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 SEthoughts.com: 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

Tracking

  • Significant Customer Interactions (SCI): for every customer meeting the SE, Sales Rep, or other employee would create a sub page off of the Salesforce.com 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)

Reporting

  • 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)
      screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-09-01-pm
    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.

screen_shot_2016-08-08_at_11-53-24_am

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.  
    screen_shot_2016-08-10_at_12-20-58_pm_0
  • 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.  
    screen_shot_2016-08-08_at_11-53-24_am
  • 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 yahoo.com 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

Listen

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!

bridge4

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.

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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.

 

Plan

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.
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Act

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?

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

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

 

 

What is an SE – What is a Sales Team?

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

 

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

SE Soft Skills and Culture Building

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Cross Functional Trust – SE Tasting Event Happy Hour

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

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

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

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

 

Keeping on Schedule – Soap and a Rat

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

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

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

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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.

Sales Enablement for SE (and Sales!)

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

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

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

Sales Enablement

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 5.55.22 AM

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Setting Expectations

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

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

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

Thoughts and High Level Expectations for our SE Leader team

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

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

  • Collaborate (Join the Team): How well do you work with your peers and team members?  Do you share ideas and look for win win?
  • Curiosity (Learning): This is not only technical skill set, but are you learning and developing as a leader and not just a manager?  When you make a mistake (we all do) are you learning from it?
  • Execute: Can you do the job, do you overcome obstacles?  Can you beat expectations?
  • Improve: This is where you start to add real new value.  Can you take an idea and grow it or scale it to deliver extra value?  For example, can you take the upcoming SE Summit and enhance it or ensure its success?
  • Innovate: This is innovation with positive business results.  Did you come up with an idea or find one, execute it, and add additional value to the business above what we do today?
Grading
Report-CardWe will define the requirements of (MANAGER PERFORMANCE MEASURE/TOOL) mapped to SE Leader as a team, but in terms of pay for performance, bonus’s, comp, etc I heavily weight to the areas above.  If you do CollaborateCuriosity, and Execution really well – than you are meeting expectations.  Blowing out your number, playing nice with others, and learning is just what we expect of each other as leaders.  To be exceptional a leader must also Improve and Innovate.  Did you in some way make those around you 5 or 10% better?  Did you run an initiative, sales campaign, or similar that grew the business at a faster than expected pace and then share it and scale it with others?
We will decide as a team how we will hold each other accountable and for what.  My role will be as a score keeper against those expectations.
Results not Activity/Status/Prestige
A core part of the (COMPANY) culture is SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  At the end of the day, we want people who strive to be their best and make others better and their customers better.  If we are successful at that everything else will come.
Hiring and Staffing
When we look for people we need to balance skill, expertise and attitude.  Given a preference I would ask us to look for not just those with X years of Y experience, but also those willing to go above and beyond and a pride for their work and business – many know this as the saying “Hire for Attitude not Aptitude”.  (http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2011/02/hire_for_attitude_train_for_sk.html).  Marc Andreessen also has an applicable view http://pmarchive.com/how_to_hire_the_best_people.html  In (COMPANY) terms it is SCRAPPINESS and ADAPTABILITY.  Our business changes fast – we need fast thinkers, learners, those who have a PASSION to be successful, and those who will challenge status quo and drive us to new heights.  We need people (and have people) who go above and beyond not because they were told to, but because they want to.  They have pride and ownership of their work.
Diving Catch, Fixing, setting Expectations 
NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Nov 21, 2011; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) dives over the pylon to score a touchdown in the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

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

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

Measuring & Tracking Sales Engineering

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

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

Purposes of Measurement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaches to Measurement

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

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

Methods for Tracking

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

 

SFDC Implementation Examples

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

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

Consistency

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

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

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

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

 

 

My Philosophy& Approach

A fellow SE Leader spelled out my perspective the best:

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

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

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

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

DATA CAPTURE:

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

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

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

That is it.

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

Hope this was useful for other technical leaders out there.

Edited 4/14/2016

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

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

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

Future Topics

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