Presales professionals go by a lot of different names: sales engineers, presales engineers, systems engineers, solution advisors, solution engineers, solution architects, technical account managers, business development engineers and my personal favorite, Jedi..... I achieved the Jedi Master designation while at Bluestone Software by helping a former SE that had moved over to the sales side of the organization return to his technical roots - coming back from the dark side....
I have been fortunate because over my entire post-college career, I have enjoyed each and every job that I've held. But of all the jobs I've held, the time I spent as a presales professional really includes some of my best times. From sales calls, to road trips, to user conferences, the best stories, the best meals, the best experiences were in that time.
Before we continue, I'd like to give my idea of what the actual job of a presales professional entails. While we can talk about presentations, architectural overviews, customer requirements, demos, proof of concepts, RFI/RFPs, etc., what it really boils down to is a very simple concept:
Overcome the customer's technical objections to your product or solution....
Everything that you do, all of the activities, processes and work, is simply to overcome objections. Pricing, contract, and financing are someone else's issues, they might be equally important objections, but usually if you've overcome all of the technical objections the rest of it is greatly simplified.
We can talk about that in person, but one 'best practice' that I'd like to reveal is knowing who the most important person is in the room. Early on in my presales career, I delivered thousands of customer presentations. Over that time, I noticed something, in discussing this with colleagues I found that some noticed it and some didn't. It's what I call 'The Most Important Person In The Room'. It's not always the target client, or their VP, or even the CEO. You'll generally notice it in a customer presentation/discussion where there are a lot of customer representatives, different levels of responsibility, different parts of the organization. Businesses see a lot of presentations on different products, services, solutions; some of which represent your competition. They all sound good, and should resolve the issues that they seek to address.
As a presales professional, you need to find out who is judging the technical merits of your solution and overcome any objections that he or she may have. As introductions are being made, pay attention to how people introduce themselves and how others around them react. As your sales rep makes the preliminary overview of why you are here, your company's understanding of their needs and requirements, watch the people around the room, especially if anyone asks questions. As you begin your presentation, engage each person (with your eyes) to see their reaction to what you are saying.
Usually in the 1st 5 minutes or so, you can identify who everyone is paying attention to in order to catch their reaction to your discussion. Either they've stated misgivings or their prejudices before the meeting or they are the technical expert in the organization that has responsibility to your offerings. Once you identify the person, be sure to answer their questions, you should be able to figure out what their objections are and work to resolve those objections during the meeting.