The War for PreSales Talent

The competition for talented PreSales professionals has never been fiercer - and the demand for candidates has never been larger. Both of these factors are creating a war for PreSales talent. I talked to David Maloof, GVP of Solutions Engineering at Salesforce, and Wendy McHenry, Sr. Mgr of Effectiveness at Pegasystems, during our recent PreSales Leadership Collective Symposium about how leaders and employers can fill their open roles with excellent, non-traditional candidates.

The PreSales Talent Stats

To understand why the war for talent is so fierce, it helps to look at some statistics about the industry right now (as of June 1st, 2021).

  • There are more than 13,000 open PreSales roles in North America right now, with 11,000 open in EMEA and 15,000 across APJ

  • Tenure in all three areas is under three years

  • Current PreSales professionals are 16% female, 84% male in North America, and 18% vs. 82% in EMEA

  • There were nearly 14,000 job changes last year in North America, with 26,000 in EMEA and 12,000 in APJ

  • 1,500 new PreSales professionals entered the profession in North America last year, with 3,000 in EMEA and 1,300 in APJ

These numbers are staggering, and show the scale of the global struggle for PreSales talent.

What Else is Driving the War

The evolution of the PreSales role is driving the competition for talent as much as the numbers. While PreSales used to be a more passive role, where people would sit back and wait to get called in to support a salesperson’s demo, in the last five years that’s shifted significantly. How buyers buy has changed and competitive pressures have intensified. And that means PreSales professionals now need to be able to build relationships with customers themselves, and may even be doing demos alone.

This shift in the role means there’s a shift in the skills employers are looking for. It’s not only about technical prowess anymore - PreSales also requires business acumen now, as well as sales and storytelling skills and the ability to build relationships with the product team.

Technical skills still matter, but a passion for learning and translating technical concepts to a non-technical audience matter just as much. And it’s hard to find an experienced SE who is strong in all of these areas - demand has outstripped supply.

And the wide variety of PreSales job titles out there makes hiring even harder, as it’s challenging to tell who is actually working in the industry today with a quick search.

How and where to find talent

So how can you find the right talent to fill your open PreSales roles? It begins with looking outside of your normal channels to find the next generation who have the talent and ambition to be trained into great SEs.

PreSales is the greatest career no one has ever heard of, as I’m fond of saying. You need to proactively seek out candidates and introduce them to the role. And you also need to understand why non-traditional candidates would like this role. For many who are good at making presentations and solving problems and telling stories, they don’t desire a sales career because having a quote doesn’t appeal to them, but they’d be great at PreSales.

You need a targeted marketing campaign to reach these people, like a hype video that highlights how other non-traditional talent at your organization has had successful career journeys. PreSales Collective also has a lot of great existing content you can go and grab. And your company might already have content you can share. You can also go to universities and deliver talks or guest lectures or sponsor events.

Professional associations like the PreSales Collective, the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Engineers, the National Black MBA Association, and the National Association of Women Sales Professionals are great sources. And Linkedin as well - be sure to add pronouns to your profile if you’re looking to create an inclusive team where people are all welcome. Conferences can be valuable recruiting opportunities as well.

Remember - hiring non-traditional talent means seeking desired traits, not just years of experience. And think about what skill sets will complement your existing team.

Accelerating the Hiring Process

It’s a candidate’s world right now. You need to have a fast, effective, and supportive hiring process to attract more candidates, especially non-traditional ones.

  • Write inclusive job descriptions. Avoid outdated requirements and focus instead on transferable skills. Don’t use industry jargon and take care to avoid biased language. Include information about your corporate culture and benefits, because non-traditional candidates might be blown away by them.

  • Create a great candidate experience. They should feel welcomed and included along the whole way. Assign a pre-hire mentor after the screening process who stays for their early journey at the company as well, and ensure they’re also from a non-traditional background if possible.

  • Train and develop. Non-traditional hires will have some skills they’re already very strong in, but will need training in others. Hosting webinars and offering other training resources helps them feel supported and ensures they’re successful.

Winning the war for PreSales talent doesn’t mean competing in a cutthroat way. It means looking outside your normal avenues and adjusting your hiring processes to attract new, exciting candidates to your organization and the PreSales field as a whole. It’s hard work, but it’s the only way forward right now.

Checkout the full session recording from the PreSales Leadership Symposium.