Presales Playbooks: Fueling Growth for Complex B2B Sales

10 minutes
to read
Written by
Bo Borland
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Welcome to our blog post on presales, the secret weapon for driving repeatable growth in B2B companies that sell complex solutions. In this article, we dive into the compelling case for building a repeatable presales playbooks. Whether you are a sales leader looking for methods to ignite growth, a presales leader seeking to enhance your team's effectiveness, or an individual solutions/sales engineer (SE) striving for better outcomes, this guide is designed to amplify the impact of your presales team.

Elevating the customer experience in complex solution sales

The digital revolution's scope is vast, matched only by the multitude of B2B technology companies offering transformative digital solutions for businesses.  During this period of rapid digitization, B2B technology companies strive to grow revenue and gain market share.

Today's pace of technology change, competitive pressures, and rising customer expectations are driving the need for B2B technology companies to transform how they sell. This transformation includes the need to create a great buying experience, build trust while delivering that experience, and craft a buying vision that compels the customer to change.

The Salesforce State of the Connected Customer 2022 Survey of nearly 4,000 business buyers found that 88% of buyers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

Enterprise buying committees build trust with sales teams that understand them. Today, these buyers enter sales cycles highly informed and expect personalization and tailored buying experiences that uniquely address their use cases and business outcomes.

Buyer's experience many touchpoints across long sales cycles where seamless transitions and handoffs across vendor account teams can make or break the buyer experience.

When done well, sales teams can elevate the overall customer experience to land new customers, retain them, and expand these relationships over time.

Empowering SEs with a playbook for proactive growth

Innovative technology companies selling complex products with long sales cycles recognize that presales teams are the key to accelerating growth.

Research from Harvard Business Review found that presales activities have 2-3x more impact on revenue than other lead generation activities.

SEs are your greatest asset in elevating the customer experience in the complex solution sale because they possess a unique mix of business acumen, technical expertise, and solutions skills for customer use cases and outcomes. These gurus of solution positioning and value mapping have a core job responsibility of proving value and building trust as solution experts to progress deals and ultimately grow revenue.

To unleash presales potential, companies must not only hire, develop, and retain the best presales talent but, more importantly, empower them to reach their full potential by shifting the presales mindset from reactive to proactive.

In complex solution sales, this starts with arming presales teams with a clear presales playbook. The presales playbook becomes “the standard” for SEs, shifting from reactive to proactive across the entire presales motion.

In later sections, we will dive deeper into playbooks. But before we do that, lets first understand the typical presales motion for complex solution sales.

Understanding The Presales Motion

The presales motion comes into play across the entire buyer’s journey from early discovery to evaluation and selection. The presales motion is a critical driver of strategic customer engagement because the solution is technical and complex, and at least one persona on the buying committee is a technical expert.

The following buyer journey illustration maps the SE motion in the red boxes across a typical six to nine-month enterprise sales cycle.

Presales motion

Along the buyer's journey, the action boxes turn red as the time investment and decision complexity increase.  These complex and time-intensive stages of influence are precisely where SEs deliver tailored demos, workshops, product configurations, sizing estimates, and pilots.

SEs are solution sales experts while AEs are commercial sales experts - both are important, but much of the solution selling comes from the SE.  Great SEs are like artists proactively mining for value alignment and delivering tailored demos or pilots with creativity and a wow factor. Mining for value and tailoring are used to intentionally generate “aha moments”.  

Aha moments in the buyer’s journey are when buyer emotions are triggered and eyes dilate because they start to envision a better future with your solution.  It's through these selling activities that multiple aha moments serve as inflection points for influencing buying committees. Aha moments are often the turning points when the customer morphs from a skeptical buyer to a vendor co-conspirator helping to win over the buying committee.

Now that we understand the presales motion, let's cover the multiple roles SEs assume as solution experts in long sales cycles.

SEs wear many hats in the complex solution sale

Sales and presales leaders must empower SEs to craft a compelling buying vision by expanding their role in the complex solution sale. This means enabling and empowering presales teams to become trusted advisors, value miners, and change agents.

Presales roles in the complex solution sale
Forrester Research found that, 74% of executive buyers pick the company that helps them create the buying vision. In other words, they choose a company that helps them see the need to do something different. And only 26% say they choose a winner from a fair bake-off.

The buying vision forms a framework of tailored value messages that go viral inside the customer’s organization and drive uniqueness and urgency into the conversation.  

The SE role as a trusted advisor is to examine the customer’s key business drivers while consulting with stakeholders at multiple organizational levels to mine for value and understand their motivation for change.  These ongoing discovery meetings often require moving between IT, line of business leaders, and process owners to uncover their known and unknown needs and pains on product lines, processes, systems, and workstreams.

The SE role as a value miner is to absorb, assess, and translate customer information into a set of insights, issues, or opportunities for action. SEs mine for value, synthesize their learnings, and connect these unknown and known customer needs to the capabilities provided by their solution. The art of value mining involves distilling this information into tailored value propositions to improve top-line and margins, reduce expenses, or increase agility and innovation.

The SE role as a change agent is to co-create a compelling buying vision in partnership with the AE.  Without a compelling buying vision, customers will see little to no difference between you and their current approach or any of your competitors. They will become indecisive or decide there is no urgency to change because their known needs and pains cannot warrant a change.

A strong buying vision so clearly maps value at every level that traditional selling is no longer needed. The team simply educates the buyer by presenting the evidence and creating urgency.

SEs should be equipped to lead this conversation and help shape the buying vision narrative for different customer stakeholders around why change, why now, and why their solution is uniquely able to deliver customer outcomes.

Shifting from Reactive to Proactive Presales

Despite high expectations of the role of presales in complex solution sales, many SEs are not equipped to become trusted advisors, value miners, and change agents. As it stands today, presales teams struggle to implement and onboard SEs into a structured presales motion with metrics and best practices proven to win more deals with less effort.

This struggle is due to the nature of the presales role as a support function for sales teams.  Account executives (AEs) own opportunities, manage pipelines, and make decisions that sometimes conflict with a structured presales motion and SE best practices. As a result, SEs are not empowered to realize their full potential and become reactive to the support needs of AEs.

When we stop to think about how the game of sales has changed, we realize the ultimate goal is to help buyers make sense of an increasingly complex world with many vendors and to remove any barriers to making a big, complex purchase. The old-school sales games, politics, and maneuvers lead to a poor customer experience and reactive presales. A reactive presales mindset responds tactically to sales support requests with limited visibility and a bias toward skepticism.

In contrast, an ownership mindset is proactive and highly intentional to strategically engage with customers on qualified opportunities. A proactive presales mindset gives SEs a conviction towards proactively executing the next-best, high-value actions to progress deals forward in partnership with their AE as a team - instead of waiting for the next support request in service of the AE.

The power of presales playbooks

SE leaders can solve this challenge by creating a presales playbook, gaining alignment with sales on the rules of customer engagement, and empowering presales teams to proactively execute the playbook. But what exactly is a playbook?

A playbook is a work methodology and a collection of plays for executing a repeatable strategy. Playbooks drive focus and intention on what matters most when engaging with customers. They clarify the core job to be done, how the job impacts the business, and how to manage a pipeline of assigned deals along a presales funnel.

SEs with a clear presales playbook are intrinsically motivated to gain focus and control and experience much higher job satisfaction. With a great presales playbook, your SEs proactively execute faster and more effectively. And it's not just SEs. Entire presales teams can transform from a reactive mindset to an ownership mindset and have a significant impact on the growth of a business.

The presales playbook is framed by three presales success principles - one for each phase of the presales technical win.  Phase one maps to the principle of customer-centric discovery for early-stage opportunities, phase two maps to the principle of tailored solution positioning for early and mid-stage opportunities, and phase three maps to the principle of prescriptive validation for mid and late-stage opportunities.

Presales success principles

Customer-centric discovery

The journey starts with customer-centric discovery to connect more deeply with customers and truly understand their product lines, processes, systems, and workstreams. Exceptional presales teams understand that this level of deep discovery (value mining) often requires a “give-to-get” mentality.  

This means giving value and, in return, earning the right to unlock doors and traverse the customer’s organization mining for value. The art of value mining involves distilling your learning, replaying those learnings to the customer, sharing insights, and injecting aha moments early and often to unlock more doors.

When done well, these activities can elevate the vendor to trusted advisor status with aha moments tailored around customer use cases and requirements. Teams that have mined for value are in a position to showcase their understanding and prove how their solution will improve top-line and margins, reduce expenses, or increase agility and innovation.

Actions and outputs from customer-centric discovery include the following.

  • Active listening
  • Business and technical discovery
  • Current and desired customer state
  • Pain and implication
  • Desired solution
  • Expected benefits
  • Objection handling

Tailored solution positioning

The next phase of the journey involves tailored solution positioning campaigns to align differentiated solution value to the customer needs at multiple levels in the organization. SEs lead demo presentations for different stakeholder groups.  Each successive demonstration presentation builds on the last with new information captured and distilled meaningfully for the audience.

This presales campaign evolves over the sales cycle with new learnings from past meetings that shape and refine generic selling messages into highly tailored and impactful value propositions. Actions and outputs from tailored solution positioning include the following.

  • Impactful presentations
  • Key value propositions
  • Relevant capability demos
  • Differentiated value for target use cases
  • Value selling capabilities and business impact
  • Industry and domain vernacular

Prescriptive validation

SEs influence as trusted advisors grow, enabling them to lead with prescriptive validation plans that outline a detailed proof-of-value strategy optimized for mutual success. This phase is the most time-intensive and expensive investment for the sales team, so prescribing and gaining agreement on a validation plan is essential for success.

The validation plan goes by different names, such as PoC plan, PoV plan, Pilot plan, or evaluation plan, which all mean the same thing. The key point is that the team has an informed point of view that prescribes the best, most effective plan and pitches that to the customer to gain agreement.

Slide decks work best gaining agreement from a buying committee before starting the validation process.

  • Detailed plans with roles and responsibilities
  • Technologies and security requirements
  • Tight narratives for negotiating the evaluation type and scope
  • Solution design
  • As-Is/To-Be diagrams
  • Custom code development vs out-of-the-box development
  • Project and time management
  • Confirmed date and attendees for the validation readout meeting

In summary, the three key success principles frame everything in the presales playbook. From within each principle, the playbook prescribes specific actions and assets to effectively deliver each of the bulleted items listed under each principle above.

Instrumenting presales metrics across the funnel

The B2B customer buying experience involves interactions with multiple sales teams as they progress through the sales funnel. SEs are assigned to opportunities that make up the presales funnel, and they execute a presales motion to progress opportunities efficiently and effectively through the funnel.

The need for SE systems of engagement

SEs must be empowered to proactively plan and execute the motion with focus and intention. They also need clarity on the impact of their work and how impact is measured. For clarity, presales funnel telemetry can be used to illuminate all presales pipeline data at every step in the presales motion.

SE work activities serve as inputs to leading and lagging indicators of performance. Leading indicators inform health scores which are powerful in delivering more accurate sales forecasting. Health scores amplify SE voices in joint pipeline and account reviews with sales teams. Lagging indicators reflect outcomes like win rate and won revenue.

While it may sound simple, instrumenting presales funnel metrics across the presales motion is difficult using existing CRM systems. CRM systems are excellent systems of record for sales forecasting, but CRMs are never owned, rarely administered, and not easily customized by presales teams to meet their unique needs.

Tracking SE activities becomes a massive endeavor for both presales leaders and SEs. For example, a typical CRM opportunity record often contains dozens of pages of irrelevant information a SE must sift through to arrive at a section for presales input on the opportunity.

When considering SEs work an average of ten active opportunities each, they would need to sift through hundreds of pages of CRM information to manage their pipeline. This poor user experience makes SE engagement for pipeline management very time-consuming which impacts the availability and quality of SE metrics.

Presales leaders simply lack the resources to instrument the metrics that matter for their teams. As a result, many presales leaders measure performance solely on lagging indicators such as win rate and revenue.  Consider a sports analogy to understand how ineffective this approach is.

Barry Sanders was eight time All Pro Running Back during his ten seasons with the Detroit Lions. Despite his breaking records, leading the league in rushing four times, and being named the league MVP, Detroit won less than half their games during this time.  Barry would be considered a "low performer" if his performance was measured solely on a lagging indicator of win rate.

Presales teams need more than just win rate and revenue. What is needed is a modern SE metrics stack that combines input metrics as leading indicators and output metrics as lagging indicators.

The modern SE metrics stack

The modern SE metrics stack includes input and output metrics that matter for the business. This metrics stack should be instrumented across the entire presales motion and easily tracked for full visibility into presales impact.

Input Metrics

  • Days Since SAL
  • Days Since Last Action
  • Days Since Last Input
  • Opps with Actions
  • Opps with Verifiers
  • Active Opps
  • Action Hours
  • Action Hours (30|60|90)
  • Attach Velocity
  • Evaluations
  • Avg Action Hours per Opp
  • Verifier Health Score
  • Stage Health Score
  • Opp Health Score

Forecast Metrics

  • SE Attached Opps
  • SE Pipe to Quota Ratio (if on individual quotas)
  • SE Forecast $
  • SE Weighted $
  • Avg Stage Duration per Stage

Output Metrics

  • Bookings $
  • Quota Attainment
  • Technical Win Rate
  • Overall Win Rate
  • ASP
  • SE Velocity (Duration)
  • $ per Action Hour

By capturing SE verifiers and actions, teams can create a full stack of SE metrics to amplify presales impact on the business.


In conclusion, shifting presales from reactive to proactive will accelerate revenue growth for B2B companies that sell complex solutions. A presales playbook is key when it comes to customer engagement, gaining alignment with sales, and empowering presales teams.  By creating a playbook and instrumenting a presales metrics stack across the funnel, SEs can drive the right metrics that matter for the business.

If you’d like to learn more about creating a presales playbooks and metrics stack, reach out directly to me (Bo Borland) on LinkedIn. I also encourage you to attend Playbuilt's free GTM Playmaker Webinar Series for Presales to learn how to create and automate your presales playbook.

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