has traditionally involved an account representative and sales engineer bringing a new customer to “technical and financial close.” But as more and more companies — specifically, those with SaaS models — have moved to a bottom-up sales approach, that pre-sales role is becoming less and less relevant. Let’s back up for a second: it’s worth mentioning that top-down sales strategies have been preferred for years, especially for B2B companies. At its core, a top-down approach targets key players, like company execs and, really, anyone tasked with making major decisions and leading others. 

A bottom-up approach hones in on the little guys — because, as it turns out, they have a bigger impact than sales reps previously thought. “The idea is to gain acceptance among lower-level employees and use their buy-in to convince the higher-ups that the product or service is worth pursuing,” Ari Soffer writes for Leadscape. Many of these employees are already using the product on their own time, effectively eliminating the need for conventional pre-sales tactics like technical demos, and upping the importance of a company’s post-sale function. 

Simplicity is key 

Casado explains the role of the sales engineer and pre-sales in general is only decreasing because now, “products often have a focus on being simple to use.” With that, a user doesn’t have to be convinced of a product’s worth, and they certainly don’t need someone dropping in to tell them how to use it. What they do need (or at least, what companies need) according to Horowitz, is someone to place a larger emphasis on upselling and nurturing their community of current and potential customers. 

Rethinking the role of customer relationship management 

As pre-sales gets pushed to the wayside, customer relationship and success managers will be set up to take center stage. But it’s not quite that simple. CRMs and CSMs play a crucial role in sustaining and expanding accounts, and they’ll certainly continue to do that, but Casado and his counterparts at A16Z note they’re also being pushed to become solution architects, too. And in some cases, they’re just not equipped for such a multifaceted role. “Existing CRMs are being pushed into service to handle this. But often they are an ill fit, being built for a more traditional, direct model where the account management team is driving the engagement through the various sales stages,” Casado explains. And while CSMs are trained to do renewals and upsells, they “don’t nurture communities or top of funnel well,” according to Casado. 

So, what’s next for CRMs and CSMs looking through the funnel, trying to make sense of everything? For starters, they should start looking for new ways to inform and connect with what Casado refers to as “a maturing existing user base.” And down the road, they might just need to take another look at the customer journey in its entirety to fully understand what their pieces of the puzzle might look like.

Check out Casado's full tweet thread here.

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