Sales Engineers juggle 12 major responsibilities within their role, according to Gartner, not including the internal work they do for other teams…which, as you know, really piles on.
It’s not that other departments de-value PreSales input. Rather, they value SE expertise almost too much and want access to your team’s time.
Some amount of cross-functional or out-of-scope work comes with the territory. But these requests increase SE burnout risk when other departments lean on PreSales too much to compensate for their own deficiencies.
Is SE involvement masking a lack of technical enablement for customer-facing teams? Are PreSales team members spending more time on discovery and custom solution architecting because Sales isn’t pulling their weight?
Because of the perceived imbalance of power between SE leadership and Sales leadership, for example, some PreSales leaders find themselves at the mercy of cross-functional requests.
Here are tips for establishing an equal partnership with Sales and setting firm boundaries to protect SE bandwidth, without starting a fight.
1. Calculate Time Waste
In order to understand where, as a leader, you need to intervene to protect your team’s time, you need to have an accurate understanding of where their time is being wasted. Many leaders are hesitant about activity tracking, but some understanding of where SEs spend their efforts is necessary to empower them to say no to unreasonable requests. John Care refers to this as having “data to kick out, not kick down.”
2. Define the Rules of Engagement
If other departments don’t have restrictions on what they can ask SEs for, they will ask PreSales for everything. But, maybe don’t lead with “this is what SEs won’t do.” Rather, offer Sales a menu of what PreSales team members will do and when to request each type of action or project.
Within XC, one team limited Sales and Post-Sales teams to a very small set of specific “plays” that SEs will run. They shared clear expectations on what was needed from Sales to run these engagements, as well as what SEs would deliver and how long it would take. Over time, PreSales leadership can roll out more “plays,” but they’ve seen incredible demand for and success with the existing options.
On the SE side, this formulaic approach makes cross-functional work repeatable and scalable. Rather than starting from scratch every time, they have a set process or framework and can work more quickly and effectively.
3. Where Possible, Gate Access to PreSales
In XC, we’ve seen teams implement request forms for SE assistance. Rather than going to individual SEs, requesters must explain their specific needs, parameters, etc. They submit the form to managers, who decide if the request is appropriate for PreSales and delegate it based on bandwidth/expertise. Managers must be empowered to act fast on these requests, at risk of creating a backlog.
This type of team member request process can be used to ensure SEs cannot get pulled into deals that don’t meet qualification criteria, or that SEs aren’t ambushed with customer calls with no explanation or preparation. On the Sales side, it ensures documentation of key details if MEDDIC fields are left empty.
We saw one PreSales leadership team gate access in such a way that kept both buyers and Sales accountable. They created a discovery form, distributed by Sales and completed by Customers before SEs can be assigned to opportunities. Completion of this form allows PreSales to proactively solution rather than sitting on lengthy information-gathering meetings. This early documentation also surfaces deal risk before hours of SE work are wasted, ensuring only truly qualified deals progress through the sales funnel.
Most PreSales leaders want their SE org to have an equal seat at the table with Sales, Product, Marketing, etc. Establishing effective boundaries with other departments is key to your success in being seen as partners, rather than subordinates.