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
their 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:
- Justification of SE Team: why 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.
- Individual SE Performance: create a metrics based stack rank of SE performance in order to see who has delivered the most demo’s, POCs, presentations, etc.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Technical Qualification Complete: captured the customer’s business requirements and technical implications in SFDC.
- Solution Positioning Complete: demo and high level presentations performed and the customer has agreed to a technical design workshop onsite at their location.
- Solution Validated: an architecture or solution design has been authored, uploaded to SFDC. POC success criteria and scope defined in SFDC.
- Solution Acceptance: the customer has evaluated the POC and design and agreed that it meets their needs. Services SOW scoping has been completed.
- Technical Closure: the SOW has been delivered, redlined, and accepted.
Methods for Tracking
- 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.
- Weekly SE Progress Report: many 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 SF.com 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 SF.com, 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 Salesforce.com. 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.
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
Everything else are actions/activities that trying to improve those 4 outcomes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?