Disclaimer: All arguments and recommendations made in this article are solely based on personal experience. It does not include results of any extensive cross-industry research.
It is fair for sales leaders to question whether their company really needs an SE function. After all, it is a significant investment in resources and the ROI isn’t always clear or immediate. The answer really depends on a large number of factors including size of the company, complexity of the product, length of the sales cycle, target audience/buyer, industry vertical and many more. A simple calculator doesn’t exist (that I know of) where you input size of the SE team and it returns your exact ROI. Every Sales and SE (Sales Engineering) leader has to continuously re-evaluate the impact their SE team is having on the overall business. Below are a few results that can help determine if the short and long-term impact of your SE team is worth in your company:
More Revenue $$$
Sales Engineering is a sales support discipline. It exists to help improve overall sales success. Period. If this impact is not being realized, then all other results listed below don’t really matter. An SE team is also an immediate increase to cost-of-sales, so it must contribute to additional revenue for the business, to ensure a net positive ROI. For example, if the Sales team has a combined quota of $10M, adding an SE team should increase that target to $10M+ X. The additional results listed below should collectively contribute to this increase in revenue.
Better WIN Rate
Sales Engineering brings not only the product and technical expertise but also industry and competitive knowledge to each sales cycle. Companies today, with more efficient agile development processes, are launching new product features at a much higher frequency than ever before. On top of that, a larger set of technologies and integrations are being implemented to offer an end-to-end solution. Industries are growing up faster and competitive landscapes are becoming more crowded. All of this creates a tremendous challenge to successfully enable a large (often scattered) sales team. It is much more efficient to ensure that a small team of highly skilled SEs are fully versed and up-to-date in these areas and can deliver that expertise to each prospect. Does the joint effort of a technically astute SE and a consultative sales rep result in an increased chance of winning an opportunity? You bet!
Metric: What does X% increase in win rate mean for your sales organization?
Reduced Sales Cycle
By getting an SE involved, the team accountable for “winning” an opportunity is essentially doubled. Regardless if your AEs (Account Executives or Sales Reps) are hunters or farmers, they now have a champion, an advocate and an advisor. An ideal AE/SE combination collaborates effectively and can facilitate the sales process by running activities in parallel. For example, an SE can “own” all the technical/product related objections, follow ups and any custom scoping required while the AE manages the overall sales process, pricing negotiation and the business relationship.
Additionally, SEs have a unique vantage point in each opportunity as they often work with multiple sales reps and witness unique sales experiences. If an SE supports 3 AEs, he/she has 3 times more exposure to which value propositions work and which do not, what objections often come up in similar scenarios, what wows or bores the audience etc.
Metric: What does a X% decrease in average sales cycle mean for your organization?
Increased Customer Satisfaction
This metric is most relevant to SaaS solutions as you have to earn the customer’s business every month. We often see the sales process and experience from an “internal” perspective. Since most business units are divided between “pre-sales” (Sales and Marketing) and “post-sales” (Services and Support), it is a common mistake to focus on your own half view of the world. But a customer who transitions from being a “prospect” doesn’t see (or want to see) this shift. The expectation is almost the opposite as a customer does not want any loss of vision, relationship or expectations from when they evaluate a solution to when they actually start using it. This is where Sales Engineering comes in. By ensuring SEs have a strong bridge to (post-sales) Services and a consistent flow of feedback on any missed expectations, known bugs, functional limitations, or misunderstandings, a prospect’s journey to becoming a customer can be dramatically enhanced. This process should be formalized through SE-to-Services handoff documents and effective collaboration between the two teams.
Metric: What does X% increase in customer retention mean to your organization?
Better (Targeted) Roadmap
SEs have the honorable job of representing a company’s product. They are accountable to not just answer all the questions about the solution, but do so in a consultative, persuasive manner. Essentially, your SE team should be the “voice of the prospect” within your company. Remember, prospects (different from your customers) have the most recent view of the competitive landscape. They might have seen a demo from your biggest competitive right before jumping on the call with you. So the tough questions or (product related) objections they raise during a sales cycle should be taken seriously and fed appropriately into the product development lifecycle. SE team is best suited to accomplish this critical task as they are often the best product experts and can articulate the product gaps effectively to product management. This immediate feedback “from the field” can tremendously help a sales organization react swiftly to the competitive pressures and more importantly ensure the product roadmap is more targeted to the customer needs.
Metric: What does X% improvement in better differentiated product mean to your organization?
There are a few other indirect benefits to building a great SE team that might be worth mentioning. These include:
- SE team supporting sales enablement in the field to reduce the ramp time for the new AEs to start selling faster
- SE team providing feedback to the Sales Leadership on compliance of sales processes as well as identifying any gaps in AE performance/understanding
- SE team collaborating with Product Marketing to successfully deliver the right value proposition and messaging
- SE team contributing positively to build and maintain a scalable sales culture
I am sure there are other ways SEs are adding immense value that I haven’t been exposed to. But hopefully these guidelines offer a good foundation to support the argument for why your SE team is or isn’t worth it.