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.