Top 5 ways to optimize your SE relationship
#1. Give – Get Feedback
Sales reps and Sales Engineers, both play a critical role in winning deals. It truly is a team effort. Sales Engineers often work with multiple Account Executives and AEs often have experience working with various SEs. Reps should invest in their SEs by offering advice, constructive feedback and sharing best practices. Your investment in empowering your SE only makes the AE-SE team stronger, which results in increased revenue for you and the company. With a healthy, trust-based relationship, providing feedback should be an easy conversation on a regular basis (especially right after a prospect meeting so the comments can be timely and specific). In return, also solicit thoughts on how you can improve. SEs have a unique vantage point as they get to experience “solution selling” techniques by multiple AEs and directly observe what works and what doesn’t. Becoming more comfortable in sharing such feedback to each other would improve your relationship tremendously and bring your partnership closer. A deeply synchronized AE+SE partnership is very visible to a prospect and makes the sales cycle more efficient and FUN! You know this for a fact, if you have or had such a relationship with an SE!
#2. Qualification = Quality
We have all experienced this correlation between qualification/preparation and its direct impact to the quality of the presentation. Opportunity qualification is a broader yet critical topic that many sales trainings cover in depth. I am focusing here on the impact of qualification on the quality of SE delivery. The more you can qualify and understand the prospect’s key pains, business drivers, deal threats, strategic goals, competitive landscape, decision process, etc, the better your SE can personalize the solution to those needs. If your SE team uses a Prospect Profile Form – Template, that’s even better. Be as thorough as possible in this process. A generic demo usually results in a generic outcome (longer, un-differentiated sales cycle that drags on). Unfortunately qualification is often overlooked, prospect’s needs are generalized and AE/SE end up presenting a cookie-cutter solution. Eventually the audience doesn’t see sufficient value and ends up choosing a “cheaper” solution. Remember, deals are NEVER lost on price or product, but only on VALUE. So empower your SE to help you win each deal by providing the best qualification and then expect the best quality presentation. Also, hold your SE accountable for leveraging all the information and knowledge you have provided to ensure a winning solution overview is delivered.
#3. Use “urgency” wisely
Sales is all about urgency and timing. I get that. I also acknowledge the pressures Account Executives are usually under to achieve their quotas. Each (qualified) opportunity in the pipeline should be treated with the utmost importance and managed with a do-what-it-takes attitude. The problem is that rarely an AE has a dedicated SE assigned only to them. So instead of a 1-1 priority, your SE will often find a N-N priority management challenge. Let me explain:
If an SE is supporting 4 AEs, he/she has to manage top priorities from all 4 pipelines. No AE wants to hear that their RFP, demo preparation or a technical follow up is taking a back seat due to another opportunity. Keeping this in mind, think twice before labeling a task “urgent”. Be thoughtful and creative in setting expectations with the prospect to ensure your SE has sufficient bandwidth to respond with the highest quality and most accuracy. Trust me, your SE will not only appreciate this consideration, but may even surprise you with a faster than expected turnaround – now won’t that make your prospect happy 😉
So let me remind you again, before sending a “Can this be done by EOD today” email, consider that your SE may have gotten a similar message from one of the other AEs he/she is accountable to. If it is that urgent, just talk to your SE about their bandwidth before committing to your prospect.
#4. Honor Calendars
Raise your hand if you have scheduled a meeting with a prospect only to find out your SE is not available. Argh! Well, it happens all the time. But it doesn’t have to. Any enterprise calendar system can be leveraged to ensure synchronization between your needs and your SE’s availability. Both AE and SE have to mutually commit to this process though:
- SE: You have to live by your calendar. Updates to your calendars have to (almost) be real-time. If there is an open block on your calendar, your AE should be able to block it for a meeting. If you need 30 mins prep in-between your meetings, block it on your calendar. If you need driving time from the airport, block it on your calendar. If you are working on an RFP (approaching deadline), block it on your calendar. Include as many details on your calendar to empower your AE to make the best and fair judgement on when to allocate your resources. Ideally, your AE shouldn’t even have to call you to know what your next 2 weeks look like.
- AE: You have to honor your SE’s calendar. In most situations, meetings can be scheduled with a variance of a few days. If you trust your SE (and have full visibility to their calendar) pay close attention to activities that are scheduled before and after the time slot you are trying to book. Is there a demo that ends right before your meeting starts? (CAUTION: What if the demo is running over? Shouldn’t you leave at least 30 mins buffer?). Is your SE traveling back from an on-site meeting right before? (CAUTION: Would they have sufficient prep time and setup time?). If the first half of the day already has a few demos scheduled, do you really want to schedule an afternoon demo? (CAUTION: No Demo Monkey ;-). Another area of conflict I often hear is when booking travel. With an ideal partnership, you’d know the personal situation of your SE (kids, commute, travel restrictions, etc). So just be mindful when requesting travel commitments.
#5. Generosity with recognition
Be generous with your “thank-you”s and “great-job”s with your SE team. Who doesn’t like to be recognized for their efforts? This is especially relevant to Sales Engineering because relatively speaking it a very independent profession. Think about it – SEs often work remote to provide better territory coverage; even though they have a manager/leader, most engagement and collaboration is with their assigned Account Executives. As a result, it is common for an SE’s efforts to go un-noticed. This can be de-moralizing for anyone so I encourage Account Executives to become their SE’s biggest champions and advocates. Only an AE knows the *direct* impact an SE has on each of their opportunities. So it is really up to you to communicate that positive recognition across the sales org. A few great examples I have experienced first-hand include an AE sending out a deal summary email after a big win and recognizing all the ways their SE contributed; At Sales Summit, offering SE awards for categories such as most consultative SE of the year, SE with best presentation skills, SE with most won deals, SE with most won revenue, etc; an AE sharing a success story of their SE overcoming a challenging objection with the SE team.
Another best practice here is to communicate freely with the SE leadership. Sharing feedback regarding strengths-to-celebrate and areas-of-improvement can not only empower the SE leader to also recognize and reward the SE but also help work on any weaknesses. Your SE gets better, your team strengthens, you win more deals. It’s a win-win-win for all 🙂
I would love to hear other ways you have optimized your relationship with an SE. Contact me and I’ll add your ideas to this list as well.