From Cybersecurity Practitioner to Pre-Sales

This guide is a part of a series that explores how to break into pre-sales using your unique background and prior life experience. In this guide we focus on how to transition from being a cybersecurity practitioner or consultant into pre-sales.

Think about the last time you were in a sales meeting with a new vendor. You probably got the pitch, the slide deck, and some generic looking demo. If you did manage to stay awake you were probably wondering what the technical punchline was. As a cybersecurity practitioner, you probably deal with dozens of different technologies on a daily basis and have heard more sales pitches than you care to admit. Ever wonder if you could do it better?

It’s actually pretty common for someone in a cybersecurity pre-sales role to switch over to the customer side as a practitioner. However going from practitioner to pre-sales is a different story. Some common objections range from “sales people are evil”, to “I’ll lose my technical edge”.

All valid concerns, but there are also a lot of benefits to making the switch. Great pay. Cutting edge tech. Exposure to a lot of different customers across a variety of industries. If you’ve ever considered making the switch, this guide will help you see how your current skills map to a pre-sales role and how you can get started in the pre-sales profession.

Let’s start with a quick look at the pre-sales role itself and what the job is like.

A Look into the Pre-Sales Role

While many people looking to break into pre-sales are often put off by the technical requirements so many job descriptions ask for, they should be a breeze for you. After all, you’re deploying, managing, and reviewing alerts from dozens of tools each day. Interestingly, the portion of the job description that scares away practitioners most are the soft skills. Giving presentations, conducting demos, that sort of thing. So instead of being deterred, let’s take a look at what really matters when it comes to being in pre-sales.

At a high level, here is a list of the most common activities you’ll encounter in the role:

  • Participating in customer calls
  • Performing “discovery” to identify what a customer is looking for
  • Conducting product demos of your solution
  • Leading a proof of value (POV) / proof of concept (POC)
  • Addressing technical questions and concerns throughout the sales process

Alright, let’s break these down a little further. This time focusing on how your unique skills as a practitioner can help.

Tip: If you’d like a more in depth look at the world of pre-sales, have a peek at our guide on, “What is Sales Engineering?”.

Mapping Your Skills

Since soft skills can make such a big impact in the world of pre-sales, let’s look closer at some of the key skills that cybersecurity practitioners bring to the table mapped to the five common pre-sales activities previously mentioned.

Collaboration - Cybersecurity is rarely about technology, but more how you can use technology to enable the business. What’s the best way to find out what the business needs? Just ask! Whether it’s talking to a coworker in another department in your current role, or listening in on a customer call, collaborating together helps to build trust and relationships which can make a huge impact in a pre-sales role.

Critical Thinking - We’ve all had days where technology was not being our friend. What should be a simple config change or quick update turns into a troubleshooting nightmare. Knowing when to take a breath and reflect on the problem at hand will not only help you get through the problem, but it might help you understand the root cause as well. Discovery is no different. It’s about looking beyond the question at hand to identify the root cause of what your prospect is trying to accomplish.

Adaptability - If you’ve worked in the cybersecurity industry long enough, you know there is almost always more than one way to derive the answer to a problem. Being adaptable can help you try new solutions, think outside the box, and generate new ideas. Running a demo requires you to be adaptable in a similar manner. Every customer will have different requirements, it’s up to you to adapt your story and what you demo to match their needs.

Curiosity - Have you ever watched a demo of a product and wondered what it would be like in the real-world (outside the demo environment)? Would it detect the things the sales team promised it would? What about stopping threats? As a cybersecurity practitioner, curiosity to test new technology and see what limits you can take it too comes naturally. In pre-sales, running a POV/POC allows you to unleash your curiosity by putting solutions to the test to prove out use cases and business outcomes.

Resourcefulness - Having a deep technical background allows you to excel when it comes to question time. Even if you don’t know the direct answer, you can draw on experience and similar technology experiences to derive an answer. This level of resourcefulness is a key differentiator because you are able to act independently and address the majority of technical questions on your own.

So you can see from these five examples, you actually have a lot more pre-sales related skills then perhaps you realized. Now it’s time to hone in on what’s missing and take your first steps towards your journey into pre-sales.

Where to Focus Next

To begin your journey into your first pre-sales role, there are four tasks that you need to accomplish next. Let’s look at them in order.

Choose an Industry

A common mistake I see when talking to cybersecurity practitioners that are looking to break into pre-sales is being too broad in what they are looking for. You could work for a startup or a well established security vendor. You could work for a reseller of multiple technologies. You could even work for a Manager Security Services Provider (MSSP). However, before you start applying to a single role, you need to have a look at the different options that are out there and find what appeals to you.

For example, imagine you work as an Application Security Engineer in the healthcare industry. Your focus might be on protecting patient data and dealing with the complexities of ensuring HIPAA compliance as all time. But what if you suddenly found yourself inside the manufacturing industry? Would you know the unique challenges that practitioners in this vertical would be facing? Regardless of which industries catch your eye, explore some job postings and talk to a few folks in each to get a sense of if it’s really for you. Most pre-sales roles are industry agnostic, which you should be comfortable with, but if you want something more industry specific you can target established cybersecurity vendors that break out their teams into vertical coverage.

Shape Your Story: Transitioning Practitioner

Once you know what industries you are going to target, and you’ve done some skill mapping, it’s time to start crafting your story. This should include a few elements:

  • Your “why”, what is driving you into pre-sales
  • How your unique skills can make an impact
  • Your approach to overcoming obstacles

As you start to create your narrative, imagine you are talking to a hiring manager. What tone would you use? How would you weave in life stories to support your unique abilities? Remember you want to lean into your non-technical skills more heavily. The hiring manager knows you can “talk tech”, they want to know that you can hold a conversation with business leaders and the finance folks.

Lastly, record yourself delivering your story. Make sure, above all else, that you appear confident and calm in your delivery.

Update Your Resume + Digital Profiles

While this should be the easiest step on your to-do list, it’s also the most tedious. You will need to update your resume, LinkedIn, website (if you have one), and any other digital profiles for consistency. Each digital profile should include relevant experience, any projects that will help you stand out, and your story. Make sure you have a recent photo for each profile as well.

Tip: For each position that you’ve held in the past, including your current one, make sure you list your accomplishments in terms of outcomes. You did X, which had an outcome of Y. It’s about showing the results that you helped achieve.

Above all else, remember that your digital profiles should be concise! No hiring manager, HR professional, or really anyone for that matter, wants to read a novel.

Reach Out to Hiring Managers

You are almost there! Your last task is to start assembling a list of jobs that you want to apply to. Now this isn’t as simple as applying to a job because the world doesn’t work that way anymore. From insane competition to needing to really stand out, you’ll need to be very targeted and specific for each role you apply too.

Reach out to those that already work for the organization. Make a connection with the talent acquisition folks. Finally, submit your application AND reach out to the hiring manager with a personal note on the impact you can make in the role. Remember to lean on your unique story to help you rise above the noise. If you have friends, peers, and other connections in the industry already…leverage them as well to ask for introductions (where it makes sense).

Good luck and I hope to see you in your future pre-sales role soon!

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