It’s hard to overstate how pivotal presales (solutions engineers) are to your revenue growth. Findings by Mckinsey concluded that “to improve sales, pay more attention to presales.”
Yet, most software companies report that it may take 6 to 12 months to onboard new sales engineers so that they can pull off compelling demos and give a technical deep dive at workshops on their own.
HashiCorp has implemented a new approach to enable and empower their presales teams. Lance Larsen, Head of Emerging Product Solutions Engineering (Consul), walks us through their journey to better presales enablement, increasing productivity and revenue.
- Hands-on scenario-based sales play shortens the onboarding of new hires by 4.5 months
- Zero setup time for demos makes sales engineers happy
- Funneling customers from workshops to POVs minimizes wastage
- Spend less time maintaining demos and more time on things that matter
- Sales-led and product-led approaches can benefit from using Instruqt
Effective presales enablement is a force multiplier. Read on this interview with Lance as he shares his best practices and hot tips on enabling and empowering presales in half of the time as usual.
What was HashiCorp’s journey to improve the onboarding of presales?
It’s an interesting story. I’ve used Instruqt in my various roles at HashiCorp for different use-cases. I used it a lot when I was a solutions engineer, and now leading groups of solutions engineers, I teach them how to use it.
Going back to when I was a solutions engineer and we didn’t have Instruqt is probably the best place to start, as that led to our original discovery session where we reached out to Instruqt.
There is a great case study on why we made that decision. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest checking it out. There, you will find the in-depth story of why Instruqt was our preferred virtual IT lab software. You will also get some hard facts to illustrate why we’ve found Instruqt so valuable for demand generation and presales enablement.
In the past, HashiCorp’s Sales Engineers were working in a siloed world
Before, every pre-sales person used to set up their own environment or work on their own machine.
We had a lot of institutional knowledge, which means our SEs had a lot of knowledge that wasn’t well categorized in repos or well tested.
Our structural processes was mainly folks saying in Slack,
“Hey, I built this demo this week. Here’s where it lives.”
We didn’t have a release cadence or enablement cycle around that. It was just a sort of hot potato game of who will create the demo of the week.
While that did get us to the point where there was enough internal knowledge, as we started to invest and grow in the team continuously, we couldn’t afford every sales engineer to solve that problem independently.
The aha-moment when things had to change
I remember this vividly. I was at a customer site, and we had just duct-taped and glued this sort of Instruqt-like sandbox. I shouldn’t even call it that because it does such a disservice to what Instruqt does.
But it was the same idea. It was homegrown. It would spin up workstations and allow people to play with the software. I was about to give a session to about 50 people at a customer, and the entire thing just died on me.
I couldn’t get into any of the Bastion hosts, and with the Amazon cloud resources, we ran out of Virtual PCs in the account.
I had my manager, at the time, with me. He was stalling in front of the entire group, and I was coding, trying to come up with a way to fix the environment.
At that moment, I just said to myself, there has to be a better way. This solution isn’t scalable or repeatable. Our homegrown solution was causing stress and a resistance to doing these types of sessions because of the level of effort required. We have to go and find a better solution. The team knew we either had to build something better or buy something. But we have to rein in this process.
Fortunately, shortly after that, we had some people in the company who knew the co-founders of Instruqt very well from our EMEA team.
A small group of about three developer advocates using Instruqt at events, and I saw what they could do with the platform. That’s when I started putting together a write-up of our proof of value and ultimately procurement of Instruqt for our organization. And the rest is history.
Product workshops with virtual IT labs was a success for demand generation
After seeing our first big wins, things started to change in the organization: our improved online field marketing sessions with virtual labs powered by Instruqt. You can check out the interview with our Head of Worldwide Field Marketing, Amanda McLeod, to hear our success with generating 14,000 leads over nine months via workshops.
A quick summary. Traditionally, our product workshops would reach 100 – 200 participants at live events. Our workshops consist of some lectures mixed with labs. When reinventing our product workshops to virtual, we want these workshops to have a nice fun format.
This is an experience where people can understand the value of our tools, what they’re solving, and how it works by getting hands-on with the products.
Now try to think back to that customer scenario I described earlier, but imagine doing that four times a month for field marketing. Everyone in the team knew we needed to get our workshop labs fixed.
The field marketing program was successful. In just nine months, we reached over 14,000 participants through workshops running on Instruqt. That was 10x what I anticipated for demand generation. It’s a great story. You all should go and read about that here.
Today HashiCorp’s Sales Engineers have a set of standardized reusable product content
After the success with the marketing use cases, that is when the gear started turning for me. Why don’t we take the same approach as field marketing and apply it to our PreSales onboarding process? Put together a collection of PreSales enablement content that is repeatable and scalable.
In PreSales, we have similar types of activities with marketing. Of course, they are slightly different since it consists of demos, proof of concepts, or proof of values, workshops, etc.
I saw this parallel opportunity to take the learnings from field marketing, slightly tweak the content, and start mapping Instruqt related tracks to our presales or SE’s do — demo, proof of concept workshop type of activities.
HashiCorp is cut down presales ramp time by 4.5 months.
Traditionally, when I hire a new SE, I’d put them on a 10-week plan to get them through what I would call an onboarding process.
Week 1 to 2: getting comfortable with the demo,
Weeks 2 to 4: getting comfortable leading a workshop,
Weeks 6 to 8/10: those are more activities of helping a sales engineer execute in the customer’s environment with a health check. Checking on their open-source footprint or with the proof of concept.
But what I saw in our Salesforce data is that it took a sales engineer around three to six months to feel comfortable to do larger workshops curated for field marketing or curated sessions for customers.
Now with Instruqt, the ramp time for sales engineers has changed dramatically. I regularly see our newer SEs delivering these product workshops and proof of value workshops within four to six weeks of working in HashiCorp. This is the validation you get when you have a tool like Instruqt.
Again, you still might need more senior SEs to support the newer SEs at a customer with really complex problems. But we see a significant cut in ramp time for delivering the standard product workshop — a step we require every customer to go through before a POV.
These workshops are quality sessions — around two to three hundred people attending field marketing workshops. Thirty folks in a curated one-on-one session. 80% participation across the board, and just some excellent outcomes to back up that condensed timeline.
How long did it take to get the first tracks for pre-sales up and ready to use?
Building the virtual labs for field marketing was our first go at creating content on Instruqt. That was a couple of months of work to get the foundational content ready.
Once we had that content up and running, it was easy to use those labs as templates to build out the demo catalog, the workshops, and now we’re on to our more sort of modular proof of value framework.
It took us about four to eight weeks to get the presales content running.
An important note: When Instruqt started to get well known within our organization, and more people started to create content, it took less time to build the assets needed for PreSales.
To give you an idea of the tool’s adoption — at the moment, our internal Slack for Instruqt has three to four hundred folks. This Slack channel is a community of folks who understand how Instruqt works and enjoy how the tool works.
The overall easy adoption of Instruqt has allowed us to build the assets for PreSales enablement much quicker than that initial project with field marketing.
How HashiCorp uses virtual IT labs to build an effective demo catalog
To give us a better idea of how HashiCorp makes use of Instruqt for presales enablement, Lance showed us some examples in his demo catalog.
Consul is, again, one of the products that my team focuses on selling. You see that we have an internal catalog of demos that look like this page. The reason why Instruqt works for sales enablement is because of the following
- I can share and manage access to content
- I can get insights on demo engagement
- I can scale infrastructure to any amount
Having a tool that allows me to share a specific demo and manage access control to that demo is excellent because, after a sales meeting, your demos can also serve as a leave behind.
So not only can I do the demo, but I could reliably say,
Hey, if you like what you saw today, this will be available for you for seven days, and you can go back through this.
That is just time that my SEs don’t have to spend, always with the customer, if they saw value in what we’re doing.
In the video, I show you how theis works. With Instruqt, you can generate a unique invitation link for a specific email account and domain. This is important because later on, you get insights into what your customers are doing within the lab. You have just a remarkable ability to get demos out to folks in a scalable way and get great data and analytics as well.
For smaller accounts, we might default to this self-service approach. It is super helpful and allows us to scale.
Why do you choose Instruqt over Vagrant or VMs?
In the example of Consul and many other HashiCorp products, customers need guidance to see the value.
With tools like Instruqt, we can quickly show outcomes and value, which usually take four weeks for a customer to figure out to do on their own. We consolidate things like multi-cloud networking and routing into two hours.
Vagrant and VMS are great, but sometimes, in the complexity of scenarios that we solve at HashiCorp, I think we solve them in a really elegant way. It is hard for a participant to bring correctly configured cloud accounts, Kubernetes, or Nomad clusters.
We can give customers all of the infrastructures to test and see value within a short period and provide experiences where our product UIs are seamlessly embedded within the Instruqt guided experience is a complete game-changer.
While smaller Vagrant type things are great, for larger workshops and more complex demos, the ability for us to deliver hands-on, real-life experiences with guard-rails, that’s what creates these amazing “wow moments”.
It’s hard always to expect to deliver these sessions reliably without the kind of tooling and control Instruqt gives us.
With the cloud integration, do you risk exposing keys in that case, or do customers provide their own tokens?
Instruqt allows us to reduce our risk at a high level because we have short, just-in-time cloud accounts scoped to individual participants. It can be a large burden to manage that in your own company accounts, and there are certainly some implementation details.
I’ll just say, our security teams were very happy when we presented the Instruqt solution over some of the homegrown stuff that we’ve built.
We’re given an envelope of money, and we’re given people and resources. For me, Instruqt is how we sell. It makes our team effective. We can focus on what matters.
My SEs love it, our customers love it, and I couldn’t go back to selling without Instruqt at HashiCorp. That’s the level of impact it’s had for us over here at HashiCorp.
How does Instruqt play a role in your sales pipeline, from lead generation and sales to customer success growth?
If I look at Instruqt’s chart, Instruqt supports software companies in growing demand generation, acquiring customers, and activating and growing customers.
HashiCorp uses Instruqt to build product content for all the touchpoints mentioned. It has scaled our end-to-end customer journey. I’m focused more on the core selling motion here as this is where our presales folks spend the most time.
From Demand to Workshops
Let’s say, as an example, at the top of the funnel. You saw an Instruqt demo or short tutorial on HashiCorp Learn, which is creating demand for us.
From there, our goal is to try to funnel you into a few different types of experiences. Like Field Marketing workshop sessions, as I said, these are great sessions for us because it allows our pre-sales engineers to reach a large audience.
With the Instruqt technology, we can reliably drive these technical outcomes for hundreds of participants and returning to data of the first nine months. We had +14 000 people who went through this journey regarding registered named accounts and folks within those accounts. So we saw a significant lift from this activity.
Another route is to go to inside sales, smaller accounts. We can give them short 20 to 30-minute demos — offering self-service or leave-behinds.
From Workshops to Proof of Value
As you can understand, we get sales from both channels; workshops and demo sessions. And for our strategic and large accounts, we specifically focus on getting them to attend workshops. Where again, in these workshops, we can do these amazing things with the products. We bring everyone in a session to go through provisioning and three clouds with Terraform to run, connect, and secure applications.
This outcome is the most important for us. We’re willing to spend some of the money to give these experiences because everyone’s time is valuable, we try to work within their timelines and constraints, so these are our two to four-hour advanced sessions. These sessions focus on architecture and show the possible big picture outcomes for folks in the platforms they care about and ultimately even proof of concepts.
From Proof of Value to Close
Our prospects have already seen how the products work and can test and run code against the environment. We have three phases in an automation journey: The Crawl, Walk, Run Journey of Consul. These sessions help the Proof of Value (POV) go faster because they show people where the north star is. By having guided scenarios, they can quickly get to the “Run” phase(how to move these core functions out of the network entirely) early on, which changes everything. They quickly understand how, why, and when to use Consul. Instruqt’s virtual labs help us triangulate the value for them.
I can say, for the presales teams and across teams, Instruqt touches so many essential points in this organization. Most importantly, all of the actions are tracked in Salesforce. We know in the data set that Instruqt leads to better outcomes.
Instruqt is used to educate your prospect or customer to be much more effective when running a POC or a POV on one of the HashiCorp products.
There are instances where the workshop is so impactful with the number of use cases and coverage. Before using Instruqt, it would have been impossible for us to reliably show people how to install our products in three cloud environments and see the value repeatedly.
There are certain cases where we’ve seen Instruqt improve the quality of these sessions, and people skip the Proof of Concept (POC) stage.
We have customers coming to us and say, “Hey, we don’t want to do a proof of concept because we’ve seen how this software can work, and we want to go straight to a service or paid engagement or a small pilot.”
The truth is, it was just too much work for our team to build all the scaffolding to provide that multi-cloud experience in-house. Instruqt unlocks all these capabilities very easily.
While we still have to do proof of concepts in the customers’ environment. Instruqt helps us reduce scope. Sometimes it replaces criteria in the POV because folks come into the POV more educated. And now we’re less intimidated by doing customer POVs now than pre-Instruqt.
Making the workshops a prerequisite for POVs is a deal accelerant
To be honest, the guidance I give my SEs is we shouldn’t be doing proof of concepts without these workshops. Because if we do, we have to go back a step and explain so much information when they don’t get that education through the workshop program. It rarely makes sense to skip it.
Also, the workshops are so much more fun and enjoyable for the customers. Because by having Instruqt take care of the technology and the boilerplate, we can focus on curating these awesome experiences.
And the customers just love it; the feedback’s great. We collect surveys,+90% give us “this was an awesome session” type of feedback.
So I think it’s a mix of things for sure. Still, even if you have to test in the customer environment, learning and understanding the software through the workshop is a key accelerant. It’s a requirement by exception for our team to do POVs at the customer you got to do the workshop.
Instruqt is relevant for both sales-led and product-led growth
I believe there is the role of presales in product-led growth. I think product-led growth is amazing for the top of the funnel.
I love being at HashiCorp because of the open-source community around us. We get massive tailwinds by enabling folks to try our software before they talk to us. At the same time, it’s a different mechanism of entry. But a presales person often still gets involved in answering questions about architecture or use cases, especially for larger strategic accounts.
We use Instruqt for our sales-led and product-led growth strategies at HashiCorp. The Learn and Education team provides many of our easy types of “try it” scenarios that have just launched on Instruqt for us in the last quarter.
Instruqt allows us to insert more of a self-service approach when it makes sense in the customer’s journey, and we can easily offer people access to these sandboxes.
I see it as a multi-purpose tool for us, and it supports both sales and product-led strategies. For that reason, I was very excited to see our HashiCorp Learn website launch with the Instruqt embed.
What’s your recommendation to other leaders of presales and presales enablement?
There’s tons of great content you can build with Instruqt.
My recommendation would be, get started with a smaller project or one track that’s relevant to you.
If you’re trying to roll this out in your organization, treat it like a first-class program, something that’s in your center of excellence. Pick one activity, one circle from the customer journey that’s painful for you. Start solving that with Instruqt. Then roll that out with the other use cases. Once you’ve got some grassroots, you will quickly understand that this solution is better than the solution you’re currently using.
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