Hire for Then: The Future Sales Engineer

The sales world is changing and so the role of the SE is changing too. Our PreSales Leadership Collective Executive Summit session featured three PreSales leaders from Slack discussing how they’re approaching SE hiring, training, and scaling their teams in the new sales environment. Our speakers were:


Matt Marque, Principal Sales Engineer at Slack

Vanessa Martin, Solutions Engineering Leader, West & Central at Slack

Zach Lawryk, Senior Director, Solutions Engineering - West and Central


PreSales and Sales Trends


One major shift is the sheer size of the technology market and growth. Just in the Martech world alone, the market grew from 150 companies in 2011 to more than 8,000 in 2020. Not only is the market bigger, more crowded, and more competitive for companies - it’s also more confusing for buyers to navigate.


Also, buyers have dwindling patience for the traditional B2B sales cycle. Buyers are looking for a self-serve sales cycle like they find in the B2C world, which impacts our ability to build relationships and get that valuable discovery. Buyers are also under pressure internally to justify buying our products, so we’re tasked with helping buyers sell to their own internal buyers.


And finally, the final buyer revolution is information parity. AEs and SEs no longer hold all the information about products - buyers are really well-informed, which makes things interesting. Buyers are typically 70% of the way through the buyer journey before they ever talk to a salesperson or SE. Informed buyers are good buyers, but they’re looking for different kinds of interaction and authentic, non-fluffy content. We’re now being compared to the B2C buying cycle, unfairly or not.


In some ways, selling has never been harder.


To bridge gaps, we need to accept this and find ways to adapt. Those organizations who can pull this off will have a huge advantage over those who can’t or won’t.


Customers expect more personalized experiences but they’re less likely to commit to discovery. “Why should I help you sell your own product?”


But even when we miss the mark, customers appreciate the effort to understand their business. Selling business outcomes is the present and the future. SEs today need to understand all of that and bring a customer’s priorities into focus.


How Slack Approaches SE Scaling


They have a three-part strategy here.


  1. Solution overviews. They developed these when they were starting to sell into the challenging enterprise space. The SE team maintains all the decks of these overviews (about 100) and they have the most valuable propositions for Slack by vertical. These slides have product screenshots and gifs, and start with a more generic hypothesis and then move to more specialized ones once you get to know the prospect.


They use these slides to float ideas to customers - sometimes they don’t even demo. The higher-level breakdowns are great for champions and executives too. And they’re great learning tools for the team as new people come aboard - like flashcards to help them internalize the value of Slack.


  1. Slack Connect. Creating connections that last has gotten harder. They used to have the luxury of business dinners, in-person meetings, and travel - but no longer with Covid. Deals are more complex with buyers, so you really need to deepen connections without spending eight straight hours on Zoom.


Using slack Connect works really well for this. It also creates a record for the future of what went into business decisions and came out of conversations. And it creates a more personalized relationship with less friction, driving loyalty throughout the sales process.


  1. Advanced visualizations. They asked the SE team to come up with short video demos - like snippets - and then used Consensus to bring those snippets together in a choose-your-own-adventure format. Customers can decide which videos they want, when they want to watch them, and share them internally to become our champions.


It’s worked so well that they’re growing the video library. And they’re looking into other demo tools as well to help scale while increasing personalization.


Use Strategy to Scale


Simplify everything before you engage in a complex scaling strategy. Begin by asking: what will you gain by giving SEs time back? Root in the why before exploring opportunities for scale.


Next, take stock of where your SEs spend their time in the sales cycle. The best way to do this is through a qualitative survey, because it’s helpful to have SEs give you perspective on where they’re spending their time.


When they did this at Slack, they collected three kinds of info: opportunities, activity data, and the duration of activity. They found where SEs were spending time on deals - mostly not on customers but on back-office tasks and doing technical prep for demos, which was not where they wanted them to spend their time.


To allow more opportunity for scale, Slack split those less-valuable activities off into a demo engineering role which was a new function at the time. This freed up SEs to spend time on more value-oriented customer-facing activities.


This kind of analysis doesn’t fit in a particular stage of growth - can work for small or large companies. It’s a healthy and helpful check-in even if you have other methods of tracking this data - it’s interesting to see how they match up.


Finally, share those survey results with your sales executives. It's one thing to ask for resources in new tools, and another thing for the executives to understand why you’re doing that. Together you can make a strategic decision to scale successfully.


The Path Forward

  • Evaluate your competencies - do they support the modern SE framework?

  • Find smart opportunities for scale.

  • Adapt your enablement - don’t just train SEs on product expertise, also develop their solution skill set and how to use modern technologies.

  • Take stock of your process - evaluate hiring and enablement processes to make sure they’re adopted those competencies.

  • Product expertise is temporary - the modern SE is forever.



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