Customer Success – An Argument Against the LAER Model

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Warning – this is a long article.  Its purpose is to create an “oral history” and rationale for a different approach to Customer Success.  I considered posting it in chapters but decided that having it together in context was more important.  Feel free to chunk it up and read it in chapters yourself.  If not, go get some coffee!
My last article described the various factors that weighed into my decision to do the customer success role.  That was the easy part.  Once I had the responsibility the challenge was – what exactly is customer success?!
Assess Situation
The first step was to assess what the industry was already doing.  Since Customer Success was such a widely used term there had to be a standard methodology similar to sales and sales engineering right?
Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.30.47 PM
Cool standardized name – Yes.  Consistent approach? Nope. Nyet. Nada. We found that it was about as standardized and understandable as the master plan and road layout in downtown Boston.
Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.42.04 PM.png
Example Customer Success Approaches:
  • A. A fancy name for their Tech Support
  • B. Renewals and Upsell sales team
  • C. Professional Services and Deployment
  • D. All the above
The most common models we could find were LAER (Land, Adopt, Expand, Renew) and a Periodic Table.
Caveat alert.  Customer Success is a new function and we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who pioneered the original approaches.  I am sure I don’t fully understand the details or nuances of these approaches and how they are addressing the Customer Success need.  I am also not trying to say that they are wrong, we just reached a different conclusion.
Imagine I presented the LAER model to a customer in order to explain what Customer Success is.  What do you think the customer would say?
“This sounds great!  You should totally land me.  I am really glad I bought your solution because I am looking forward to the expanding.”  Or….
“My company totally wants to transform!  I am glad you got it covered, I want a different service & support experience and have product success! I am glad you are focused on my outcomes, my manufacturing/retail/healthcare/xyz company is focused in 2019 on the following outcomes: adoption, renewal, expansion, tech touch, etc.”

Is this Customer Success or Vendor Success?  

All of the approaches were from the perspective of the Vendor out to the customer!
Ok… ok… perhaps I am approaching this wrong and I shouldn’t be presenting it to the customer.   I should have a different model that is customer facing.
Unfortunately this would increase complexity by 2x.  Now we need to communicate one strategy internally and different one externally.  We will need two separate sets of metrics, etc.  Which set of metrics do you think your managers will focus on the most?  What behavior do you think this will drive? When you are starting up a new function and you need to double or triple your headcount annually complexity is the enemy of success (pun intended).
Let’s take a step back and look at this with a clean slate
Given that the existing models were educational but didn’t align with our Customer Obsession culture we decided to take a step back and rethink the problem.  History and lessons learned are valuable… if I had a clean slate, what have I learned in the past that would be applicable?
  • MBA
    • Sustainable Differentiation:  lots of companies are good at a lot of things.  Is that why customers buy their products?  Not Really.  Companies are successful when they offer a capability to the market that other companies are not offering and can not easily replicate.  At new hire training I ask “why do you think customers buy our solution?”  I write down all of their answers, “We reduce cost!  We are innovative! We can Scale! We simplify their operations! We have good relationships! We buy them beer and give free T Shirts!”  I then select one of their previous employers and use those exact terms to describe their product.  For example, Webex, Veritas, Dell, VMWare, Avaya, Microsoft, etc all say they are. innovative, reduce cost, etc.  At the end of the day, it isn’t what we are good at, it is what are we sustainably differentiated at?  Why else would customers pay a premium for us?
  • Exec Coach
  • Critical Accounts – Escalation
    • Unknown“The Change Function”:  The early days of VOIP and Video over data networks are not well remembered for their 99.999% quality and uptime.  The ‘negative business impact’ was enormous.  For example, in one hospital emergency room a patient had a heart attack and when the Nurse tried to use her WiFi VoIP phone to call a doctor it deregistered and failed.  The patient passed away.   Heck – most companies a decade later still can’t get Skype to work consistently.  If it was so bad why did Customers stuck with it when they had perfectly fine copper phone lines?
    • Support and Satisfaction: Support organizations often tout their Customer Satisfaction scores. We are a 4.4 out of 5!  Our customers are 96% satisfied!   I don’t know about you, but when I have to call customer support it is not because I am satisfied. No one is ’satisfied’ when they have to open a case.
  • The Best Man in Your Wedding
    • Ever wonder what the difference is between your hundreds of friends/acquaintances and your Best Man, “Bro”, or Maid of Honor?  I believe it is spelled out well in a famous poem called footprints.  This applies to your customers as well.  When they have a major problem, are you there for them even when it isn’t your fault or responsibility?  Do you stand by them in their time of need?
    • Adapted Version: One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with his “Bro”. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to his “Bro”.

      When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.

      This really bothered Him and He questioned his “Bro” about it. Hey man, you said that once I decided to hang with you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would bail on me like that.

      Dude chill, I Love ya, and I would never leave you hanging! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.

  • Sales Engineering
    • Architectural Control Points: When your sustainable differentiation aligns well to solving your Customers’ Business Objectives then not only do you provide a smooth path to adoption/expansion you are also well positioned defensively against your competitors.  At Cisco if we had Call Manager installed and owned call control then it was just a matter of time until the customer would purchase a new phone handset for every employee.
    • Market Messaging: coming from the pre-sales side I had a good handle on our corporate value prop and what customers wanted in our POC.  When customers buy a solution they not only buy today’s technology but your vision for the future.  The post sales experience should map to this market messaging vocabulary, terms, etc.  Too often post sales teams invent their own lexicon.
  • Start with the Customer/Outcome and Work Backwards
    • If you take all the ’stuff’ you did previously in renewals, sales, support, professional services, etc and try to combine it all into Customer Success in a bottoms up approach you will end up with a very comprehensive but likely overly complex approach.  However, if you put the primary focus on the customer and work backwards it is amazing how much simpler and more robust your solution will be.

A New Customer Success Model

Before diving in, let’s look at 4 example company/products.
1. Clippy: if you google “Top Tech Fails of all time” poor Clippy comes up first.  If you don’t remember him, he was Microsoft’s attempt to guide you through the product.  Unfortunately, he never seemed to be able to guess what you were trying to do (Screw you Clipp,  I am not writing a letter!) and added no value.  Worse than that, he caused Word to crash at the worst moment – every time.
2. Gasoline: what gasoline brand is the best?  Which brand will you drive miles out of the way to purchase and pay a premium.  For 99.9% of you out there there is no ‘best’.  Instead there is what ever gas is the cheapest or most convenient.
3. Wireless Service circa year 2000: remember your first cell phone? “Oh wait… damnit the call dropped.  Hello?!  Can you hear me now?”  How many times a day did your calls drop?  My bet is a fair amount more than your land line at home.  Yet, did you give up your cell phone or do you still have it today?
4. Apple iPhone: If you kept your wireless service then chances are at some point you purchased an iPhone.  It  not only provided excellent quality compared to my old Treo and Blackberry but transformed how we use our phones.  High quality cameras, hundreds of 3rd party apps per person, Apple Pay, video calling, etc. Apple is now worth almost a trillion dollars.

Now lets overlay the concept of EXPERIENCE
(user experience, quality, results)

As the British would say, “Is it fit for purpose?”
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  • Clippy: poor user experience, crap quality, and it definitely didn’t help me write a letter.
  • Wireless: Can you hear me nooooooow?  Nuff said.
  • Gasoline: fueling at the pump is usually pretty quick and easy so the user experience is ok, gasoline makes our cars go vroom vroom (results) and for quality… when was the last time you had bad gas? (Pun intended).
  • iPhone: my grandmother can use it (experience), I can’t remember the last time it crashed (quality), and it makes calls (results).

Next lets overlay the concept of TRANSFORMATION.

Transformation is an alternate word for sustainable differentiation and value.  What are you able to provide to a customer that provides 10x the value compared to what they were doing previously.
  • Clippy: 10x the annoyance… not value
  • Gasoline: no real Transformation – it has been working the same way for a hundred years
  • Wireless: I can receive a call anywhere!?  I can leave the office and take a call while catching my kids baseball game?!  Cool!
  • iPhone: Candy Crush.  Nuff said.

How does this apply to Customer Success, Renewals, Upsell, Churn?

Note: I couldn’t find the original source for the matrix below but someone smart out there made it.  Probably someone from McKinsey – they love 4×4 matrices.

  • Clippy: not only is he crap, I am going to tell everyone he is crap.
  • Gasoline: if your competitor offers me gas 1 cent cheaper you are fired and I will go to them
  • Wireless: since I can make calls anywhere and use it in an emergency I will give you an opportunity to improve your service over time but I will not be buying more lines for my family and getting rid of my landline.
  • iPhone: I will not only spend 10x compared to my old Nokia but I will also buy an AppleTV, iTunes, Mac and read fanboy websites about upcoming product leaks.  I don’t think Apple is trying to shake me down for $$.  I *want* to buy more things from them.

We are missing one key factor though… ENGAGEMENT

Customers want to feel an emotional bond to your brand and people.  Does your company listen to me?  Do you know how I want to use your product?  Are you teaching me about it?   Engagement is a multiplier.  If your company is heavily engaged with me I will likely buy more and be more resistant to churn.  If you ignore me I will take for granted everything you do for me and will start to listen to that really friendly new sales rep who buys me beer and gives me free T-shirts.  Think of it like a marriage – don’t ignore your spouse 🙂

Translate TRANSFORMATION, ENGAGEMENT, EXPERIENCE into a Customer Success Model

  1. Identify what your TRANSFORMATIONAL 10x value to customers is.  Collaborate with your pre-sales team and marketing
  2. Identify what an amazing EXPERIENCE would look like
  3. Learn who/how your customer wants to ENGAGE
For our company:
    • SECURITY: protect and apply business policies to 100% of user traffic anywhere regardless of encryption
    • NETWORK: transition from expensive private hub and spoke networks, the internet becomes your corporate network
    • APP ACCESS: trusted users can access trusted applications with nothing bad in between
    • QUALITY: means never having to open a case/ticket/bug in the first place
    • EXPERIENCE: 100% of end users able experience our solution transparently and apps just ‘work better’,
    • RESULTS: achieved the costs savings you expected, kept the bad out and the good in
    • We meet on a scheduled cadence with the network, security, application, and executive team to “Make the news” not “Report the news”.

When a Customer purchases our service they are coming with Business Objectives, themselves (contacts) and an existing architecture (environment).  They purchased us because they want to TRANSFORM their network, security, and/or application access.   To achieve this we will ENGAGE with them in a process to make this happen and endeavor to ensure a world class EXPERIENCE.   We are able to measure all of these outcomes quantitatively to track our mutual progress.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 8.05.59 PM
A common objection to the Customer Outcome based approach is that you cannot operationalize it at scale.  Every customer will have different business objectives.  Yes and No.  If you successfully identified your areas of TRANSFORMATION then they are why the customer bought your solution.  If not, then why would they have chosen your solution over someone else’s?   Sure the customer may use different terminology and project names but the end results are usually similar.
Knowing this you can choose consistent metrics that best indicate progress on their outcomes.  NOTE – these metrics should not be a % feature usage that product management asked you to go drive.  For example, for Network transformation instead of tracking a feature we track how many of their global offices were able to do local internet breakout and how many of their employees are covered when working remotely.   My next blog article will be a deep dive on customer metrics (similar to Measuring & Tracking SE Teams – Solved?)
This customer facing “Journey” also serves as our internal organizational strategy, maps to our CSM/TAM Job role definition, our metrics, our bonus plan etc.  If something is not customer facing we do NOT operationally measure it.  For example, typical CS metrics like NRR, CLTV, churn rates, Customer Success Qualified Leads, are only measured at end of then quarter and only at the global level.
If the customer is TRANSFORMING with a positive EXPERIENCE and good ENGAGEMENT then they will not only happily renew but if your solution is well designed then the upsell will be a natural progression and be driven by customer vs. sales rep.
Future posts will delve into how this is operationalized, how to design good customer outcome metrics, how to get your customer’s business objectives (hint: it is not as easy as just asking)

Customer Success (not Vendor Success)

Job Titles – the dangers of the “Senior Principal XYZ”

One controversial topic when building an organization is how to handle job titles.  In my first leadership role my Director always used a very simple email signature, “- Name”. I asked him why he didn’t have a formal signature and he shrugged “if people are contacting me it is because they already know who I am and what I can do to help”.
Over time I have become more and more turned off by fancy titles.  A recent favorite of mine is “Senior Principal XYZ”.  Seriously – google it.  It is all over the place.  I searched my email inbox and found the following examples:
  • “Senior Principal Analyst” – Research firm
  • “Senior Principal Customer Success Manager” – Symantec
  • “Senior Principal, Expert Advisor” – Data Science at SAP
  • “Senior Principal Learning Consultant” – Enterprise Rent a Car
  • “Senior Principal Program Manager” – Veritas
  • “Senior Principal Actuary”
  • “Senior Principal, Digital Marketing Platform & Analytics at CSC”
  • “Senior Principal Java Engineer – Java” – from a email in 2009!
I always thought Principal was better than Senior, or maybe Senior is better than Principal?  Why not just make the title “Good Great Program Manager”?   When was the last time you saw a job posting for a “Junior” anything?  Next time I choose a doctor or lawyer I will be sure to get a “Senior Principal General Medicine Doctor”.
The arguments in support of titles are:
  • Individual
    • I can’t get a different Job without it!
    • I need it for my customer to feel important!
    • I can’t get Married without the right title!
    • I want to know I am progressing in my career
  • Manager
    • We couldn’t give the person a raise but a Title is free and helps show recognition
    • I can’t hire good people unless I have it
My concerns with these:
  • Individual
    • I can’t get a different Job without it! First, good to know you are planning to have a nice long career with our company 🙂 Second, I too would never want someone to feel trapped in a role.  I believe that our team is a volunteer organization.  You should have whatever title makes you not feel trapped.
    • I need it for my customer to feel important! This is the argument for banks and everyone being a VP. But really… when was the last time a customer said “Boy I am really glad I have an Account Executive and not an Account Manager!” or “I dont want a Sales Engineer, I will only work with a Senior Sales Engineer!”.  Customers care about good people who can help them.
    • I can’t get Married without the right title! Yes. This is true in places like India.
    • I want to know I am progressing in my career. Most of the work force today grew up in the world of Pong, Super Mario Brothers, and World of Warcraft.  We grew up in a world where we “gotta play one more turn, gotta get to the next level!” Even though the next level is only minimally different from the last.
  • Manager
    • We couldn’t give the person a raise but a Title is free and helps show recognition! – this comes up a lot when your company isn’t doing well but you want to retain talent.  Let’s give them a bigger title and show them how important they are!  I have seen it work but it also seems cheap/fake to me.  If you want to recognize the person then recognize them through clear honest ways.
    • I can’t hire good people unless I have it – they wont apply! – I dont know of many managers who hire great talent through unknown applicants.  Almost all hires are referrals or somehow connected by 1 or 2 levels of separation on LinkedIn.  Do you think excellent hard working top performers will only apply based on a title?  The smart humble people you want are better than that.
  • as-a-kid-grumpy-old-man-as-an-adult-hero-7074116

Why am I so against fancy titles?

  • If you bring them in at the wrong level – you can’t demote them.  Leaders aren’t perfect.  It is hard enough to bring in people who will be successful at your company but then to also bring them in at exactly the right level too?  What often happens is you want to hire someone but their compensation is high and it forces you into the salary band for that title.  Then when that person joins and doesn’t perform at that lofty level their fellow team members resent that the person has a higher title than they do.  When you make this mistake you can’t just demote the person – they would quit.  You are locked in.
  • People want a checklist of things to do to get the title – when you start to differentiate one peer from another with a different title they want to know why.  So you are then required to document each difference and what it takes to get to that other level.  Do you think you can clearly write the legalese required to satisfy your detail oriented team members? 🙂
  • It defines not only what you do, but what you WON’T do – then once you have documented all the differences you give someone a reason to start saying “that is not in my job description, I am over qualified for that” or “I don’t do POCs or take Problem tickets any more”.
  • You can’t move people more than 1 title level – every try to move someone from a “software engineer I” to a III or a “Junior TAM” to a “Senior Principal TAM”?  Skipping more than one title level somehow becomes an act of god.  You are now breaking some unwritten rule of the corporate ladder.
  • Tie your self worth to a label rather than your impact/results – your title then begins to define how you value yourself. “Oh, I can’t leave this job – I am a VP and I don’t want to go backwards to be a Director”.  Guess what folks.  I was a VP in charge of 8 people at GoodData and left to be a Director of 25 people at Zscaler.  Turned out pretty good for me so far… go check our post IPO performance 😉
  • It only serves to make one person feel better compared to their peers – this is the most important reason.  If at the end of the day the customer doesn’t care about your title, compensation isn’t tied to it, opportunity to work on more challenging projects, and training isn’t tied to it, then the only purpose it serves is for one team member to feel more important that the other.
Have you ever taken a step back to ask why we have a job title in the first place?
It is because without a job title you would have to spend 5 minutes explaining what you do to every person you interact with.
The purpose of a job title is to convey what you are responsible for and the scope.
Role: what do you do?
  • Engineer
  • Sales
  • Support
Scope (Assuming ~9 person teams the below framework will scale to ~7,000 people…)
  • Manager = 1st line leader
  • Director = 2nd line leader
  • VP = 3rd line leader
  • CXO = 4th line leader
So what is my approach?
  • Choose only a few titles
  • Convey scope
  • Convey responsibility
  • Single very large compensation range
  • Enables a person to marry anyone they want and get any job they want.
For example in our Organization we have only two titles
  • Customer Success Manager (CSM) = a post sales resource focused on making the customer successful
  • Technical Account Manager (TAM) = someone who is technical and dedicated to only a few accounts
In the last Org we had
  • Sales Engineer:  deep product expertise, few named accounts
  • Solution Architect: broad industry expertise, lots of accounts / overlay resource
For scope we do have traditional levels like the ones above but we don’t do Sr. Director.  Instead I have become a fan of what Google and Atlassian does.  For scope everyone is “Head of” something.  For example
  • Technical Account Management – Head of Americas
    • Technical Account Management – Head of East
      • Technical Account Manager – Head of Boston!
Originally these teams had titles like “Senior SE” or “Senior TAM”.  All at once we hey-chill-out-youre-the-teachers-petnormalized everyone to the same title.  Surprisingly there wasn’t much backlash.  Perhaps because it is harder to be upset when everyone has the same title as you.
A person shouldn’t need a fancy title to be able to work on the hard accounts, get the best training, the highest compensation, peer recognition, etc.  It should be based on performance and results.  If you are good – you get more opportunity.  If you stop being good you get less opportunity.  As a leader you need to fulfill your part to make these things happen.

Why I Chose to do Customer Success

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Apologies to the readers (the 3 or 4 of you out there)…  it has been a year without consistent articles.  To be honest, since transitioning to the Customer Success Leader role I haven’t been sure I should continue this blog or pivot it to a CS focus.
wifi-does-not-work-memeAlso being on a 12 hour flight without Wifi helped too… Onto the first topic.
Even though our organization is almost 200 people I still do the final interview for every candidate.  A common question I am asked is “why did you leave Sales Engineering to do Customer Success?”.  When I talk to fellow sales leaders about their Customer Success teams a common theme is that if you have a person who isn’t performing “but is a good guy” rather than manage them out of the company they put them in Customer Success.  Ummm…. Not a ringing endorsement.
Yes, it was my decision to do Customer Success. Why I Chose to Do it
If you have been following this blog then you would know I am a big supporter of doing what you love, don’t chase titles, money and opportunity will follow.  I loved the  SE leader role I had.  I had the opportunity to build a team the way I wanted to, the talent was top notch, and I really enjoyed the people.  So when candidates ask me why I chose to do Customer Success I tell them: “I didn’t, I said no 3 times”.
  1. Head of Talent:
    • “Bill you have the unique background of post sales escalation support, business savvy, technical acumen, and know how to scale teams – this job would be a big promotion to VP and perfect for you!”
    • Me: “I have already done the post sales thing before, after working ~300 critical accounts at Cisco I don’t think there is much left to conquer/learn.  Love what I am doing, make good money, titles aren’t important anymore.”
  2. COO and Chief People Officer:
    • “Bill we don’t like the retained search candidates, and think you would be a good fit for this role.  It will grow to be one of the most important roles in the company responsible for all of our recurring revenue.”
    • Me: “That is pretty cool.  But I love what I am doing.  I am really happy.  Here are some other good people…”
  3. CEO, Chairman of Board, Largest Share holder
    • Ok – maybe I should at least listen 🙂   Again I said I love what I do – but suggested that rather than interviewing for the job why don’t I take some time to think about what I think the role and team should be.  Then let me come back and propose a vision that I would be happy and engaged fulfilling and if it is a fit for the business I will do it. If not, no worries – I love my job.
When I was 25 my career really took off.  My boss left the company and I was planning to accept a role as an SE Manager.  Before I transitioned my general manager asked if I would create a proposal of what should be done with our escalation team once I left.  So I proposed a whole new org/function that was not only focused on escalation but the whole customer lifecycle – “Deployment Success Organization (DSO).  I wished them best of luck and I was off to go do the SE thing and make bunches of $$$ until… our GM asked if I would be willing to stay and run the new org as a second level leader.  It may not be the same $$$ but it would be an opportunity to build something from scratch.  Taking that opportunity over more $$$ was one of the best decisions of my career.
Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 9.44.33 PM.png
Now 15 years later I had the same opportunity.
I thought about the things I was good at and liked to do:
  • Build a team and scale
  • Be involved in both business and technical
  • Learn how a customer’s business worked (like an ongoing MBA)
  • Challenge the customer to get out of their comfort zone and change/transform
  • Present on stage at events
  • Entertain clients and travel
  • Be able to float around and focus on different things internal/external
  • Get shit done and be independent
Then I thought about the business need for a Customer Success organization.  I purposely did not go and look at what other companies were doing.  I wanted a fresh perspective.
I went back and looked at what drove me to leave Cisco in the first place.  During my last 3 years at Cisco we changed how our Collaboration team sold.  Rather than try and focus on multi million dollar deals we realized we could drive growth by simplifying our sales process and focus on consumption economics.   At the time Cisco was trying to sell all these different complicated features, upgrade all their customers software versions, and it was easy to get stuck in the weeds.  Our approach was:
  1. Determine what our sustainable differentiation in the market was and put them in 3 buckets (Architectural Control Points)
  2. Document the customer’s current environment and control point status (Collaboration Profile Tool)
  3. Learn a customer’s business objectives and map them to one of 5 differentiated use cases (Power Plays)
  4. Rather than pitching 100’s of features, work backwards from the Biz Objective to the technology needed
  5. Drive adoption of the technology through guerrilla end user marketing and technical assistance (Ranger Program)
Our hypothesis was that if we did this correctly we could turn selling phones and video units into SaaS consumption business and unlock budget from the customer’s lines of business and individual teams rather than IT.  For 3 years we did > 30% growth and grew the business to almost $1B.  All of this while the rest of the segments and global teams had -1% growth.
Doing Sales well isn’t about pitching and closing.  It is about understanding a customer’s business objectives, your solution’s sustainable differentiation, and how you can marry the two of those together and make it a reality.   The conclusion I came to was that Customer Success is really just the fun part of sales without the burden of a quota!
So what was the proposal back to my company on how we should do Customer Success?  It has evolved and matured over time but the initial hypothesis has held true.
Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 9.47.24 PM
If we did this would it check the boxes on what I was good and and liked to do?  International travel, business/tech, present on stage, get shit done, etc.  Yup! IMG_3426.jpg

Yes, it was a good decision to do Customer Success and it has been a wild but rewarding ride the past year.  If building the SE org was like checkers then this has been like 3 dimensional chess.  My next blog posts will cover this journey and lessons learned.  My tentative topics are below.  If you have suggestions feel free to comment below.

  • Job Titles – the dangers of the “Senior Principal XYZ” 
    • already written – will post next week
  • An Argument Against the LAER Model for Customer Success
    • Part 1: Vendor Success or Customer Success??
    • Part 2: Team and Structure
    • Part 3: Metrics and Measurements
  • What Changes When You Become a Public Company?
  • Lessons Learned from Managing a Global Organization
    • Incorporating new entities in Eastern Europe
    • Opening offices in Latin America
    • Deciding marriages and parking passes
    • Keeping your own marriage intact
Btw – you can choose to do Customer Success too!  We are hiring and have 50+ openings to fill in the next 5 months.


What is it like to ring the opening bell at Nasdaq and IPO?

A Wedding

This past Friday I joined 50 of my fellow co-workers at Zscaler to ring the opening bell at Nasdaq and observe our shares being traded on the public stock market for the first time.  The president of Nasdaq described the events of the day as similar to a wedding along with photographers, people directing you where to go, energy, and lots of well wishes.  While directionally correct I would like to clarify his comparison.  It is more like being at a wedding where you are the proud parents of the bride to be.
You have invested time in raising your child and you hope things go well but it is now out of your control.  You are not the focus of the attention but you are a part of it.  You are told where to stand and walk.  You sneak away like a little kid to take pictures and selfies.  You are hugging everyone in sight and congratulating them and they are congratulating you

The Legal Fine Print

When you move towards an IPO there are a lot of legal issues and concerns around privacy, insider trading, and ensuring all is smooth.  Therefore things can get very hectic towards that IPO day and in fact up until the night before the official day the IPO itself isn’t set in stone.  That makes it hard to nail down travel plans or let your wife know what type of clothes she should pack.
So what is the experience like?  When prepping for the experience I couldn’t find out much information online so I will do my best to detail it here.

The Night Before IPO and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a…

Customer?  At Zscaler our customers are a critical part of our success.  They have driven our product and vision and as such we wanted to include them in the festivities.  The night before we sponsored a Customer Appreciation Dinner where our board of directors and executive team hosted customers who have been with us since the beginning as well as recent additions.  A great opportunity to get to know our champions and sponsors outside of a negotiation or post sales support issue.

The Night Cap

The one downside to the customer event was that our team had planned to have a group dinner at the same time.   After the customer dinner our COO and myself swung by the other restaurant to meet up with the team (and my lovely wife who attended our team dinner in my place).  A glass of wine and back to the Marriott Marquis hotel for a final night cap.  That is when all the various groups and teams started to trickle in and come together.  A few glasses of wine, some reflections on our journey so far, how lucky we were to be there together, some fun hazing (and maybe a few more beverages for the extra courageous).   Around midnight Julie and I went up to bed.  As I was about to turn in for the night I turned to her “I hope I don’t oversleep tomorrow.”   We both set an alarm just to be safe.

7:00 AM its go time

IMG_2247Get up, get ready, suit up!  We are meeting at the lobby of the Marriott so that we can walk across Times Square to the Nasdaq building as a group.  While the folks from the West Coast tried to wake up (it was 4am for us) we mingled around to chat and say hello to team members we don’t get to see everyday.  You of course have the few people who had the extra beverages the night before oversleep but in true team fashion we have their back and call to wake them up.

7:30 AM – its Cold Out There!

IMG_8414We walk across Times Square before the crowds have formed and the Sun has a chance to warm things up.  None of us know what we are doing other than we go should go to the Nasdaq building.  What do we do when we get there?  “Just do what I did when I was underage at a bar.  Just walk in the front door like you belong there.”  In the front door we go and walk up to the security guard.  “Hello, we are from zscaler and we are here to ring the bell”.  I mean… what else would you say?  “Photo ID’s please” was the only response and through the door we go.  You mingle around the lobby for a bit without clear direction of exactly what you should be doing until about 15 minutes later when a woman with a headset lets us know we can go upstairs and brings us up an elevator.

8:00 AM There is always time for Bacon

We are brought to what looks like a TV studio with an adjoining breakfast area and stage/lecturn.  Some of us take the liberty to walk up on stage and start taking photos.  Others go for bacon.  Some of us go for bacon and eat it on stage.   Eat up!  Mingle!  Eventually groups start to form and a professional photographer starts taking photos.

8:45 AM Master of Ceremonies

The president of Nasdaq joins us and describes the agenda for the day.  We find out that our offices all around the world are having parties and we are being webcast globally.  As we look behind there are video cameras moving and following us.  After a short speech the President gives way to our CEO and Founder Jay Chaudhry who gives a short speech to our global team.

9:00 AM Move to the Studio

IMG_2340We are then herded downstairs to a TV Studio with glass walls facing Times Square.   It looks like anyone out there can watch the opening ceremony.  It is a round room surrounded by cameras.  The back wall has TV screens with famous brands and their stocks on Nasdaq.


We are advised that the CEO and Family will be at the podium, followed by the board, followed by the exec team, and then everyone else fills in  from there.  We do a practice run with lots of cheering.  It is recorded and will be used for Social Media.  In the meantime our group is packed in tight being goofy and marveling at the experience.
A couple more speeches and we are brought back on stage minutes later.  We are told to cheer… and cheer… and cheer for minutes.  The louder we are the more likely the news stations will pick us up and broadcast.  We see the TVs and they are all showing the various channels.  Eventually all 4 news stations pick us up and before we know it 7…..6….5…. (what happened to 10, 9 , and 8?) 4…. 3….. 2….. 1….. confetti!!!! That was a blur!

9:45 AM – Outside we go!

We are ushered directly outside into Times Square where the buildings all around us have our zscaler logo emblazoned on them.  My wife Julie is out there watching along with a number of team members who either live in NYC or were in town for customer meetings.  We move into the square for professional photos as a group in front of the Nasdaq and Times Square screens.  As we all marvel and cheer I catch photos of our team start to show up on the big screen.  One of my favorite parts was being able to snap photos of all of us as the pictures flipped through.

10:00 – Its Champagne time!

Back inside we go.  Now that the ceremonies are over our wives, husbands, and other team members can come inside to join us.  Or at least we snuck them in.   Champagne is served and we walk around a big room split in half.  One half has cocktail tables and windows that look out onto Times Square.  The other half has people at their desks working with multiple screens.  Our new master of ceremonies Jeff joins us and explains what to expect.  Our shares were all purchased the evening before by the banks.  The banks will now start taking buy and sell orders to try and match things together before officially allowing a trade.  The goal is the allow a smooth start without volatility.  He warns us that because there was a lot of interest it may take awhile to get an initial price and then trade.  While we wait we get distracted by fancy screens with pictures of us on them that we can touch and get emailed to ourselves.  Cameras are every where.  I find out we are being live-streamed when people keep texting me screen shots of me doing stupid things.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that some guy named Jay is working with the banks to settle on pricing and trades.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that some guy named Jay is working with the banks to settle on pricing and trades.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that some guy named Jay is working with the banks to settle on pricing and trades.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that some guy named Jay is working with the banks to settle on pricing and trades.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that some guy named Jay is working with the banks to settle on pricing and trades.
We finally figure out who Jay is and some of us mingle over to look over his shoulder and see whats up.  It is very cool how we could just stand over his shoulder as he took the calls and worked the phones.  All while drinking champagne.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that some guy named Jay is working with the banks to settle on pricing and trades.


Jeff comes back and lets us know that we finally have an “Indicative Price”…..  holy crap!


We get our first public trade!  The price is set. CHEERS everywhere!!!

11:00 AM

Wow.  We are all so proud.  Pictures continue.  We have been on social media lockdown for weeks, but now we can share our excitement.  Onto Linkedin and Facebook we go!  We get to see all of the excitement finally from all around the world.  We had a feeling of being sequestered.  Our legal and finance team did a great job of putting the fear into us not to do anything that could be construed as inappropriate.

A favorite picture of mine came from my little sister who is studying finance in college and now thinks her big brother is kinda cool:


11:15 AM

Things start to calm down and we all head to a nearby restaurant for a wrap up lunch.  All of us but our CEO Jay who has 20+ more interviews to do.

3:55 PM

Some texts to remote team members.  The day end. All of us emotional and proud.  Until tomorrow when there is more email to do and a Customer Advisory Board in the UK on Monday and in Germany on Wednesday.
As a final note, I apologize for the lack of updates to this blog.  About 5 months ago Zscaler formed a new organization called Customer Success and I left the SE Leader role to lead that global group.  I was not quite sure what I would do with this blog since it would be the first time in years I would not be an “SE”.  However, I do own the domain and will likely have that forward to here.  As I have reviewed my previous posts they are more about technical management and not just about sales engineering.

So… you want to be an SE Leader?

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Every few weeks a team member or colleague asks how to become an SE Leader.  The most direct approach would be to answer their question with a list of steps.  However, just as with customers we should give the aspiring leader what they need not what they ask for.  We must first take a step back to understand the individual’s drivers and motivations.  Educate them on what the role of the Leader is.  Provide them with tools for self introspection and awareness.  Finally, develop a career action plan – that may or may not be a leadership role.


When entering these conversations I can typically tell if the person would make a good leader or not with a very simple question.

“Why do you want to be a leader?”

The answers typically fall into 3 buckets:

  1. minions-03 (1).jpg“ME-ME”: the candidate talks about how successful they have been.  They feel like they have reached the peak.  They have to be a manager to move up in the company.  The majority of the time they are complaining about their day job.
  2. “SUPER SE”: the candidate describes how team members always go to them for help.  They want to formally train and mentor the team.  They know what SE’s want and how to have their back.
  3. “LEADER”: the candidate describes interests not only in doing the SE role but has evidence of learning or being involved in ancillary activities such as business, finance, non-profit organizations, interfacing cross functionally.  They are the ones who always step up to leading tiger teams, cross functional projects, and tools to help others, even if it doesn’t directly impact their quota.  They are seeing exposure to learn and to build.

I find that ME-ME’s reason for being a leader is more about a cry for help than it is a desire for leadership.  Focus on transitioning the discussion to a general career discussion.  They would not make a good leader – at least not with that current mind set.  Leadership is a servant position.

The SUPER SE is a borderline candidate.  Your focus with them is to educate on what the SE Leader role really is, i.e. only a small percentage is downward facing to the team itself.  Their risk is that they will try to be both an SE and a Leader and do both poorly.  Their SE skills will atrophy while never fully having the time to become a leader.  These are the managers who are constantly busy doing paper work, micromanaging their team, and being overworked but not producing.  These candidates are often best as peer leaders and mentors.\

LEADER’s are those who understand the multi disciplinary part of the SE Leader role.  They are ready to leave behind being an SE.  They have a build first mentality and have displayed a willingness to do so without personal gain.

What do you love doing?

After the “Why?” you should seek to understand the candidate’s drivers.  In any given day, what gives them energy and what takes it away?  What activities make the day go by in a flash but by the end of the day they still have energy and a sense of accomplishment.    What are 20 things that make you smile?  On the flip side, what activities do you dread going to work and doing?  What things do you procrastinate at doing?

How well do things that give them energy align to the activities of a leader?

Do you know what an SE Leader actually does?

Many aspiring leaders don’t actually understand what a leader does.  Remember, they only see the parts of the leader role that interacts with them personally.  They don’t have visibility to the other 70% when the SE leader works cross functionally or up the chain.

A few key points I make are:

  • The role is more than just SE skill development and mentoring.  It includes budgeting, territory planning, process development, customer escalations, content development, product management, go to market planning, forecasting, etc.
  • The job of an SE leader is moving the entire bell curve of team performance 5-10% higher.

Finally, the most educational tool I have found is to share my calendar.  Show the aspiring leader what the week is really like.  In the example below (click for full size) you can see red eye flights, staff meetings, enablement meetings, one on ones, customer workshops, recognition, pricing calls, team member assessments, forecast calls, head count planning, fiscal years planning and interviews.  You can also observe that there are times for work life balance such as hitting the cross-fit gym, traveling to Paso Robles, going out to dinner with the family, and attending wine tasting events.

Screen Shot 2017-08-18 at 9.21.54 PM

Scare Them Away!

The candidate would be crazy to want to be an SE Leader.  Do they realize:

  • booRecognition: They will no longer be the rockstar getting all the attention.  An SE Leader has to be OK with only 10% of the credit (or no credit at all).  The SE Leader role is one of the hardest and most under appreciated/recognized roles in a tech company.  You need to be ok with that.  We are servant leaders.
  • Adults can be Childish: Adults never really stopped being children.  Just because we turned 18 we didn’t mean we magically matured.  Adults try to play the “mom said no, lets ask dad game”, don’t know about personal grooming habits, fib, etc.
  • career-decision-making
  • Money: an SE Leader’s base salary may be slightly higher but for any given year ~45% of their team will make more money than them.  The SE Leader’s quota is the sum of their team’s quota.  They will have top performers and low performers.  Thus they are the average.  Go do the math 😉
  • Career Decision: moving into leadership is a completely new discipline than technical fields.  The aspiring leader must move from being a rock star individual contributor and start at ground zero on the skill curve.  They have to go back to learning.  It is not like trying out a different tech for a while and then swapping back.
  • Fail and you Leave Company: if the person moves into leadership and fails they end up leaving the company 90% of the time.  Sometimes this is the companies decision but more often than not it is the failed leader’s decision.  When they made the move into leadership their SE skills atrophied.  They also have pride and it is hard for a person to fail and then go back with being a peer again.

Personal Exploration

Arm and challenge the aspiring leader to do some personal exploration.  I often recommend they read a few books.  If they are fascinating reads then they are likely on the right path.  If they are boring drudgery that is a sign as well.

Take Action

At the end I explain that any career path they choose whether management or not I will support them and we should make a plan.  I am committed to their career whether it is in our current company or if I even have to find them a fit outside the company.

should_you_invest_in_a_401k_with_no_matchingHowever, the support I offer is not free.  I offer an employer 100% 401k match.  The amount of effort they put into their career plan and path I will match 100% with my effort.  I will join recurring mentoring calls with them, expose them to leadership activities, etc.  I warn them that their day job is busy and they will need to find the time to do these things.  After all if they can’t find the time now how do they think they can do it when they are a first time manager?

If we have discovered during the course of the conversation that people leadership is not for them then I do my best to find a different role or even create a role for them.

A final recommendation is that they try leadership out in a safe manner without having to go all in and risk failure.  Determine ways they can take on some leader responsibilities while still an individual contributor.  Setup a leadership training curriculum for them.

If they decide to take the plunge… get ready for a wild ride!



How You Know You Are in the Right Role

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My next post is in process and will focus on whether or not an individual contributor should move into SE Leadership.  In the meantime I was listening to a new hire training presentation by one of our sales leaders and he shared the below graphic.  In my previous posts (How do you know when it is time to leave your job as an SE?My Favorite Interview Questions – SE & SE Leaders) I highlighted how important it is to uncover what gives an individual energy and motivation and align that to specific roles.  Innately I have understood the concepts of ‘You Love It’, ‘You Are Great at It’, ‘You are Paid for it’ but I missed the concept of ‘The World Needs it’ and how they can all overlap.

How does your role fit the following?


If I think about my own recent roles

MIT Lincoln Laboratory

  • Great at it: didn’t have a PhD but I could write some decent code, but I was not most detail oriented.
  • World Needs It: shooting down nuclear missiles is a pretty important effort.
  • Paid for: not a ton since it was non profit, but I could feed myself
  • Love it: loved the people I worked with and the travel, but working on government and long term projects wasn’t the best fit for me.


  • Great at it: SE leadership, enablement, SaaS were all strength areas.  Big Data was a new discipline and just average.
  • World Needs It: with a crowded market in analytics it was a nice to have vs. a change the world effort.
  • Paid for: sales is pay for performance, high tech – all good.
  • Love it: analytics just wasn’t a passion area of technology


  • Great at it: my background in IT sponsorship, time at Cisco, SaaS, application development, computer science, SE leadership, scaling teams, recruiting, hiring, mentoring – all areas of skill.
  • World Needs It: ummm… cybersecurity… have you seen the front page?
  • Paid for: sales is pay for performance, high tech – all good.
  • Love it: great people, honesty, scrappy, can wear jeans (most of the time), trust, etc. Yup.


How to Create an SE Leader Business Plan

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Q4 can really put a damper being able to takie a step back to reflect and write.  At least that is my excuse for the delay between posts.
One of the key needs for every SE Leader is to create a business plan for their team/organization.  The plan is leveraged in multiple ways such as the initial interview to get the job, fiscal planning for budgeting, as an ‘operations manual’, and also as a means to explain the vision, strategy, tactics, and results that the team will measure and how it maps back to the company goals.
doyourjobMany SE Leaders, especially those new in role, don’t realize the many facets of a business
plan or why to create one.  Rule #1 from the famous book “First Break all the Rules” is “Do I know what is expected of me at work?”  Without a plan how will your team know what is expected of them let alone the the rest of the company?  How will they know how to “Do their Job”?  For those of you who are interviewing for a new role this plan is a way for you to demonstrate your understanding of what the job entails and how prepared you are for it.
I recently went through this exercise with my SE Leaders (SEL) to build our FY18 plan.  Step 1 was a session on “What do we need to plan for?” 😃 The team did an excellent job of mapping out the areas to agree on and document.  What follows is a cleansed version of that output.

Who is joining the party?


ou probably know most of what you want the team to do and achieve.  The easy approach is to make the plan yourself and then come down from the mountain with your 10 commandments.  Unfortunately, you don’t know everything and you are missing an opportunity to leverage the talent of your team.  You did hire people smarter than you right?  Also, by involving not only your team but also your cross functional stakeholders you increase everyones understanding, ownership, and buy in.

What do you mean I can’t just do what ever I want?

When you create your plan you will often have different guiding criteria from the various groups such as Finance, Exec Team, Sales structure and for global
  • Finance: headcount ratios, investment…
  • Sales:  sales territories, rep placement, segmentation…
  • Global SE Policy: programs, initiatives…

Categories of Planning

The approach I take is to create either a single PPT deck or a Webpage/Wiki spelling out each of the below.  The key is that your plan is in a medium that can easily be shared verbally as well as bookmarked and referenced by the team.  The structure our team leveraged is as follows:


Feedback & Lessons Learned

    • Last years Plan Summary with final results: too often leaders shared a plan at the beginning of the year but never stick to it.  The only way the team will believe you is if you are continually referencing it and then when sharing your progress throughout the year you map it back to the plan.  Thus I always start the plan off with the previous year’s exec summary slide (more on that below) and document the results.
    • Team Sentiment: many companies will do employee surveys.  At Cisco we called these Pulse scores and at Zscaler we call them Voice of the Employee.  I typically take the scores and do a summary analysis showing the changes from previous surveys over time for the team but also where they are relative to the rest of the company.  It is important to not only be transparent with the survey results but also to document action plans to improve.  These action plans do not only need to be SEL owned but may also be owned by a tiger team of the SE themselves.
      • Areas of Strength / Weakness (Discontent) – relative
      • Improvement Action Plan
      • 360 & Skip Level Feedback Consolidated

Summary Plan

  • SE attention spans are very short.  Thus I have found it valuable to have an exec summary of the entire business plan that fits on one piece of paper or slide.
    • Vision: what are you trying to achieve as a team?
    • Strategy: what are the high level strategies or concepts you will use to get to that vision?
    • Tactics: what are the concrete actions you will take to implement those strategies?
    • Results: how will you know you are successful when you execute those tactics?  What are the measurables?

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 10.24.05 PM

  • A second slide can also be useful that covers
    • Start, Stop, Continue: much of your plan/approach will be similar from year to year so it is often useful to call out the key changes.
    • Ratios, Alignment, Comp:

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 10.50.46 PM


  • Segmentation
    • How will you cover and engage with your customers?
      • By Size: Commercial, Enterprise, Large Enterprise, Majors
      • By Vertical: Oil, Finance, Retail, etc.
      • By Type: Federal, State Local, Education, Enterprise, Service Provider
      • TAM (Total Addressable Market)
  • Coverage
    • SE Organizations are typically driven off ratios of X SE of a particular type mapped to Y number of Sales Reps.  Before you can plan your own coverage you typically need to know
      • SE Ratios
      • # of accounts
      • Geography of Sales Reps
  • Event Planning:
    • How will you cover your major events throughout the year?  For example, for us it is RSA, Gartner, HIMMS, EDUCAS, and Black Hat.
  • Technical Sales Process
    • How will you engage with your customers and what are the proven steps to win their trust and business?
    • How does this map into the greater sales process?


  • What is your partner plan?


  • Job Role Expectations
    • For all roles
      • SE
      • Architect
      • SE Leader
    • One Page Summary for each covering
      • Mission Statement
      • Core Skill Set
      • Customer Verifiable Outcomes
      • Responsibilities
      • Metrics – what does success look like?
  • Career Paths
    • Grades, titles?
  • Recognition Plan
    • Annual merit, retention bonuses, stock allocation
    • Ongoing recognition (verbal, awards, etc) – we had an SE working group define this.
  • Compensation
    • Split & Out of Territory Policies
    • Comp Plan (team, individual, geo, product specific, net new, renewals)
    • Teaming Policy
  • Enablement
    • Labs, Training, SE Summits
    • New Hire On Boarding – rotations, certifications, etc
  • Talent Assessment
    I have found it valuable to evaluate the team across many different lenses as it serves different purposes.

    • Skills Matrix – do you have any skill gaps such as core networking skills?
    • Potential vs. Performance – 9 block & skill vs will are models for this
    • Readiness for Next Role (Up, Out, Different) – how soon?
    • Risk to Depart – 2×2 matrix of criticality to the business and risk to leave
    • Participation Rates & Performance – any risks of people who didn’t earn?
    • Bench Depth – if one of the SEL were hit by a bus, who would take over?  Are there people in support or services who would like to be an SE?
  • Hiring (who, what, where, when, how)
    • Budget (Zero BB) vs HC (specific number of people)


  • OPEX
    • Travel, Training, etc.
  • PTO Schedules
    • When you are on PTO/Holiday what are your expectations?
    • Policy – Coverage when on PTO (individual, manager, comp)
  • Process Improvements & Changes
    • POC Extensions, Activity/Outcome Tracking
  • Communication Cadence
    • Mandatory vs Optional Meetings/activities
    • Meeting Cadence (1 on 1’s, all hands, ZU, MM)
  • Operational Cadences
    • SFDC Hygiene
    • Ensuring the Technical Sales Process is followed
    • Hand off to post sales teams
    • Meeting notes
  • Cross Functional Requests & Dependencies
    • Invest in other programs or resources

Communication Plan

  • Create it
  • Communicate it
    • Again
    • Again
    • Again
    • Again
    • Again
    • Again
    • Again
  • Post it front and center on your team web page
  • Reference and update it whenever you speak

Our Fiscal plan ended up being ~53 slides.  However many of them are from the People section that are restricted to SEL only.  The goal is that the plan becomes a reference guide for the team but for the day to day they can just reference your one page exec summary.

How do you know when it is time to leave your job as an SE?

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When you are hiring at a rapid pace you find yourself having similar conversations over and over.  A key tenet of my hiring philosophy “Is the company a fit for what the candidate wants both in the short term and in the long term?” This conversation inevitably leads to
“How do I know when it is time to leave my current role/company?”
This is a complicated issue.  As a hiring manager I am asking a candidate to take a leap of faith and change how they spend 60 hours a week and how they support their family.  If you are looking to hire top talent chances are that they are a high performer at their current company, are well compensated/appreciated, and have an extensive network of friends at work.  Those are difficult things to leave behind and you want the new team member to be all in on your company.

Standard Reasons

Most leaders have read the book First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and his excellent data driven explanation of why people leave a company:

  • Your Manager
  • Stopped Learning / Challenged

However, I find that these are not as common with Sales Engineers.  Typically if an SE doesn’t like their manager there are a number of other teams that SE could go work for inside their company.  SE are valuable resources whose impact often has visibility up to the CEO and leadership will intervene to keep the person on board.  Second, it is nearly impossible for a top SE to stop learning.  They are naturally curious and driven.  They will find new industry trends to study, dig in on the next product release, etc.  I am not saying the above reasons never apply to an SE and why they leave – it is just rarer than normal.

Specific Reasons – SE

Old-vs.-New.pngSales Engineers are different than many roles in a company.  Their primary value is in the deep (often tribal) knowledge of their company’s products and how to get things done cross functionally.  It is less about their industry knowledge and pure sales skills.   SE derive their self worth via the reputation and respect they get from their peers.  It takes an SE years to accumulate this knowledge, professional network, and respect .  When they change companies they start at ground zero and it can feel like taking a major step back.   They are also more risk averse than a sales rep.

As a result a top performing SE will only leave a company due to:

  • Organizational Changes:
    has the entire company changed their approach and it doesn’t jive with the SE’s own internal beliefs.  Are they being asked to do something completely different than they have before, i.e. handle post sales, be a consultant, work on deployments, etc.  Is the Company having layoffs or down sizing?
  • Lose Faith in Technology:
    SE are passionate about their product lines and have passion on where roadmaps should go.  That is why they are so hard on their product management teams.  Imagine being an SE selling on premise servers and you can see the industry moving towards cloud computing yet no matter how hard you try your company will not adjust to tackle that inevitable technology transition.

With all of this said,  I will admit I am amazed at how long top SE’s will hold on through round after round of layoffs or would rather be the industry expert on Mainframes or TDM Telephony vs modern solutions.

Specific Reasons – SE Leader

Trust-In-Your-WingsAs detailed in SE Leaders – We Are Falling Behind much of an SE Leader’s value is in navigating their current company’s hierarchy and processes.  Changing companies means losing a large part of your value add.  After speaking with numerous SE Leaders who have switched jobs recently, including myself, the following two factors have emerged.

  • If you perform to the best of your ability – are you in a position to be successful?
    As much as SE leaders hate to admit it, we are supporters and multipliers of other functions.  We don’t build products (Product Management & Engineers).  We don’t carry legal quota (Sales Reps).  We aren’t certified to practice law (Lawyers).  We can’t do acquisitions or open hiring requisitions (Finance).   However, we make all of those functions better.  So what happens if those functions are weak and you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel that they will improve.  Talk about being in a tough situation. You could do the best job of your life and be guaranteed to fail.  That sucks.
  • Trust
    One of the key value adds of an SE Leader is their ability be a trusted advisor to their customers but also to their internal stake holders and executive team.  What happens when an SE Leader provides feedback on the product line or organizational direction and instead of debating and agreeing to disagree the SE Leader is instead viewed as ‘not on board’ or ‘just doesn’t get it’?  Or when an SE Leader is working cross functionally and they gain agreement on action only to find out later it was lip service only and the other groups don’t follow through.  That sucks too.

What Are NOT the Reasons

  • Money – Compensation: mediocre or poor SE will leave for money.  Excellent SE rarely have this issue.  They are well compensated and appreciated.  If for some reason they are not compensated well and tell their company they are leaving it is amazing the rapidity an organization will move to rectify that.
  • Sales Rep Conflict: almost always their current company will realign that SE to a different territory or make them a ‘swing player’ until that can happen.
  • Accounts, Territory: if an SE doesn’t like the market they are in – see “Sales Rep Conflict”

Net-net if an SE is a top performer a company will move mountains to fix the problem.


An SE and SE Leader’s primary value and self worth lies with their company and their product set.  It takes A LOT for them to leave.  Hopefully the above factors provide areas to compare your current situation against.


Oh… and if you are feeling any of the above factors apply to your current situation, I am currently hiring both SE and SE Leaders 🙂


SE Leaders – We Are Falling Behind

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A major part of growing a business is finding the right people and talent to continue to grow it with you.  I am in the fortunate position to be a part of a fast growing silicon valley technology company and have spent the last 7 months with hiring as my #1 priority.  Hiring for Sales Engineers and Architects has been a fairly straightforward task.  However, hiring for World Class Sales Engineering Leaders has been challenging and sometimes frustrating (but extremely rewarding when you find the right people).  I apologize ahead of time if this post’s contents come across as negative.  My intent is only to share the real world observations from my last two companies.
The Sales Engineering Leader (SEL) positions can be challenging to fill for two reasons:
  1. SE Leader skill sets do not translate to new companies
  2. SE Leaders are extremely cross functional and each org expects something different

Skills Do Not Translate

The most disappointing thing I have observed lately is when a top notch SE Leader (SEL) is looking to move to a new company and but their current skill set is focused on how to navigate their current company vs. transferrable customer value skills.  This tends to be a symptom of large companies SEL’s.

In a large technology company the majority of an SEL’s time can be consumed with the demands of reporting from corporate, doing their sales leader’s forecast spreadsheets, knowing how to escalate support tickets, knowing who in the engineering or product management teams to contact, etc.  As the demand to do these activities has increased the SEL has decreased their Technical Skill Set.  When they are removed from their current company 80% of their value add is removed.

Technical Skills

I am an SE Leader not a Player/Coach or Super SE!  
How could I possibly learn all of the technologies that my company sells – there are too many!

Yes…  I hear you, I do.  But… remember the middle name in your title?  Sales ENGINEERING Leader.  Remember the key traits of top notch SE?  CURIOSITY, Drive, Ethics.  Aren’t you curious about what you sell?  If you don’t understand what it does or how it works then how can you zealously and honestly convince the customer to try your new and innovative approach?
For example, when I was at Cisco did I try to learn Call Manager and set it up in my home lab?  Nope.  I didn’t really have a need to.  However, I am a big fan of home automation. When I learned that the Tandberg/Cisco Telepresence endpoints had open REST API’s for control you better believe I tinkered on the weekends so that when I was stuck at work (geo fence) past 5pm on a work day and I was still on a video call my home automation system would detect it and text my wife that I would be home late.
I am the first to admit that I am not the most technical person out there.  I don’t have my CCIE, my snowflake data modeling skills are atrocious, and I still can’t figure out how to make PPT do what I want.  Yet while screening SEL candidates (many of which have advanced networking certs) 60% cannot explain what happens behind the scenes in a browser window and press Enter.  80% cannot explain what a true multi tenant cloud is.  85% cannot explain what a 3 way TCP handshake is.
Didn’t we study these topics in our Computer Science classes?!  I decided to do a bit of research on what degrees SEL’s have.  I reviewed 150 SE Leader LinkedIn connections and resumes submitted to our SEL openings.  Below was the breakdown.
What stood out to me the most was:
  • Only 1 in 8 had a computer science degree
  • Only 3 in 8 had an some form of formal software education (assuming  EE people had to take more than 2 computer science classes)
  • There were 2x as many liberal arts degree holders vs. computer science

Thus my two pleas:

Please encourage and support both enrollment in computer science and encourage graduates of computer science to explore non programming careers.  To this day I remember and leverage everything I learned in my CS degree – even Prolog and Scheme concepts.
Second, fellow SE Leaders please, please, please, stay curious and technical.  You don’t need to be coding configs but you should endeavor to be the equivalent of your customer’s CIO/CTO/CISO.  It is trendy for SEL’s to call themselves their area’s CTO, but it is a rarity for me to find the technical chops to match.

SE Leaders are Extremely Cross Functional and Each Org Expects Something Different

Ideally you are in a company that places a high value on the SE Leader role.  When the company does value the SEL it also means that each organization has a strong opinion on what they should be able to do.  It is not uncommon for:
  • Sales Leader: They need to be strong in business and direct customer contact/selling.  They MUST have worked at XYZ or ABC competitor.  They have to be high energy and own the room!  We don’t want people from big companies – they don’t know how to run fast.
  • People Ops: even though this role has 8 direct reports they must have managed teams of 50+ before because they will need to grow into that role.  I am sure they don’t mind taking a step back in scope/title.
  • Product Management:they should have 30 years experience in our industry but be up to date on all the modern stuff.  They need to be an architect and product expert.
  • Development: they need to be able to write code in order to customize our great platform.
  • Support: they need to be an expert on reading logs and handling customer escalations.  The SE team owns troubleshooting first.
If you were to interview your cross functional stake holders you may feel it is impossible to give them all what they want:
With that in mind I am sharing a recent definition that was created as a result of lessons learned from my last few places of employment.  It may not fit your specific needs but ideally it gives you a starting point and something to reuse.

SE Leader Job Description

  • Voice of the Customer → Urgency, context, futures
  • Advisor to the Customer → Expectations, architecture, insight to peer companies, be a ‘challenger’, be ‘on stage’
  • Capability Building  → invest 10% of your resources to fixing and improving
    Is the Problem or Opportunity a Root Cause of a Symptom?

    • If something is broken in your area → I will consult/coach but you own it
    • If something is broken in 2+ areas → It is systemic and I will own fixing it
    • If something is working in 1 area → It is a best practice and I will own scale it 
  • People → Hiring, Enabling, Empowering, Engaging, Accountability

SE Leader Capabilities Weighting

  • 25% Leadership and Capability Building (Team, X-Func)
  • 20% Technology & Architecture Fundamentals
  • 20% Company Culture Fit  + SE Fit (Curiosity, Drive, Ethics)
  • 15% Communication & Presentation (Own the Room)
  • 10% Organized & Disciplined
  • 10% Business Acumen

Leadership & Capability Building

The #1 responsibility of an SE Leader is hiring, building, and retaining a world class team and a system to sustain it.

  • Ability to hire exceptional talent
  • Ability to lead and develop talent to meet business plan
  • Demonstrated ability to scale an organization
  • Ability to demonstrate a “people play book” or a framework of how to get the best out of people
  • Required Control Book/Playbook for structure
  • Can name three strong hires that will follow him/her to this company
  • Can lead cross functionally through influence not authority to improve processes, product, and other areas of need
  • Can hire and lead a diverse team (background, experience levels, personalities)

Technology & Architecture Fundamentals

The SE Leader cannot just be a spreadsheet manager building and operating the team.  They must lead from the front.  Note that this does not mean they should be a Super SE or Player Coach but rather that they fulfill the role of a technology executive/architect, i.e. has the technical depth to be relevant to a customer CIO/CTO/CISO.  They do not need to be a XYZ Tech expert but must have a strong foundation in one or more of the areas of networking, SaaS, web services software, or computer science.  The SE Leader is an Architect who can draw on their varied technical background to teach how all of the technologies in an Enterprise are connected and can be utilized to add value/transform business.

  • Understands current XYZ landscape and areas of XYZ technologies (Did they do their homework?)
  • Broad understanding of XYZ reference architectures and operation
  • Familiar with XYZ technologies
  • They win not by understanding their customers’ world as well as the customers know it themselves, but by actually knowing their customers’ world better than their customers know it themselves, teaching them what they don’t know but should.  Can they teach the interview panel something new?
  • Demonstrates the ability to explain and articulate complex architecture/technology in simple terms.

Company Culture Fit + SE Fit (Curiosity, Drive, Ethics)

The primary predictor of success for both an SE and an SE Leader is Curiosity, Drive, Ethics.
  • <Your Company Culture Fit Criteria>
  • Are they CURIOUS about how things and people work? (Lots of hobbies/interests, tech, always asking questions)
  • Do they then have the DRIVE to get off the couch and discover the “why” and put it to use?
  • Do they have the ETHICS to always do the right thing and collaborate well with others?

Communication & Presentation (Own the Room)

The SE Leader must have a ‘Challenger Sale’ approach.  They must demonstrate confidence, passion and energy. Note that this does not mean extroversion – many of the best SE Leaders are introverts.
  • The ability to do three things: teach, tailor, and take control
  • Can push the customer out of their comfort zone
  • Can focus and teach the customer value (rather than customer convenience)
  • Persuasive consultative communication style
  • Strong written skills (evidence; bring a proposal, C level correspondence, internal email)
  • Creativity – did they customize the hiring presentation to convey new information in a compelling and cohesive manner
  • Has used their network of advocacy along the way to build support within <hiring company> for their hire
  • Has the confidence and ability to tell a CxO they are wrong, explain why, and still maintain or improve their relationship
  • Strong customer facing skills
  • Strong presence & credibility

Organized & Disciplined

In order to fulfill all of the operational tasks required of them but still have time to be customer facing an SE leader must have a very efficient approach to operations.

  • Disciplined planning (evidence; has a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly plan (beyond quota)
  • Leverages SFDC or other systems (Planning, track previous involvement, budget, users, etc.)
  • Ability to work as an overlay resource, qualify opportunities, prioritize, handle prioritization conflicts

Business Acumen

The SE Leader must be a business partner with their aligned Sales Leader.  The two must be able to divide and conquer on both customer and internal business activities.  While they do not have to have worked in the SaaS industry before they should demonstrate evidence that they have studied it (curiosity/drive).
  • Strategic thinker; demonstrated success in developing strategies
  • Understands the levers in building a start up business (that doesn’t already have momentum or a strong market presence)
  • Smartly leverages the channel and other partners
  • Understanding of SaaS Based Revenue Models
  • New ACV and New TCV, Run Rate/Renewal Revenue


Change your mind. Change their mind.

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Every Monday morning I wake up about 4:30am, make coffee, and read Peter King’s MMQB before going to the gym.  This morning I came across a quote that made me stop and think not only once, but twice.


Change Your Mind

I realized how important it is to not only hire diverse talent and leaders but to listen to them and admit when you are wrong.  One of the things I call out in my ‘Welcome to our Team’ message to new leaders (chronicled here:  Setting Expectations) is a warning about how I will often play the role of:

Devil’s Advocate
In our one on one’s or meetings I often will play the role of Devil’s Advocate. This can be offsetting (annoying/frustrating) at first as it will seem that your new manager is questioning everything or arguing all your points. I do this so we can vet the ideas in a safe environment before moving on to external stakeholders. Other times it will be because I have the same view as you and I am exploring for pitfalls or weaknesses in the approach and hoping you can help. If the debate or questioning is too intense it is OK to say “timeout”! See the topic above – feedback. 😉

I realized I need to add in “and trust that you can and will change my mind.  You were hired because you are smart, resourceful, and make us better than we were yesterday – don’t ever stop doing that”.   When I think back on some of my most memorable moments in leadership it was when I deferred to a team member’s decision over my own:

  • Ron Burkett – sticking with aligning SE quota to Reps
  • Shelly Blackburn – Ranger program implementation
  • Nate Chessin – I forgot the details, but I remember he completely flipped my thinking on a hotly debated topic (I am getting old)
  • Raj – how we implement POC extensions for Measuring & Tracking SE Teams – Solved?
  • Ben Martin – I told him I would humor his application to be a Sr. Manager as it would be a good development and coaching exercise but that I would not hire an individual contributor with no management experience into that role.  He made us change our mind.

Why was it so rewarding?  Because when I changed my mind and tried their ideas they ended up being better than my own idea.  Today I realized in crystal clear fashion – the way you build a team that is better than you is that you have a team that is strong enough to change your mind.

Change Their Mind

My second epiphany was when I thought of some of the greatest bosses I have ever had.

  • Sonya Messer (Sky Media): I was a 16 year old punk in a growing call center startup.  She let me create scheduling systems, excel tracking tools, script changes, etc.
  • Deric Shea (Cisco CCBU): I was a first time professional manager and Deric a Director.  I argued almost everything with him.  He was patient and listened and I think I even won an argument or two.
  • Doug Good (Cisco Enterprise): Doug’s style was very different than my own.  He was thoughtful, caring, systematic, and organized.  My approach was to shoot from the hip, experiment, push, prod, and drive.  Those extremes aren’t always successful together but Doug never shut down my crazy ideas and in fact supported (most) of them.  I can’t remember him ever saying no.  He even let me hire Ben (see above).
  • Stephen Rejto (MIT Lincoln Labs): my first job out of college.  Stephen gave me a pile of data and a manual from Raytheon, told me to buy a super computer on Ebay, and go figure out how to reverse engineer  a $600m radar for shooting down ICBMs.  Every time I had an idea I wanted to do he pushed me to not only do it but do it more.  Example: go get a passport and fly to the south pacific after only a few months on the job and be the local lead on an ICBM intercept.
  • Jedd Williams (Cisco Collaboration): I wonder some days how Jedd never fired me.  In fact I remember at least 3 times him being red faced and asking why me why he shouldn’t fire me 🙂  Yet, he always calmed down and often realize that my concept may have merit (even if my approach to it was not ideal).   I always told Jedd that he needed me as I was the one who would tell him the truth.

It truly hit me why people quit jobs because of their manager (“First Break all the Rules”).  A key trigger for me to leave past roles was when I was not strong enough to change my leader’s mind (or that they were not open to change).

Change Your Mind, Change Their Mind

What goes around come around.  We should remember that smart strong people have great ideas.  That is why you hired them.  Let them change your mind.  Remind them that they can change your mind.

And… never stop trying to change your leader’s mind.


As a final thought, I texted that quote to a previous team member who had more good advice:


Good lesson.  Don’t be redundant 🙂






Measuring & Tracking SE Teams – Solved?

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Apologies on the delay in posting.  It is amazing how much time passes when you are having fun and there is nothing more fun then watching your new team start to come together and perform.  I have been in my new role/company for about six months and it is time to share a few lessons learned of the most viewed/shared topic we have had here on Measuring & Tracking Sales Engineering.

In the previous post I reflected on the two types of tracking SE Leaders implement:

  1. Activity Tracking
  2. Outcome Tracking

When I joined my current company it had implemented Activity Tracking – an approach I have struggled with.  Fortunately, the cross functional teams (Sales Ops, Sales, Product Management, Finance, and Support) were supportive of taking a crack at simplifying and improving the approach (see Give – Get: Executing a 90 Day Plan).

I am happy to say that for the first time ever I am experiencing an SE Metrics & Tracking approach that is lightweight, automated where possible, and provides value first and foremost to the SE and Regional Sales Managers (RSM) and secondarily to the leadership teams.  I will detail the previous approach and how we transitioned to:

  1. Technical Sales Process –> Outcome based tracking
  2. Proof of Concept/Evaluation Approach –> Simplified & Consistent
  3. Reporting –> outcome based and aligned to the Sales Process
  4. SFDC Hygiene –> how to make it consistent and accurate 

Previous Approach


  • Significant Customer Interactions (SCI): for every customer meeting the SE, Sales Rep, or other employee would create a sub page off of the opportunity and document details of the interaction.
  • POC Inline SCI: If a ‘production’ POC was implemented by the SE for a customer a special SCI format would be used.  This format had additional sub-pages for every technical stage a POC went into, i.e. config, basic testing, advanced testing, etc.  If an engagement didn’t involve a production POC (Demo, lightweight POC, design) then the teams just hacked this format to try and do it.

Key Metrics:

  • X # of POC per SE per Quarter
  • 8 in-person  (SCI) per SE per  week
  • POCs shut off  in 30 days (manual extensions last 15 days)


  • To SE Leadership:
    • I eventually found a dashboard that had: # of opportunities per SE, # of POCs, amount of traffic per POC, etc.
  • To Sales Leadership:
    • Amount of Pipeline $ in Sales Stage 2-6 (POC Configuration in Process, Basic Testing, Advanced Testing, POC Stalled, Technical Win)

The main challenge with the existing approach was that it was built around the concept of a POC (an action) rather than a Technical Win (outcome).  Further more – the technical progress of a deal (POC Inline) was buried in sub pages off of the Opportunity record and mixed into the rest of the other sales rep’s SCIs.  Thus it would take about 12 clicks just to find the page to look at with technical info.  As a sales leader you had no idea (or no patience) about how to find this information and even if you did there was no way you would click through and try to find it for every opportunity.  Therefore the sales leaders would have a massive amount of pipeline ‘trapped in Sales Stages 2 through 6’ and have no idea what was needed to move it forward to Sales Stage 7 Negotiation & Legal.

Evolved Approach

We decided to simplify not only the Technical Sales Process (what SE does) but also the Sales Process (what the sales rep does).  

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-23-03-pmExample of Technical Stage 1 Documentation

The Solution:

  • Outcome Based: the SE owns the Technical Win for an Opportunity via these steps:
    1. Discovery & Architecture Workshop: output is typically a joint Tech Validation (POC) Plan
    2. Tech Validation Plan: what is the jointly created plan with the customer to prove out a technical win?  Could be a POC, Design Session, or just a demo.
    3. Progress: what is the adoption by the customer of the plan?
    4. Findings Report: a summary presentation of the Tech Validation shared at a customer exec meeting with economic sponsor.
    5. Technical Win/Loss/Stalled: confirmation or proof from the customer that we are technically superior or not.  Or if we do not have confirmation but there are no more outstanding technical actions we consider it stalled. 
  • Cross Functional Outcomes: what are the outcomes cross functional teams need?
    1. Technical Close Date: just as a sales rep forecasts when his deal will close, the SE should forecast when they will achieve a Technical Win.  All the rules that apply to a rep setting/changing a Sales Close Date apply to the this one as well.
    2. Technical Sales Stage: a drop down menu summarizing the outcomes above and what Technical Step we are in the sale.
    3. Simplify Sales Stages: remove all duplicate stages from the sales stages (Stages 2–6) and rely on the SE owning all progress in Sales Stage 2 (Technical Validation)
    4. Provisioning Requests: any outstanding evaluation or production pilot should be displayed inline.  Further more all customer usage metrics should be pulled from our cloud and embedded into the view automatically.
    5. Technical Next Steps: A short note updated frequently on the progress, next steps, and actions needed to get to Tech Win.
    6. Post Sales Handoff Date: if this deal closed when was the design and information handed off to the post sales implementation and support teams?

The Result:

The key outcomes detailed above were ‘promoted’ to be a section on the Salesforce Opportunity Record right next to the Sales Rep’s content.  This way any employee in the company could view an opportunity and see a complete summary of the deal progress.  If they want more detail they can click through to the documents themselves. The only section that has to be updated on a frequent basis by the SE is the Tech Validation Next Steps field.    All other progress, notes, etc. should be reflected in the Validation Plan, Findings Report, or Cloud instance.


Customer Verifiable Outcomes

An outcome only matters if it impacts a customer and as such SE effort should be spent on customer facing work.  If leadership wants to track for accountability/progress we should tap into those feeds.

  1. Discovery & Architecture Workshop: when we meet with a customer to create a design they should follow a standard agenda.  These agendas usually follow a format of 1. You show me yours (current environment, challenges, business drivers, requirements) 2. We show you ours (platform capabilities mapped to requirements, differentiation, proposed solution). 3. Formal output should be a co-authored Tech Validation (POC) Plan.  
  2. Tech Validation Plan: what is the agreed plan with customer to prove out a technical win?  This could be a POC, Design Session, or just a demo.  A template that details key stake holders, support, success criteria, scope, etc.  This document is created in Google Drive and shared with the customer.  We can verify customer engagement by viewing the google doc and confirming it is shared with them, how much the customer has edited/contributed to it.  Google docs also has change control built in so you can control scope creep etc. 
  3. Progress: is the customer using the platform, how many users, traffic, etc?  No need to ask the SE when you can just pull the usage data directly from our cloud (see above provisioning request summary).
  4. Findings Report: before we agree to do a Tech Validation the customer must commit to having a scheduled exec review meeting where the economic buyer and technical decision maker are present.  This meeting is scheduled in google calendar and visible to all.
  5. Technical Forecast: key aspects of a sales forecast are close date, stage, next steps, and linearity.  So why not do the exact same thing for tracking the Technical Win progress? After all the best predictor of a sale and sales linearity is whether or we have the technical win in place.  Below is an elegant view of a quarter forecast covering both sales and technical. 
  1. screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-15-11-pm

Automation, Simplification, Consistency of Execution

 As previously detailed in my posts on Sales Enablement and Metrics if you want to change behavior your best approach is to first automate it so it takes no change in behavior, then drastically simplify as much as possible, then finally use a big stick (and carrot).  Below are some techniques we leveraged to ease the above transition and ensure consistency.  

  • Emails Automatically Logged: I don’t quite know how salesforce does this but I believe it is some form of Google Mail integration.   Every email sent to or from a customer is automatically tracked as an activity.   No need to keep customer communication secret when you have a clear code of business conduct.  screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-43-33-pm
  • Technical Validation Plan: when I first joined the team an excellent POC Plan was shared with me.  I emailed the team and asked for the source template.  I received 7 completely different versions back.  So much for not reinventing the wheel every time.  To create efficiency one of our Aspiring People Leader SEs volunteered to consolidate and simplify all of the plans.  He did an excellent job doing this and even expanded the plan to include needed info by the Product Management team and pre-populated test cases.  These plans need constant evolution as every new product or feature will often result in separate ‘splinter’ plans.  It is the SE Leaders role to show the value of a single plan to all of the cross functional stakeholders.  
  • Provisioning via SKU: provisioning for POCs was previously handled by about five different processes including SFDC and google form questionnaires.  When provisioning it was often done via text descriptions of what should be enabled.  Instead we transitioned to a single format driven via SFDC and tied to our official SKUs.  If something custom was needed on the backend then we removed that requirement from the SE and instead pushed it to a sales ops or support team.  Those teams are much more process driven than a Sales team.  
  • Evaluations that don’t need to be extended: previously every POC was provisioned for only 30 days and then if an SE wanted to extend the length it was done for only 15 days at a time. An extension required a support ticket, order management team, sales ops approval, and Sales leader approval.  After doing some research I found out that the average length of a POC in the Enterprise Segment was 76 days.  That meant at least 4 extensions were required for every customer and about 20+ touches.  Instead we decided to manage top down rather than bottoms up.  Rather than extend licenses we set them by default to be 365 days.  Then we implemented a top down management and tracking approach via sfdc where we would require SE Director justifications for any POC extending past the committed technical close date and timeline defined in the Technical Validation plan.  This reduced support cases and touches by the thousands and helped us to reinvest that time in customer support.  
  • POC Usage Data: how often have we done POCs with hardware and had the customer tell us “oh yeah we are testing and it is going great” and then months later we find out they only had one person tinker with it occasionally.  Instead of having to ask the customer or SE how the POC is going we made it so we could view usage statistics right in SFDC and the opportunity.  We can now see if one person or 20,000 people are.  
  • SFDC Hygiene: how do we ensure consistency of execution for things like the Technical Next Steps or POC Plans? We run an automated check on a recurring basis that notifies the SE and SE Leader for things that are missing or out of date.  

Report Card

How did we do?  Below are the key items and criteria we laid out in the original post.  Personally I am finding I can satisfy all of these criteria with these few fields and techniques our team applied in SFDC.  A big thank you to our SE, Sales Ops, and Finance teams who made this possible and effective.  

  1. Justification of SE Team
  2. Individual SE Performance 
  3. Business Insight & Operations

  1. Business Value: Provide value back to both the SE and Management on a weekly/monthly/qtrly basis
  2. Accurate: Be accurate via mandatory completion and not manager inspection/honor system
  3. Consistent: Track as much via automation as possible otherwise have it built into SE workflow


Parting words…

I apologize if the format or grammar for the post is sub par this time.  I  ashes in some frequent flier miles and Hilton points and am taking a few days off. Score our next SE Summit.  This post was made possible by an infinity pool in Mexico, a waterproof iPhone 7 Plus, and a margarita.  Enjoy your work and your life!

























My Favorite Interview Questions – SE & SE Leaders

c22a46c4585e9e1d1dd99d53f90bcd15If you like this post please feel free to subscribe to email updates or post/retweet to your network.  Ask any people leader what his top responsibilities are and “Finding and Retaining Top Talent” is likely to be at the top of the list.  So why is it that 10% of people leaders excel at this and the other 90% are just OK?   In my post about Talent Acquisition and Leadership Philosophy I documented lessons learned about the type of talent I look for.  Finding out if a candidate matches this is easier said than done.  When people are job hunting they learn the most common questions and craft their answers ahead of time.  Heck, visit and chances are you will find a front page article on how to crush an interview.
It is the people leader’s job to get past the bullsh*t and discover the candidate’s skills, talents and motivations.  You can then determine:
  1. Is the candidate a fit for what your company needs both in the short term and in the long term?
  2. Is the company a fit for what the candidate wants both in the short term and in the long term?
Although most interviewers focus on #1 I have found that #2 is the key predictor of success.  If a person is doing something they are passionate about it is called a hobby.  If a person is doing something they don’t enjoy, even if they are good at it, it is called stress.  People who enjoywhat they do will practice more often, improve their skills, and be more creative.
My goal is to get past the bullsh*t and hold up a mirror to the candidate so they can reflect on what they are looking for, what their strengths and gaps are, and whether or not they really are a fit for this job.  On my end I am looking for Curiosity, Drive, Ethics, an approach documented by Mark Adreessen in 2007.
  • Are they CURIOUS about how things and people work?
  • Do they then have the DRIVE to get off the couch and discover the “why” and put it to use?
  • Do they have the ETHICS to always do the right thing and collaborate well with others?

Questions – The Basics

I endeavor to ask non-direct questions that are uncommon and ideally unprepared for.  The non-direct questions provide multiple data points.  For example, if I ask a question about why they are leaving their job they could talk about a previous manager, my current company, family pressures, passions, technology shifts, etc.  The response topic tells me what is most important to on top of what the actual answer is.
  • What would you like to talk about?
    • I  use this for senior positions in order to see if they make the news or report the news?  When you don’t provide them structure will they provide it by suggesting an agenda, key topic areas to cover, and next steps?
    • Worst Fail:  the candidate went on and on with their life story and I would only reply with affirmations ‘uh huh, yup, ok’ unless they asked me a question.  They never asked one.  45 minutes later the interview was over.
  • Why are you leaving your present job? (or, Why did you leave your last job?)
    • While this is a general background question it is also a big ethics question.  I want to know if the candidate is running from something or running to something.  A candidate should always be truthful.  It is a small world and there is a 99% chance that I know a guy who knows a guy who will give me the real back story.  Too often candidates are embarrassed about the reasons (laid off) and try to make  something up.  Don’t.  Just Don’t.
  • Take me through your career changes and why you made them?
    • This is a way to determine what a candidate values in their career and their ability to be reflective on what worked and what didn’t.  How did they find that new job?  Were they hand selected, did they network, did they just need any job so they could pay the bills (and admit it).
    • Worst Fail – candidates bring you through a 20 minute monologue on every job and what they did.  I didn’t ask what they did, I asked about the moments of inflection/transition.

Questions – Curiosity

curiosityTo determine curiosity I am look for self awareness (are they curious about themselves and others), ability to ask and receive feedback (are they curious about areas of improvement), and are the motivated by learning, experimenting, and can they take a risk, fail, recover, and improve?
  • What’s the biggest misperception people have of you?  -Tony Hsieh, Zappos
    • My favorite question because it’s interesting to see how self-aware they are.  It is a way to understand their weaknesses and reflect on them.  The best candidates pause and take this question very seriously and when they answer you can hear that they truly care about how people perceive them and what they do about it.  On the flip side, some candidates will just say that they are an open book and there aren’t any misperceptions… they are perfect after all!
  • Tell me about the most valuable piece of criticism you have ever received? – Michael Skold, Area Director at Zscaler
    • A different way of asking about a weakness but it will usually come with a story about how/why they received it and how they reacted. Also a good opportunity to see how they took that and improved it.
  • When I go into the interview debrief with the team, what will THEY say are your roses and thorns based on your time with them?
    • Does the person reflect after a meeting (whether customer or interview) and try to identify what went well and what did not.  Do they put themselves in the other person’s shoes.  Are they looking to edify their own self worth by seeing if they got an answer right or are they always trying to learn.  Do they even remember the interviewers names, details, cues, etc.
    • Fails: the candidate says the interview went really well and then they tell you what their strengths are.  But, I didn’t ask what the candidate thought.  I asked what the interviewers said – every interviewer always has pro and con feedback they give.
  • How do you feel when someone doubts what you say
    • How well does the candidate listen – 90% of the time the candidate says what they do and not what they feel.  I usually stop them and re-ask the question.  Curious people are interested in learning why the other person doubts them, they get energized by it.  Non curious people feel annoyed or afraid.
  • How do you unplug?  -Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post
    • People are eager to show employers how they’ll work themselves to the bone. That’s not good for them or the company.  When outside of work do they have hobbies or activities?  I find that great SE and Leaders  have a ton of hobbies and interests outside of work, yet somehow they find the time to excel at everything.
  • How do you think you are doing so far?   Why? – Mark McKinley, Area Director at Zscaler
    • When you ask this question mid interview it can be a stunner.  People don’t often ask for this type of direct feedback/assessment  Every time this question has been asked the candidate either says “Great” or “I think I could be doing better”.  When you ask the ‘Why do you think that?’ followup do they identify areas of improvement or examples that make them feel good?  If you they are doing well but they think they could be doing better you should give the candidate positive reinforcement.  It will give them energy to finish strong.  Top talent are always their own toughest critics.

Questions – Drive

mug_thumnailFor drive I am looking for SE and SE Leaders who love getting sh*t done.  One of the key roles of an SE is removing barriers to the customer and your company’s mutual success.  When they do that can do they go the extra mile to build capability and do it consistently (the opposite would be doing something for selfish reasons and only for themselves and their deal).
  • Tell me about the last time you broke the rules?  then… Why did you break it?
    • Many candidates suspect this to be a trap question around ethics.  It isn’t.  People who break the rules usually have a reason for it and usually that reason is that the rule wasn’t correct in the first place.  No one (usually) breaks the law or rules without good reason.  What I am looking for is: did they first try to work within the rule, after they broke it did they try to find out why it was there and work cross functionally to change or improve it?  Are they a fixer, builder, collaborator?  Or did they take a short cut, break it for their own self purpose and then walk away.
  • Tell me about the last time your manager disappointed you?
    • What do they value and need in a manager?  Were they able to be open and be honest with their manager and tell them they did something wrong?  Are they just a yes person who manages up or are they driven to improve not only themselves, their team, but also their leadership above them?
  • What would be a long week for you?
    • This isn’t about hours worked.  This is about learning what stresses them and takes away their energy.  When someone answers 70 hours – that is a weak answer.  Why did they have to work 70, did they do something wrong, is 70 a good thing?  After a 7 day vacation in the south of France does anyone say too long of a week? It is all perception.
  • What have your parents taught you? -Jason Goldberg, Fab
    • It gets to the core of people and what makes them tick.

Questions – Ethics

ethics-week-mainEthics is an umbrella category which includesdoing the right thing for your customers and your company but also whether or not a person is collaborative with others (a rising tide rises all ships), and are they a cultural fit for the company?
  • How would you describe your reputation within your company? If I reach out to XYZ person we both know on LinkedIn what will they say?
    • Are they self aware and honest?  This question is similar to asking someone what their strengths and weaknesses are but since it relies on having others edify the answer it tends to be more honest and accurate.  For example, if someone asked me about my reputation at Cisco I would probably say “A leader who got shit done, helped others, drove hard, technically skilled, creative but could be overly talkative, argumentative, and not always the best exec presence.”  I have no idea if it is true or not, but if you checked my references it would give you a good data point on how self aware I was and how much feedback I asked for.
  • Why wouldn’t I hire you? -Bobbi Brown, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics 
    • You get the most honest answers–because it’s not a question people anticipate being asked.  It is an alternate way of asking them what their weaknesses are but requires them to view it from your perspective, just like a good sales person should always think from a customer perspective.
  • What would make you quit this job?
    • A good way to check for competitive spirit as candidates will often key in on the word ‘quit’ and their responses are telling.  Once past that it is a good way to find out what their non negotiable ‘must have’ or ‘must not haves’ are in a role.  Is it something trivial like ‘I am offered better pay/role somewhere else’, or ethics like ‘I was asked to do something unlawful’, or curiosity ‘I stopped being challenged or learning’.
  • Do you love to win or hate to lose?
    • The goal is to see how graceful they are at handling a no win situation.  Since it has no right or wrong answer you can take the opposite position and debate it.  “Like to Win?” since you just like to win does that mean you churn through as many opportunities as you can get until you find the easy wins?  “Hate to Lose” – does that mean you will keep working a losing endeavor well beyond its prime, i.e. I know if we keep innovating on this Mainframe hardware someone will want it!.  Many customers have predefined agendas and you will never be able to convince them through logic, so can you take a step back and try an alternate approach?
  • Make up a non sensical question, i.e. “Can you explain Port Snarfing and why it is a threat?” – Product Management at Zscaler
    • If you have a candidate who has an answer for everything, are they humble enough to admit when they don know something?  In a situation like this ask a question that contains something made up.  For example, in the cyber security space there is no such thing as Port Snarfing (there is however something called Port Scanning).  If you ask a question like this the candidate can either admit they don’t know what that is, ask clarifying questions, or pretend to know what it is by guessing.  A sales engineer needs to be a trusted advisor not the smartest guy in the room.

Beyond the Interview – Formal Engagement

hqdefaultTo me the interview is only 33% of the evaluation.  The other 66% is split evenly between a formal engagement and their approach outside of the interview process.  Can you put the candidate in an environment where they have to show what they DO vs. what the SAY.  Give the candidate a problem similar to what they would have on the job and observe how they approach it.  At GoodData we would give a candidate a random data set,  documentation, and access to our platform, ask them to create a business relevant proof of concept and present it.  At Zscaler we give them a corporate presentation template and ask for them to present it to a cross functional panel. You can then observe if the candidate is:
  • willing to invest 10+ hours in working on the project
  • motivated and excited by the topic so the 10+ hours feels like 0
  • willing to ask you questions
  • willing to ask for access to other team members
  • willing to ask for feedback on their draft
  • willing to hold you responsible if you are not being responsive
  • able to come up with a creative solution/approach or do they only do what you told them to do
  • able to complete in a set period of time while still juggling their day job
  • leverage other resources on their own that you didn’t provide to them
  • practiced/rehearsed before the presentation

Beyond the Interview – Approach 

I am not sure if approach is the right description, but what does the candidate do outside of the formal interview?  Do they:
  • interview current and former employees on their own?
  • sign up for your trial account or ask for access to your product?
  • sign up on your website and evaluate your inside sales and lead gen teams?
  • treat the support staff well (travel team, recruiters, etc)?
  • leverage their references or network in some manner?
  • set the pace for you on timing and next steps?
  • send a follow up email and is it just a thank you or an insightful view?
  • provide alternate forms of collateral beyond just the resume?
  • do research ahead of time on all of the interview panel members?
  • take coaching and change behavior or read a book that you may have mentioned?

Final Thoughts

I have vacillated back and forth on whether or not to share these lessons learned.  Your interview and hiring approach is a leader’s crown jewels and core intellectual property.  I asked myself, even if someone read the answer key would they pass the test?  To do so they would have had:
  • Curiosity to want to know more about the hiring manager (me), find this blog, learn about my approach, and reflect on what it means for them.
  • Drive to take reflect and take action on the coaching provided here
  • Ethics to provide honest responses to questions that have no right or wrong answers
In conclusion, there is no answer key for the test because it isn’t really a test.  Both yourself and the candidate are looking for a mutual fit and a win-win.  If either party isn’t all in and fully transparent then the relationship will not be a lasting one and we only cheated ourselves.
As always, these thoughts are only an approach and I am not advocating they are the right way or the only way.
Oh, and lest I forget, I am currently hiring SEs, Architects, and SE Leaders 🙂

Give – Get: Executing a 90 Day Plan

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Apologies on the delay in getting this post out.  It requires constant vigilance to not get sucked into the day to day operations of being a leader and remember to take a step back and reflect.   It has been 90 days since I began my new role and like most leaders I have been following a “standard” 90 day plan approach.Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.21.32 AM.png

  • 0-30 days: Listen.
  • 30 – 60 days: Plan.
  • 60-90 days: Act.

Why is it that when something is standard we still have such a high failure rate of new leader introduction?  I remember being out to dinner once with a new manager on my team, Arvind.  We had been interns together and then later we were full time ‘high potential” individual contributors.  After two promotions and becoming a second level manager I made Arvind was my first hire as a front line manager.  Over dinner we were talking about careers and moving up in an organization he expressed something to the effect of:

“Bill, I am frustrated. All of the things you have done so far that lead to you being promoted were things I had thought of but just never did!  You did them!”

He was absolutely right.  As I pondered that statement I realized that all of the ideas or programs I implemented for my team and cross functionally were never my own.  My differentiator was making other’s ideas realized (or as I like to call it – Getting Sh*t Done).   As Sales Engineering leaders we know that “sales” is a part of our role and we sell constantly to our external customers.  Yet, we often forget to use those same skills internally when executing a 90 day plan.  Specifically:

  1. Understand the needs and current state of not only your technical champion but the other stake holders as well (business owner, economic buyer, detractors, etc)
  2. Throughout the sales process constantly leverage a give-get approach


During your first 30 days you will be under a lot of pressure to take action, make decisions, and address the multitude of things that have piled up while they were going through the hiring process for your role.  As you start the listening phase of your plan you will likely begin with your SEs.  After all, as our channel leader Phil says, “we hire people smarter than ourselves so that they can tell us what to do”.

When you ask a person what they like about something they will usually tell you one thing they like and then immediately tell you three things they don’t like.  The SEs will grouse to you about all of the ills they have had to suffer because of other groups and demand you go take action:

“We don’t have XYZ collateral from Product Marketing!”
“Our support team stinks, we are forced to handle all of our customer escalations!”
“Our services team stinks and I am forced to do all of the deployments!”
“Our compensation is all wrong, finance and ops are just lazy!”

After listening to your team it is easy to get riled up, be their champion, and go make things right.  If only those other teams did their jobs your team would be successful!

Some of the best advice I ever received was from Deric Shea, my first manager.  I was leading an engineering escalation team and I felt that our support team was being lazy and escalating customer issues to us too quickly just to make their own metrics look better.  One day I stormed into his office venting about the support team and I had my metrics to prove it!  After being patient and letting me wear myself out he asked me two simple questions:

Do you think people wake up in the morning and say ‘I want to suck at my job’?
Do you know how that team is measured and what they consider success?

Petr Olmer is one of the original employees at my last company and also a Czech citizen.  He relayed a story about a bridge outside his hometown and shared the below picture.  Imagine you are on one side and the other cross functional teams are on the other side.  You need those teams to walk across this bridge and come to you – yet they aren’t.  Why aren’t they? The path looks so clear, its obvious from your vantage point!


Yet what you don’t realize is that funding for this bridge was cut in WW2 and never completed.  The bridge does not extend all the way across.


Part of listening isn’t just meeting with your own team members.  It should also include product management, post sales teams, the executive team, sales leaders, sales reps, channel, etc.  You should be genuine and “always assume positive intent” Indra Nooyi CEO PepsiCo).  Seek to understand how they are measured and what constraints they are under.  You never know if the bridge is out on their side if you don’t ask.



Now that you have a good understanding of both your team and your stake holders’ needs, constraints, and metrics you can start to create your action plan.  The typical thing to do is create a list of ‘asks’ that you require from other groups.  This can introduce two things:

  1. Victim Mentality: is when the SE team blames their barriers on others and don’t take action.  After all it isn’t the SE job to do their job!  If only someone would help!
  2. Resentment: your team can become negative when things aren’t happening as fast or at a quality level they expect.

Take this video for example.  It is painful to watch as you see the escalator break and everyone get frustrated and give up.  You just want to yell “just walk up the damn stairs!”

For what ever reason, we seem to forget the concept of give-get when operating internally.  If you were able to understand your cross functional team’s constraints and metrics in the listen phase then now is your opportunity to walk across that bridge, join up with them, and do something together.

For any ASK the you have of others:

  1. Start with what you will do to help them
  2. Ask for what you need
  3. Explain the benefit in their metrics and measures (not yours)

By doing so you

  • are no longer a victim – you are taking an action!
  • are getting things going and setting a pace – this will motivate (or guilt) the other team to matching your pace
  • will get a better outcome, because rather than asking for XYZ collateral and being disappointed when you are given something that doesn’t match what was in your head you will instead be a part of the process and helping to ensure it is exactly what you need.

Below is the primary output of my first 30 days.  It consolidates the feedback bucketed into key action areas, provided quotes and sentiment not only from the SE team but from cross functional teams, it states clearly what we will do, and then what we need from others.

Note that company confidential portions have been blurred.
Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 9.33.35 AM


Ever hear of Expect only what you Inspect?  That holds true to team and cross functional initiatives as well.  People get busy and even though they may intend to do something next thing they know months have passed.  The SE Leader can play the role of score keeper (not judge and executioner) and provide a system and cadence for accountability.

The approach that has worked for me in the past is to assign a single SE or SE Leader to be an action owner for any ‘Ask’ or initiative.  It is their responsibility to work with the other stake holders across the company and ensure it happens.  This gives the SE something to mix up their day besides the daily grind of Demos and POCs.
As a cross functional team you then assign a single non-SE owner and agree on clear dates for deliverables.
Finally, the progress must be publicly visible and shared frequently.   I have used different tools in the past including weekly emails, shared spreadsheets, and Asana.  A good strategy is to find what action tracking tools your cross functional teams are already using and adopt their tool.  At my current company our development and product management teams use Jira for tracking bugs and features.  So why not do the same for the SE team?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 9.52.00 AM.png

Thanks again for all of your support and interest.  I will caveat that I don’t know all the answers but hopefully the approach and lessons learned give you a valuable data point as you develop your own SE Leadership style.

For the next topic I will likely riff on Hiring and Interviewing.



What is an SE – What is a Sales Team?

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Ever have a rough day at the office as an SE?  One of those days where you are sitting with a customer, your sales rep, and your sales executive and no matter how you try to help the customer the demands and requirements are unreasonable?  Then when you are at home and you try to explain to your family and friends what you actually do for a job and why you are frustrated?  This video was recently shared with me by a team member and I think it is spot on.  Enjoy!


Later this weekend I will post the second half of the SE Summit update and also a post on my favorite hiring questions.

SE Soft Skills and Culture Building

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During the third week on the job I was flying around the country meeting team members and someone was kind enough to mention:

  • Him: “I almost forgot, in 3 weeks you need to host an SE Summit with about 40 people in person for 2 days of training.”
  • I: “Cool – who is organizing it and hosting it?”
  • Him: “Well, you are …. I think”

Luckily I have experience hosting large events on short notice.   First at Cisco via our SE Bootcamps and most recently at GoodData for our Sales Rallies (Ghost Written Blog). Unlucky for me, at those companies I knew how to navigate the groups and get stuff done.  Lucky for me, I have a great team here.


One thing that has always frustrated me with SE training events are that they exclusively focus on how much technical content can we cram into an overloaded agenda.  We invariably rat hole on topics, go over on time, never get a chance for hallway conversations, finish late, and finally rush to a restaurant where we all sit at long tables mentally exhausted and talk to the four people sitting around you (who are typically your four friends).  Maybe, if you are at a progressive company you attend a corporate forced fun event like Dave and Buster’s or go-carts (whirlyball excluded).

I-m-the-BossI always hear that at startups you get to build something the way you always wanted it to be built.  Last time I checked my job title is something to the effect of ‘Boss of SE for Americas’.    So its my party and I am going to try to do things a bit different.  Rather than focus on technical content, I wanted to mix it up with the following principles:

  • Do 3 evening social events for 2 days training
    • 1 focused on interacting with HQ
    • 1 focused on team building
    • 1 focused on celebration & relaxation
  • Change content from 100% technical to
    • 50% technical
    • 25% cross functional visibility
    • 25% team and culture building
  • Incorporate breaks and have the lunch hour free to mingle and not a ‘working lunch’
  • Focus on the team – let them build it, own it, run it.

Beyond the agenda and content of the technical sessions we organized every free minute to focus on SE soft skills via real world ‘labs’.  An SE must be more than a technical expert. They must work cross functionally, use influence, strive for continual improvement of the company, find creative solutions, be resourceful, leverage the team, and be accountable for results.  Below are the various ‘labs’ we held and the outcomes they produced.  Hopefully you can leverage some of these techniques with your own teams.  All but one of the below I ‘borrowed’ from other great leaders.

Cross Functional Trust – SE Tasting Event Happy Hour

First thing we had to decide was where to host the SE Summit – the choices were Las Vegas or HQ in Milpitas CA.  I figured Vegas would have been a slam dunk, but the team expressed a desire to be at HQ and meet more of the company.  However, last time they did a summit they were ‘sequestered’ at the Marriott and never had free time to go over and mingle.  Therefore we wanted to kick off the summit with a reason for the SE team to meet HQ team members in an informal manner and build some sort of familiarity or trust.

We created the concept of the SE team hosting a Beer, Wine, Liquor, and Snack tasting happy hour.  I committed to the team that if they each gave me 2 options of their favorite and hard to find beverage or snack I would do my best to source it from around the world.  The team delivered and we soon had a list of items including Pliny the Elder, Tokaji, Barolo, Premier Grand Cru from Burgundy, BaconOst, Green Tea Flavored Kit Kats, Dr. Pepper from a special factory in Texas, Greek Liquor, home made short bread cookies and more!  Thank god for the internet and family connections.

For the event we set up tables in the corporate HQ cafe just like a wine tasting event.  On each table we put the SE’s name, their beverage/snack, and a small bio with fun and interesting facts on it.  At 5 o’clock we invited the entire company down to sample each item and strike up a conversation with the SE.  We had visitors from development, finance, ops, and more.  As we were wrapping up a few SEs and I roamed the halls and delivered cookies and wine to anyone who was unable to attend.

You build trust cross functionally by getting to know other and realizing co-workers aren’t machines but normal people trying to do a job.


Keeping on Schedule – Soap and a Rat

One of the biggest challenges for these events are keeping on time.  The way I look at it, we schedule a set amount of time for each topic based on our perceived importance of that topic.  Why should we deviate from it?  If you are able to keep you lunch hour and breaks free, use that hallway time for extending beyond the allotted time. At 7am on the first day I asked one of our team members:

 “Hey can you run next door to Target and try to find a large stuffed rat and a box of soap?  It has to be a box too, nothing else will work”

After a quizzical look he humored me and came back with both.  Rather than having management try to keep on time and fail our goal was to empower the team to self police.  If someone was ‘rat holing’ on a topic a team member could take the stuffed rat and throw it at them.  If anyone was wasting time by getting up on their soap box then they could walk not throw the soap box over and hand it to them.  At the end of the summit we even awarded a Rat Hole and Soap Box Award.  To my surprise the team even created a new award called the MVP “Most Valuable Plumber” and gave me a nice toilet plunger with a big bow on it.


Get to Know Your Peer – The Morning Jog

When you spend a day inside a hotel conference room with no windows it can be exhausting and you forget you are a real living being.  Therefore at 6am we had optional outings for runs and jogs.  About 7 out of 40 people showed up early each morning and we had a great opportunity to learn more about our peers (and also find out that there is a boardwalk, trails, and snow only 0.5 miles away from HQ).

Empowerment + Accountability + Teamwork – Cooking Class

On night two I wanted to try and create an environment that mimicked how I hoped our team would operate in the future.  I learned at Cisco that managers and leaders can change often but the highest performing teams were those that almost ran themselves.  My leadership style in a nutshell is:

  • Clearly define the desired outcome
  • Set a vision for what success or failure looks like
  • Create an environment that has (most of) the right tools
  • Encourage collaboration and coordination between the local teams
  • Empower the team to adapt and make local decisions
  • Manage by walking around and knowing what is working and what is not
  • Cajole, encourage, push, teams to perform if falling behind
  • Get your hands dirty and dive in deep where needed

To create an environment to showcase this we created a cooking event where we purchased all of the food as raw ingredients and had only a limited set of cooking utensils that could be found in the HQ Cafe. One of the team members asked ahead of time if we would have a professional chef orchestrating us.  “Nope, just us”.

Rather than dictating a firm set of action owners, roles, and specific recipe instructions we nominated team leads and assigned team members who the leads had never worked with from across Product, Customer Advocacy, Europe, Asia.  The leads had to collaborate on the timing for all of the dishes, ingredients, tools, etc.  I delegated to them and then floated around as needed to nudge them to hurry up or I rolled up my sleeves and helped with a task.  If we don’t succeed we don’t eat.  The model worked beautifully.  Not only did we eat like kings but we had unexpected surprises like Joe’s gorgonzola grilled garlic bread, butter’shrooms, and more.  Empowerment, teamwork, accountability at its best.

Mapping back to the leadership approach:

  • Clearly define the desired outcome
    • A multi course meal with appetizer, salad, bread, side dish, main course of meat and vegetarian, dessert, beverages.
  • Set a vision for what success or failure looks like
    • If we don’t succeed we don’t eat.
  • Create an environment that has (most of) the right tools
    • A patio with 2 gas grills and a cafe with a fridge but no stove.
  • Encourage collaboration and coordination between the local teams
    • Leads were clearly identified.  They were told to lead.
  • Empower the team to adapt and make local decisions
    • While I did give loose recipe instructions I did not hand out any written recipes. They were open to being creative within their defined item (salad, meat, etc.)
  • Manage by walking around and knowing what is working and what is not
    • I would run around and see how everything was going (aka sneaking bites to eat).
  • Cajole, encourage, push, teams to perform if falling behind
    • When I saw a team falling behind I would stop and see why, what needed to be done, etc.  I let them know how other teams were doing and whether they should speed up or slow down.  If a team wasn’t paying attention or working together I would ‘encourage’ them to focus.  However, at various points most teams split up to visit and interact with each other – I didn’t micromanage this as long as things were trending in the right direction.
  • Get your hands dirty and dive in deep where needed
    • A few times there were do or die moments, like having to quickly grill the ‘meat candy’ appetizer in order to free up the grills for the dinner.  So I jumped in and grilled them up myself.

This was the best team event I have ever done.  We had to be creative on making up for missing tools like cutting boards and then by the end we all sat around a table on the patio and 8 of us smoked cigars and placed wagers on which theater – Americas or Europe would have the largest Q4 ACV deal.  Product Management is holding the wager for us.

Celebrate Each Other (and don’t set fire to HQ)

Sometimes you need to pause from your hard work and recognize that your team members are people outside of work and celebrate that.  Greg, our mid market SE Leader, pulled me aside and let me know it was Brijita’s birthday.  Midway through the Cooking Event we coordinated a ‘flashmob’ to celebrate Brijitas birthday.  3…2…1… NOW!  Every one stopped their dinner prep, turned around, and started singing.  Lesson learned, if you don’t have candles don’t make a torch out of wax covered paper plates indoors – video below.

Thank You’s Matter

There image1is no way we would have been able to pull the event off without help.  We had great support from our travel manager, people ops, and exec admin team.  They organized all the flights, helped pick up food at Costco and Whole Foods, and setup our final dinner at Levi Stadium.  So when we kicked off the SE Summit we had the 40 people in attendance all send a thank you text message all at once to Sandra, Piara, and Gina!  Ding.. ding.. ding…  #phoneblewup.  Later when our Support team presented one of our SE’s stopped the room to stand up and clap and thank them.  Next thing you know the entire audience stood and gave them a nice looooong STANDING OVATION.  Service leadership defined!





Wrapping Up

There were additional strategies we employed that were more operational than cultural and I will endeavor to write more on those next week including:

  • Give Gets: when asking cross functional teams for things, what do you offer in return?
  • Victim Mentality & Initiatives: it is easy to feel like a victim and things are outside of your control as an SE.  How do you put them back into your control?
  • Roses and Thorns: even when things are going well – what can you learn and improve?
  • Live Feedback: rather than surveys, how to poll the team live via paper and pen
  • Actionable Parking Lot: the ‘parking lot’ … where actions go to die.  How to make sure that doesn’t happen.

See you next week!

The “Golden Rules” for a “Golden Demo” (Virtual)

I recently asked a wine maker friend of mine “What is it that makes a great wine?    After all isn’t is all pretty formulaic?”  His response was “It is 1,000 small decisions at the right time that add up to an amazing wine”.  I realized that that can also apply to demonstrations.  (…and wine, go buy some at

635795918746083754-1755269739_the-golden-ruleRecently our mid market SE team shared their Standard Demo with me.  The demo is a semi scripted approach to show off the capabilities of our platform tied to the customers needs.  While reviewing it there was a tab called “Golden Rules for a Golden Demo” and while many of these may seem common sense they are all things what we have done wrong in the past.

All credit for the below should be attributed to Greg Bass and Huxley Dunsany who were the genesis of this approach.  In fact, I have seen Huxley demonstrate these behaviors even outside of a demo.  The other day we were having a skip level over google hangouts video and every time he had to cough he would quickly reach up and mute the audio and unmet after.  Now that is attention to detail!  Another favorite quote of mine “Remember: you don’t need to be the smartest person on the call – you just need to be the most focused person on the call”

Thou Shalt Only Share Your Browser Window, Not Your Entire Screen

Remember: your demo must be a controlled experience, and selectively sharing only the browser window helps maintain this essential control

Thou Shalt Always Use A Multi-Monitor Setup For Demos

It’s important to demo from a workstation with two (or more) monitors – it allows you to share your demo browser on one screen while keeping this guide or other essential / helpful documents on your secondary display. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re interrupting your prospect’s view of the Portal with floating grey boxes

Thou Shalt Never Allow Your Instant Messages To Be Visible To Your Customer

If a customer can view your IM’s, your demo has already failed. Don’t use a browser that includes Google Hangouts or anything similar

Thou Shalt Use A Secondary Browser For All Demos (Firefox), With Important Resources Bookmarked And Open In Tabs Ahead Of Time

Your “demo browser” should be dedicated to this task – only relevant tabs and bookmaks (our Portals, the Simple Deployment Diagrams, a few common test sites like and, etc.). Don’t use the same browser you use for your day-to-day work

Thou Shalt Always Demo From A Scripted Portal Which Has Pre-Populated User Traffic. Thou Shalt Never Use A Personal Account For General Service Demos

The only exception to this rule is in specific limited circumstances where you need to demonstrate the effect that a change in the Portal has for an end-user (don’t make changes in the demo accounts!) – if needed, you may switch to a personal account to show a specific change, and then switch back to a controlled Portal to continue your demo

Thou Shalt Use Your Demo As A Showcase Of Our Amazing Service, But Not As A Showcase For How Smart You Are. Thou Shalt Be Comfortable Saying, “I Don’t Know, Let’s Follow Up On That Later.”

Channel your enthusiasm into giving the most controlled, compelling demo you can, and don’t be drawn into lengthy technical tangents or games of “Stump The SE.” Never be shy about responding to an overly-complex (or off-topic) question with a simple / friendly “I’d be happy to discuss that at a later date, but it’s a little outside the scope of this call. Can we follow up on that via email?” Remember: you don’t need to be the smartest person on the call – you just need to be the most focused person on the call

Thou Shalt Remember To Pause For Carefully-Selected Questions

At certain points during your demo, a carefully-chosen question can both help you tweak your demo to suit your prospect’s interests, while also helping your overall flow. Questions like “what security system are you currently using?” or “Are you currently decrypting and analyzing SSL traffic?” directly support the demo and suggestions you will be making, while also helping your prospect feel invested in the conversation you’re having, rather than feeling trapped in a demo that may or may not relate to their needs

Thou Shalt Use The WebEx ‘Pause’ Button When Doing Something That Breaks The Customer Experience Or Demo Flow

The Pause button in the WebEx controls is very helpful, and must be used if you need to switch windows, look something up, quickly test or investigate something, reply to an urgent IM, etc. – by pausing the screen-share on a neutral view of the Portal, you can complete your momentary task without your customer even realizing that you’ve switched gears briefly

Thou Shalt Always Move Your Mouse Slowly and Deliberately

Often times presenters move their mouse in a quick, jerky manner. Sometimes it may look like the presenter is scribbling with their mouse. This is distracting to the audience and takes focus away from both what the presenter is saying and the product being demonstrated.

Evolution of a Sales Engineering Organization

Today we are going to throw a curveball – our first Guest Post!  I figure you are probably sick of my pontification and soap box by now.  Jon Michaels is a fellow Leader in the Bay Area covering a global SE team for EnerNOC.  He also knows how to fly a helicopter.   A real helicopter.  Not just one of those little drones but a CH-53E “Super Stallion”.  I guarantee you a good read and correct grammar.  If you don’t agree I will offera 100% money back refund of your blog subscription price.








Evolution of a Sales Engineering Organization

Successful Sales Engineering organizations require careful planning, attention and coordination to grow and thrive.

Less than two years ago, EnerNOC did not have a dedicated SE team.  We had a team of five when we first stood up and now have a total of 18 SEs across North America, Europe, and Australia.  The following outlines not just my approach in building the SE team at EnerNOC and developing our capabilities, but also thoughts about how SE teams in general can evolve over time and continue to adapt to our ever changing environment.

Identify the need and get executive support

An important first step is to identify the need for a dedicated technical pre-sale team and move from a model where many different groups such as Operations, Professional Services or Product Marketing perform pre-sale work.  This approach is problematic because there are many groups providing support the sales reps are confused about who to go to, it’s a low priority for the groups that do provide this work, and that leads to poor results for the sales reps, the customers, and your company’s bottom line.

Developing executive support is crucial for this endeavor.  Building and SE organization is an investment in not just the sales team, but your entire organization.  It’s a cost and you need high-level support to make that investment.

 Initial planning and execution

Alignment on vision for the team.  Work with key internal stakeholders and develop a strong and consistent alignment on a vision for the team.    This is easier said than done, and requires extensive coordination with Operations, Professional Services, Sales, and Product.  Time spent in this developmental stage is crucial – you want to build a strong and well-regarded team of SE professional and don’t want to be pigeon-holed as the “in case of demo need, break glass” group.  Some key areas to define in the planning stage are:

  • What types of work will the SEs do?
  • How will sales reps engage them for support?
  • How will SE work be tracked (if at all)?   See recent post on Measuring and Tracking Sales Engineering.
  • Need to work closely with sales leaders to understand their needs, both in terms of the type of SE support they envision needing, as well as input about specific SE skills, talents and knowledge (so you start your recruiting efforts on a strong note).

Start to develop your “SE mindset”.  Carefully consider the overall areas you want your team to be known for.  Concepts that influenced the development of our SE team included: Be entrepreneurs of sales and product; fuse generalized awareness with specialist expertise; and help deals go as fast they can, but not faster.  We codified this mindset with our team mantra – be right, be authoritative, be timely.  This mantra was developed to instill confidence in our team with not just the demos we give and deliverables we create, but more importantly in the manner in which we go about our business.

  • Be right. First and foremost, SEs must provide 100% accurate information to every customer, every time.
  • Be authoritative. SEs will take command of engagements they support and seek resolution in a firm and thoughtful manner.  The SE team will always speak with one voice.
  • Be timely. We will respond expeditiously to all requests, but not at the expense of #1 and #2.

This mantra was shared with not only the SEs but the entire sales force, so they could always hold us to the high standard we set for ourselves.

Build a RACI.  It was very useful for us to develop a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) matrix that clearly outlined steps in the sales and delivery process and who was involved in each step of the process and in what capacity.  Developing this RACI was a challenging process, though was extremely beneficial for two main reasons.  The first was a clear understanding of the RACI components and ownership.  The second, and perhaps more valuable, were the discussions with internal stakeholders in developing the RACI and ensuring complete alignment; every conversation about the development of your SE team is crucial.

Know the sales process.  A thorough understanding of the sales process is crucial; you don’t want to build a team that is operating outside of how your reps are conducting business.  Areas to explore include:

  • What is the sales process?  Where and how do SEs fit in?
  • What is the qualification process?  What is expected before SEs get involved?
  • What is our best on-ramp with the customer?  How do SEs support that?

Get your initial SE team in place.   This will set the tone for your entire SE organization and the initial impressions of the team.  It’s likely the initial number of SEs you are allotted is less than what you may want (and need).  With that, it’s crucial to recruit a strong cross-section of business and product experts who can tackle a variety of opportunities and deal scenarios.  An additional important consideration is where your mix of SEs will come from – internal teams such as Product, Engineering or Professional Services versus external sources such experienced SEs, customers, and other sources.  Our team at EnerNOC started with four internal employees and one external (who came to us from a customer, which lent great credibility for him in ensuing customer conversations).

Align with the structure of the sales org.  A complimentary area to getting the team in place is how exactly SEs will be aligned with the reps they support.  SEs can align with reps based on geography, customer vertical, or customer size.  In the early going, you will likely be stretched thin and need to have a team of generalists that can address multiple geographies, verticals, and customer size.

Educate the sales team and broader company about your SE team.  Take every opportunity to meet with Sales Managers and Directors and individual reps, both one -on-one and in group settings.  Evangelize your team, your mission, and your skills at every opportunity.

Understand the experience level of your sales reps and what they bring to the table.  Some reps will have worked with SEs before, some will have not.  You’ll want to identify those reps who have not worked with an SE before and likely do not know how to best engage with an SE and what to expect when they team up with one.  Those reps (and you SEs) will benefit greatly from some extra attention in the early going to get those reps up-to-speed on your team and how you can help them be successful.

Record and share your initial successes.  You’ll start small with some good demos, then some solid business cases and proposals.  You’ll then get some complex proofs of concept under your belt, as well as more complex demos and RFPs.  The smaller opportunity wins will come in first.  It will be a while before your SEs are playing large roles in million dollar plus deals; don’t get discouraged.  Keep looking for every opportunity to capture what your team does well and spread that word across your entire organization.  This will help show the success of the team, validate the investment your company has made in investing in an SE team, and be a model for those hard-to-reach reps to use in seeing how to work with your team and reaching out for support.

At EnerNOC, the analogy I used when describing SEs and sales reps was that of a military sniper team.  The rep is the sniper – they have the quota and are the one who pulls the trigger.  They have a spotter right next to them – the SE.  They are acting as a true team in working towards achieving their objective.

Air Mobility Rodeo 2011

Mature and evolve

Grow the team.  You may have started with just a few SEs; now it’s time to start to think about scaling your team.  Building a business case for a larger SE team can be the subject of an entirely separate discussion; for now, think about a simple story to tell that captures your early successes,

The story I used to grow the team beyond our initial headcount followed this format:

  1. Compared SE ratios at EnerNOC to other SaaS firms…
    2. …and compared the relative complexity of our solution to the benchmark companies.


  1. Noted how many opportunities SEs are currently working…
    4. …and then showed how many ‘large’ opps there are where there wasn’t an SE assigned…
  2. …and then listed out what we forgo by not having more SEs (at-risk pipeline, lack of scale, missed opportunities to better scope deals and set customers up for success, etc)


  1. Showed the risk of having small number of SEs (by showing how much pipeline $ was in the hands of just a few SEs)…
    7. …and then showed our ‘win rate’ of deals with and without SEs over the last few quarters


  1. A slide showing the relative of cost of an SE versus a sales rep (fully burdened rate of an SE is less)…
    9. …added in some quotes from recent emails from Sales Leaders about their positive experiences with SEs and how we are a crucial part of the sales process and team…
    10. …and finished with an org chart of what I how I would structure the team with that added headcount.

Grow the team in different ways.  More than just adding headcount, we added to the team in different ways.  We added more experienced Senior SEs from outside organizations who added a different level of professional experience to our overall team.  We added specialists in key customer verticals so our team would have the experience and credibility to address their specific concerns.  We also added more junior Associate SEs who could work closely with Senior SEs and serve as force multipliers to help those SEs be more effective in their role.  This Associate program also serves as a proving ground for our next generation of experienced SEs.

Another way we grew the team was by SE specialization.  Our initial group of SEs was for the most part product specialists and business generalists – they came from specialized areas of our company and could address in a capable manner most issues presented to them.  These SEs intimately knew the product, but were spread very thin and covered many business angles between engineering, sales, support and services.

As our software evolved, the product mix was still such that it is somewhat easy (though getting harder) for an SE to maintain deep expertise across the entire product line (especially since there is usually a dominant product and that is the case at EnerNOC).  We have now, however, a much more clearly defined infrastructure to support the sale and accompanying process.  The SE spends much more time now working with specific sales reps and is within a more traditional definition of the SE role.  I’ve heard this referred to before as having a team that is product specialized and business specialized.

As we continue to grow, I see additional evolution and expect to see an increasing variety of responsibilities with our SE organization.  Someone could “specialize” as a generalist, meaning they focus on broader opportunities.  Other possible specializations include top tier or SMB accounts, as well as product or industry specialization.  In this sense, an SE could take on a role ranging from product generalist or specialist to business generalist or specialist.

Take into account geographic considerations.  How is your SE team aligned with the Sales reps?  How will you support an increasing number of sales reps as your company moves into new market, both regionally and internationally?  The latter requires additional thought and planning – consistency helps with expansion into new countries (as SEs in one country may be able to back up SEs in another),  yet you must also respect regional nuances and understand that some things will be different across countries no matter how much you want them to be the same.

Show a career path.  We developed a career path to show progression from entry-level, Associate SE roles up through very senior and experienced roles.  This career path has tracks for both individual contributors as well as managers.  With seven core areas for employee/manager discussion and consideration (such as scope of leadership, scope of responsibility, productivity and results, and interaction and influence), a model like this serves to break down the ‘black box’ that can often surround advancement discussions.  It’s not a checklist for promotion, but rather a starting point for a discussion between an employee and manager and one that has been very well received.

Avoid delivery surprises.   Moving beyond basic execution, two key questions arise to examine when thinking about ‘surprises’ that come up after the sale: what are they and how do we avoid them?    Be maniacal about looking for holes in your execution and ensuring your team does everything it can to set the stage for customer success after the deal is won.  This requires constant communication with delivery teams and close coordination to ensure SEs are fully trained and aligned with customer success teams.

Start a rotation program.  As our team grew, we had more SEs join us from outside EnerNOC.  While they brought new and unique perspective to our company, we were diluting the in-depth product and delivery knowledge we had due to many of our original SEs coming from internal roles.  Our approach to help combat this (in addition to product training for the team) was to institute a rotation program where SEs spent time embedded with delivery teams and ‘walked a mile in their shoes’, executing the daily tasks those team address and learning firsthand the downstream implications of pre-sale decisions and actions taken (or not taken).  It was an investment to take new SEs and have them spend multiple months working with delivery teams, but it has been an extremely worthwhile one.

Learn from your mistakes.  You are sure to make missteps along the way – poorly constructed business cases, demos that miss the mark, and internal relationship that aren’t nurtured as they should be and end up hindering the growth of the team.  This no time to be proud – accept the mistakes you made and opportunities missed and develop a thorough debrief process so key areas (good and bad) are captured and learned from.

The analogy I use in describing the SE and sales rep relationship has changed from that of a sniper team to that of the President and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The sniper team analogy is good, but it has a very ‘tactical’ feel to it.  The President and Chairman of the JCS work at a strategic level – “What’s happening in the Pacific theater?”   This is similar to how our organization has evolved – reps and SEs are now talking about, “What is the big business problem we are solving for this customer?”  Now, there will be some very specific and tactical actions that come from those strategic discussions and the SE will act on those.  The key point here is that the rep and SE relationship has evolved and it’s now a more complete partnership focusing on the big picture.

President and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Stay Flexible

It may be a cliché to say that the only constant is change, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  There will be re-orgs of the sales structure; expect these.  Don’t put yourself in a position where a sales re-org forces you to re-org your entire team.  Similarly, there will undoubtedly be product changes and company strategy adjustments.  These became an expected component to my planning and served to reinforce the importance of the team structure we developed – our structure is our strategy.

There are no hard and fast rules for developing and growing an SE team.  It’s a huge amount of work, but a huge amount of fun.

Jon Michaels is the leader of the worldwide Solutions Engineering team at EnerNOC, a provider of Energy Intelligence Software.  He previously spent 10 years as an officer and Naval Aviator in the United States Marine Corps.  He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.  He is a Certified Energy Manager, Project Management Professional, and Six Sigma Green Belt. 

He can be contacted at and

Sales Enablement for SE (and Sales!)

A big thank you to everyone who has subscribed (via email) on the right or commented via LinkedIn or to this post (above or below).  Building great Sales Engineering (SE) / Pre Sales Engineering (for those of you in EMEA 🙂 ) teams is definitely an underserved topic and one we can help each other with.

Before diving in to this week’s topic I would like to give a shout out to a couple of great articles on SE talent and hiring.  The traits of entrepreneurial drive and hiring outside the box within your organization are two areas that have served me well in the past.  Go read the posts!

Second, even as SE’s we should  ‘Always be Selling’ right?   To that end I am currently hiring 3 SE leaders to cover our Americas business.  We also have roles open for Sales Engineers (NYC, Federal, OH), Architects, and Consulting Systems Engineers (cover new products).  Check them out and shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

Sales Enablement

After 10 days in my new role I have taken a step back to summarize and create themes/hypothesis on the major areas of need for my new SE team.  Surprise, surprise they are some of the most common areas, i.e. POC Efficiency, Measurement & Metrics, and scaling the team.  Metrics/Scaling are intertwined because the more time an SE spends on internal actions like tracking activities, documenting the same information in multiple places, and internal meetings, the less time available to spend with customers.  I believe you don’t need to make the team work harder but can work smarter instead.

You can do this through enablement.  In my last role I led Sales Enablement in addition to Sales Engineering.   As I was exiting the business and doing a knowledge transfer to the new team I drew out the following diagram on the whiteboard to explain my lessons learned:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 5.55.22 AM

Not only do you need to create Content, Process & Tools, and Accountability mechanisms but you need to invest as much time or more in how you change the employee behavior to adopt them.

  • CONTENT: this is typically what people think enablement is – making customer pitch decks, white papers, and training.  The danger here is responding too often to one off asks from the field (different verticals, use cases, etc.)  You end up with too much content and variations and that it is hard to keep up to date.  Keep it simple.  Typically you want two core presentations, a high level value prop deck (What is going on in the industry, what is your company point of view on that, what solution does your company offer, why you think it is better/differentiated, proof points from customers/analysts on why, next steps). The second deck is a deep dive on details about ‘what you do’.
  • PROCESS & TOOLS: too often sales operations professionals sit down to design a sales process and author a very detailed plan and description.  Unfortunately, these don’t match or align with what the sales force is used to doing and adoption/consistency is a problem.  An alternate approach is to observe and document what your most successful sales people are doing, when they do it, and how they do it.  Generalize and document that and you have your sales process.  A process should be a codification of best practices.
  • ACCOUNTABILITY: based on what is working, are there key identifiers for that success.  These should be outcome based rather than activity based.  Once you have the metrics, what are the carrot and stick your organization agrees will be used to enforce that?  It is imperative that these are defined and agreed to up front to ensure consistency of execution.  If you say ‘update your by Wednesday’ and they don’t, what is the negative outcome?  Does everyone know it and believe it?


Creating the collateral is only half the battle.  Now you need to do the hard part – create a system to drive consistent and sustainable change of behavior.  Behavior is most easily changed or modified when the individual required to change sees the value in it and has a desire to adopt it.  Ryobi-P320_D_Final-5x7Unfortunately, even then people are resistant to change.  For example, while doing home renovations I continued to use a hammer & punch to do trim for years.  I knew a nail gun was probably easier but I also knew the hammer worked and it seemed like more effort to try something new.  Then one day I tried a nail gun.  OMG!  No longer did I have to hunch over and try to punch those nails in, cover with putty, and then get ticked off when I missed and put a hammer dent in the wood (I am not very dextrous).

To drive sustained change and adoption you can do the following approaches in priority order:

  • AUTOMATION: the most desirable approach is to automate the change and take away the need for the sales rep to perform any action at all.  For example, if every time I put wood trim on the wall the nail gun automatically came to life and nailed it in that would be great!  Typical ways to automate could be activity tracking by using tools like YesWare to log emails to SFDC, Webex to log customer facing remote meetings to SFDC, or IFTTT to capture customer meetings in a google calendar and creating SFDC entries.
  • WORKFLOW: when documentation or tools are created outside of a sales rep’s typical daily actions or workflow they need to remember to go and use it.  This is hard.  Imagine I have my toolbox that I always use and right at the top of it is my hammer and punch.  A friend of mine was nice enough to buy me a nail gun and put it in my closet.  I am in front of my piece of trim and need to nail it in.  What am I going to do, use the hammer and nail within 3 feet of me or take the time to remember I have a nail gun, walk to the closet, walk back, and then use it?  However, if you took the hammer and nail away and put the nail gun at the top of my toolbox I might actually give it a try.  The goal is to make it so a person can not avoid using the new action.
    1. Incorporate the new action into the workflow, i.e. SFDC, CRM, Content Portal
    2. Take the Old Tool/Action Away:  people will complain at first.  If it is valid, use that feedback to improve the new action, if it is not – tell them too bad.
  • BRUTE FORCE: when you can’t automate it and you can’t incorporate it easily into the existing workflow then your only choice is to do brute force adoption.  Continuing the trim scenario…  every time I am doing construction I should have someone behind me watching me or at a minimum checking in on me every few minutes.  If I am ever caught using the hammer and punch then my hands are slapped and I am handed the nail gun.  If I am successfully caught using the nail gun then I am given a hearty pat on the back.  Either way – the approach is not 100% fool proof and requires almost twice the effort (two people).

The above approaches not only hold true for the SE/Sales Reps but are even carousel-lg-450-all-380x380-1more important for the Sales Managers all the way up the chain.  All too often sales enablement is rolled out to the individuals and we assume the sales managers get it.  They don’t!  They are human too, they are used to their excel spreadsheets and flip phones.  So what is the plan to Automate, Workflow, or Brute Force your expectations of them too?

I have also thought to add a fourth approach to implementation.  Unfortunately as an MBA grad we were always taught to make pretty Matrix/Models and 4 boxes on the bottom wouldn’t look McKinsey-esque.  The fourth rule of thumb would be ‘MANDATORY or REMOVE‘.  You should always be looking for ways to simplify things.  If you wouldn’t make something 100% mandatory then why do it at all?  For example, if every field in SFDC isn’t mandatory to fill out then why have the field at all?  Just in case some super sales rep decides to go above and beyond and fill it out?  Even if they did and you wanted to report on it, if it isn’t 100% complete then how could you trust the data anyways?  Furthermore, if you don’t have a report that you view/use on a consistent basis that utilizes the information then why capture it at all?  Just in case some day you might?  Chances are when that ‘some day’ comes the data won’t be in the right format anyways.

At the end of the day it is all about simplifying the actions, removing them from requiring conscious thought to do, and minimizing the need for brute force.  Finally, you must apply these strategies to the sales leaders before you have any hope of success with the sales reps and sales engineers.

I had thought about giving more detailed examples, but I also realize that your attention span is limited so I am ending it here.  I encourage you to share examples of what has worked or not worked in the comments section.


Setting Expectations

It is now my second day on the job and I was thinking this morning about how to begin setting expectations with the SE Leaders on my team.  It is always a careful balance as you are the new guy and you are joining a team and group that they have spent a considerable amount of time building.  On the flip side, people always want to know what is expected of them and how to partner with their new leader.

I remembered that I had written an FY kickoff email to the SE Manager team a few years ago and highlighted many of those expectations.  Rather than rewrite the email I of course pinged one of them…. “Hey… do you remember that random email I sent 4 years ago on ‘doing the right thing’ do you still have it?”

Luckily I was able to find it and upon re-reading it I realized that it is still applicable not only to today, but also regardless of company.  I share it here as an example of being open with the team.  You will likely have your own views on each topic and you would express them in your own voice, but ideally the framework is useful.

Thoughts and High Level Expectations for our SE Leader team

As we kick off our partnership I wanted to drop you a note and give insight to high level expectations/guidance for ourselves as SE Leaders.  These are lessons learned I have had observed over time.  I fully expect these to evolve as I learn from each of you and continue to evolve.   Warning, the below is long but I wanted to make sure you had as much background as possible.
I appreciate OPEN COMMUNICATION and would love to hear your views, insights, opinions, and CANDOR.  It is OK to say – “Bill, this is all fine and dandy but I think you are full of crap on point X,Y,Z”.  I am OK with this – see points below on Devil’s Advocate and Feedback.  There is nothing better than uncovering ideas that are better.  There is no NIH (not invented here).  I am looking forward to an awesome FY16 and from the short time together I fully believe we have a super team to make that happen!

We each have activities and responsibilities, but it is the overall leadership we provide that will be the difference between success and failure.

  • Collaborate (Join the Team): How well do you work with your peers and team members?  Do you share ideas and look for win win?
  • Curiosity (Learning): This is not only technical skill set, but are you learning and developing as a leader and not just a manager?  When you make a mistake (we all do) are you learning from it?
  • Execute: Can you do the job, do you overcome obstacles?  Can you beat expectations?
  • Improve: This is where you start to add real new value.  Can you take an idea and grow it or scale it to deliver extra value?  For example, can you take the upcoming SE Summit and enhance it or ensure its success?
  • Innovate: This is innovation with positive business results.  Did you come up with an idea or find one, execute it, and add additional value to the business above what we do today?
Report-CardWe will define the requirements of (MANAGER PERFORMANCE MEASURE/TOOL) mapped to SE Leader as a team, but in terms of pay for performance, bonus’s, comp, etc I heavily weight to the areas above.  If you do CollaborateCuriosity, and Execution really well – than you are meeting expectations.  Blowing out your number, playing nice with others, and learning is just what we expect of each other as leaders.  To be exceptional a leader must also Improve and Innovate.  Did you in some way make those around you 5 or 10% better?  Did you run an initiative, sales campaign, or similar that grew the business at a faster than expected pace and then share it and scale it with others?
We will decide as a team how we will hold each other accountable and for what.  My role will be as a score keeper against those expectations.
Results not Activity/Status/Prestige
A core part of the (COMPANY) culture is SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  At the end of the day, we want people who strive to be their best and make others better and their customers better.  If we are successful at that everything else will come.
Hiring and Staffing
When we look for people we need to balance skill, expertise and attitude.  Given a preference I would ask us to look for not just those with X years of Y experience, but also those willing to go above and beyond and a pride for their work and business – many know this as the saying “Hire for Attitude not Aptitude”.  (  Marc Andreessen also has an applicable view  In (COMPANY) terms it is SCRAPPINESS and ADAPTABILITY.  Our business changes fast – we need fast thinkers, learners, those who have a PASSION to be successful, and those who will challenge status quo and drive us to new heights.  We need people (and have people) who go above and beyond not because they were told to, but because they want to.  They have pride and ownership of their work.
Diving Catch, Fixing, setting Expectations 
NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Nov 21, 2011; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) dives over the pylon to score a touchdown in the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Part of having pride in your work means you are ok with doing whatever it takes to ensure CUSTOMER SUCCESS.  Even a rich retail store owner will sometimes have to plumb the toilet in the public restroom.  We will always be faced with situations where our teams need to do dirty work and a diving catch, i.e. do an install, work a support case, or do an emergency demo.  However, after that diving catch is done have we fixed the root cause of the problem?  Did we set expectations with the requester?  If we had to do an implementation due to partner inability – what have we done to ensure that partner now has that capability once the fire drill is over?  If we had to do an emergency demo did you set expectations with the Sales member about how to go about scheduling demo’s in the future?

Investing for Scale
We are a growing business.  We can only scale and grow by running faster and faster for so long.  As we go we need to set aside time and effort to invest in a solid infrastructure so we can continue to grow.  Working harder not smarter will only take us so far.  For example do we need to train our Partners our extended teams?  Do we need to build a repeatable demo system or kits?  It is too easy to always say we are too busy to do this…  I would point to the concept of Pay Yourself First ( By investing time first – it is amazing how you realize how to still get the day job done.
“Do the Right Thing”
6d0a69502931bf1b997fb29371c72daaIn matrix leadership it is all too often easiest to avoid the tough discussion, try to make various people happy and try to play politics.  One way to avoid this is to strive to be open and always “Do the Right Thing”.  When making a tough decision, solicit input from your stakeholders and review the facts from multiple angles or sources.  Once done, do whatever you believe is the “Right Thing” for your customers and (COMPANY) overall.  In some cases this may not be what is best for either you,your team , or your stakeholders but is the best for the greater whole. When you make the decision be open and honest with why you made it.  In the end no one can ever question your intentions if you “Do what you believe is the right thing”.  It also helps you sleep well at night… “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” -Aristotle
Escalate & Heads up
If you are doing the right thing the rest of the (COMPANY) leadership, and myself, are here to support you.  However, if you think it will be controversial please be proactive about giving us a heads up on how we can help support you.
A rising tide raises all boats.  While I highly encourage friendly competition among you, we are all on the same team at the end of the day (and yes this includes our peers in EMEA/APJ).  As we win market share it helps us all.  Lets continue to pitch in to help others.  If we have great ideas or capabilities lets share that.
I encourage each of you to own your business.  It is your number and your team.  There will always be some Americas or Company level initiatives and goals but overall it is your business to run.  Free to take risks, fail, learn, and most importantly: be curious and improve.
My Role
My role is pretty basic
  • If something is broken or not working in 2 or more teams, I should take that on and fix it at the Americas or Company level.  
  • If something is working very well in one team, I should figure out how to scale it to the others.
Beyond that are the standard items such as develop the team (leadership for you and technical and sales mastery for the SE’s), be in front of customers, and making things happen.
Area Directors
You will each be aligned to multiple Area Directors (AD).  The best way to operate with them is to be a business partner.  Each of you will have your strengths.  Find out how you can complement each other.  This may result in you doing some things that may not be a typical SE Leader responsibility or them doing non-AD like things.  Second – understand the business and have ideas on how to grow it.  Don’t just wait to be told what to do or where to go (not that you would 🙂 ).  One of the best quotes from an AD I have worked with about the SE team is:
  • “Your aligned SE – recognize immediately that these folks are your competitive differentiation.  They are the best of the best and you need them so much more than they need you right now.  You will treat them with the utmost respect and reverence.  On your watch, they never buy their own lunch…become their firewall, their advocate, their partner.  Do not let them down. “ 
One on Ones
I will schedule weekly or bi-weekly one on ones with you.  This time is your time.  A typical agenda is covering things that are top of mind for you and what you need.
  • Hot topics from you
  • Hot topics from Bill
  • Customer Opportunities
  • Staffing: Recognition, Concerns
  • Internal Alignment: issues, positives?
Communication Preferences
tin-can-telephoneFeel free to reach out to me at any time.  My iPhone is never far from my side.  I do tend to be pretty bad with phone calls and voicemail.  The challenge with those mediums is I am often on conference calls or meetings and it is difficult to grab that.  I read every single email and strive to have a zero inbox every evening.  Email is great as well as IM or SMS txt.  You will often get a quicker response that way than voicemail.  What are your preferences?
One of the most valuable things we can do is give feedback to each other – honest, candid and constructive.  When we do something, ask “What were my rose petals and what were my thorns?”. Don’t give each other the good old thumbs up “Good Job!” and a wink.  The best thing I can do for you is to try and hold a mirror up to and offer the feedback of what I can see and what others see.  This could be on your performance, your career, etc.  Only through your success and growth will we all be successful.
Devil’s Advocate
al-pacino-devils-advocateIn our one on one’s or meetings I often will play the role of Devil’s Advocate.  This can be offsetting (annoying/frustrating) at first as it will seem that your new manager is questioning everything or arguing all your points.  I do this so we can vet the ideas in a safe environment before moving on to external stakeholders.  Other times it will be because I have the same view as you and I am exploring for pitfalls or weaknesses in the approach and hoping you can help.  If the debate or questioning is too intense it is OK to say “timeout”!  See the topic above – feedback. 😉
You know your business the best.  As a team we will sit down and plan for FY17.  We will identify the main areas we can impact, what we need to continue doing, and what activities we can automate or offload altogether.
If you are still with me, fantastic!    I am looking forward to an amazing ride!

Measuring & Tracking Sales Engineering

One of the dirty phrases in SE Management is the topic of time or activity tracking.  How does an SE leader or a Sales organization gain insight into the operations and success of the SE organization.  The SE role is a large investment for a company and measuring their success is more challenging than that of an Account Exec (AE) and what their quarterly quota attainment is.  How to do this well remains one of the most challenging and unsolved problems in SE leadership.

How should an SE leader track the operational performance of
team in a modern and low friction way?

Purposes of Measurement

Before deciding on the HOW it is best to understand the WHY you want to track SE operations.  I have found that tracking is usually driven by one of three primary reasons:

  1. Justification of SE Teamwhy should the business be investing in SEs and are the staffing levels correct.  This could be because there has been a downturn in the economy and a layoff is required or it could be because you are trying to reduce the ratio of AE to SE and increase staffing.
  2. Individual SE Performancecreate a metrics based stack rank of SE performance in order to see who has delivered the most demo’s, POCs, presentations, etc.
  3. Business Insight & Operations.  understand the SE involvement and contributions in each stage of the sales cycle, track limited resources such as POC hardware allocation, determine which products are “easy” to support and which ones are more difficult by comparison and serve as a triangulation point to validate what the AE are saying in terms of progress of an opportunity.

Personally I have found that only option #3 provides long term value to an organization.  When #1 is your driver people tend to be resentful of the process either through fear of big brother and a layoff or through resentment that their value isn’t obvious enough to justify on its own.  This can result in a spike of adoption when the data is needed and then it tails off after the fact as it isn’t providing day to day value – especially to the SE who must do the tracking.

The challenge I have found with #2 is that in every SE organization I have run the person with the best metrics are often the worst performers.  Their numbers may be high because they know they aren’t performing to the level they need to so they are the most diligent on tracking every single activity versus the high performing SE who has been focused on the customer and hasn’t gotten around to updating his stats.  The other reason is that top performing SEs may not require 3+ POCs or 10+ demonstrations to close a deal.  Instead they may be more efficient and effective in the smaller number of activities they do.

I believe the key to long term operational metric adoption and success is that it must

  • Provide value back to both the SE and Management on a weekly/monthly/qtrly basis
  • Be accurate via mandatory completion and not manager inspection/honor system
  • Track as much via automation as possible otherwise have it built into SE workflow

Approaches to Measurement

There are two typical types of metrics that SE leaders track, Activities and Outcomes.

  1. Activity Tracking:  is also be known as time tracking and is focused on the raw number of actions an SE does over a given period of time.  These types of metrics are often best used for high volume transactional type sales cycles, i.e. inside sales or small medium business.
    • # of demos per deal type/SE
    • # of POC per deal
    • # hours spent per deal type
    • # opportunities worked
    • # of opportunities won/lost
    • # remote/onsite customer meetings
    • % time on post-sales activities
  2. Outcome Tracking: is focused on measuring the output of actions rather than the actions themselves.  The intent is to focus on what goals your team are trying to achieve rather than how they are achieved.  Outcomes are often aligned to the steps of a sales process.  For example rather than tracking the # of hours spent doing discovery you instead capture the output of the discovery and infer that therefore discovery has been done.  Measuring Outcomes is often best for high touch sales teams.
    1. Technical Qualification Complete: captured the customer’s business requirements and technical implications in SFDC.
    2. Solution Positioning Complete: demo and high level presentations performed and the customer has agreed to a technical design workshop onsite at their location.
    3. Solution Validated: an architecture or solution design has been authored, uploaded to SFDC.  POC success criteria and scope defined in SFDC.
    4. Solution Acceptance: the customer has evaluated the POC and design and agreed that it meets their needs.  Services SOW scoping has been completed.
    5. Technical Closure: the SOW has been delivered, redlined, and accepted.

Methods for Tracking

  1. Surveys: at Cisco we would do a quarterly SE survey where every SE was asked to allocate their time in terms of percentages to the various activities and then there were open text areas for feedback.
    • Pro: good method to get qualitative feedback as well as quantitative.  Only required effort quarterly.
    • Con: provided little value to the SE themselves, SE Mgrs had to track down and ensure completion, all time reporting were estimates not actuals and therefore accuracy was a big issue.
  2. Weekly SE Progress Reportmany front line SE managers will ask that their teams fill out a google spreadsheet or excel with all of their activities and hours spent on a weekly basis.
    • Pro: good team consistency of execution
    • Con: high SE effort, often accompanied by a micro manager feeling, little value to SE unless SE manager turns data into a dashboard for the SEs to use (rarely happens), difficult to scale to SE organizations with multiple SE Leaders
    • Pro: utilizes the same CRM/tracking system that the SE would be using for their day job.  Built in reporting (not analytics).  Can define mandatory/custom fields.
    • Con: there are some many different ways to implement that it that you can make it 100% automated all the way to the most onerous and complicated approach possible.


SFDC Implementation Examples

In a recent discussion with Bay Area Sales Engineering Leaders the following examples were shared:

  • SFDC Cases: create a case for every activity (demo, business case development, scoping a systems integration, etc). If an app is supported in one way, there will be one case. If supported five ways, there will be five cases. This doesn’t show hours invested, but it does show relative level of effort on an opp. Because the cases link to opportunities, A report can be made on each type of engagement (demo, business case development, etc) and see the relative ‘success’ (how many opps are won, lost, qualified out).  An email-to-case system makes it as simple as possible to create cases. You can create a custom button on the Salesforce opportunity page that automatically creates a case – the sales rep can then fill in a few fields, save it, and it automatically gets assigned to the SE team.
  • SFDC Activity Log: similar to cases, you cam also create a custom Activity type for SE activities (ie, demo, POC, no-show meeting, etc), and have individual SEs log calls + details after meetings.
  • SFDC Custom Form: Create a custom form called Technical Decision Status that tracks the technical buying cycle.  You can use this to
  • SFDC Fields: create fields called “Event Type” in the Opportunity for demo prep, demo, IT workshop, RFP etc. Each week have the SE spend 10 mins going into and entering approx time spent on each of these activities per opportunity, based on their Outlook or Google Calendar.  
  • SFDC Field: similar to the SFDC Fields approach but simplified to all time for 1 deal captured in 1 field. At opportunity closure time the SE must log how many hours they spent doing all deal-related work: discovery, demo, prep (travel not included). An estimate is ok as it reduces process overhead. However, most SEs have opted to keep the time up to date as they work on a deal because they like to run reports on where they’ve been working the most.   The main downside to capturing it this way is you can’t really see when the time was actually spent as you’re capturing it all in one big bucket. For time trending, you can run reports on Opportunity Close dates.


The biggest challenge to all of the approaches is getting data consistency.  No matter how easy you make the tool to track or enter information into you will still struggle to have the AE or SE fill it out.  I observed this at large companies like Cisco where we made it so only a checkbox was needed, at GoodData where we had weekly inspections and only a few fields, and this was echoed by every SE leader I have spoken with.

  • “The challenge is getting the data input into, even 10 mins has been hard!!!”
  • “Expect some folks to struggle finding time between meetings to log activities.”

I believe the root cause is because these tracking tools are outside of their every day actions and workflows.  If capturing the data is voluntary in any way then expect the quality to be very poor.

Compare it to submitting expense reports.  “If you fill out information on what you did in the last 30 days we will give you money equal to what you spent.” Yet somehow sales teams are notoriously bad on doing them – and they are getting money for it!  Good luck with your voluntary time tracking.



My Philosophy& Approach

A fellow SE Leader spelled out my perspective the best:

  • At the end of the day you hire adults to manage their time, you managing their every minute will seem invasive and counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish. What you need to consider is what are you looking for in the measurements you are tracking. If you doubt someone is doing their job because the outcome (revenue/bookings) are not there, then another conversation needs to be had.  Interestingly, each of us instinctually know who’s the best, who needs help and who just isn’t cutting it. If you provided this stack ranking with some metrics on # of closed deals, # of reps supported, etc. it might be just what they (and you) are looking for. The quantitative metrics may not align to what’s really happening in the field – so first priority is your ranking, second priority is the metrics.

Thus my view has always been that the best measure of the value of the SE Team is what the Account Execs, Sales Leaders, and Company think of them through their every day interactions.  The SE role interfaces with every organization and unlike software engineering it is a customer and people focused role.  I have only been successful at increasing AE:SE ratios, salary, bonus, travel budget, etc. when our key stake holders have fought for them instead of me.  When a sales leader is willing to give up an AE headcount to hire an SE – that carries more weight than any spreadsheet I could create. Jim Collins a noted author said:

  • “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led-yes. But not tightly managed.”

When I joined GoodData the previous SE leader was focused on tracking every activity and he was religious about inspecting it every week for accuracy.  The team was spending about 5-10% of their time entering activity information.  Unfortunately the data wasn’t very useful to me for many of the reasons described above.  Instead we implemented the following Outcome Based system:


Add in mandatory fields to each stage of  The AE could not move the deal forward in stage without this information being captured.  These fields are pieces of information that are required for the opportunity itself and assists the SE when inspecting the pipeline, handing off an opportunity when going on vacation, etc.  We then created reports that would take extracts of this information and infer what activities had been completed.

  • Stage 1 Technical Discovery: 3 fields about the high level technical sizing of the deal (required to do pricing and validate budget by the AE)
  • Stage 2 Technical Design: 6 fields about feature requirements of the customer and a field to be populated with a link to the solution design. Technical decision maker’s agenda and competitive information was also required.
  • Stage 3 Validation: 3 fields about the POC success criteria and a link to where it was located.
  • Stage 4 Technical Close: 4 fields on type of services required, dates, and a link to the SOW.

Yesware is an email tool that can be embedded in every email sent.  SFDC can be setup so that every email sent via Yesware is automatically attaches to the SFDC opportunity.  If you need to see activity at an opportunity you can also deep dive in via the email threads.

That is it.

Define what would occur if the outcomes you were looking for out of the team were completed and seek to tap into that data stream to create your activity tracking.  Try to never make the SE go to a different tool than they use everyday or have to enter in information that isn’t directly required to do their job (not yours).

Hope this was useful for other technical leaders out there.

Edited 4/14/2016

I was discussing metrics with the SE leaders on the new team and I realized that the best use of metrics are to discover what is and isn’t working and then adjust how the team operates. Use them as insights rather than measured goals – because at the end of the day there really are only 4 SE metrics that matter:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • SE (employee) satisfaction
  • Pipeline
  • Revenue/bookings.

Everything else are actions/activities that trying to improve those 4 outcomes.

Future Topics

  1. Sales Enablement Approach: whether you are enabling your own SE team or the entire sales force there are some basic principles of what you do (content, process/tools, accountability) and how you operationalize it (automation, workflow, brute force).  I will explain the model I created to help think through this.
  2. What does an SE do? Believe it or not many people do not know – even in high tech.  I recently had to present to a packed room of Services and Development engineers to explain the role.  Many functions see only a portion of the role and assume that is everything.
  3. What does an SE Leader do? The SE Manager/Leader role can be the best or worst position in a company.  Every leader has the opportunity to define the role and demonstrate its value to the organization to make it happen.  I will cover my personal viewpoint and strategies I have taken to implement it.
  4. Architects & Sales Engineers: almost all tech companies reach a point where they say ‘We need to hire Architects!’  Well, what is an Architect? ‘You know, a technical customer facing person who can explain the big picture, how it impacts the business, and can speak to CXO’s with confidence’.  If that is an architect than what does an SE do?  ‘Well, someone has to do the demo’. Lessons learned on the value each role can bring and why organizational design and structure is so important to its success.
  5. Performance Evaluation & Conversation: your goal as a leader is to have the best SE team out there.  However, come review time you can’t have everyone ranked in the Top 10% (can you?).  How do you handle these conversations, how do you keep the SE motivated and appreciated.
  6. Career Pathing, Titles: SE’s don’t often get pulled up on stage and given credit and the giant check for closing the big deal.  So why do they do it?  Street Cred and reputation are very important. So how do you balance this without becoming a title centric ‘big company’.
  7. So You Want to be a Manager? At some point in time your best SE’s will often express that they want to move into management.  Do they really?  What are the factors that drive this need and how can you help them answer this question for themselves.  On the flip side how can you identify people who make excellent SE Leaders but don’t raise their hand?
  8. SE to Sales Alignment and Org Structure: there are lots of coverage models and ratios for creating an SE organization.  Do you make the SEs pooled, direct alignment, or field/inside? Do you organize by geography, customer segment, size, skill?
  9. Making the Business Case for More SE’s: SE’s are always overloaded but are often viewed as a cost center.  How do you make a business case to increase staffing.  When should you?
  10. Interviewing and Talent Acquisition: the best SE’s are typically well treated by their current company, a lot of the value they offer are tied to their company’s product line, and they tend to be more risk averse (otherwise they would be a sales rep).  So how do you find the great ones (or the ones with the potential to be great), how do you validate their abilities, and how do you make them feel comfortable making the jump?


Visitors & Interest

It has been great to see the interest in the SE Topic.  I have been collating thoughts on my next post which I hope to write over the weekend (and ideally be a bit shorter).  I am debating whether to post on Sales Enablement Framework or Metrics – Measuring the Success of the SE team.

In the meantime I wanted to share some thoughts on metrics as related to the topic of SE Leadership.  I am new to the whole Blogging thing but I am impressed already by its reach and as a data nerd I find the stats behind it pretty interesting.  I created two sites, and and here are some observations:

  • The vineyard site has a broad appeal (it is about wine and vineyards) and has had almost 3 times as many views as SE Thoughts
  • The SE site has had about 5x more people subscribe to updates.  Is that attributable to long term interest or better positioning of the subscribe widget?
  • has led to 10x the number of click throughs vs. my Twitter accounts (@robilium and @hollyhockvines).  What does that say about twitter and my 548 followers there?
  • Many more people on Facebook like Wine vs. SE stuff 🙂
  • About 500 people have visited each site for a total of 1,000 visitors.  Depending on your viewpoint that is a lot of people or just a drop in the bucket.  To me it is very cool and motivating.  That makes me want to see if I can keep the interest up and people returning for more.
  • 500 people per topic are about 499 more people than I thought may be interested.  Or maybe 498 as I figure my mother in law would have read it as well.  I know my lovely wife Julie wouldn’t have read it as she has to listed to me blab about this stuff enough as it is! 🙂

Thanks for visiting and if interested feel free to click the comment button at the top of the post and/or subscribe for updates on the left.  Also feel free to comment on what the topic of the next post should be. StatsScreen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.52.34 AM Stats

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.58.05 AM


Proof of Concepts – Good or Bad?

If you were to chart the activities of an SE, the Proof of Concepts (POC) or Proof of Value (POV)  would be at the top of the list (or the big piece of the pie in a pie chart for those of you who are visual).  It is a high effort and high reward activity that can drive a deal to closure.  However, it is also one of the activities that is abused and if not properly implemented can absolutely crush a team.

In order to properly operationalize POCs you must first be clear on the Why you are doing them in the first place and What they are meant to accomplish.  We will review the typical challenges we encounter with them.  Finally, I will provide a framework for implementing a POC program within your company.

Do these Stories Sound Familiar?

We all have horror stories about proof of concepts gone wrong, so lets start out by sharing a few typical scenarios.

Throw crap against the wall and see what sticks

5671542As an SE you have just completed your second or third meeting with the customer.  The Account Exec (AE) gave your corporate overview pitch, asked them their buying time frame and then brought you in to give a demo or two.  At the end of the meeting there is silence until the customer speaks up:

  • The Customer “So what should next steps be”?
  • The always helpful and action oriented AE jumps in and says:
    • “Well why don’t you give us some of your data and we can go ahead and whip up a great dashboard and some reports for you”
    • “Why don’t we go ahead and get you some of our new video conferencing gear from the Demo Depot and we can show it to you in your lab”

So far the meetings have all been one way, you pitching to them.  You haven’t had a chance to ask the customer any questions, you are not entirely clear on what their requirements are, you haven’t had a chance to build a relationship with their technical owner.  After the meeting you try to raise these concerns, but the AE responds “Awww come on, you can do this in your sleep, from the last sales enablement call they said this stuff is super easy!  It is a fast moving deal we have to do it! Our XYZ competitor is doing it we need to play ball!”  You try to push back and say No.  Unfortunately AE’s are trained to overcome objections and they escalate up to sales management who over rule you because “we need this deal and SEs are supposed to do POCs, thats your job!”

Sure, I can whip that up over the weekend!

As SE’s we can get excited about implementing technology too.  A few years ago we had implemented a POC qualification process.  However, SE’s tend not to like process and prefer to just get sh*t done (GSD).  So when faced with the need to prove out our VoIP gear at a Fortune 50 consumer goods company the SE proclaimed they they just needed a few servers and they could whip up the POC over the weekend and be done with it.  They didn’t want to do all the ‘process stuff’, it just gets in the way for easy stuff like this.  Plus, they were willing to go above and beyond and invest their weekend in doing it.


… about 4 weeks later the POC was still not complete.  The customer environment and requirements were more complex than expected.  Our technology was more complicated then expected.  Then we got hit with a curveball.  Our CEO, John Chambers was being scheduled to visit with the customer and the POC had to be up and running flawlessly before he arrived.  Yikes!  We ended up having to pull in SE resources from other regions as well as services resources from paid engagements to finish it in time.

Kicking the Tires, kick it some more, kick it a different way

In 2007 we undertook a POC for a large grocery chain based in New England where we would be proposing wireless IP phones for their stores.  Our primary contact was a technical buyer and we had limited contact with the economic buyer.  Our SE did a great job in implementing the POC and installing the devices at a test store.  Then the customer changed their requirements slightly and wanted more time to re-test and validate. Then the customer changed their requirements slightly and wanted more time to re-test and validate. Then the customer changed their requirements slightly and wanted more time to re-test and validate. Then the…. on and on for 3 years!  The customer themselves were actually bought by another grocery conglomerate before they made a decision to purchase our solution.



What is a POC?

A POC is a realization of a certain method or idea to demonstrate its feasibility, or a demonstration in principle, whose purpose is to verify that some concept or theory has the potential of being used. A proof of concept is usually small and may or may not be complete.

Why do a POC?

The typical reasons for doing a POC are:

  • Show Art of the Possible: seeing is believing.  When you are buying a new car, what sells you more – visiting and looking at pictures and specs or visiting the dealership and taking the car for a test drive?
  • De-Risk Purchase: by proving that the solution will meet their requirements (Scale, Functionality, Use Case).  If you are going to be spending 6 or 7 figures the customer needs to show they did more investigation than reading a data sheet.
  • Internal Selling: provides your customer champion with a concrete product example to use when doing internal selling to their economic buyer, business owner, or other stakeholders.These are important to refer back to as it will guide all


POC Challenges

So why do POC’s go wrong?  The primary reasons I have observed are:

  1. good-and-bad-quotes-5Urgency: AE’s are incentivized to be the advocate for their customer and deal and they are under pressure to deliver revenue to the company and shareholders every quarter.  This is not a bad thing.  However, it does result in the AE viewing every opportunity they have as “fast moving deal” and “everyone else can follow the process but my ear is special, it is an exception, we just got to get this done ASAP – we don’t have time to do the process stuff!”.  In this situation we are saying we don’t have time to spend 2 hours upfront before committing to 20+ hours of labor.
  2. Scope Creep and Success Criteria: as you can see in the definition above, a POC is meant to prove a concept/feasibility, be small, may not be complete. We all know we should limit the scope, so we try to do the right thing and ask the customer for their requirements.  Unfortunately, the customer only knows their desired end state and that is what they describe.  Next thing you know the SE is tasked with trying to build a complete implementation.  Even if you are able to limit the scope/requirements, how do you know that it is successful.  It is amazing to me how many POCs are done and no one can answer a simple question – “How do you know if the POC is successful?”.  Usually all of the focus is on completing and delivering a functional POC and not on a concrete metric of success.  It is the measurable business outcome that matters.
  3. Yet Another Free T-Shirt (YAFT): Would you like a free t-shirt?   Sure, why not. “Mr. Customer would you like a free POC, you don’t need to do any work for it, we will do it all for you.  You will then see how amazing we are.”  What customer wouldn’t say yes?  But now the customer has no compelling event, no urgency, no outcome based plan.
  4. Lack of Customer Involvement: the customer is busy, they don’t have time to sit down with you and go over requirements or help you build it.  You are trying to sell to them after all, why should they invest their resources?   So you forge ahead and try to make something that you *think* they may want.  When you present it and try to show off all the hard work you did they barely pay attention and think it is “nice” or “fine”.
  5. Cost & Effort: At Cisco we had a service called Demo Depot where we could load out hardware and we would be charged back a small fee to our expense budget.  The SE managers had to manage this inventory and trying to track down old gear and get it back was a tedious endeavor.  Furthermore, if you had lots of products in a solution you had to manually order every SKU.  A full Collaboration solution required 176 SKUs to order.  Even at SaaS companies where you don’t have to order/install hardware you often have to manage the trial subscriptions.Labor is a major issue as well.  In FY15Q3 I did an inventory and we had 32 open POCs across 7 SEs.  Assume an average of 20 hours per POC and you can see that there would be a lot of night and weekend work.  However, the real impact of this is that the SEs were no longer available for ‘selling activities’ like customer meetings, pipeline generation, demos etc.

Key Criteria for a Successful POC Program

Creating a POC program is a lot like budgeting or dieting.  You know what you need to do but for various reasons you keep having exceptions and creating consistency is an issue.  You need a way to pay yourself first and make executing this approach automatic and as painless as possible

  • Timing:  a POC should be a part of the late stage in a sales process as a ‘closing move’.  If there is pressure to do one earlier there are other substitute activities you can do such as workshops, the solution design, or non-customized samples.  It should also be after initial discussions on commercials and an agreement to partner. As you can see below in this sales process, the POC is in stage 3 of 4.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 12.55.17 PM

  • Give-Get:
    Would you like a free T-Shirt?  Sure.
    Would you pay $1 for this T-Shirt?  Ummm… no I don’t think so.
    When offering a POC it is important to keep a balanced Give-Get ratio.  If a customer asks for a POC then you can ask for one of these things in return.  The Get doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be more than ‘free’ and demonstrate their skin in the game.

    • An executive alignment meeting between their Business Owner/Economic Buyer and your Head of Sales, CEO, etc.
    • Agreement on the audience to present to, include in the Business Owner/Economic Buyer
    • An exclusive – you will be the only vendor doing the POC
    • Customer Labor and resources to help build it
    • Agreement to purchase by XYZ date
  • Success Criteria & Compelling Event:  Jackson Rose from Financial Force believes the key to POCs is making sure you are set up for success. “Start with clear success criteria, and a commitment from the customer that if you deliver on the success criteria, you’ll be the selected vendor of choice. This is an exercise in clear expectation setting right from the get-go, if you want to reduce overlap with what happens in post-sales, draw the line segmenting what you will do, and what you won’t do and set the appropriate expectations with your prospect, and why.”
  • Define Types: rather than giving the sales team a one size fits all option for a POC, give them a menu to choose from and explain the tradeoffs.  Make it clear what each option offers and what it does not offer and how much effort it requires.  Give each option a name and have it become part of the vernacular.  “Hey, lets just do a Visualization POC for this customer, but for this other customer lets really invest and do a Full Platform POC”.  This lets the SE partner with the AE on investment planning.Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.12.27 AM
  • Inspection and Approvals: You can define a process all you want, but if you don’t inspect and have some checkpoint capability in place then both your AE and SE behavior will not change.  As an SE Leader you don’t necessarily need to be bottleneck and personally approve every POC, but at a minimum you should have a system in place where every POC can be tracked and then reviewed.  I highly recommend having a system in place where a POC cannot be started without this information captured, i.e. you can’t place an order for equipment or get a trial account unless this is captured.  This allows you to do inspection on Success Criteria, Give-Get, timing, etc.For example, for the below customer I would question whether we really have a success criteria established.  What is the ROI we need to show?
    Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 1.14.59 PM
  • Lightweight Process: whatever process you implement must be lightweight.  Can you automate it? Can you provide a simple checklist or tool?  Can you make it just a 30 minute checkpoint call with yourself?

Each of the actions above are pretty standard and most of us try to do them.  However, there are a few other strategies that I have seen prove useful in the past.


  • Automation: A strategy Jackson Rose suggests is to look for ways to reduce busy work. When they first started doing POCs, it took them 2 days to set up our product in the customer environment. 95% of this work was simply salesforce busy work. We had our most experienced SE work with our development team to develop a script which automated that busy work and completed the work via a script in 30 minutes.At Cisco we did something similar where we packaged all 173 SKUs for gear into a single demo SKU and then built a set of virtual machines that had the software and basic configurations pre-installed.  One thing we had to be careful of was that many of our SEs thought that their way was better and wanted to still custom build everything.
  • teamwork_motivational_poster_wall_artWorkshop:  A new favorite strategy is the “Onsite Technical Workshop”.  Rather than having the next logical step in a sales process be to jump to a POC you can give the AE a different option (remember, doing nothing or saying No is not an option).  A workshop is where the SE (and SE Leader) commits to going onsite to the customer location and is joined by the key business stakeholders. Depending on your product you can ‘pre-build’ some pieces of a POC.
    • You show me your stuff Mr. Customer  (requirements, product, environment)
    • I show you my stuff  (product deep dive, demo how we meet requirements)
    • Lets design/build something together (whiteboard and/or start POC build)

    The benefits of this approach are that it requires the customer to give you access to key stake holders, it requires an investment of time on their end, it is a great forum for them to share their desires with you rather than you pitching them, and it is an opportunity for you to educate them.  We started implementing this approach in Q4 and saw a 75% reduction in POC and were able to do 400% more business.

  • Cobuild POC: technical buyers stake their careers on the technologies they purchase and they often get a technology religion about it.  One of the best ways to overcome this is to educate/train the customer on your solution and make them comfortable with it.  So get out your credit card, order some pizza and beer, and lock the customer and yourself in a room to build the POC.  Not only will you educate the customer, you will also build camaraderie and trust, you can glean additional information about competitors, and build the POC.  The customer will have pride of ownership for what they built and be empowered to share it with others without you there.

Tactics that Sometimes Work

  • Paid POC or don’t do one at allCurt Brown has a good summary of his POC options below.
    1. just close the deal – paid
    2. close the deal with an out (could be positioned as a pilot with contract commitment at the end)- paid
    3. Limited contract (90+ days) – paid by client (covers post sales integration team)
    4. Limited PoC for free (least desirable but sometimes required to win those big logos) I limit my team to a certain amount each quarter to ensure we are validating anything for free. Depending on your level of effort and skill set of the team determines who does the work in a free scenario. If your team has the skills and you limit the free PoC to a level of effort, your team (SC/SE) does the work with proper guidance from PS.

    In my experience paid POCs sound good but require far too much effort with legal, procurement, and requirements review and doesn’t outweigh just the SE doing it.  An alternative to the paid POC is to just do an actual deal but structure it as a very small land deal and structure an expand/opt-in (future blog post on this strategy forthcoming).

Tactics that Often Don’t Work

  • Saying No or Pushing Back: as mentioned above, sales teams are trained to overcome NO.  Instead you must give alternative options (Types of POC, workshops, exec engagement, etc.)
  • Outsourcing POC work: at some point the topic of either creating an offshore team or an inside sales team dedicated to building POCs comes up.  It always sounds promising, “Lets get a lower cost set of technical resources to build these things and let our SEs get back to customer facing activities that they enjoy more”.  Unfortunately the drawbacks I have seen in practice are:
    • Knowledge Transfer: for the outsourced person person to come up to speed and build the POC they need to know the requirements.  That means they either have to attend the customer meetings along with the SE or have the SE try to convey all the information.  When questions come up – do they have to go through the SE or does the outsourced person contact the customer directly?  Finally, when the POC is complete the SE must review all of the work that was done in order to present it.  They may not be familiar with the design tradeoffs the builder made.
    • Lose tech skills: building POCs can be repetitive (if so, automate it) but it is also the primary way for an SE to get his/her hands dirty to learn the product and new features as they come out.  When a technical person stops being hands on the skills will start to atrophy after 6 months.  For example, how many of us still remember calculus and can do it today?
    • Accountability: when an SE knows they own the outcome for a customer they are accountable to going above and beyond and making sure it gets done.  SLA’s aren’t needed, miscommunication isn’t a problem.  The SE owns GSD.
    • Friction: when you outsource the POC work you remove the pain from the SE and provides a path of least resistance.  If the SE has to do the work they are personally incentivized to ensure proper qualification, discovery, and design are done.  With a separate POC team you are creating a tragedy of the commons situation.
  • The exception to this would be if you have a junior person on the same team as the SEs and they are on a career path to being a full SE.  In this case the SE’s skills remain sharp because they are teaching and mentoring the Jr. SE, the Jr. SE is attending the customer calls for exposure, and the Jr. SE reports to the same manager and has accountability.

Whew…. that was a much longer post than expected and I feel like I only scratched the surface.  Kudos to you if you read this far.  This is a topic where I would love ideas to be shared in the comments section.  Also I think Jonathan Michaels at EnerNOC and Matt Norton at Box have created some good collateral and I will see if I can get some to share.

Future Topics may be found in the Welcome to SE Thoughts post.  I think the next post will be on Sales Enablement Approach but if there is a different topic that would be of more interest I would love to hear it.




Welcome to SE Thoughts

Back in 2006 I was a new manager at Cisco Systems and I had the opportunity to attend an Emerging Leadership Program training class in the UK.  One of the first questions they asked the class was, “How many of you are able to take 60 minutes a week and jot down your thoughts and reflections?”.  Only a few of the 30 hands went up.   The class was incredulous at the question – “With all of the stuff we have to do we don’t even have time to spend with our families let alone write down thoughts!”.  Working hard was and is a badge of courage.

A few years later during the kickoff for my MBA at Babson College Professor Bill Stitt asked a similar question – and then required that each of us write a reflection paper once a week.

Fast Forward to today.  I recently resigned as VP of Sales Engineering and Enablement at  GoodData and will be changing industries for a fourth time, this time to cyber security.  I will start my new role leading the Americas SE organization at ZScaler April 11.  This has given me a few weeks to slow down and reflect.  I am now 37 years old (yikes!) and no longer the ‘young buck’ at work.  When I look back I am proud of what our teams have done, the people I have met, and the experiences I have had.  However, I can’t help but recognize that I learned and grew the most when I paused, wrote, and reflected on what I had experienced.

With age comes knowledge (and less hair).  To that end I am kicking off an effort to jot down and share the lessons learned and ideas I have had over the years.  Specifically, I will focus on leading technical customer facing teams, with an emphasis on Sales Engineering.  There are a slew of excellent books and training courses on how to lead high performing sales teams – yet try finding collateral on being a great SE Leader or SE.  It is few and far between.

images-2This gap is driven home every quarter when the Bay Area Pre Sales Leadership group gathers.  This is a collection of SE leaders from top tech companies such as Box, Citrix, FireEye, ZenDesk, Salesforce, Twillio, GitHub, Enernoc, Okta, and more.  Every time we meet it is obvious the challenges we are facing are very similar and encompass coverage mapping, training and enablement, hiring, measuring, hiring business case, handling our sales peers, balancing proof of concepts, etc.  Through this blog I will endeavor to share my point of view on these.  Perhaps some day people may find the musings valuable and I could package them together like Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things (you have read this book right? If not go get it!)

Who am I and what gives me the right to stand on a soap box and pontificate?  Nothing really.  Although I have had the opportunity to observe and learn from a number of great SE Leaders like Jedd Williams, Doug Good, John Graham, Jill Van Rooy, Karen Manning, Bob Fisher, John Columbus, Randy Wood, Chris Moss, Ron Minto, and others at Cisco.  While at Cisco I led a team of about 50 SEs and had matrix leadership for 22 architects.  I had the opportunity to lead my own global SE team and Sales Enablement GoodData.  My background covers equipment sales (Phones, Video), on premise enterprise software (Contact Center, Call Manager), cloud software (Webex, GoodData, ZScaler), and various industries (Defense, Communications, Networking, Big Data, Analytics, Auto Body Repair, and now Security).

I have learned that despite all of the differences above, SE Leadership is like the game of football, there are just different terminologies and playbooks.

I hope you find it useful and interesting.  If so please click subscribe on the right to be notified of new posts.  You can also comment in the box below or by clicking the comment link at the top of the post. I am looking forward to interacting with you virtually!

My next post will be on the topic of Proof of Concepts.  I have also reposted some other articles I had previously authored.

Future Topics

  1. Proof Of Concepts: when executed well Proof of Concepts can secure the technical win and clinch a deal.  When executed poorly due to timing, mis set expectations, or poor positioning a POC can absorb your entire SE team worth of resources and still lose you the deal.
  2. Measuring the SE Team: what is the concrete value of the SE team?  How do you know they are spending their time in the right manner?
  3. Sales Enablement Approach: whether you are enabling your own SE team or the entire sales force there are some basic principles of what you do (content, process/tools, accountability) and how you operationalize it (automation, workflow, brute force).  I will explain the model I created to help think through this.
  4. What does an SE do? Believe it or not many people do not know – even in high tech.  I recently had to present to a packed room of Services and Development engineers to explain the role.  Many functions see only a portion of the role and assume that is everything.
  5. What does an SE Leader do? The SE Manager/Leader role can be the best or worst position in a company.  Every leader has the opportunity to define the role and demonstrate its value to the organization to make it happen.  I will cover my personal viewpoint and strategies I have taken to implement it.
  6. Architects & Sales Engineers: almost all tech companies reach a point where they say ‘We need to hire Architects!’  Well, what is an Architect? ‘You know, a technical customer facing person who can explain the big picture, how it impacts the business, and can speak to CXO’s with confidence’.  If that is an architect than what does an SE do?  ‘Well, someone has to do the demo’. Lessons learned on the value each role can bring and why organizational design and structure is so important to its success.
  7. Performance Evaluation & Conversation: your goal as a leader is to have the best SE team out there.  However, come review time you can’t have everyone ranked in the Top 10% (can you?).  How do you handle these conversations, how do you keep the SE motivated and appreciated.
  8. Career Pathing, Titles: SE’s don’t often get pulled up on stage and given credit and the giant check for closing the big deal.  So why do they do it?  Street Cred and reputation are very important. So how do you balance this without becoming a title centric ‘big company’.
  9. So You Want to be a Manager? At some point in time your best SE’s will often express that they want to move into management.  Do they really?  What are the factors that drive this need and how can you help them answer this question for themselves.  On the flip side how can you identify people who make excellent SE Leaders but don’t raise their hand?
  10. SE to Sales Alignment and Org Structure: there are lots of coverage models and ratios for creating an SE organization.  Do you make the SEs pooled, direct alignment, or field/inside? Do you organize by geography, customer segment, size, skill?
  11. Making the Business Case for More SE’s: SE’s are always overloaded but are often viewed as a cost center.  How do you make a business case to increase staffing.  When should you?
  12. Interviewing and Talent Acquisition: the best SE’s are typically well treated by their current company, a lot of the value they offer are tied to their company’s product line, and they tend to be more risk averse (otherwise they would be a sales rep).  So how do you find the great ones (or the ones with the potential to be great), how do you validate their abilities, and how do you make them feel comfortable making the jump?

Leadership Philosophy

Originally posted to LInkedin at:

In 2008 I was finishing up my Babson MBA and undertook an independent study class.  Sort of.  I was actually taking a required leadership class at Cisco and I figured I could get double credit.  As an output of that class I had to write a paper explaining my leadership philosophy.  In the almost 8 years since I have shared this paper with many first time managers/leaders.  The intent was to share some of the lessons I had to learn that they never teach you in a class.

When I submitted the paper to Babson the professor called me and asked what my sources were and whether or not I had plagiarized the work.  I had to walk her through radar discrimination algorithms and how I had learned them at MIT Lincoln Laboratory before she believed me.  Personally I don’t think there are any ground breaking takeaways in this work, but rather just raw experience written down.  Thus I am sharing it with a broader audience.  Also please note that as much as I would like to believe I can follow all of my lessons learned below on a daily basis, it is a daily struggle.

Hope this helps someone…

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible

1                Talent Acquisition

Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds. -Colin Powell [1]

1.1      Approach

Just as Colin Powell stated in the opening quote, a leader will only succeed by attracting the best people. Many first time managers are promoted as a result of their functional competence and not because of their demonstrated ability to lead others. These managers often achieve goals through task assignment and using their teams as extensions of themselves. You can identify these managers as those working harder not smarter and who are unable to leave their team alone for fear that they will not operate without him or her. They are afraid to let their team make mistakes and often swoop in to correct or prevent any misstep from occurring. I learned early on in my management career that if a leader operates in this manner they will be viewed as irreplaceable in that role and never receive new opportunities. Furthermore, the team will never perform better than their leader and the leader will always be the limiting factor.

My approach has been to quickly assess your team, make the tough decisions early on for who should stay and who should leave, tap professional networks to source talent, and then provide an empowered and safe ‘playground’ for them to operate in.

1.2      Assessing

When joining any team a leader must first assess the talent to assess who is strong, who is weak, and what are their talents[2]. He should be wary of pre-existing performance reviews or reputations as they can easily be misinterpreted or incorrect. A poor performer may only have been miscast in their role or had issues with the previous manager. A high performer may only be a good promoter who is all flash and no substance or living off of previous accomplishments. Rather, a leader should let the team know it is a fresh start for everyone and they will make my assessments based on contributions and performance.

Once a leader has had a chance to assess the talent distribution and personnel he should quickly determine who must stay and who must go. During the early years of Jack Welch’s career he was known as Neutron Jack for removing business or people that were being unproductive.[3] This approach may have been unpopular at the time but he believed it was the right thing to do for the future success of his employees and company. I too subscribe to this approach and have had to make difficult and unpopular decisions to remove highly regarded individuals, but I did so as I believed it would make the team

stronger in the long run. For the team members who are identified as high potential a leader should begin relationship building as well as career planning[1].

[1] Harari, Oren. “Colin Powell on Leadership”. Power Point Presentation

[2] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[3] Welch, Jack, and John A. Bryne. Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

1.1      Sourcing

Perhaps there are companies who have excellent recruiting personnel, if these companies exist than I have yet to see or work for one. Corporate recruiting these days often consists of an overworked recruiter taking the job description and posting to online classifieds and the company website. The best people are often stars at their jobs and aren’t actively looking at these locations. When these star employees seek a new challenge they typically utilize their professional network. As Peter Carbonara states “You can’t hire people who don’t apply.“[2]

A leader must always be building his talent pipeline even when he doesn’t have an available opening. He should constantly be evaluating peers, customers, or partners while they work[3], and if they show potential he should strike up a relationship. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn can be used to keep in touch. Providing favors and assistance to the network even when the reward isn’t clear will almost without fail get paid back in the future come hiring time.

1.2      Selection

Early on in my management career I would review hundreds of resumes looking for the best fit of skills, experience, and value; not unlike a person analyzing product datasheets. I would find a few great resumes and fall in love before I even met them. I had made two cardinal sins of hiring without firing[4], I took applicants at face value and I ignored emotional intelligence. I got lucky with a few of the first hires but the majority struggled or failed. They had the right skills but the ambition, teamwork, communication, and intangibles were sorely lacking.

Since that first hiring experience I realized a life lesson in hiring, “What you know changes, who you are doesn’t”.[5] Combining the fast paced high tech market with my penchant for getting bored and instituting frequent change means that my team must be adaptable, quick to learn, and independent. The Infosys methodology for hiring provides an appropriate approach fro any leader in the fast paced technology environment.

“We don’t necessarily look for people who have the exact skills we need, instead we hire people that have the quality of ‘learnability’ and then we teach them the requisite skills.” Prospective employees are not tested for computer programming, a skill Infosys executives believed could be taught easily , but for (a) analytical and problem solving skills to help dynamic learning, the key to success in an industry where the state o the art changes rapidly; and (b) communication skills – not just the language skills but the ability to get ideas across

in both interactive and non-interactive situations – essential to developing deep and long term relationships with clients”[1]

In order to select the right talent a leader should adopt a few interviewing best practices. Create a structured interview process[2] where each interviewer covers a different topic, include interviewers outside your functional area to get varied perspectives, and never take answers at face value. The interviewer must sometimes be unconventional[3] in the line of questioning to find out what may be buried underneath. What makes the person tick? After all of this data collection, making the final decision can be difficult. When faced with this information overload, sometimes a leader just needs to go with his gut[4].

[1] Nanda, Ashish and Thomas Delong. Infosys Technologies. Harvard Business School Case Study, 2002.

[2] Fernández-Aráoz, Claudio. Hiring Without Firing. Harvard Business Review, July 1999

[3] Welch, Jack, and John A. Bryne. Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

[4] Gladwell, Maxwell. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

[1] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[2] Carbonara, Peter. Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill. Fast Company – Issue 04, 1996.

[3] Ibid

[4] Fernández-Aráoz, Claudio. Hiring Without Firing. Harvard Business Review, July 1999

[5] Carbonara, Peter. Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill. Fast Company – Issue 04, 1996.

1                Talent Leadership & Development

Four Keys to Management

  • Select for talent.
  • Define the right outcomes.
  • Focus on strengths.
  • Find the right fit. [1]

1.1      Introduction

Harnessing one’s own style is crucial in how they lead and develop their staff. My hard charging, fast paced, outspoken style paired with my inability to focus on tasks or topics for more than a few minutes at a time can make it difficult for those I lead. My approach has evolved over the years to match my style to the varied needs of my staff. I have paired key lessons from how to be a “One Minute Manager[2]” and “5 Patterns of Extra Ordinary Careers”[3] to create an environment where a playground is defined, goals are articulated, assistance provided upon demand, and then achievements assessed.

1.2      Create the Foundation

People with extraordinary careers do not claw their way to the top; they are carried there[4]. A leader must understand that he cannot be the best at everything and that he cannot scale to manage every task his team undertakes. A leader’s goal should be to have his people be better than himself.

Novice managers may subscribe to this theory and seek to empower their employees through delegation of tasks. Without much guidance these employees invariably falter at some point at which time the manager swoops in to save them and make sure the task is a success. The employee is often left feeling like a failure and the manager’s sense of self worth is increased. This is a pattern doomed to repeat itself with neither party advancing far beyond their current roles.

A leader should invest their time with each team member upfront to prepare them for their roles. It is during this period of investment that that a leader should describe the “playground” they will be operating in. Every playground has boundaries and rules that children must adhere to, but within that playground their imagination is left free to run wild. In the corporate world the playground is the bounding of an area of responsibility, what their roles and goals are, how value is created, and how they will be assessed. Setting the playground allows me to leverage my inclination to speak first, give opinions, and provide insight without undermining the individual’s ability to own the problem and resolution. The playground reduces the ambiguity and stress employees often feel when tasks are merely delegated without support.

By investing this time upfront to set the playground and mentor the leader is encouraging the employee to be entrepreneurial and creative in their solution. People with extraordinary careers understand how value is created in the workplace, and they translate that knowledge into action, building value over each phase of their careers.[5] By having the individual become self reliant and confident the leader is now freed up to invest his time in high value activities while providing one minute coaching sessions on an as requested basis. [6]

Below is a visual representation of this approach with the amount of effort invested by the leader as the y axis and time elapsed on the right.

1.1      Coaching

1.1.1               Establish the Coaching Contract

Coaching can be one of the most difficult tasks a manager must do. Employees vary widely in their desired method of coaching or feedback.[1] Some people desire lots of real time feedback, some little feedback, some a direct approach, while others may like an indirect approach.

When the leader is setting the playground it is an ideal time to agree on a coaching approach and performance expectations. A leader should be brave enough to try a lot of stuff, keep what works and then prune dead branches[2]. While people are playing in the playground they are bound to make wrong turns. These wrong turns may be unexpected and can lead to mistakes. However, these turns can also be for the better and result in a shortcut or an innovative approach to an old problem. A leader should to allow the team to make these wrong turns but still be there to support them should they venture outside the safe confines of the playground.

[1] Weintraub, Joseph and James M. Hunt. The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business. Sage Publications, Inc., 2002.

[2] Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins Business, 2004.

[1] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[2] Blanchard, Kenneth. The One Minute Manager. Berkley Trade, 1983.

[3] Citrn, James and Richard Smith. The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction. Crown Business, 2003.

[4] Ibid

[5] Citrn, James and Richard Smith. The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction. Crown Business, 2003.

[6] Blanchard, Kenneth. The One Minute Manager. Berkley Trade, 1983

1.1.1               When to Coach

Having a manager who is unable to effectively determine the ideal opportunities for coaching can be like having an annoying backseat driver constantly chiding you or having your navigator sleep for the entire trip while you get lost. Honing his coaching radar is an essential skill for any leader.

Radar is a tool used to identify objects in space and determine which objects may be a dangerous missile or a harmless bird. Below is an example of a radar’s A-Scope, a tool used to draw a visual representation of radar pulses.   When a manager is thrust into leadership of a team without proper training he is confronted by an order of magnitude more events and tasks which his team is involved in than he had been exposed to as an individual knowledge worker. To an uneducated manager it is unclear which of these events are important and which are white noise. The A-Scope below is like an untrained manager – the events or pulses all look the same.

Raw radar pulses often undergo a process called signal processing which uses complicated math to remove the white noise and provide a clearer picture where the height of the pulse indicates the importance of the object. Management training is akin to signal processing for a radar; it enables a manager to determine which events may require coaching or support. For example, the large spike seen in Figure 6: Educated Manager may be an excellent coaching opportunity.

Effective signal processing is only the first step in correctly identifying an object. To interpret the results a radar must apply a signal detector. If the signal detector is too sensitive it will pick up false positives in the white noise. If the detector is too high it will miss everything. A properly placed signal detector will pick out the objects with the most importance. A trained leader must apply experience to his education so that he can properly place his signal detector. If he places it too low he will be seen as a micro manager as he inserts himself into the day to day tasks. If his detector is too high he will be a hands off manager and his team will falter without his guidance. When an experienced manager places his signal detector in the right place he is able to swoop in at just the right time to coach or support the team member. The red line in Figure 7: Educated Manager’s Signal Detectors is placed too low and having false positives rise above it. The green line is an appropriately placed detector where the critical event is captured while ignoring white noise.

By properly applying his signal detector a leader can create an environment that allows mistakes to occur while they are in the white noise while simultaneously promoting self reflection so that the team can learn from these minor mistakes. When a critical event occurs the leader is able to watch it closely and assist with the appropriate support or coaching.

1.1.1               Coaching Approach

Management training in the 21st century is mimicking the self esteem concept used for children’s education. Everyone is equal, everyone is valued, you aren’t allowed to say anything negative, and you must ask open ended coaching questions for everything. In the beginning this was tremendously difficult for me as it did not lend itself to my action oriented and confident personality. My team felt I was asking leading questions and being insincere. After expressing this concern to a former manager of mine he drew a simple diagram to explain how to utilize situational coaching.





If there is high criticality for a task and a long time to complete it, or a little time to do it but low criticality then a leader can delegate it. If there is a long time to complete the task it is likely that the leader has time to intervene should something go awry. If there is little time but low criticality then the impact is small and recoverable should things go poorly.   This prompts an employee’s empowerment and ability to do tasks on their own.

If there is little time available but the criticality is high then a leader must be direct and commanding in his approach. There is no room for failure. Should a brigade of firemen enter a burning building the fire chief does not have the luxury to ask probing questions of his team before the roof comes crashing down.

In between these two extremes are coaching and consulting. Consulting is when you ask for your employees’ insight or opinion before you make a decision. Coaching is when you leave the decision to your employee to make but make yourself available to assist or share your past experiences. In practice, new managers start at either delegating or commanding and rarely use the in between skills of coaching or consulting.

During these coaching sessions a few best practices of Dale Carnegie can be useful[1].   First, make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. If you set up a safe and empowering work culture your employee is a key asset, don’t belittle or insult them. Second, talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. Chances are you have made the same mistake they have. Finally, let the other person save face. People have pride and are smarter than we give them credit for. People often realize the mistakes they have made and don’t need to have them belaboured.

1.1      Career Development

Once a leader has selected the team, set the playground, and honed his coaching radar he has reached Camp #2 according to Buckingham and Coffman[2]. The team knows what is expected of them, they know how to contribute value, and they know they belong on the team. In order to reach Camp #3, the summit, they need to know where they are going. People often don’t work just for money[3] but rather to know they are developing themselves and improving. A leader can assist them in reaching Camp #3. Every few months a leader should set up time to talk openly with the employee about their goals and desires.

The three steps to a successful career discussion are to create a risk free environment for discussion, probe into their desires and talents to find out what they are passionate about, and then discuss how they could achieve those desires in their current role or other roles. Employees are likely to be guarded in discussing career desires outside their current job role in fear of retribution. The leader should let them know that he is open to supporting them in their progression within their current job role or others across the corporation. When asked by their manager what they want to do, employees often have no idea. It is the manager’s responsibility to guide them through this self reflection and exploration. Finally, the manager can advise the employee what roles may be available to them or how their current role could be changed to accommodate their goals. An employee who joins the team, does well, and grows into a better role encourages other ambitious employees to join the leader’s team.

2                Organizational Design

Comfort is not the objective in a visionary company. Indeed, visionary companies install powerful mechanisms to create discomfort – to obliterate complacency – and thereby stimulate change and improvement before the external world demands it [4]

2.1      Overview

Organizational design is more than just the reporting structure but includes symbolic, political, and human resource elements.[5] The structure dictates who reports to whom and what the lines of command are. Symbolic elements include the culture and shared values. The human resource element refers to the support and empowerment a team receives. Political aspects dictate how conflict and limited resources are handled. Building an organizational is like building a beautiful house; it takes a structure, a plan, resources, and desire.

2.2      Building the Framing (Structural)

Structure is often the only element a manager takes into account when designing their organization. While structure does play an important function it should only be viewed as the foundation upon which to build the rest of the house on. Common structures utilized are functional, divisional, matrix, network, and horizontal.

My first organizational structure was functional and responsibility was divided along product lines. While ownership and accountability was clear this structure lended itself to silo’ing and limited collaboration between functions. My current organizational structure is a matrix based on each group’s approach of proactive vs. reactive rather than product lines. The goal was to force knowledge sharing between the groups and instigate best practice sharing. While the matrix structure is ideal for this it has introduced stress into the front line employees when it is not clear which manager owns responsibility.

There are pros and cons to each approach and no design is perfect. A leader should do what best fits their most important goal.

2.3      Determine How House is Built (Symbolic)

Once an organizational structure is established the next step is to determine how the team will operate and make decisions, i.e. what is the vision, strategy, and culture.

One of the main questions employees consider when evaluating their job satisfaction is “Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?”[6] People will be loyal to an organization which has a unique identity and makes them feel that what they do is important. In a large company it can be difficult for front line employees to understand how their job impacts the overall company’s vision and strategy. If the employee is to be empowered to achieve extraordinary results then the “company must have such clarity about who they are, what they are about, and what they’re trying to achieve.”[7] It is the manager’s responsibility to connect these dots for the employee by developing a compelling vision for how the team and individuals can achieve its goals and then articulating how that maps into the corporate vision.

I further reinforce this vision and culture by utilizing talent for promotion. I endeavour to be very visible and energetic and manage by walking around. I seek to establish organizational traditions and values to provide cohesiveness and meaning.

2.4      Secure the Resources to Build the House (Political)

In order to secure the resources to fulfil the compelling vision a leader must work with his peers. In a corporation there are always limited resources and as a result conflict can arise between groups.

Rather than relying on manipulation a leader should always assume positive intent[8] from the different organizations and groups he interacts with. Fundamentally, all organizations want to do well and further the goals of corporation they just have different views or opinions on how to do so. A leader should first seek to understand the other organization’s goals, challenges, and opportunities and then share their own. Typically by approaching in this manner both groups can reach not only a compromise but true collaboration and a win-win situation.

2.5      Grow the Environment (Human Resources)

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”[9]

To create an empowered and high performing team you must create an open environment where questioning assumptions, providing feedback, and constructive confrontation is not only accepted but encouraged. Employees should feel free to come to their leader with any concerns, even concerns about the leader himself. The most important thing is the success of the team against its own goals and the goals of the corporation. By creating an open and supportive environment your employees will feel safe in taking risks, making mistakes, and going outside their comfort zone.

2.6      Blow it all Up

In the fast paced ecosystem of high technology methods of operation change at a break neck pace[10]. What’s worked well yesterday and today may not work well tomorrow. A leader must not let his ego get in the way[11] and he must be willing to look beyond his current success to see what will happen in the future.

In my last role, I had a high performing team that was considered a best practice across the corporation. When I was planning to leave my General Manager asked me, “What are the next steps for your team, what should be done?” My response surprised him when I replied, “Blow it all up.” Looking ahead six months I could forsee that the team would quickly become overloaded, attrition would be high, and it could not adapt to our transition from products to solutions.

So I went back and asked the team, “the only sacred cow is our ability to step in and lead in a crisis. Besides for that everything is open for debate. What should we do and where should we go?” This resulted in one of the best brainstorming sessions ever and a new vision and charter was born with our core values still intact.

Lou Gerstner calls this “being a change agent”.[12]   It is the ability to look ahead at what needs to be done and create the evolution or revolution to make it occur. “If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except [its basic] beliefs as it moves through corporate life. The only sacred cow in an organization should be its basic philosophy of doing business.”

When leading a team the leader must always be looking ahead, not letting his ego get in the way, he must not be afraid to be a change agent, but he must be sure to preserve the core.

The Four “Lazy Manager” Rules of Thumb

2.7      You are Your People

To be successful in any endeavour a leader must surround himself with the best people. When entering into a new role a leader must disregard previous assessments and make his own judgments. He should be decisive in his assessment; if someone will not be a fit he should assist them to find a new role inside our outside his company. He should utilize his professional network to source new talent and find the stars that are not looking for a new job. When selecting talent a leader should not hire for skill, rather hire for attitude, learnability, and flexibility.

2.8      Set the Playground

A leader must invest time upfront with his employees to prepare them for their roles. He should define a playground that defines what their roles and goals are, how value is created, and how they will be assessed. He should encourage his employees to be entrepreneurial and creative in their solution. The playground is their area to experiment, make mistakes, reflect, and learn. If your employee ventures outside the playground, be there to support them and make sure they are safe.

2.9      Hone Your Coaching Radar

Managing a team adds orders of magnitude to the number of events and tasks ongoing. A leader cannot scale to manage them all. He must allow his team to run free in the playground but utilize his coaching radar to identify the critical coaching opportunities. He should take advantage of these opportunities and tailor his approach to ensure optimal results for these defining moments.

2.10  Build the House

A house is more than just its structure and includes the architectural vision, the people inside it, and the resourcing of people to maintain it. In order to have a successful organization a leader must leverage the four frames of structural, political, symbolic, and human resources. Once the house is built, a leader should stand on the roof and look far into the distance for how the next house needs to be built and don’t be afraid to change.

3                Actions Speak Louder than Words

In the end, this advice and evidence contained in this manifesto is only as valuable as the leader who is able to apply during their day to day jobs. Actions speak louder than words and it will be the tough decisions the leader makes under duress that sets the true performance of their team. A leader must walk the talk every day and every moment – which is often easier said than done.


[1] Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon & Schuster, 1981.

[2] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[3] Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Six Dangerous Myths About Pay. Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.

[4] Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins Business, 2004.

[5] Bolman, Lee and Terrance Deal. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. Jossey-Bass, 2003.

[6] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[7] Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins Business, 2004.

[8] Noori, Indra. “The Best Advice I Ever Got”. Fortune Magazine, Last Accessed July 31st 2008.

[9] Harari, Oren. “Colin Powell on Leadership”. Power Point Presentation

[10] Greiner, Larry. Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.

[11] Harari, Oren. “Colin Powell on Leadership”. Power Point Presentation

[12] Gerstner, Louis. ­Who Said Elephants Can’t Dance? New York: Harper Business, 2002.


Leadership Lessons Learned – Cisco Goodbye Email

Originally posted to linkedin at:

About a week before I left Cisco I was on a 3 hour plane flight without WiFi.  To keep busy I decided to write down all of the lessons learned I had from my time there.  People have recently asked for a copy of the list so I am sharing here.

The good bye lessons learned email:

I have always challenged our team to “think differently” and “do something different”.  As such this will not be a goodbye but instead I will share a list of lessons that I have learned from each of you.  I have learned an immense amount during my time here and as such it is a long list.  I cannot claim to have been successful in applying all of these lessons but hopefully you find some below that are attributable to you. 

I have tried to make this list mimic my approach at Cisco.  Be open, transparent, rough at times, humorous at times, and way too long.  If I missed something that you may have taught me, or something I taught you, I would appreciate hearing from you unicast and I will add it to this list.

  • Never stop learning.  Never stop teaching.  Make a lot of mistakes – do your best to learn from them, do your best to teach from them. 
  • Never get on a bus with 30 SEs, beer, and a possibility you will get stuck in Chicago rush hour traffic.  Especially if they are ticked off about Microsoft and product gaps in Jabber. It will be a long drive and you have no where to run. – Central Team
  • You know you are doing a bad job if your team stops inviting you on that bus.  They have lost confidence that you can help them 
  • If it is 1am and you have been out late with the team be wary of hotel lobby discussions.  You are likely to get into a heated debate for hours on some esoteric technical topic. -Jesse
  • “Love your work” – East Team, Wenning, Cliffy
  • Be transparent and genuine – Jedd, Doug Good, John Graham, Chuck Robbins and others 
  • If engineering is delivering  new products or features to sell then you have two options.  Sell old stuff to new people or package old stuff in new ways. -Matt
  • Don’t focus on what you can’t control. Take ownership and action on what you can – Shark Tank – Dennis 
  • Never ask what is the difference between a CSE and a TSA…  everyone
  • Never muse about wanting to open up the fence in your backyard to put a door in it.  At least not where a certain TSA is in listening range and a crowbar is available.  – Central Team, Ian, Andy
  • Always separate emotion from evaluation.  It is never personal.  Giving feedback is not an assessment on the individual as a person.  It is just an assessment of the actions they did. – CMS 101 class
  • “Aligning” is a bad way to work.  Instead of scheduling meetings to stay in sync, change your actual workflow so that it coincides with each other. That way you don’t need to align because you are already working together. – CCBU, Jefts, Needelman, Arvenkat
  • If you ask the team to track something, but it isn’t a part of their day to day workflow or they don’t see value in it then you are screwed.  You will never have accurate tracking and they will resent it.  It is better to figure out how your teams work and figure out how to tap into that workflow to get your data. – SFDC, GAMES, UCPROFIL
  • Give a lot of CAP awards.  Overspend your budget.  Chances are someone else didn’t spend all of theirs and you will equal out – Jedd
  • Don’t talk too much in big meetings 🙂 – anyone who was ever in a meeting with me
  • If you are not talking out loud in big meetings, don’t keep whispering to your neighbor – Karen 
  • If you are first out of the gate for a 200 mile jogging relay race.  Be sure to check your pockets and make sure you don’t have the keys to the only van.  When your team calls to tell you to come back don’t keep sending them to voicemail.  You will only have further to run when you have to turn around and return the keys.  – Doug and Cindy
  • When delivering an SE bootcamp you should not use cheap wooden boxes with sharp metal edges, some elevators are bigger than others, always have a hand truck handy, be prepared for a semi truck to show up, know where your closest Frys is, learn how to crimp rj45 cable, and be ready to spend a lot on your Amex.  – Gene, Monica, Leo, Kevin, and 1300 other people
  • When merging two companies where there may be a culture clash the best way to overcome it is to throw them all in a room and have them work on a really hard problem under duress.  They will quickly realize that they need each other to pull it off and will love learning new things.  Pizza and beer helps too.  – Durick and Bob
  • When trying to run a program at scale don’t manage the tasks centrally.  Define the outcome, identify the local owners, hold them accountable for the outcome, and let them be entrepreneurial with the details.  The only thing to manage centrally is the progress against outcomes.  –Bootcamps, City Hubs, ACE trainings
  • A buttset is a big red phone with wires that you used to have to connect to test if an analog phone works.  -Patrick and Joe
  • When you ask a committee for their opinion people don’t feel they are adding value unless they ponder risks and say ‘no’, otherwise if it was so obviously the right thing to do why would you be asking them? -Deric
  • When trying something new – don’t ask permission.  Start small, run fast, experiment, and be darn sure you show value quickly.  Typically this means 30-60 days since that is when you will need someone to pay your Amex Bill.  – SE Bootcamps, Jedd
  • Explain things to your team and be transparent. Go ahead and tell them what their comp ratio is, where they are in the 9 block, how promotions work, etc.  There are no rules saying that you can’t. -East Team
  • “Did you learn more from your hard classes/professors who graded you hard or the easy ones you coasted through?” Push your team and challenge them.  You will annoy them.  But they will grow. And thank you for it. – Deric
  • Let your team push you.  You will be annoyed. You will grow.  And you will thank them.  -Shelly, Dennis, Ben, Uly, Dave, Jedd, Karen, Jill
  • Breaking the build as a software engineer intern is a quick way to get a bad rap right off the start. But be a valuable contributor and your peers will put up with it (one or twice).  -CCBU
  • It takes some broken glass to do great things. -Jedd
  • Driving change can be very lonely.  Find your first follower.  Find your second follower.  Other followers will start to find you.  Then you won’t be lonely.  – CAMS class
  • If there is something cool and interesting to do – why not just do it?  Don’t spend countless hours waiting for permission. Do it broad.  -Collaboration Bounty
  • Even if everything you do usually turns out well, you will still someday make a mistake and screw up.   When you do, the best thing to do is go and admit it plainly and clearly, offer to help fix it, and tell the person what you learned.  You may be surprised at the other person’s reaction – Deric 
  • If you are in a meeting or listening to a message, you believe it is off base, and that “the emperor has no clothes”, don’tstay quiet.  Tell the emperor he has no clothes. Don’t be afraid to give feedback up the chain.  -Jedd
  • …. in the middle of that meeting and in front of everyone else it may not be the best idea to tell them that  🙂
  • People don’t give feedback enough, if you ask for feedback a person will give you a thumbs up and tell you good job.  They are doing this because they want your help in the future. If you want to hear critique from them, you need to offer a critique of yourself first so they feel safe to chime in.  -Chris
  • It is amazing how much people value real, candid feedback. They may only remember the constructive feedback you give and ignore the positive feedback.  They will likely be upset for a few days.  But if you gave it because you are genuinely invested in their success it is the most trust building thing you can do.  -Clarence and others 
  • Getting constructive feedback sucks and feels like someone punched you in the gut. (360s, NMAPs, etc.) but.. don’t dwell on it. Reflect on it.  And then a few days later… See bullet above. It is invaluable. -Gerard
  • People in Cisco will always say something can’t be done because “They” said so. Rather than accept that something can’t be done, find out who ‘they’ are and then ask them ‘why?’.  Chances are they had no idea the impact of their decision and will often fix it. – Chuck Robbins
  • If you are going to do something for yourself or your team and it is X amount of effort. Chances are that for X+1 effort you could do that same thing and share it with other teams, segments, organizations, etc.  (GAMES, ACE, CityHub, Partner SE Bootcamps) -CCBU Deployment Success team, Needelman, Arvenkat, Jefts
  • Trying to fix things can be tiring. But anyone can do it.  And it is rewarding. 
  • People don’t come to work everyday and want to stink at their jobs, they have goals and metrics – you just need to learn them.  Maybe they are doing well when judged against those.  Next time you are frustrated about another organization or a team, just remember this. – Deric
  • Pushing back is futile – our culture is to overcome obstacles. Instead discover the outcome they want rather than the action they are asking for.  You can often find an alternative action that would be a win-win.  – Emily and NYC team
  • You train engineers and keep them happy not by classes but by “locking them in a room with pizza, peers they respect, and a hands on tough problem’ –Jeff
  • When you come into a situation that you need to do a diving catch for… Dive and Catch! But then follow back after, explain why it can’t happen again, and get the other parties agreements in email.  The next time the same situation comes up – reference that email and situation and put the responsibility back on them. –CAP team
  • Karma is real.  When you see something that could be done or needs to be done, Do it. Even if it isn’t important for your day job.  Do college recruiting.  Mentor people not on your team.  Be IT tech support for those who need it.  Spend an hour to talk about someone else’s idea.  Offer to present at a company function.   The world is incredibly small. It is eerie how often these small things come back to you in a rewarding manner.  -Jill, Gino, and others…
  • Don’t ask how can you make something X% better. First ask yourself if you need to do the thing at all.  Next ask yourself what do you really want the outcome to be. Keep asking yourself ‘Why’ or ‘What’. Then develop a solution based on the outcome and not how to only improve the set of actions. Chances are you will come up with something transformational. 
  • People are always overwhelmed with ‘stuff’ in their jobs. Reports, tasks, ‘fire drills’, and endless emails with the subject “ACTION Required:”.  If you have to do something more than once, automate it. Don’t make weekly ppt or excel reports. Invest upfront, automate it, and present using a dashboard.  Or better yet don’t present at all, teach people how to go to the dashboard themselves.  –CCBU
  • When you go away on PTO for a week and a decision needs to be made your team will usually say “we need to wait until so and so gets back from PTO”.  When you go away on PTO for two weeks people figure they can’t wait and magically make the decision on their own… and it is usually a good one.  So why not push them to make those decisions day to day on their own even when you aren’t on PTO? –Deric
  • The best way to operate in a big company is to know the rules better than anyone else.  That way you can bend them without breaking them.  You can overcome objections because you know the rules better than the organization who is saying no.  –Deric and Bill Belichick
  • When there is a crisis, get everyone on a call.  Do a round table and get all the issues out on the table.  Document them in real time for the audience.  Then one by one spell out the actions, owners, and dates.  Distribute it in writing after the call and schedule recurring calls at a rapid frequency. On each call review or add new issues and track actions and accountability.  Eventually everyone will get on board, trust each other, and ask for fewer calls 🙂  –Dave
  • Customers and team members get nervous when there isn’t a plan. This is when people start escalating and demanding things. All people really want is a plan and to see progress.  If you can’t show big progress split something up and show small progress.  –Dave
  • When a customer or person escalates – decide up front if you will give in eventually or hold your ground.   If you firmly believe you shouldn’t do something then you need to stick with it.  If you say no at first but then give in afterwards you have only taught the customer or person to kick and scream louder and louder next time. –Deric and Cable & Wireless
  • If someone threatens to escalate you should be OK with it.  Be sure to prep you leadership or stakeholders ahead of time.  Those leaders hired you because you are a talented individual. If you are doing the right thing then you need to trust that your leader will support you. Give the leader a chance to support you.  They may surprise you.  –Jedd, Doug, Richard, Deric, Dave, Will, Matt, Ken and my matrix leaders
  • If your leader does not support you – get a new job.
  • Matrix management is great.  Having 4 bosses is the best way to have the entrepreneurial independence you want.  If you have 4 bosses they will all assume one of the others are managing you. If one boss wants you to do something but you don’t think it is the right thing to do then chances are that one of your 3 other bosses shares your opinion.  – Me
  • Push responsibility to individuals and manage to the outcome. 
  • If someone on your team wants to do something different, try to challenge them in their current role. If you can’t challenge them anymore do whatever you can to find them an awesome opportunity.  By rotating your people into other roles people will see that and want to join your team. 
  • When a call gets emotional, end it.  You will achieve nothing else. –CAP, Steen Wagner, Ludford, Plaskon
  • Don’t over complicate the role of a manager/leader.  First, if something is broken in one area of the org it is that area’s responsibility to fix it (and learn in the process).  If it is broken in 2 or more areas then it is the leader’s job to fix it because it is a systemic issue.  Second, if something is working well in an area of the organization it is the leaders responsibility to operationalize it and spread it to the rest of the organization.  Finally, it is the leaders job to get good people, keep them challenged, and put them in a position to do what they do best everyday.  – East CSE Team
  • If you really need something done give it to whomever on your team is the busiest. 
  • After seeing 50+ ‘business plans’ for an open job role they all start to blend together.  Don’t forget that everyone else applying for the job is probably a rockstar just like you.  Keep your plan simple – focus on why you want the job, focus on the business – what would you invest in or divest in. What innovative things would you do? Only at the end should you talk about why you are the right person.  The fact you are the right person should be conveyed in your plan and not your list of past achievements, certs, and awards. –Doug
  • We all run fast.  Not investing in yourself or your team’s infrastructure because you are running fast is an excuse.  You should always pay yourself first.  No matter how busy your team is you should always invest 20% of your time on ways to scale.   -Tandberg Merger
  • As you rise in responsibility it is more and more important to do less.  Keep things simple. You have 10, 50, 100 or more people you are trying to steer.  Do you really think those people are going to execute on that amazing list of 10 initiatives you created? They will be overwhelmed, give up, and do what they did before.  –Fehrunnisa
  • Never take a job for a title or pay.  Take the job where you can learn the most.  Every time I did that it was invaluable. A year or two later I always ended up in a higher position with higher pay and a higher title – all by doing a job I loved. – Me
  • If when you assess your career path and respond “to be a Grade 12” you probably take a step back and ask why?  What does a higher grade get you?  What is the real outcome you are looking for.  Figure out what you love to do – and set your goal to that.  The money and other items will work themselves out.  
  • Always do the right thing for customers, company, shareholders, and people.  
  • The right thing isn’t always the easy thing.  
  • The tech industry is a small world. People are what make the world run.  Your relationships with those people outlast everything. 

As you can see, I have learned a tremendous amount from all of you.  It is said that people leave companies because of their managers or because they have stopped learning.  I have been fortunate to work for great leaders who supported our team and myself.  They made the company feel small and allowed us to break glass and make things better.  In turn I hope I was able to take the lessons learned above from all of you and made our team a place where you never wanted to leave because of the manager.  

It is the second reason why I am leaving Cisco.  I have had the joy of working in development, post sales, and pre-sales.  I learned enough to create this long list… and more!  Now I am ready to learn different ways of doing business, how to create a large enterprise from a small company, and how to apply the lessons learned above. 

Thank you all for a great internship and an unbelievable career.  I am looking forward to staying in touch.