Thursday, December 29, 2011

How to Answer Sales Engineer Interview Questions

Getting your first Sales Engineer job can be tricky - particularly if you can't get that sort of position in your current company.

The interview - Razvan Caliman
To get one, you will need to prove that your current experience shows that you can do the job and will be a low risk option. Remember, everyone should have some kind of experience that proves you can sell something.

A sales engineering position usually will have several interviews with different kinds of agendas.  Some people will test you technically, others will test your ability to sell, and others still, how you work within a team.  Work out what each interviewer wants to hear, and try to prove yourself. Be prepared with a trial presentation or whiteboarding session.  It could be about your current product or something arbitrary.

Practice it like a real demo.


  • Know what it says in your resume. Have something good to say about each job you have had
  • Know the company you are applying for - understand the business and the product areas you are applying for
  • Have a prepared demo / whiteboard session that you can run through - they might want to test you
  • Have your prepared questions list (see below) - don't be afraid to ask them more than once
  • Have prepared answers to the following questions with examples
  • If you don't have experience as an SE - use your experience in whatever role and how it helped sell product technically
  • Be ready for oddball questions.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Google has asked the following: Using only a four-minute hourglass and a seven-minute hourglass, measure exactly nine minutes—without the process taking longer than nine minutes.
You will get questions concerning the technologies - I can't help you much with this, other than to say show how your experience proves you understand their product and its requisite technologies.  You should be prepared to study enough to know what all the acronyms mean and how you plan to come up to speed with the technology.

The big questions are:

  • Why do you want a job in technical sales?
  • How have you ensured a deal was successful technically?
  • How would you plan a typical demonstration of a product?
  • How would you explain the benefits of a product to a customer?
  • How do you handle a technical objection?

For all of these you need to boost the strength of the answer by using examples from your career.  Save your best examples for the important questions - and try to use different examples to answer each question.  You should be able to think of examples that are useful in answering the above questions.

Your questions to them are the other important part of the interview.

You should have a few questions about how the job suits you, and practically check that you want to work in the company.  I know plenty of SEs who have taken on jobs and later found that they didn't want to work for the company.  Save yourself the hassle and make sure the job works for you.

  • Find out about the people you work for/with
  • How they structure the team
  • How compensation is linked to revenue earned
  • How the company values SEs
  • What career options exist for a successful SE within the company

Finally, make sure you try and close them at the end of the interview.  That is, find out where they are in the process, do they feel you proved yourself in the interview, and are they ready to tell you now.  If they aren't (and they probably aren't) you have pushed it which is very important in sales. You should try and find out important things that may help you negotiate your salary.

Further Reading

How to Ace a Google Interview -
The 25 most difficult questions you'll be asked on a job interview

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sales Engineers - look back at 2011

For some of you, this is the end of your financial year.
Even if it isn't, it is probably a good time to look back at the year and think of ways of doing things even better.

Happy New Year to all SEs - picture by Billy Alexander
My GM likes us to always think of the following things after a meeting:

  • What did we do well?
  • What did we not do well?
  • How could we improve next time?
I think for the end of the year we can go through the same process in a more strategic way.  You should be thinking about this both from how well you did your current role, and also what you should be thinking about for your next role.

For instance in 2011, you may feel you did the following well:
  • Broadened my knowledge across new product offerings
  • Used the colleagues in my team in situations that they are more productive 
  • Shared resources with the team to help us all get more productive
Things you may have been able to do better:
  • Kept my demos as fresh and slick as possible
  • Spend appropriate time on bigger things
  • Push myself forward for new roles
How can you improve?
  • Spend a little time every week keeping demos and presentations up to date - and getting the whole team to add value to it.
  • Ensure I share workload with the team - clear my schedule of things that others can do well
  • Show that I am capable of the new roles, so management don't see it as a risk.
By thinking about this at a more relaxed time you can really get your head straight and go for the things that matter.  When you spend too much time with your head down busy, you can miss the strategic options.

Further reading for the new year:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sales Engineers: Present YOUR Way & Make your own Slides

10 Excellent slideshows showing how you should present to an audience.  

FOLLOW and get inspired!

Think you can do better than your corporate marketing slides?

Just do it!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stuck in RFP hell

I've been a bit quiet lately - its because I am stuck in RFP hell.  At least almost - more like purgatory...

This RFP at least is well qualified - we know why they are writing it, and have been asked to respond.  We even believe we are the main influence on its contents.

Lets hope this is enough to get ahead. In general the less you know about an RFP or if you haven't been aware that it was about it happen, the less likely you will win.  If your customer has taken the time to learn about your product, and understand what they need to do, you should be a close fit for whatever RFP they need.

Keep selling!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What is the ROI of Sales Engineers?

Businesses often ask what the ROI (Return on Investment) is of something, before spending money on it.  Sales Engineering is an example - of course the prediction and calculation of ROI is quite a tricky subject.

ROI growth - Image by Christian Ferrari
Financially speaking, an ROI is about the performance of investments - which to a company are Assets that go on the balance sheet. An SE is a cost in personnel.  Lets relax this definition though and use the term investment to mean the annual fully loaded cost of running your SE team, and ROI to mean the additional value that this team brings.

This is the part where it is harder to directly measure.
How do SEs add value?

  1. Bring in sales that can't be won without SEs (the technical sale)
  2. Help sales staff bring in sales quicker (less time for each deal)
  3. Increase the size of deals through their unique understanding of customer environment
  4. Improve ability of company to negotiate - better customer knowledge
  5. Discover new opportunities while working closely with a customer
There are probably others, but these are the main ideas I think we can work with. (please let me know which others you can think of!

1. Bring in sales that can't be won without SEs (the technical sale)

Knowing which deals these are can be difficult.  Sales people might be reluctant to say internally how much they needed an SE for each deal.  They are also very proud to boast when they close something without an SE.  A business needs to look on this point objectively and decide on a percentage factor how much the SE facilitated the deal.  

Looking at the activities performed we can get a sense of how independantly the Sales person was able to work through the deal.  Although this would then neglect the fact that good sales engineering work doesn't need to take a long time.  A well executed demo saves the need for several more demos, or a more extensive POC.

What you could do is look at the activities that only SEs can perform well - a good tech demo, a POC, a technical RFP response, and if a deal requires these activities then it counts as one that requires an SE.

Count the revenue here towards the SE ROI target.

2. Help sales staff bring in sales quicker (less time for each deal)

Making business happen faster is another key point.  Maybe your sales staff could convince some customers that the product just works, lets get it in for a trial, pay for some services to install/help and you can have your money back if it doesn't.  In fact I am sure many companies have tried this approach before a sales engineering role had matured.

The problem with this is, it can take more sales staff effort.  It ties up on services staff to support these implementations, and if they are not successful, even though services might get paid, it is not really why your organisation should have these staff.  They should be there to help customers who do buy your products.

So to measure how much quicker the SEs help make the deal we need to think about the saved effort in the sales cycle.  How much time does a well executed demo or POC save?  How effective is your SE at engaging technical staff that a sales person cannot - like Enterprise Architects or DBAs?

This needs more work - but I believe a good SE should be able to save 50% of the time on the deal - at a minimum.  This is not necessarily time of the overall sales cycle - but in adding another face to your company that can help your customer understand your product and solution areas in more detail - you reduce the number of emails that need to go to and fro, and can save the need for additional meetings and multiple proofing efforts.

The improvement in the sales team's ability to close more deals in the same time is the key measurement - or the ability to keep more opportunities in the pipeline.

3. Increase the size of deals through their unique understanding of customer environment

An SE tends to get closer to the customer's key people than a sales person can.  Often the customer believes the SE offers more knowledge about the solution and should appear less threatening (more on this later).  So an SE might find that this particular opportunity can be widened in scope or priced differently due to environmental factors.  If the sales person was unaware of these factors, or only becomes aware due to the SE, it is a clear gain in ROI from the SE's help.

In these cases we need to measure the increased size of the deal from the SE and count towards the SE target.

4. Improve ability of company to negotiate - better customer knowledge

Like the previous point, an SE will sometimes find out some other reasons why you can be stronger in negotiation.  This may include finding out internal deadlines for the implementation, lack of competition, size of their budget or any other factor important to the negotiation.  It might be as simple as finding out that the buyer loves to play golf, or is dying to go to a particular restaurant.

This is a soft skill that will take an SE far - and also will help increase the value of business they are working on.

There is a negative side to this too - your SE may blurt out that the business really needs this deal this quarter or the business might go under.  Try rescuing a deal from that one...

Measure this as how well the pricing is maintained on deals the SE works on, compared to the average.

5. Discover new opportunities while working closely with a customer

Finally, SEs can be great at sniffing out new opportunities while on site with a customer.  If your company tracks where leads come from, it could be a good opportunity for SEs to be recognized (and perhaps rewarded) for finding opportunities for selling more or related products while dealing with an existing customer or prospect.  In this case the lead itself should be considered as part of the value of the deal - most companies have a concept of how much business in its pipeline is worth.  

Measure this how you would measure business coming from any other pipeline source.

The Total ROI

With all these factors at play we come to calculating the total ROI.  Just add up the above 5 numbers and call the result your ROI.  This should reflect the added value the SEs have made.  If you don't have good measurements, you will need to estimate how much of the revenue the opportunities that the SEs have worked on is due to each of these factors.  This sum should be a proportion of the overall revenue figure.

Now what?

If we find that hiring 3 SEs gives 300% ROI (we earn 3x as much revenue as we pay the cost of the SEs) then we would then need to consider what the incremental cost of hiring one (or more) additional SEs would be, and decide whether there is still additional gains to be made.  

This could be much more accurate than just considering simple ratios of Sales staff to SEs or a simple % of revenue.  It should also lead to a better balance of SE workload, improved performance and a whole new load of KPIs to measure the SE team and leadership on.

That's all for today!  

Monday, December 5, 2011

How to (not) Oversell!

How often do you hear after a deal has been signed with a customer that people decide something has been oversold?

Overselling - Copyright penywise 2008
Hopefully not too often.

Overselling is when the customer experience post-sale doesn't meet their expectations of the agreement.  When you have the opportunity, make sure your customers are happy with the result, and that any step that they don't agree with is worked on in future sales.

  • They may say that not enough of Product Y or Service Z has been sold with Product X.
  • Some feature they thought was available is not included.
  • A product is actually something done by a service, or a previous customer did on their own.
  • A competitor's product did something, that they thought you could do too.
  • It doesn't work due to the customer's particular architecture
Many of these things could be found out if the right questions are asked, but it is a fine line between asking the right question and putting the deal in jeopardy.  Sometimes we don't know enough about a customer but they drive us along quickly.  Sometimes you think of a problem, but it isn't something for you to point out - and when you discuss it internally, its decided not to push that angle of it too far.

Ideally the your organization listens to the customer, you understand what they want and are able to present the vision for them to understand the solution. A commercial arrangement is made that both sides understand and sign up to.  The negotiations at the end don't take anything away that is necessary from the deal.

The job of the sales team is to offer solutions to the customer's problems, that if implemented as you propose it will result in the business problem being addressed.

There are a lot of unknowns in selling though.  Customers won't always let you know all of the answers - just as we won't tell them all our weaknesses.
  • What if the customer doesn't know their real business problem?
  • What if you hear their statement of the problem incorrectly, but they like your answer?
  • How do you tell the customer that they want the wrong thing?
  • Does the sales team understand what they are selling in order to recommend the right solution?
  • Can you accurately gauge the services and products that the customer needs to order?
  • Will the legal team strike some of the customer's needs out of the contract?
  • Will the product be implemented in the same way it was sold?
As your company gains more experience in the market, having a strong base of reference customers is very important, so it is important to try and ensure that customers will be happier with your offering.

This is not just about how things are sold, but also marketing, manufacturing, services delivery, support, and so on.

Over time your ability to understand and meet customer expectations should improve - and it is this improvement that will ensure that overselling declines in the long run.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free Sales Engineering Resources on the Web

Free SE online resources:

There are a number of fantastic resources to help you become a better SE.
Remember, great SEs develop themselves, they aren't produced or trained by any college or school that I know of.  Normally you have to go out there and learn it for yourself.

Books (EmZed Copyright 2006)
So much training that SEs receive is aimed either for technical audiences or for Sales teams.  There may be a gap in the market for anyone providing top quality SE training.

Some of the best resources I've seen recently:
Paid learning:

Read some good books!

  • Courses - think out of the box. Karrass: Effective Negotiating for Engineers A course that Karrass can do for your company. Remember that as an SE, even if you don't sit at the negotiating table, it doesn't mean you aren't part of the process. You are the eyes and ears of the sales team.
  • The Great Demo! - read the book and Second Derivative can also arrange training
  • Brush up on Public speaking, presentation and webinar skills (remember running a webinar is not the same as a live presentation!)
  • Spend some time practicing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sales Engineers: Presenting the Product Roadmap

Sometimes a Sales Engineer has to do that special kind of presentation - the Product Roadmap.  The trick to this is to show a strong future, but not a weak current product.

The Product Roadmap (Photo Michiru Maeda 2011)
There are 3 main things you need to get across:

  1. Your future product aligns well with the customer/prospect's needs
  2. There is excellent value in paying their maintenance
  3. There is no reason to wait before buying the product
The first two points represent the advantages of buying from your company to the prospect.  That your product will continue to suit them, and is well aligned to what they want to do in the future.  
The importance of these points may vary with the willingness of the customer to receive these updates later.

The final point is a warning! Don't give the customer a reason to delay spending their money.  
  • This is the risky part of presenting future product, in that your customer may be reluctant to buy now - you might force them to pay more to get the new features. 
  • It may put some contingency over their buying now - and this might delay you in getting paid!
  • An upgrade might be something they are not planning for
While it is great to be innovating and helping with future needs, don't rely on them to sell your product. Use it to differentiate you from the competition, particularly if they are slow moving, or are not developing your product very quickly.  This presentation is a two-edged sword, and can hurt you or help you.

Good luck and happy selling!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't let your Engineers be Assholes!

Today there is a very important message and key to everyone in the sales team.  It surely will increase your word of mouth influence and ensure your company is seen as positive to all of your customers.

I must warn you, today's post goes into the use of some mildly strong language - please don't be offended - I don't want to be the one thing I am trying to post against today!

I stumbled onto an article on Eyes on Sales today and thought it relevant particularly SEs as we can spend a lot of time with the customer.

A happy team. (Photo by ckornowski, 2005)
Make sure you never come across as an asshole. 

That is pretty much it! The examples cited are about air hostesses and their differing reactions to customers not doing as they are told and shutting off their electronic devices, however this really covers anyone in your organisation who has close contact with your customers.

Just as everyone at the customer site has some impact on the decision, everyone on your team will have a chance to not be an asshole every chance they talk to the customer.

A customer domain expert might challenge you, or tell you the way it should be done.  They might be right, they might be wrong.  It doesn't matter really.

Any time you are challenged by your customer you have two options.
One: react strongly and you come across as hard to deal with.
Two: let any slight wash off you like the sea, and then be positive and constructive.  You can always moan about it later away from the customer.

Be interested in what is important to them.  Listen to any criticism you can and take it away.  Be the man who jumps on the grenade and don't let it blow up your deal.

As an engineer, you will get to meet many of the customer's people, many of whom might not normally interact with suppliers.  It is your job to be the better person and help the customer make up their own mind.

What is the net effect?

Each time you react negatively, it creates ripples in the social network of people you are dealing with.  If you annoy one person, several others will hear about it.  You can't go to each of those people.  You mightn't even know them.  They might know that the person you are dealing with isn't nice - your positive reaction in those situations will make a positive impression on them, even if you never meet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Saving a Lost Deal saved my Sales guy his Job!

Sometimes you don't feel like you are hearing the right things from a prospect. It could be a spider sense tingling you get. You just don't think you are getting through to them, like you normally would.

This article at entrepreneur magazine goes through several important ways to tell if you are losing a deal, and how you might still save it:
Entrepreneur magazine 
How to tell if you are losing a deal and how to save it!
It reminds me of a deal where we had a great first meeting with a customer, and everything was swimming along nicely.  They had seen our Ts & Cs, priced up the deal, and then we heard nothing for a week.  No one was on holiday.  The sales guy couldn't get hold of anyone at their company.

He asked me if I could chase down the technical guy and find out what was happening.  I had to be subtle though - the direct question would just make me seem like another sales guy.  So I offered up some additional white papers, then a technical session, and a architecture/implementation session.  Finally he told me that they were talking with one of our competitors - one we knew well - and knew what wouldn't work for them in this situation.  They weren't even going to do a Proof of Concept (POC) with them - so I just suggested that one of their technical environment components would be a challenge for that vendor.  I didn't have to do anything else - this was the catalyst for a full POC of that technology, and a chance for us to come in and revitalize our proposal, deal and get closer to the customer.

It all turned out well, and the sales guy was very thankful.  Sometimes it is easier for an engineer to get closer to the customer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

VBScript To Send Email Using CDO

I recently found Paul Sadowski's scripting help on sending emails from VB script in Windows very helpful in testing configuration on a new SMTP server during a customer POC.

I made sure that I sent emails to my phone so I could show them to the customer as they arrived!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The New Software Pricing Model: Can the Older Giants Compete?

The Motley Fool is getting into software licensing?

Actually they are talking about whether the old dinosour companies with old licensing models can keep up with the trend for more fluid licensing models.
Motley Fool: New Software pricing - can the older giants stay competitive?

If the investment community is opening their eyes to the differences a new license model can make, and new ways of licensing software, this will surely mean more innovation in this area.  This is surely a positive thing

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Travel tips for Sales Engineers

Sometimes I find it hard to optimize is the soft perks of all the travelling you do as a sales engineer. With a bit of planning and joining the right flying partners you can quickly take advantage of the points on offer and fund your holidays and personal life - which might help make up for the work travel.

The Points Guy!
The Points Guy offers some great advice in setting up the right travel points schemes for you in his Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up an Effective Points Strategy.

As a general rule - if points are on offer for any flight, hotel, rental or spend while you are travelling, you should make sure you get credited to the best plan for you, and if possible focus on maxing your points with the right chain for you, and you will get free upgrades, perks, freebies and also the points as well. Often there are ways to earn points quicker, extra bonuses and member's rates.

In many cases you save money for your company too, with complimentary airport transfers, free wifi and lounge access at airports.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is a Sales Engineer (SE)?

A Sales Engineer is a part of a technology sales team, for an organisation trying to sell Hardware, Software or Services. The sales engineer's role is to ensure the technical part of this sale removes any obstacles and helps ensure the deal happens with a good value to the seller.

There can be different types of SE roles and ways of structuring an SE organisation.
Types of Sales Engineer Roles
The Structure of an SE organisation

A Sales Engineer is usually compensated like a Salesperson, with commission paid on business revenue :
How should SEs be Compensated?

The value an SE adds to a deal
The Value added by a Sales Engineer is defined in both higher success rates than a commercial effort alone, higher success rates of implementations, and a quicker way of doing business by removing these technical obstacles.

Typical tasks performed by an SE
What does a Sales Engineer do?

Answering RFPs, RFIs, RFQs (providing information to customers)
Procurement Processes
RFI Time - Answering an RFI

Presenting the product in Technical Demonstrations
The Demo Doctor
Demo PC rebuild
Webinar tool use to minimise travel
Using GoToMeeting to deliver a Sales Demonstration
5 Easy steps: How to do a Great Tech Demo!

Perform Proof of Concepts to ensure customer is satisfied at product capabilities
Proof of Concept
Customer Unready to Evaluate

SEs need training - it is not a magical skill that only certain people possess, but it is an art that can be improved over time.
Training for Sales Engineers
WeirdSE Launches Wisdom Apple Apps

5 Easy steps: How to do a Great Tech Demo!

One of the key things that a Sales Engineer can do well, that a gifted development engineer or consultant cannot, is present the product/solution to a mixed audience of technical and business buyers and ensure that it is at the same time compelling and interesting to all parties.

How do you do this?

1. Make the demo SEXY!  
OK, maybe sexy is too strong a word for this, but ensure that you start the demo with the most exciting part, that shows clearly why people will buy your solution rather than another, and rather than thinking this stuff is too hard.
Remember, companies choosing to do nothing is the biggest enemy to selling products.

2. Create a demo plan
A plan is your storyboard - making sure your demo flows from one point to another - staying relevant to the customer, but also helping them formulate a solution to their problem as you go.
If you start sexy - as I explained earlier, you will need to explain how you arrived at the beginning.  You need to prove your value.
As part of a good plan, you need to decide what features and solutions are actually relevant to this customer.  No two demos should be the same, unless you decide each customer's need is exactly the same.  Unlikely.

3. Practice doing your demo
Practice makes perfect. Even if you can't get a practice audience - and anyone will be better than no one - make sure you go through the demo plan, and that you know what you will say at each point of the demo, and where you will pause to hear response, and have questions asked.
Practice the demo in exactly the same format as the real one, and make sure you can see the demo as your audience will.  If you are doing a webinar, have a monitor showing the demo back to you, or else record it and watch the recording afterwards.  For a live meeting, try and record the meeting with a video camera.
Make sure that you understand the technology you use to present, your content, and what your plan is for this customer.
Practice your demo 10 times or until you know you are ready.

4. Rehearse with the rest of the sales team
A demo shouldn't be an isolated part of the sales pitch. It is a good time for asking the customer some of the big questions.  Make sure your Sales reps understand the demo, are interested in it while you deliver, and if appropriate that they tease out questions from the customer or underline the strong points where they know this customer is interested.  Without this dynamic activity, your demos will be flat and less interesting.

5. Make the demo end with a Bang!
Start out sexy, follow a plan and make it end with a bang.  Make sure you keep a nice tempo to your demo, long aimless demos that meander will find it harder to impress people - or at the end they might forget what they asked in the first place.
Pretend you are taking your customer on a journey: show them how you can help them fix their pain, or even better, have them realize themselves that this demo shows how your product is the best solution and uniquely fits their needs.  To do this, you need them to understand how you got to the sexy screen you started your demo with, and what it means to them.
You will need to make sure they understand the key steps, and why each step takes them forward and away from their problems.  Have a flip-chart or whiteboard next to you while presenting, and point out as you move through milestones.

SO that is the way to make a Great Tech Demo.  I found one of the best books on the subject is  Great Demo! by Peter E Cohen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Compensation: Do you earn a healthy commission as a Sales Engineer?

I recently have been asked by a colleague if more senior SEs really get a higher proportion of their compensation as commission.

I found the following article at Monster.Com Salary Commission guide: Sales Engineer which is actually sourced from data at - real life data.

They are grouping the median pay and commission by numbers of years in the company.

My graph below shows bar charts for each group.

SE Salary to Commission ratio
It shows that the very junior SEs have a low commission pay out, but it quickly rises to a bit over 20% as a median.  Its key to note, the extreme ends of SE payscales are at 0% and 50% commission - but here we are talking about medians - the middle of the road.

Based on information at article (Are You Missing Out on Bonuses) we see the following graph which shows that the rank of SEs within a team can affect the proportion of commission they are paid.

Low and High commission ranges by SE Rank

The other interesting bit, is that the SEs who have been there the longest (20 years+) are not the highest paid.  It is the second longest serving group - 10-19 years that are the highest.  I guess this means that the best get promoted out of Sales Engineering?  Indeed the numbers by years experience show the numbers of respondents in the article dropping.  Of course this might be that long serving SEs rarely need to respond to this kind of thing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How should SEs be Compensated?

What is the best way to pay your Sales Engineers?  Are the SEs part of a sales team, do they work on their own, are they part of services?

Most SEs should be closely aligned with Sales to ensure they maximize the value that they add.

As such, each SE team has the target of supporting particular sales people, who have their own targets that they are aiming for.  The SE team will feel closely aligned if their rewards follow the rewards of the sales team.
Remember, incentives will drive activity. If the SEs find that they actually get paid more doing services, then they will maximize the number of services days they perform.  Is this best for selling your products? You decide.

So reading this article at  - Are you missing out on bonuses? The first thing to note is the kind of compensation to pay SEs.

Fixed compensation
Should it be fixed or variable?  Fixed bonuses are about hitting targets or achieving a result. They are either paid or not.  This can be good at ensuring that the SEs get the result, but if $2.9 million is almost as good as $3 million for the company, why pay a bonus only if they make the full amount. Sometimes this might be written more as an MBO than a commission plan.  Sell $x million, get paid a bonus.

Variable compensation
With variable comp, the main thing to think about is how much does it vary? Should it have a cap? Should more senior SEs have a higher proportion of their OTE as commission?

Typically, sales people have a high commission to base pay ratio.  Many have 1:1 (half their target income is commission). Some have even more, like 2:1 or perhaps even operating fully on commission.
SEs tend to have a higher base pay. The SE relies on the sales reps on bringing in opportunities and developing them to a certain stage.  SEs usually have a longer tenure in the company - and good SEs need to be kept in good times and bad.

SE variable comp can range from 5-50% of their OTE.

Some comp plans provide for accelerators as a higher level of commission has been earned.  This increases the incentive to overachieve, and keeps the SE working harder all year long. An example of this is, after the SE has met 100% of revenue targets, the commission rate goes up 50% or 100%.

A cap is a limit on the amount of comp to be payed.  This could be a limit on one deal, or limit on the overall amount. If they have a cap, then commission becomes more like a bonus that can be earned incrementally.
The only benefit to a cap is that it means the SE is unlikely to retire off one deal.  However if the total commission has been paid out for a year early on, there is little drive for further activity that year.

Cost of the deal?
The downside of the commission to the company is that it increases the cost of deals.  The sales person takes their commission, and then the SE team, management and anyone else involved might have a share too.  Too many layers of overlay and support for sales means increasing costs.  Sometimes 20% of a sale might be paid out to people on commission.

Group vs Individual targets
The final piece of a comp plan is working out exactly what deals each person gets paid on.  This could be simple for a single SE in a tightly defined territory or company.  However when you have multiple SEs, the question needs to be asked how to compensate the team.
Is it a group pot - each SE gets targeted and measured on group numbers?  Often you will have some SEs more active than others.
Do you work out who worked on each opportunity? Sometimes SE roles mean they make smaller contributions on many deals.  Some deals take many SEs and it is hard to work out who did what.
Subject matter experts could be paid just on their area of expertise
SEs who support particular sales reps could just be paid on that revenue.

The targets need to be tailored to encourage teamwork, but reward individual efforts well.  As an SE work out what you do well, how to maximize your personal revenue and try to prove your value.
Remember, an SE's value to an organisation is about maximizing the revenue, and regardless of how you get paid, people are always watching and knowing who is making it happen.

Further reading -
Compensation of Sales Engineers
Statistics for SE Reporting
Paying Salespeople
Christine Comaford: How do you keep your Sales team motivated Are you missing out on bonuses?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Types of Sales Engineer Roles

Instead of just being demo dollies, SEs or Sales Engineers come in all sorts of different types and roles.  Some sales organisations need many of the same kind, while other organisations need or have a variety of different roles.  For many SEs, these descriptions may overlap or be interchanged, however in other organisations there is a strict demarcation of the roles.

Subject Matter Expert (SME)
The SME is somebody who has a large body of experience in a narrow field - narrower than the full set of solutions.  This SE will be brought in for particular deals when it requires domain knowledge or a specialist's touch. To become an SME, the SE needs to grow their knowledge in a particular area, so that deals that fit the mold will be brought to them. Sales reps will value their knowledge in the particular field and they will be first choice.  Some SMEs are in very high demand and command higher salaries due to their special domain knowledge.
SMEs also are typically rewarded based on the success of their key product area.

A generalist is the opposite of the SME.  Their job is to be able to go to any meeting and be able to add value across a large variety of different product offerings.  In some cases they will be able to suggest a solution directly, and in other cases they will bring in an SME.  Some Generalists also are able to fill the role of an SME in several fields, and therefore can also be very highly paid.  Also Generalists can also progress to a variety of different roles in an organisation.  A good generalist needs to keep all of their areas of knowledge to an acceptable level.

Solution Architect
A Solution architect is an SE who is much closer to the customer, in understanding a particular industry or enterprise's business problems, and be able to suggest solutions that would help solve them.  They tend to be much more customer focused, and may run the risk of going native.  A good Solution Architect knows how to combine different products and services to solve particular business problems and knows how they fit into the customer's environments.  A Solution Architect is much less concerned of the normal use of the product, and much more in tune with what problem the customer is trying to solve.

Systems Engineer
A Systems engineer is more focused on the technical angle.  For some industries it is very important to have highly detailed, technical specifications of products, parts and services.  A Systems engineer has a strong understanding of all of the elements of a solution, both the parts belonging to their company and other vendors involved.

Technical Sales Rep
A Technical Sales Rep is practically no longer an SE, but rather a sales rep who is technical enough to own any technical evaluation or sale.  It is normally used when the product for sale is already well understood by the customer, or commoditised enough to sell based on spec.

Product Evangelist
A product evangelist is the marketing boundary of Sales engineering.  They work with marketing at attending conferences, public demonstrations or webinars and may assist on the direct sales side at times.

Technical Channel Manager
Technical channel managers are the SEs who go out and skill up a channel of resellers and partners to sell the products.  They require many of the above SE skillsets but also a capability to teach and train.  A TCM however will usually get less time directly in front of customers and therefore need to support the partners in order to win business.

Technical Account Manager
Finally a Technical Account Manager works with existing accounts, trying to find new business problems to solve, or find ways of selling more product or services into the existing projects.  Sometimes TAMs work in the support organisation or the services organisations, but their role is important at selling more product.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Types of Virtualisation

I was sent this one by a colleague today, but it is an excellent explanation of the different kinds of Virtualisation as defined by Microsoft as:

  • Server Virtualisation
  • Desktop Virtualisation
  • Presentation Virtualisation
  • Application Virtualisation

Types of Virtualisation

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Technology: Are you ready for Windows 8?

Who is ready for Windows 8?  Most companies I talk to are barely ready for Windows 7.  The key challenges being the compatibility problems with existing apps.  With Windows 8, it brings along a whole new User Interaction concept called Metro, which is about touch and tablet style interactions.

How much use do we get of this in the office environment? 

Will we be using Windows 8 primarily on Laptops and Tablets, and use Windows 7 on Virtual Desktops, Call centers and office bound PCs?

Is there really a business drive behind this?  Microsoft are obviously trying to play catch up with Apple iOS and Google Android - but is the world ready for this kind of OS concept?  And how successful will they be at catching both of these platforms which are built on hardware + software offerings, and not just the OS itself.

Try reading this article on eweek for 10 Reasons why it will pull in Enterprise Upgrades.
Which I doubt it will in such a large scale. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sales Engineer Skills - Shut up and Listen!

Over at Mastering Technical Sales, there is an excellent PDF article on Shut Up And Listen.

Listening is one of the most important parts of Selling, and of Sales Engineering.  It is more important than talking, more critical than knowing the right answers, and more important than being able to fix someone's problem.

If you find you are speaking more than about 20% of the time in a meeting - you are probably speaking too much - and that is for a one-one meeting.  Seriously, what you want in a good customer meeting is to spend a very short time introducing yourself - spend half a meeting telling people about the wonderful things your company has done and you won't really get to know what you can offer this customer.

A good meeting for me runs like this:

5 mins - introductions - make sure you know all the people in the room, their names, and a fair idea of what they do.  It is ok to ask people to explain this in more detail, and shows that you care if you take the effort to write down their names and get the spelling right.

5 mins - why are we here? Agenda.

20-40 mins - get the customer to tell you what the business problem is. Why are we here today? Tell me about the problem. Tell me why it matters to the business.  Find out how this problem ranks against other problems. When do they need/want to solve it by?

10 mins - explain the kinds of business your company is in. Don't get too deep yet, this is a chance for your customer to emphasize with the business problems you can solve.  Don't go off the reservation though, this needs to be brief but show how you might be able to help.

15 mins - ask how they'd like to proceed. Don't assume they need to see a technical demo, or have a business case built for them.  Demos should be used to prove a point. You should use this point as a chance to go back into their problems and start to ask how they would like to try and solve the business problems, what kinds of solutions they have already looked at.  What is the alternative way to solve this problem if your company didn't exist?

5 mins - suggest ways that you could work together.  Use their definitions of problems and solutions - not yours.  You want them to decide how they want to solve this.  The problem is theirs to solve, not yours.  If you have multiple people from their company in the meeting, try to promote discussion between them.  They trust each other more than they trust you.  Try to use this to build. Look for actions that build a relationship, or sealing some business that is mutually beneficial.

Now - this could be a close to the meeting.  I have gone to many customer 'demo' meetings and never performed a demo, sometimes not even using powerpoint or my laptop at all.  You can even make a sale without doing this.  However, if they have expressed an interest at seeing something, then do some brief demo or show reports to help show potential solutions to the problems.  Try to promote discussion as you do this.  It shouldn't be you telling them facts or saying "You should buy this because..."

You could also defer this technical session if you feel that the main audience for that is not there.

What do you get out of a meeting like this:

  • You understand their business problem
  • You know what the alternative is
  • You know when they are trying to solve it by.
  • You get a feeling for if they like your solution

And with these answers, you should be able to build a relationship and hopefully develop some business.  If they aren't a good fit for your company, you won't waste the next few months finding out why and explaining it to your management.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Forbes: Is Oracle Considering Buying HP?

Now this would be a huge shake up of the IT sector - and what would be the pros and cons if Oracle buys HP?


  • Another platform that people use to run Oracle - HPUX - would be owned by Oracle
  • Oracle would suddenly have a ton of consumer users buying Printers, Tablets, Laptops and Desktops
  • SEs in both companies should prove to be more valuable - in cross selling opportunities.

  • Does Oracle as a company have the capability of dealing with so many customers?  
  • HP has a huge volume business 
  • What does Oracle know about Hardware?
  • What does Oracle know about desktops/laptops/tablets - end users in general?
  • What happens to all the cool SUN stuff...

I found out about this in this article at Forbes

Monday, August 8, 2011

This Tech Guy video made me cry!

I just love this video - and I am sure all of us have worked with users as dumb as this one...

Still if you are an SE like the tech guy in the video - try and do something more productive with all of your spare time!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Job Description for Sales Engineering jobs

Ever wanted to quickly write up a job description to hire more SEs?
O*Net has a load of descriptions for each part of the job ad, including the different tasks, tools, qualifications, and industry information.  I found it pretty handy in telling my HR department exactly what we needed for a particular role.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top 10 Worst Practices in Sales Engineering today

I recently found this Brooks group blog on Selling.  Jeb Brooks describes it as:
Sales Evolution is a B2B Sales Blog for curious people. We talk about things like sales training, sales management, sales assessments, sales leadership, prospecting, and sales relationship building. 
Anyway, I was driven to the blog by this post on the 10 worst practices in selling today which I found to be a quick list of things SEs should also be very wary of -of course I am sure we can adapt them to Sales Engineering in particular:
  1. Don't tailor your demo for each customer
  2. Jump straight into the tech demo
  3. Sales engineers don't do prospecting
  4. Complain about the performance/look/functionality of the product
  5. Tell the customer each step of the development history of the product 
  6. Call the product a solution without understanding the problem
  7. Lie and say the product does everything they want!
  8. Drill into every feature
  9. Allow the rest of the sales team to take all the actions
  10. Don't come back to the customer with answers to your take-home questions
 I am sure SEs around the world will come up with a better list. If you do - I will publish it!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Suggested Reading for SEs

This is my reading list of top SE related books.  I am constantly adding to it, so please comment on this if you feel I am missing something.

Mastering Technical Sales
- Understand how successful Sales Engineering organisations are run, and what all levels of SEs should do to continually improve.  This is the bible of Sales Engineering!

On the Back of the Napkin - Being able to sketch up your ideas and how your solution can help customers is more flexible than sticking with a rigid set of slides.  It also makes it easier to connect with your audience.

Presentation Zen - Sometimes slides are a good part of a presentation though, but don't kill your customers with Death by Powerpoint.  

Great Demo!
- Giving a high quality demo is something that needs to be tailored to the customer and situation. Great Demo! is an excellent book which may change the way you conduct demonstrations.

Customer Centric Selling - make sure you understand how your sales team is trying to connect to their customers.  There are many different sales methodologies, and as part of the team, make sure you understand the strategy/

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Just to show that nothing in sales is necessarily new, this book will help you understand connecting to people and making sure you focus on what is important to your customers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sales Engineer Interview Questions

This post has been updated and new content is in  How to Answer Sales Engineer Interview Questions

Found this little gem online looking for some well thought out interview questions (both on the giving and receiving side here).

It brings me to thinking about hiring good SEs and how you validate the best candidates during an interview. Of course good SEs might be hard to hire, so how would you suggest identifying the best people for the job? For me, behavioral questions which find previous situations which they've performed the required activities and drilling into their ability to execute on them and the breadth of their experiences is key.

The thing with SEs is you don't want to end up with a good implementer or consultant without the sales know-how, or a person with the sales ability but lacking in the technical depth. So you have to test both of these aspects, and find a balance between the two.

The next step, finding a good Sales Engineer Manager, is another chestnut. Finding someone respected by SEs usually means one of them, and then finding a good SE that can manage other SEs well - that is key. So then you test yet another ability and find the correct balance of the three. The best job interview site also had an article on the Manager Q&A for interviews in case you are interested.

I would be very interested if anyone wants to comment on send in some tried and trusted SEquestions as a comment here!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Salesforce Debuts A More Social Service Cloud 3 With Chatter, Facebook And Twitter Integrations

Following on from my last post on Enterprise 2.0 and Social Media, allows for Chatter, Facebook and Twitter interactions with customers, and allows converting wall posts by customers on Facebook into cases within Salesforce...  More in this article at techcrunch

What's the point?  I guess it allows the business to get closer to its customers, and use their suggestions and criticisms quickly and easily within the business.  And that includes SEs...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Emerging Enterprise 2.0 technologies

I like the idea of using Social media within the enterprise to better the spread of information and knowledge.  Most companies these days trade on being a thought leader in their particular niche or niches.  The more that the general employ knows about the business, the better they will react to opportunities. I was reading Andrew McAfee - Harvard Business Review about company knowledge

He speaks of the take-up of internet technologies within the business and enterprise community, and how the most recent Web 2.0 changes are spreading through the community and show up in the general internet as Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.  Of course not many businesses want to air their dirty laundry in these open forums, so how do these technologies pervade into the Enterprise and what he calls Enterprise 2.0?

While he focuses on what kinds of companies might explore these technologies and options, I would like to focus on what technologies are enabling the enterprise in these areas and how they may help.

Many organisations use wiki sites internally to power their knowledge generation, and this can range from free tools such as or, or could be commercial pieces that interact with the external website or the support or customer site.  The benefits of this are naturally to enable customers with information faster than before, but to still allow employees to collaborate and inform each other internally.  Additionally this kind of information can emerge through the corporate blog or twitter feed (or even Facebook page).

Another aspect is that systems like now come with a twitter-like service called Chatter, complete with mobile device support, tagging, linking to objects within the system.  This allows for open discussion on business opportunities, partners, groups and so on, all within the standard platform for keeping sales and CRM related data.

Large enterprises will even have roles for people to manage and support this kind of information sharing to ensure that the good ideas float to the top and that the less important or relevant discussions and documents are relegated to deeper nodes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Billion dollar Software Piracy!

I think the Oracle/SAP case highlights the need to be sure that you are entitled to use the software you have in the business.  It doesn't matter if you are a big software giant or a small office firm.

Software Magazine - Piracy Judgment Against SAP

The key thing here is that SAP used Oracle software to try and take customers away from Oracle.  The two companies differed in their opinion of the damages from Billions (Oracle) to $41 million (SAP).  In the end the jury decided the billions were justified.

Something to be very mindful of, when handling other people's IP.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dropbox and Google Docs integration?

I spotted this article on ZDNET a few weeks ago.  Wouldn't it be great if your Google Docs were more accessible through Dropbox?

Having been a big user of both technologies, my problem with Google Docs is that it sits outside of the standard file sharing and usage. If it were more accessible I think it would quickly become more mainstream.

Dropbox is a service which allows for sharing a folder (and sub-folders) of files between your computers, and the capability of sharing them with a anyone else using Dropbox, or even a public URL share.  It also can create a web interface for people to view your shared pictures.

If the two were to integrate, it would mean having your Google docs on all of your computers, and having them up to date everywhere, so even offline copies would update what you have in your online repository.