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.

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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 http://www.paixsurterrewines.com/shop/)

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 ip.zscaler.com and yahoo.com, 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.

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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.

Then,

  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)

Then,

  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

Then,

  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 jmichaels@enernoc.com and https://www.linkedin.com/in/jmichaels.