The 3 Principles of Aligning With Peer Teams
Alignment with your peer teams is critical to success in your role as a sales engineering leader (really any leadership role). Alignment means that you know what they are doing, they know what you are doing, and both leaders and their teams understand how what you are doing relates back to the higher-level goals of the organization.
There are many potential peer teams to a pre-sales (aka sales engineering, solution consulting, etc.) team. You need to ruthlessly prioritize your alignment touch points based on your individual situation and start with the most critical ones. In my experience, I have found that pre-sales needs to communicate and work daily with sales, sales operations, and product teams. This is not discounting all of the other good working relationships you need to develop with marketing, finance, post-sales, and services, etc. - but if these relationships and workflows are not working smoothly, everything else is going to suffer.
I am a huge believer in Essentialism, so I have tried to distill my approach into 3 principles that you can implement immediately.
Principle 1 - The Transparency Rule
Principle 2 - Optimize Together
Principle 3 - Prove Impact
The Transparency Rule
You must have channels for both ad-hoc communication (like whatever instant messenger tool you pick) and regularly scheduled catch-ups. I start from a perspective of "Nothing beats face to face communication based on personal relationships", and go from there. If there is anything urgent or if there is even a chance of miscommunication, someone should pick up the phone and call.
Transparency means being candid - like the airports say, "if you see something, say something." If there is friction in the sales motion, you have to first acknowledge and identify the issue before you can fix it. My approach is to encourage sales engineers to talk directly with their sales counterpart with honest and open feedback, minus the attitude.
A common example is newer sales reps opening up a meeting, doing introductions, and then turning the entire rest of the meeting over to the sales engineers. That is not effective team selling, to put it lightly. Encourage peer to peer communication, and if their peer is not on the same page or continues to ignore the feedback, then you escalate to a discussion with managers involved.
All communication needs to flow both directions, and faster is better. If the product team needs to be able to quantify the revenue impact of releasing feature A versus feature B, you as a Presales leader are uniquely well-positioned to supply that information. Establish a way to capture that data and report it out. Automation trumps manual processes.
To implement The Transparency Rule, do this:
Build effective working relationships - know whom to call
Create and monitor agreed upon communication cadences - think weekly meetings and QBRs
Be Real - encourage feedback and give feedback in both directions
What do your peer leaders care about? If it is getting prospects in front of a demo as fast as possible, then you both need to optimize for that result. One of my responsibilities is ensuring that my team is not investing time better spent elsewhere on under-qualified or un-qualified deals. In order to have that discussion with sales leadership or other teams, you first need baseline data to show what time is spent on Closed-Lost deals and then dig in to figure out if qualification and problem-solution fit are driving those losses.
I have a favorite concept that applies in a range of situations called 'Define Success'. It is certainly appropriate from the beginning of a sales motion to find out what the prospect is looking to achieve and what you can agree on as success criteria, and it also works well for getting aligned with your peer leaders. What does success look like for your teams working together? Faster demos? Better discovery checklists? Helping new sales reps ramp to quota faster?
I am seeing a trend towards Demo Automation for smaller deals or engaging prospective buyers earlier in the customer journey. In watching leaders that have successfully delivered projects to roll out this automation, I have seen repeated references to partnerships being a critical success factor. If the sales leadership and sales team are not on board, you are wasting time and money recording video content.
To optimize together, do this:
Define Success - identify the metrics that get you to goal
Measure What Matters - Capture and Monitor the data on a daily basis
Course Correct - make adjustments as needed until you get there
As a PreSales leader, it is not enough just to do a great job - not if you aspire to grow your career into more senior leadership roles. You have to let others - specifically your peers in leadership - know the impact that you and your team are having on the business overall and their team's results in particular.
Your cadence for impact reporting should be quarterly at a minimum, ideally weekly once your systems are in place. I find that reviewing what is working and what is not working together with your peer leaders is essential at the beginning of every fiscal quarter - also known as QBRs or Quarterly Business Reviews.
There are several ways that you can compile the data you need, but my preference is to automate this data collection and presentation whenever possible. Many pre-sales leaders rely on their CRM (because that is where the opportunity revenue data typically lives) and add or customize objects to track their PreSales activities.
We currently use a solution called Hero by Vivun to track our activities and deliverables, and it comes with out-of-the-box Salesforce dashboards and reports that I refer to on a daily basis and share with peer leadership. Your tools are only as good as your process - if you have not thought deeply about how you schedule and support demos, it will limit your ability to show a positive impact.
To Prove Impact, do this:
Know Your Numbers - identify what your target audience cares about
Tell a Story - show your plan to get to a happy place and what you need to get there
Managing relationships with peer teams and leaders is something that many leaders have overlooked early in their careers and been burned by - myself included. Doing a great job is just a baseline expectation in most organizations, but it is hard to even get to that stage without productive horizontal working relationships. It sounds like common sense, but it is not uncommon to be exhausted after managing up and managing down, leaving peer relationships to get whatever energy you have leftover.
Stand out from the crowd - implement a system that ensures transparent communications with your peer teams, optimize together through mutually beneficial projects, and prove your team impact all the way up to the board level.
David is currently Vice President, Global Sales Engineering at MRI Software and member of the PreSales Leadership Collective.
Connect with David on LinkedIn.