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.

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