Part I of this post http://www.definethecloud.net/the-art-of-pre-sales received quite a few page views and positive feedback so I thought I’d expand on it. Last week on the Twitters I made a comment re sales engineers showing value via revenue ($$) and got a lot of feedback. I thought I’d expand on the topic. While I will touch on a couple of points briefly this post is not intended as a philosophical discussion of how engineers ‘should be judged.’ Quite frankly if you’re an engineer the only thing that matters is how you are judged (for the time being at least.) This is about understanding and showing your value. Don’t get wrapped around the axle on right and wrong or principles. While I don’t always follow my own advice I’ve often found that the best way to change the system is by playing by its rules and becoming a respected participant.
A move to pre-sales is often a hard transition for an engineer to make. I discuss some of the thought process in the first blog linked above. This post focuses on transitioning the way in which you show your value. This post is focused on providing some tools to assist in career and salary growth, rather than job performance itself. In a traditional engineering role you are typically graded on performance of duties, engineering acumen and possibly certifications showing your knowledge and growth. When transitioning to a sales engineer role those metrics can and will change. There are several keys concepts that will assist in showing your value and reaping the rewards such as salary increases and promotion.
- Understand the metrics
- Adapt to the metrics
- Gather the data
- Sell yourself
Understand the Metrics
The first key is to understand the metrics on which you are graded. While this seems to be a straightforward concept, it is often missed. This is best discussed up front when accepting the new role. Prior to acceptance you often have more of a say in how those things occur. Each company, organization and even team often uses different metrics. I’ve had hybrid pre-sales/delivery roles where upper management judged my performance primarily on billable hours. This means that the work I did up front (pre-sale) held little to know value, no matter how influential it may have been on closing the deal. I’ve also held roles that focused value primarily on sales influence, basically on revenue. In most cases you will find a combination of metrics used, you want to be aware of these. If you are not focused on the right areas the value you provide may go unnoticed. In the first example mentioned above, if I’d have spent all of my time in front of customers selling deals, but never implementing my value would have been minimized.
Understanding the metrics is the first step, it allows you to know what you’ll be measured on. In some cases those metrics are black and white and therefore easy. For instance at the time I was an active duty Marine, E1-E5 promotion was about 70-80% based on both physical fitness test (PFT) and rifle marksmanship qualification score. These not only counted on their own but were also factored in again into various portions of proficiency and conduct marks which counted for the other portion of promotion. This meant that a Marine could much more easily move up focusing on shooting and pull-ups than job proficiency. This post is not about gaming the system, but that example shows that knowing the system is important.
Adapt to the metrics
Let me preface by saying I do not advocate gaming the system, or focusing solely on one area that you know is thoroughly prized while ignoring the others. That is nothing more than brown nosing, and you’ll quickly lose the respect of your peers. Instead adapt, where needed, to the metrics you’re measured on. It’s not about dropping everything to focus on one area, it’s ensuring you are focusing on all areas that are used to assess your performance. Maybe certifications weren’t important where you were but they’re now required, get on it. Additionally remember that anything that can be easily measured probably is. Intangibles or items of a subjective nature are difficult tools to measure performance on. That doesn’t mean they aren’t/shouldn’t be used it just a fact. Due to that understand the tangibles and ensure you are showing value there.
Gather the data
In a sales organization sales numbers are always going to be key. Every company will use them differently but they always factor in. Every sales engineer at a high level is there to assist in the sale of equipment, therefore those numbers matter. Additionally those numbers are very tangible, meaning you can show value easily. Most organizations will use some form of CRM such as salesforce.com, to track sales dollars and customers. Engineering access to this tool varies, but the more you learn to use the system the better. Showing the value of the deals you spend your time on is enormous, especially if it sets you apart from your peers. Take the time to use these systems in the way your organization intends so that you can ensure you are tied to the revenue you generate.
Sales numbers are a great example but there are many others. If you participate in a standards body, contribute frequently to internal wikis or email aliases, etc. gather that data. These are parts of what you contribute and may go unnoticed, you need to ensure you have that data at your disposal. Having the right data on hand is key to step four; selling yourself.
This may be the most unnatural part of the entire process. Most people don’t enjoy, and aren’t comfortable presenting their own value. That being said this is also possibly the most important piece. If you don’t sell yourself you can’t count on anyone else to do it. When discussing compensation, initially or raise, and promotion always look at it from a pure business perspective. The person that you’re having the discussion with has an ultimate goal of keeping the right people on board for the lowest cost, you have goal of maintaining the highest cost possible for the value you provide. Think of it as bargaining for a car, regardless of how much you may like your sales person you want to drive away with as much money in your pocket as possible.
If you’ve followed the first three steps this part should be easier. You’ll have documentation to support your value along the metrics evaluated, bring it. Don’t expect your manager to have looked at everything or to have it handy. Having these things ready helps you frame the discussion around your value, and puts you in charge. Additionally it shows that you know your own value. Don’t be afraid to present who you are and what you bring to the table. Also don’t be afraid to push back. It can be nerve racking to hear a 3% raise and ask for a 6%, or to push back on a salary offer for another 10K, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Remember you don’t have to make demands, and if you don’t there is no harm in asking.
Phrasing is key here and practice is always best. Remember you are not saying you’ll leave, you’re asking for your value. Think in phrases like, “I really appreciate what you’re offering but I’d be much more comfortable at $x and I think my proven value warrants it.” I’m not saying to use that line specifically but it does ring in the right light. In these discussions you want to show three things:
- That you are appreciative of the position/opportunity
- That you know your value
- That your value is tangible and proven
There are several other factors I always recommend focusing on:
- Teamwork – this is not only easily recognizable as value, it is real value. A team that works together and supports one another will always be more successful than a group of rock stars. Share knowledge freely and help your peers wherever possible, even if they are not tied to the same direct team.
- Leadership - You don’t need a title to lead. Set an example and exemplify what you’d like to see in others. This is one I must constantly remind myself of and fail at often, but it’s key. Lead from the front, people will follow.
- Professionalism – As a Marine we had a saying something to the effect of “Act at the rank you want to be.” Your dress, appearance and professionalism should always be at the level you want to be, not where you were at. This not only assists in getting there, but also in the transition once acquired. Have you ever seen an engineer come in wearing jeans and polo one day, shirt and slacks the next after a promotion? Appears pretty unnatural doesn’t it? If that engineer had already been acting the part it would have been a natural and expected transition.
- Commend excellence – When one of your colleagues in any realm does something above and beyond, commend it. Send a thank you and brief description to them and cc their manager, or to their manager and cc them. This helps them with steps three and four, but also shows that you noticed. Y
- Technical knowledge – While it should go without saying, I won’t let that be. Always maintain your knowledge and stay sharp.
- Know your market value – This can be difficult but there are tools available. One suggestion for this is using a recruiter. A good recruiter wants you to command top dollar because it increases their commission, this combined with their market knowledge will help you place yourself.
Do’s and don’ts
- Do – Self assessments. I never like to walk into a review and be surprised. I do thorough self assessments of myself in the format my employer uses prior to a review. When possible I present my assessment rather than allow the opposite. I always expect to have more areas of improvement listed than they do.
- Don’t – Use ultimatums. The best example of this is receiving another offer and using it to strong arm your employer into more money. If you have an offer you intend to use to negotiate make sure it’s one you intend to take. Also know that this is a one-time tactic, you won’t ever be able to use again with your employer.
- Do - Strive for improvement. Recognize where you can improve. Apply as much honesty as possible to self-reviews and assessments.
- Don’t- Blame. Look for the common denominator, if you’ve been passed multiple times for promotion ask why. Don’t get stuck in the rut of blaming others for things you can improve. Even if it was someone else’s fault you may find something you can do better.
In any professional environment, knowing and showing your value is important. Most of this is specific to a pre-sales role but can be used more widely. The short version is knowing how to show your value and showing it. Remember you work to get paid, even if you love what you do.