Short answer: YES! And there are a couple of reasons why… 

  1. Your products are still maturing: As your products are fairly new in the market and have limited brand value, there are hardly any best practices or proven methods to rely upon. Every day, you learn a new Sales strategy, competitive advantage, or a demo tactic – mostly through the trial-and-error process.  
  2. Agility and autonomy over defined processes: Process is a luxury in a start-up, so be prepared to work without it or more importantly, build one as you go. You will often get pulled into all sorts of non-PreSales activities, like onboarding customers or handling support issues. This is fun as you get to try new things, but it also distracts you from your core PreSales activities. So be cautious and tread carefully.  

Ready to build? Here are 3 Key Areas to Focus on from the Start

1. Act short-term, think long-term

In a start-up, the primary KPI is to close deals and achieve revenue growth so you will often be working on things that an established PreSales function might never do. It can be easy to get sidetracked, but always stick to the long-term goal of how you want PreSales to function. The key things to focus on are: 

Discovery: It’s a PreSales crime to perform a demo without a discovery; however, in a start-up, you are forced to commit it often. At a minimum, you’ll want to integrate a few key questions about what the customer is looking for and what their unique challenges are. Without that information, you may end up selling a remedy for a symptom but not the cure for the disease. 

RFPs: Entertain all (sensible) RFPs but make sure you collect data for RFP wins/losses that later allow you to present a business case for RFP qualification in the Sales process. Build an RFP qualification template that can be used to disqualify bad requests.

POCs: You might need to indulge in all sorts of POCs, but from the start, you must clearly communicate the importance of identifying the key success metrics. Create a POC framework document for internal and external stakeholders that helps achieve measurable outcomes and aids decision-making.



2. Invest in people and culture  

People and culture matter the most, so start investing in them as early as possible.

Hire go-getters: Depending on your VC funding, you might or might not be able to afford the most experienced, expensive talent. When in doubt, go for attitude over aptitude. Early on, you will be better off with people who have the willingness to learn, and like to roll up their sleeves and get things done.

Drive the right culture in your team: From the start, you should set the right culture for performance and collaboration, and define what “world class” looks like.
If you don’t have a career progression matrix in your start-up, then enable career growth for your team by helping them acquire new skills, in alignment with their long-term career goals.

Build strong allies early on: Sales will always be your strongest allies and advocates, so work with them closely as one team. There might be differences of opinion, but ultimately, it’s a common goal. Celebrate your first wins together! You’ll also benefit from building a two-way relationship with your product team. 


3. Replicate your start-up's DNA


The following attributes are in your Start-up's DNA, so replicate these into yours. Established firms do not have this luxury, so cash in on the opportunity:  
Agility: Your speed matters and defines your start-up! Be quick to respond to your customer queries to delight and surprise them. That’s how you will differentiate against the established competition.  
Experimentation: If a demo or a POC approach does not work, experiment with another approach without wasting time. If something really works, you have an opportunity to create a best practice! 
Flexibility: Although we’ve already emphasized the importance of a process, I’ll now caveat that by saying you should be selective and discard the process when it slows things down. A lot of this is common sense - to be able to adapt to new/changing situations is a skill unique to a start-up.


Is this something for you?  


In an established company, the PreSales function is very different. You have a greater voice in the organization.  
Your focus is not on fixing basic problems (like RFPs, Discovery) but on broader topics such as PreSales enablement, compensation, performance KPIs, cross-regional collaboration, career progression matrix, etc. These are all great and big problems to solve, but nothing beats the fun of laying the first building blocks with your bare hands.   
The life of PreSales in a start-up is challenging but rewarding in an unmatched way. Through the journey of successes and failures, your learning will prepare you for future challenges that come your way.

Learn about how we support A* presales talent:

The latest presales opportunities at highgrowth startup/scale-ups:

Book a call with our Head of Solutions Engineering / Presales Hiring, Tom Frater: