April 4, 2024

The Evolution of Pre-Sales and CS Alignment with Sara Jones

In this Sales Therapy episode, Sarah Jones discusses her tech industry journey, emphasizing empathy in leadership, challenges for women, and the evolving role of pre-sales in go-to-market strategies.

Meet our guest

Sara Jones, Chief Solutions Officer, GTM Partner at BoldCap

Sara Jones is a seasoned leader in client success and pre-sales, having worked with industry giants like SAP and Microsoft. Now, as Chief Solutions Officer, she pioneers innovative approaches to problem-solving while advising startups globally on customer success and pre-sales strategies.

Key takeaways

  • Pre-sales is a strategic role that focuses on business outcomes and building strong customer relationships.
  • Customer success is crucial for the long-term success of a company, and it should be a shared responsibility across the organization.
  • Pre-sales plays a pivotal role in the future of sales, and the Chief Solutions Officer role can help drive customer success.
  • Active listening, asking the right questions, and technical proficiency are key skills for client success managers.
  • Pre-sales should be valued and recognized for their contributions to go-to-market strategies.

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Watch the highlights

Childhood and early struggles in pre-sales 

The host Alper Yurder welcomes Sarah Jones, Chief Solutions Officer, whose career spans client success and pre-sales leadership roles at industry giants like SAP, Microsoft, and Zendesk. Sara, now a trailblazer in the solutions conversation, shares insights gleaned from advising startups globally on customer success and pre-sales strategies.

The conversation delves into Sara's upbringing, born in Zambia to British parents before settling in England, where she credits her adventurous spirit to her parents' influence. Sarah reflects fondly on her idyllic childhood, underlining the invaluable support and confidence instilled by her parents, particularly her working mother who set a strong example of balancing career and family.

Transitioning to her professional journey, Sara recounts her early struggles in pre-sales, vividly recalling her nerve-racking experience of delivering her first software demo. 

“I was so nervous and I was just dreadful. I was speaking to the screen, not to the audience. I was very wooden. It was just a terrible, terrible foray into the pre-sales role. It took me many months, I think until I stopped being physically sick before I was presenting through nerves.”

Despite initial setbacks, she shares a pivotal piece of advice that shaped her approach: "The minute you stop being nervous is the minute that you're not any good on your feet anymore."

Moving to the United States on a two-year assignment, Sara found herself enamored with Atlanta's vibrant multiculturalism, geographical convenience, and favorable climate. She highlights Atlanta's appeal as a melting pot of diverse cultures and cuisines, along with its proximity to scenic mountains and coastlines.

Throughout her career, Sara's unwavering passion for pre-sales has remained constant.

“I'm very passionate about it. I think it is one of the best-kept secrets in the tech world. It's the secret sauce for successful customers after a sales engagement, a go-to-market motion. So yeah, I love the pre-sales role.”

The evolution and bias in pre-sales

Alper Yurder and Sara Jones discuss the shifting landscape of pre-sales roles in today's economic climate. Alper underscores the growing emphasis on customer satisfaction and resource optimization, particularly in light of current economic constraints. Sara concurs, observing a marked increase in the recognition of pre-sales as strategic assets.

“I was the demo person in the corner of the room when I first started in pre-sales. And now it really is a strategic role. We're responsible for helping to build and justify business cases for working out the value metrics for aligning to customer's strategy, customer's vision for what they want to do with technology.”

Reflecting on her early career experiences, Sara shares highs and lows, from inspiring customers with technology solutions to grappling with technological challenges like dial-up connections and network glitches. 

She also sheds light on the gender biases she encountered, recounting instances where she felt undermined due to her gender.

“But just, you know, some of the questions that you'd get about, you know, being home and looking after your husband or, you know, making babies or cooking or… Just things like that were quite eye-opening. I can remember at one point I had turned to my husband and said, I feel like I've gone back in a time warp. It's back to the 1950s, not the 1990s.”

As they delve deeper, they explore the persistent challenges faced by women in leadership positions. Sara remarks that in some cases, it does feel like a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be recognized for the same job. This sentiment underscores the need for greater awareness and conscious effort to combat biases and promote diversity in the workplace.

Throughout the conversation, both Alper and Sara stress the importance of self-awareness and continuous reflection to challenge ingrained biases. 

Embracing the solutions mindset

Next, Alper Yurder and Sara Jones delve into the transformative journey of pre-sales within the tech industry, highlighting its growing importance in driving customer success. 

“It's everybody's job in a SaaS world for customer success. It shouldn't just be one label that's given to an organization for customer success. It should be everybody's role within that organization.”

Sara shares her personal evolution from being a demo person to advocating for the role of Chief Solutions Officer, emphasizing the shift towards becoming trusted advisors to customers. She reflects on the traditional approach where customer relationships often start anew post-sales, identifying it as a potential breakpoint in the customer journey. 

She introduces the concept of an "infinite loop" in customer relationships, stressing the need for seamless transitions from pre-sales to customer success.

“We're landing in a customer, they're adopting, and they're consuming, and they're expanding, and they're renewing. So it's an infinite loop, and your relationship should be that same infinite loop.”

Drawing inspiration from industry leaders like James Kaikis, Sara underscores the role of pre-sales in championing continuous engagement and support throughout the customer lifecycle. She cites Snowflake as a prime example of an organization that prioritizes customer satisfaction through integrated pre-sales approaches, resulting in high customer loyalty and consumption rates.

Navigating the dynamics of client success

In the last section of the episode, Alper Yurder delves into the day-to-day realities of client success management with Sara Jones. Sara emphasizes the delicate balance between achieving quotas and prioritizing customer interests, stressing the need for alignment across leadership levels to ensure profitability and customer satisfaction.

“I think it's balancing act that, yes, I'm going to get my quota with the, profitability for a company with the best interests of the customer in mind. So it's definitely a balancing act. And I think all of that has to be looked at when you are a leader, be it a sales leader, a customer success leader, a pre-sales leader, CRO, all of that needs to be looked at when you're looking at how sales are executing their pipeline.”

Reflecting on her experience, Sara underscores the importance of active listening, technical proficiency, and teamwork for success in client-facing roles.

Sara shares insights from her tenure at SAP and Zendesk, recalling complex deals involving meticulous coordination and communication across teams. She highlights the necessity of documentation and transparent communication, especially in scenarios of high turnover, to maintain continuity and trust with clients. 

“You can't rely on everything being in somebody's head at any given time. [...] So trying to get that down, documented somewhere is absolutely key. And I think that, you know, customers like transparency and communication. So I think as long as you're upfront with them and staying in communication, it's a win-win.”

Their conversation underscores the evolving role of pre-sales in driving SaaS success, with Sara advocating for greater recognition and support for pre-sales teams. The dialogue concludes with Sara affirming the pivotal role of pre-sales in modern go-to-market strategies, urging against underestimating their contribution. 


Full episode transcript

Alper Yurder: Excellent. So today in the Therapy Chair, we have Sarah Jones, who after many years as client success and pre-sales leader, at a giant like SAP, Microsoft, Zendesk, et cetera, is now pioneering the solutions conversation, the Chief Solutions Officer role, as well as advising startups globally on all things customer success and pre-sales. We'll talk about her success, the joy, the pain, and the journey. Welcome to Sales Therapy, Sara.

Sara Jones: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Alper Yurder: Okay, great to have you here. Second time lucky. We tried to record this once, but the internet gods didn't allow us. So let's see if we're lucky this time. Excellent. And how are you feeling today?

Sara Jones: I am good. I am excited about spring on its way and finally getting winter behind us so looking forward to sunshine.

Alper Yurder: Sunshine wise, I would say, I would argue, Sara, you're in a better place than a Londoner like myself. Don't you agree?

Sara Jones: Yes, very fortunate in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. We have a lot of sunshine, a lot of blue skies and heat and then the humidity that will hit us in the summer.

Alper Yurder: Oh, yes, I'm looking forward to that heat wave. Global warming, not good heat wave. Unfortunately, good for a person, Mediterranean person like me. And in Georgia, remind me again, am I am I confusing with somewhere else? But is it Georgia? Is it associated with its orange?

Sara Jones: Peaches, we're fondly known as the peach state.

Alper Yurder: Ah, Peach State. Peach State, yes, of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah. All right. If I have any Georgian audience and listeners, I do apologize for that big confusion. Well, Sara, it's great to have you here. I've been following your journey on LinkedIn and I really love your platform and how you're pioneering the conversation around what is client success, pre-sales, solutions architecture, and solutions person. And we'll talk about all of those things.

Sara Jones: Yes. Yes.

Alper Yurder: But any good therapy really starts with your growing up years, your childhood, your younger years. I love understanding how that experience actually shapes the person we are today. Would you mind sharing with our audience a little bit where you grew up? What was that experience for you like?

Sara Jones: Oh, sure. Yes. So I was born in Zambia to British parents who were working there at the time. I think I got my love for traveling from both of them as they were very adventurous way before it became trendy to be adventurous. But I grew up in England just outside London, actually, and had a wonderful childhood. Both my parents worked. My mum is a teacher and set a good role model about how working mothers should be in a family. And from both of those parents, I always was 100 % supported. I think that's so important to feel like you can do anything and be told you can do anything and be anything and have that unconditional love and support and care and cherishing behind you and I most definitely had that. So I started my working life. Yes, I feel very blessed. I know not everyone has an upbringing like that, but really looking back it was idyllic and I'm very grateful to two parents who definitely instilled confidence and a belief in me and I think that comes from childhood.

Alper Yurder: Oh, I love that. Good for you. Actually, I had a previous guest, Patrick Trümpi, and he and I, we were talking about this very much, like where does the drive for success come from? And, you know, that strive for always being better and like achieving more, et cetera. And, obviously, for anyone who goes to therapy, there's going to be a bit of association with yourself, how you see yourself, your self-awareness, how...you were shown love, what's your love language, if it had to be somehow tied to behaving well, achieving well, et cetera. So some people might be doing it just to get a bit more of that dopamine, but I'm glad you had a different experience than that.

Sara Jones: Yes, yeah, we all go through our own ups and downs, I guess, that shape you into the human being that you are. So yeah, it's interesting. I love taking it back all the way there. So thanks for that, Elba. That's interesting.

Alper Yurde: True. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it's where it all starts. And when you're having like friction with your team, when you're upset with why didn't you get a promotion, this, that, it all ties back to those things. And I mean, that's the idea with sales therapy. Like therapy, the sooner you go, the better that you will have that awareness. And I love that. I love...

Sara Jones: Yes, I love it.

Alper Yurder: I love that you have like a “believe” sign behind you. Where's that coming from?

Sara Jones: Oh, yes, I had a quote that I used to use a lot when I was first married, dream, believe, achieve, and believe matches in with a lot of what Wonder Woman stands for. And I am very much a Wonder Woman fan. And then Ted Lasso, of course, I love soccer and Ted Lasso is a big “believe” fan.

In fact, I even have his “believe” sign over my door in my home office here. So yeah, that's, so I have belief on both sides of my office, which is quite, quite fun.

Alper Yurder: Good. No, I don't think you need that. Maybe I need those reminders and nudges in my room a little bit more than you do. I think for you it comes a bit naturally as well.

Sara Jones: Oh, I love the positivity of self-help.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I love that too. The first time we met and we had a conversation and I asked you something and I actually pushed you and I provoked you on the question and you never stepped back from your positivity about it. And I was like, okay, this woman, she is a kind spirit, kind heart, good, nun. How should I say? I'm a little bit, sometimes I come across as a bit too much and a bit critical and like of myself and of others.

And I was like, this is the person who has a nurturing soul. So I completely get the obsession with client success and solutions and pre-sales because I think a lot of the best people that do that job, which requires a lot of patience, nurturing, love, affection for the client, that kind of spirit really helps, doesn't it?

Sara Jones: I think so. I've always been very people-centric. I am genuinely interested in people. My husband groans when we get on a plane because I'm the one who's going to start a conversation with the stranger sitting beside me, whereas he just wants to open his book or listen to music. And I care. I do care about people and what makes them tick and I'm interested in their lives. And I think that is an underrated trait in a lot of leaders is that caring, kindness trait that really does help to get the best out of people. The world in general needs a lot more kindness.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, and sometimes absolutely, I agree. By the way, I'm also very curious about people at first, but then I think my limits of patience can sometimes be a little bit stretched and definitely goes back to childhood. Anyway, that's another story. But one thing that I wanted to ask you as a follow-up on that, can that sometimes be taken as a weakness because sometimes our leaders expect it to be also like, you know, very strict and like make tough decisions and kindness sometimes be taken as a weakness doesn't it? I've seen it in my experience for sure.

Sara Jones: Yes, yes, I would fully agree with that. But I think if you're authentically kind and authentically interested in people and have empathy, I think most people would see it as a strength.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. I agree on that. All right, so let's start talking a little bit about that career-defining moment moments in your life. Did you wait? How did your career start?

Sara Jones: So my career started working for a small company in the UK. I actually started out in a marketing role before being lured into the tech world with an intriguing job opportunity to demo software, which was not really a thing back when I first started. And I was absolutely terrible at it. I can still vividly remember my first demos.

I was so nervous and I was just dreadful. I was speaking to the screen, not to the audience. I was very wooden. It was just a terrible, terrible foray into the pre-sales role. It took me many months, I think until I stopped being physically sick before I was presenting through nerves.

And then to, in fact, I got a great piece of advice from somebody very early in my career. I had seen somebody who was a phenomenal presenter at the company I was working for. And I asked him, I said, I said, you're so confident and so, you know, charismatic and magnetic up on the stage. How do you do it? And he said, well, he said, you channel the nerves. He said, the minute you stop being nervous is the minute that you're not any good on your feet anymore. And it was hugely eye-opening for me to know that here was this person who was much further along in his career than I was at the time, and he was still nervous. And I thought, OK, that gave me the grace and the confidence, I think, to know that, oh, well, even the best presenters who seem the most confident, they still get nervous. So it was learning how to channel that.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, well as long as you care, I guess you should be nervous. The moment you stop being nervous is the moment probably you stop caring, I guess.

Sara Jones: Yes, yes. And that's exactly what he said. And that piece of advice never left me. Anyway, the time went on. I went to work for an American software company that was a British software company that was bought by an American software company that was headquartered in Atlanta. And that's how I moved over here. It was originally a two-year assignment. And he pretty much decided that, oh yeah, America is a really cool place to be. Wanted to stay a bit longer. And then after just a couple of years, then I moved into SAP America and had a very long career with SAP, doing lots and lots of different roles, starting from being an individual contributor, pre-sales, and really getting expert at what it means to be pre-sales before moving into various leadership roles.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I love that. I that. So once you were in Georgia and you saw the peaches in the sunlight, you were like, okay, I'm not going back to that dark gray cloudy country.

Sara Jones: Ah, I think it was a little bit of that. The weather did have a factor.

Alper Yurder: Okay. All right. All right. Well, because I'm looking outside the window right now as I'm recording in London and it's another great day here. And I guess some people love to run away and never look back. Me, I prefer to be in London, although I'm not a Londoner originally. It's been 10 years when I just love everything other than weather here, like the culture, the openness, you know, everything that the city provides. What do you love about Georgia? What do you love about Atlanta?

Sara Jones: Yes. I love that Atlanta is a very multinational city. There's lots of different cultures here. So any different food that you want to eat, for example, you can find any cuisine here in Atlanta. I like its geographic placement that it's we're only an hour away from the mountains and some beautiful lakes. We're only four or five hours away from either coast. So, you know, we can get to the Atlantic or down to the Gulf for long weekends, which is really super convenient. I love that the cost of living compared to some places in America is cheaper in Atlanta. I love the weather, absolutely love the weather. We're outdoors a lot and I like being able to rely on the weather. That's an important factor.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Yeah. I completely agree.

Sara Jones: And it's being East Coast-based, it's relatively short flight to get back to England.

Alper Yurder: Ah, okay, so you do those too. Okay, got you. So you started your career over there and with SAP. Have you always stayed in Atlanta and have you always stayed with client success and solutions and pre-sales types roles or have you tried different things as well?

Sara Jones: It's always been pre-sales, but lots of different variants of pre-sales. And Atlanta's home, but in between we've hopped around a little bit. So we hopped back to England for a couple of years and hopped to Shanghai, China for a few years before hopping back to Atlanta. All surrounded with pre-sales. I absolutely love the pre-sales role.

I'm very passionate about it. I think it is one of the best-kept secrets in the tech world. It's the secret sauce for successful customers after a sales engagement, a go-to-market motion. So yeah, I love the pre-sales role.

Alper Yurder: And I think people are waking up to that more and more every day. And especially in the economic environment where we are, where you can't, you know, feed a machine with leads all day, every day. You just need to figure out how to delight your customers and make more out of the existing in economical terms. It is the fact. So I think it becomes even more important. And I think those roles are now getting a bit more. How do you say the limelight? Getting more of the attention, getting more focus on that. Would that be an accurate thing to say these days?

Sara Jones: I hope so. I've definitely seen more of a focus on pre-sales in the last couple of years than I ever had before. I've witnessed the evolution of the role from when I first started to just being a demoer. I was the demo person in the corner of the room when I first started in pre-sales. And now it really is a strategic role. We're responsible for helping to build and justify business cases for working out the value metrics for aligning to customer's strategy, customer's vision for what they want to do with technology. And with that comes a lot more focus on business outcomes, right? And a lot less on just show me some features and functions in a piece of software. So it's definitely been a huge evolution of the role and I...

Alper Yurder: Yeah, it's not too much of a choice. Yeah.

Sara Jones: I can see more evolution coming as, you know, pre-sales have earned that trusted advisor badge over the, definitely over the last five years. And I don't think that's leveraged enough within companies right now. So, and the smart ones are waking up to it.

Alper Yurder: I completely agree. Yeah. Especially now since a year and a half that we've started building Flolar and getting a lot of traction in the pre-sales world and onboarding and high-touch implementation. And I think the sales and client success roles in general, there's a bit of convergence going on and I'm going to come to all those and I want to pick your brains on them. But before I come to those, I want to dig a little bit deeper into the different roles that you had and the highs and lows of each because there might be people listening to you and in those same shoes right now. So when you were that demo girl, for example, demo Sarah, whatever that was, what was that experience like? Do you have your highs and some moments where you were like, oh, this is terrible. Did you have any of those?

Sara Jones: Oh, definitely. Mostly highs, because like I said, it's a fantastic job. The highs were nearly always in front of the customer, just being able to get that light bulb effect go off when you're speaking to a customer about technology and what it can do to enhance their environment and bring about real results. Once you start as a pre-sales person explaining that, you can definitely see that their eyes light up and their head full of ideas now of what life could be with good technology, good solutions. So those are most definitely the highs. The lows, I think, in that are, oh, goodness me, when I first started demoing, we had to wait for dial-up lines and trying to get into customers' networks and...

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Thank you.

Sara Jones: …just the technology glitches that you would get as a pre-sales person. It was incredibly stressful, especially if you... Yes, yeah, yeah. But back in those days when I was demoing day in, day out, it was definitely the infrastructure that gave the most stress. It's like, oh my gosh, can't get a line out. The line keeps dropping. Can't get through a firewall or the VPN or whatever. It was...

Alper Yurder: And here we are complaining about Zoom chats.

Sara Jones: Yeah, very stressful.

Alper Yurder: And in terms of the perception of the role, I think that's very real, especially when you're junior, when you're very young in your career, maybe even sad to say, but when you're a woman, you know, the treatment can be sometimes a little bit different. Did you, you already mentioned like, you know, I was the demo person. Like that's kind of, it's like calling an SDR, like, you know, yeah, just send some emails. Like really.

In a way, it's a heuristic we use to define things. It makes it very easy to understand, but at the same time, it's quite undermining of the things that people do, isn't it? Like, did you have any of those, you know, not fun experiences?

Sara Jones: Yes, I can remember the company that I joined as part of the acquisition that brought me to America. I was the first female in their sales organization. That was pre-sales, sales, everything. And I was most definitely considered an oddity, I think, especially because it was very, it was maintenance management software, which is very male-heavy anyway because a lot of it is high asset-intensive things that you're trying to maintain. So it was most definitely not an area that you'd find a lot of females in anyway. But just, you know, some of the questions that you'd get about, you know, being home and looking after your husband or, you know, making babies or cooking or…

Just things like that were quite eye-opening. I can remember at one point I had turned to my husband and said, I feel like I've gone back in a time warp. It's back to the 1950s, not the 1990s. So that was quite amusing looking back, although it was very frustrating at the time.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, clearly. Yeah. And as the roles evolved and you start to getting like managerial or leadership positions, did that evolve into some other type of, I guess, misogyny or overall it was I'm sure overall it was a good experience because also you're you're kind of a positive person in the way you perceive things. I'm sure you bounce back from those. But the reason I did this and I'll dig just for another second and then I'll move on…

Sara Jones: Thank you.

Alper Yurder: …is because I think these issues now it's like, oh, yeah, a woman. Oh, yeah. Being a woman is really hard and that. But people don't really get it. It's just like now we just say it because it's on TV and it's all over the place. And it's something politically correct to say, you know, it's difficult to be a minority. But no, but like we don't really dig the experience. What does it mean? And I asked the previous guest in one of the shows and some of the things she explained to me is like, OK, this makes it real. This is why it's still relevant today that a woman, being a woman is harder than being a man on average.

Sara Jones: Yes, and I would agree with your previous guest. It is definitely still harder for a woman to break into leadership, to continue to rise the ranks for various reasons. So people tend to hire those that they're comfortable with and those that they're comfortable with are people that look like them, right? So it is still really hard to get outside of that hiring bias too, unless you're consciously aware of it. Now I'm consciously aware of it. When I see companies that post pictures of their board or their leadership team, I'm actively looking and then very disheartened when I see that 95 % of them are still looking the same as they have had in all of history. It's not just gender bias, it's all diversity that, you know, looking for in a leadership team. Same thing when I'm researching companies, I'm looking at how their board is made up. And it's the same, it's the same thing. It's very few women and a lot of people who look the same. So and that bias will only change as and when there are more women in there to be hiring people who look like them, right?

Alper Yurder: Yeah.

Sara Jones: I think that that and maybe the pendulum needs to swing so far the other way before it balances somewhere in the middle. But it is definitely something that I notice. I do.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, probably some industry over here. Oh, sorry.

Sara Jones: I do also notice that it does take, and I'm generalizing here because there are so many men that are supportive of women in the workplace, but in some cases, it does the old adage that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be recognized for the same job. I do still see elements of that in different companies that I've worked at over the last few years.

And it is, again, another one of those frustrating elements that, you know, you could be doing the exact same job as the man, but you're not being recognized for it because you're not going above and beyond even more than what the man would be doing. And again, you know, I am generalizing, but, you know, there are still frustrations that I see as a female and not just looking at it from just that gender perspective, you know.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You already pointed out it, which is really cool. I mean, you already pointed out to something very like distinct. It's not just women, women who look like, you know, a certain type. And I think that speaks a lot of volume to it too. I'd read that this was a few years ago, but like they did a Fortune 500 study and like, obviously.

Sara Jones: …very conscious about diversity across all the spectrums now.

Alper Yurder: You know, only 1% of women as CEOs and et cetera, but it was like how many Johns? Like, you know, 10, 15 Johns among those 500 names. And how many of them are higher than 180, 190 in centimeters? It was like, you know, 20 % of CEOs are above a certain height. They played basketball. I mean, this similarity to attraction bias thing is very fun. I think at the same time it's miserable, but it's also very human.

Sara Jones: Yes.

Alper Yurder: I mean, it's also very human. So we all have it, all those biases we all have.

Sara Jones: Yes, yeah. But the difference is, is those that recognise those biases and then have them as something that they're consciously aware of, that's the difference, because then you're working against that rather than just going with the flow.

Alper Yurder: Absolutely. And I think that works to all walks of like, like being awareness, being constantly aware and conscious of the thing. Like on my day, I have points where I try to make myself aware of something about selling something about demoing, you know, like, for example, you mentioned demoing and no matter how much experience you have and how much, you know, you, you, you have all the presence and you do all the right things. You might go into an automatic mode and you can just be the one speaking for 70% of the call, you know, even if you told yourself not to do it a year ago, or you saw in a call recording that you are the one who is monopolizing the conversation, you might fall into that trap. So being aware, being constantly nudged of those things is important, even for leaders, I think. It's a constant thing.

Sara Jones: Yes, fully agree.

Alper Yurder: Love that. Segway into your current role and the things that you like to talk about generally in terms of pre-sales or the chief solutions officer role, for example. You advocate for that pivotal role of solutions in the future of pre-sales. Maybe could you elaborate a little bit by what you mean by that and where is that coming from? Obviously, it's coming from a place of experience. So maybe could you elaborate like after that demoing person as she grows into the manager, leadership roles, et cetera, and she sees things that she likes and doesn't and forms an opinion. Can you maybe lead us through that journey a little bit and where's the Chief Solutions Officer thing coming from?

Sara Jones: Sure. So I, like I said, I love the role of pre-sales. I have seen the evolution of that move into where pre-sales does become the trusted advisor. We work really hard to establish credibility and trust and partnership and relationships within a customer as part of that pre-selling motion up until the customer has made that decision that, yes, this is the solution that's going to help me.

And then historically, you know, we've kind of thrown it over the fence to another part of the organization or a partner to deal with. So, you know, it goes to a partner for implementation or to consulting. And then, you know, that we have this organization called Customer Success that sort of picks it up from there. But I think that I think there's a little of that that's broken and last year, I was very fortunate enough to take a step back from working. So I wasn't so heads down in an individual role that I was able to actually look at the SaaS world from the outside in. So I was looking at it from the customer's journey. And when I mapped out that customer's journey and where potential breakpoints were in that, working with a vendor, that's the biggest one is after they've said, yes, this is the software I want.

And then they have to start all over again within a vendor to build trust and credibility on both sides. And so this is where I could see that evolution. It's everybody's job in a SaaS world for customer success. It shouldn't just be one label that's given to an organization for customer success. It should be everybody's role within that organization. And therefore, then, if you've created all of those relationships upfront, why should you not then carry that over? Because in the SaaS world, it's not the signing of the contract that's most important. It's the adoption of your software and getting raving fans of your solution. And that comes with consumption and adoption, right? It comes with the use of your solution and it comes with the repetitive use, i.e. the renewals.

So, you know, everybody in the organization should be behind that. But I really think that pre-sales should kind of own that journey, that infinite loop, right? So, you know, we're landing in a customer, they're adopting and they're consuming and they're expanding and they're renewing. So it's an infinite loop of, and your relationship should be that same infinite loop that matches. And so hence the, and I'm not the only pre-sales leader who…

Alper Yurder: Yeah, absolutely.

Sara Jones: …has coined this. In fact, Chief Solutions Officer came from James Kaikis, who's now at Testbox, in a Chief Solutions Officer role. And I absolutely love what he has been doing to evangelize the continual evolution. And I fully agree. And there are others out there who can see this journey happening, especially in the marketplace that we're in right now.

What's top of mind for CEOs? CEOs, they want to increase revenue, increase customer sat and reduce costs. But this evolution of this part of the go-to-market motion is a classic way to be able to do that.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, especially now more than ever. I mean, everybody knows the use case for retention, but we still call it retention. I just love how you mentioned, I think all the... Can I now call us client success leaders? Maybe it's now a wrong term, but anyway, people with a customer-centric view, let's say, they explain. I had Kristi Faltorusso so last week on the show and she mentioned something.

We are the ones who introduce different stages to the buyer's experience, like pre-sales, onboarding, retention, all these things. The buyer, at the end of the day, they come face to face, to first contact with somebody who sells up the product, and then they just want a seamless experience all the way, and they just want not to be bothered by any of these things. So when you say there's a salesperson or maybe somebody who's… closing the deal, who's done the whole thing and like sold the deal and now another person who sits across the room, client success or whatever, you now start all over. You now take care. That's a horrible way to look at business. Have you seen that very specifically in some organizations, yours or outside where this kind of friction introduced by the organization to the buyer's experience actually ruined things?

Sara Jones: I don't think it ruins things. I would love to be able to look at some statistics about customer satisfaction and retention and renewal rates to organizations that take this approach versus those.

Alper Yurder: Thank you.

Sara Jones: We have pre-sales and we have a customer success. We have sales and we have a customer success organization. I'd love to be able to see some stats side by side for that. One of the companies that I do admire a lot for having the new model and has had it for as long as I can remember is Snowflake. And I do really love the fact that they are 150 % focused on customer satisfaction and do not have a customer success team. But they do have a very, very, very large pre-sales team now that looks after that entire customer life cycle. And I say very, very large, very, very large in relation to other ratios that I see between sales, pre-sales and success in other parts of the tech world, but hey, it seems to be working for them. They've got great revenues, great growth and great customer satisfaction. I think there could be a lot to be learned from that.

Alper Yurder: So Sara, when you say all those things, maybe it's not very clear. Maybe if we can drill down a little bit into what are they doing differently? What comes to your mind that you really like is different from the norm that fits in better to this new description of pre-sales or being a solutions-minded rather than a sales and client success fragmentation-minded organization.

Sara Jones: Yeah, well, well, the number one thing that jumped out at me when I learned a little bit more about how they support their customer base is they don't have a customer success organization, which is a very rare thing in the tech world. But their customer loyalty and their consumption is very, very high. And I do attribute that to the relationship that is made with customers from the beginning of that cycle through that infinity loop.

Alper Yurder: I love that. And I know that's, I mean, I've started my experience of client success. Now I feel really bad, distincting the two after this conversation, but that's the language I have. So I'll go on with it. I've started my post-consulting career in sales. So I'm in a sales guy, salesperson. Client success is something that I learned about our customer success. And then I started managing customer success teams as a sales leader.

Which was also an experience with a bit of friction because sometimes the alignments are different. Personalities are different. As I say, there's a nurturing personality with one. Another one is like a go-getter, like results-driven, I don't care, sell, and then somebody else will take care of it. There's a lot of that too, right? So, so, so for an organization to be like really aligned across all those, like from the first contact of the buyer, all the way to being happy, renewing, like what are some must-haves in your opinion that will make that relationship much more interesting?

Sara Jones: I think that one of the things that is most important is the trust that is built between a vendor and the buyer. And that comes with a lot of active listening and understanding about what it is that the buyer is trying to achieve. It's asking the right questions to get the right metrics that you need to be able to prove it out at the end. It is being able to aligned to what it is that the problems that they're actually trying to solve with technology rather than trying to force a solution in and make it fit. So I think it all boils down to, you know, trust wraps around all of those with a nice red bow, I think. And, you know, that takes some time and effort to be able to get that.

Alper Yurder: Some of the, I mean, I think at the leadership level, these are the conversations that we have, but then what it boils down to is what the day-to-day of a client success manager is or person in that support role or, you know, hand holding role. You know, I want to dig a little bit into those things because our users generally share with us some of their frustrations. So I want to, you know, before we come to the end of the conversation, I want to throw a few experiences your way that are real experiences from our users.

And if they resonate with you, if you have some tips and practical strategies for them, would that be okay?

Sara Jones: Sure.

Alper Yurder: Okay, great. So one of the things that comes out a lot in our conversations is there's a bit of an information asymmetry during handover. You know, sales, as I said, like the salesperson, they did their thing, they sold the product and now it's kind of like, say who has to jump in at the last minute to actually save the day because we don't even know if they sold the right thing. Sometimes there's a bit of churn because of that. Have you had those moments and what do you have to do maybe as a manager who is building that team or as a leader, what do you have to do to make sure that those situations do not occur frequently?

Sara Jones: It's a really fine line, isn't it? Because, you know, having worked with some of the best salespeople on the planet at the different companies that I've been at, I've definitely seen how the very best pre-sales, the very best salespeople are, they're going to blow their quota no matter what. But I think it's balancing that, yes, I'm going to get my quota with the, profitability for a company with the best interests of the customer in mind. So it's definitely a balancing act. And I think all of that has to be looked at when you are a leader, be it a sales leader, a customer success leader, a pre-sales leader, CRO, all of that needs to be looked at when you're looking at how sales are executing their pipeline. At the end of the day, you are paying them for revenue through the door. And I think that the way that compensation models are set up for that will then determine what type of behavior you get from your sales team.

Alper Yurder: And, you know, back in the day… because a lot of deals were new deals for a lot of years. And then as the client's kind of baseline started to build up, a lot of those deals would start becoming like the line between new deal and expansion would start to blur. And then some client success people would be like, what the hell I'm doing all the job. Why is this person getting and then the commission friction and etc. So how you shape your team and how you incentivize them plays a role in this, you say.

Sara Jones: Absolutely, yes.

Alper Yurder: All right. And when you're in the trenches again, as let's say, a young client success manager, let's even make it a persona, which is very real people that are using our product. Like, you know, second role, first role was like BDR for two years in uni and then after uni, and then you became a client success manager and they told you, you know what, your job is to make sure that people are happy once sales has done their thing.

In the shoes of that person, what are some of the things you have to make sure that you have or you ask your manager or leadership to make sure that you're doing a good job, to make sure that you have the bare minimum to do a good job? Would you have any comment on that?

Sara Jones: Yes, I think that there are a couple of things. First of all is really good active listening skills. So being able to listen and take notes well. And then as a follow on from that is asking the right questions. So being able to drill down further, you know, in any sales role, you're going to need that skill, that the art of the open-ended questions and the art of getting to the why, I think is really, really key in any of those roles. I think that being technically proficient, so you do have to understand the solution that you're selling. It's all well and good being a phenomenal salesperson or a phenomenal business development person, but if you don't understand how the solution for the company that you're working at, really works in a customer environment, then you're missing a huge trick. So being aware of that solution, at least aware, is super key. And then teamwork, it always takes a team to close a deal and keep customers happy. So being able to work in that team environment without ticking people off and without… upsetting either the customer or your teammates is super important too.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And you've worked in some giant organizations like SAP and then you were with Zendesk, which is a huge success story as well. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the more complex deals that you've been involved in? What did they look like? What were the difficulties? What were the frustrations? How would you navigate them? Maybe a few stories from those.

Sara Jones: Well, there's one that springs to mind. It was a university hospital, very scripted demos. It was three weeks worth of multi-track scripted demos. So it wasn't just one room, one stage for those three weeks. It was multiple rooms, multiple stages for three weeks that were heavily scripted. It had taken a huge amount of effort to coordinate and prep for this. It was an absolute nightmare. But it all went off like clockwork. You know, on the day, every day, it all went off like clockwork. Like those beautiful swans that you see swimming so gracefully, they just seem to glide across the water. And underneath, you see their little legs are paddling so hard to give that effortless glide across the water.

And that's what it was like working some of those complex deals. There was so many cogs and moving parts. Those paddles were furiously paddling underneath the water, but always just gliding.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And where does where does that does that complex to JLE stem from?

Sara Jones: Well, SAP has got a very broad solution. So, you know, everything across finance, procurement, supply chain, HR, when you're bringing all of that into an organization, it's a lot. There's a lot of customer stakeholders, there's a lot of SAP stakeholders, and it's complex, right? Because in a...In any organization, there's always handovers between those different departments. And it's the same with the software that supports it. So, you know, it's complicated to present that type of a solution if that's what the customer is looking for is a true business solution.

Alper Yurder: When some people switch from maybe high velocity sales, which is quite straightforward into more complex as multiple stakeholders, you have to convince everybody, maybe tell the same thing again. And you mentioned the multiple demos, et cetera. Like how do they navigate that world? And like, how would you make sure that everything is working like clockwork? Are you creating a project timeline? Are you creating plan? How are you communicating with people? Like, how are you juggling all those things?

Sara Jones: Yes. All of the above. So that pursuit was before Slack, but at Zendesk for our more complex accounts there, which was no way as complicated as SAP, but still some of them required a lot of moving pieces to execute correctly. So various Slack channels, Teams rooms, a lot of internal meetings, project plans. Asana is a great tool to be able to make sure you're keeping track on everything. And a lot of collaboration and open communication.

Alper Yurder: I'd generally like to ask…My last question is going to be again from a very real case that I've heard recently. When there is a bit of high turnover in the client success team in your organization, let's say like you've sold a product and the person who needs to onboard the product, the onboarding manager, et cetera, they may change during the process. Have you had those situations where there was high turnover, people changing, both in your team and maybe in the client's team? And how would you navigate those or how would you preempt those situations? What would you do to make sure that when that sugar hits the fan, you're taking care of that situation?

Sara Jones: Yes, you most definitely need documentation, right? You can't rely on everything being in somebody's head at any given time. And I must say, I haven't experienced high turnover that's happening like that, where it's becoming a persistent problem. But you're always going to experience when knowledge walks out the door because you haven't managed to capture it in any form when it walks out the door, it's in somebody's head. So trying to get that down, documented somewhere is absolutely key. And I think that, you know, customers like transparency and communication. So I think as long as you're upfront with them and staying in communication, it's a win-win.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, absolutely. And you show that you care and, you know, you make preempting things as much as possible. I think I love that. Like that kind of takes away the anxiety and fear from each side. So that communication and yeah, I love it. All right. Excellent. Well, Sara, as we're coming to the end of our time as a good therapist, I would have to cut us on the clock.

Sara Jones: Yes.

Alper Yurder: But is there any question that I should have asked you that I didn't ask?

Sara Jones: Oh, that's a great question. And now I can't think of one.

Alper Yurder: Is there anything you wanted to say on this podcast that I didn't allow you to say?

Sara Jones: No, because you've very graciously allowed me to say that pre-sales is definitely the secret source for go-to-market motions in the SaaS world. I think that's probably the only thing I would want to end on is that please don't underestimate your pre-sales team. They are definitely worthy of a whole lot more.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I think the days of having the luxury to underestimate the pre-sales team are gone. And these tight times, those hard times are actually teaching a lot of people all of good lessons. And that's one of them in the SaaS world, I think. Excellent. Sara, thank you very much for joining me on Sales Therapy today. I hope you enjoyed your session and I'm looking forward to having you back on the show again.

Sara Jones: Alfa, all right, this has been great. Thank you so much for hosting me.

Alper Yurder: Absolutely. And I'm sure we'll keep in touch and we'll have you back again. But for this time, that's a wrap on this episode of Sales Therapy. If you enjoy the show, subscribe to us on YouTube and on your favorite podcast platform. Otherwise, make sure you stay aware, you stay self-aware all day, every day, and make sure to put yourself reminders and not just to retain the good habits that you create guys. And until next time, that was our show with Sarah Jones today. Thank you.

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