The Cranky Product Manager Responds to the Cranky Sales Engineer – Part 1

Earlier, we had an excellent guest post from The Cranky Sales Engineer. The Cranky Product Manager thought much of it was brilliant, but nevertheless some parts irritated her.  Enough that the Cranky Product Manager’s response takes TWO posts. This is part 1.

Let’s start with this paragraph:

3. Do not tell the Cranky Sales Engineer how excited you are about the future—The Cranky Sales Engineer makes money selling real things that exist today…

OK, Cranky Sales Engineer. The Cranky Product Manager is more than happy to oblige. No excitement — promise!  She’ll get up in front of a class of SEs and say she thinks the future BLOWS CHUNKS.  (Oh wait, are desperation and panic forms of excitement?)

But that’s not what you meant, Cranky Sales Engineer, is it?

So maybe you’re suggesting the Cranky Product Manager forgo the roadmap presentation?  No problem, the Cranky Product Manager is happy to comply…. but only if YOU AND THE REST OF THE SALES DROIDS PROMISE YOU WON’T ASK FOR THE ROADMAP FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR.

Yup, you got it — one of the main reasons the roadmap preso is in Sales Kickoff is because you Sales Droids ASK FOR IT — nay, DEMAND IT.  And if you don’t want it now, you’ll definitely want it in a few months.  Because you want to know what’s coming up, jackass.  Don’t pretend you don’t.  Seriously. The Cranky Product Manager has NEVER met a Sales Engineer who didn’t want to know what was planned for the product. Ever. Get over yourself, already.

And hats off to you for wanting to sell what exists today. That makes you a rarity among Sales Droids. Really.


When simple features are missing or broken today, do not tell the Cranky Sales Engineer that they will be fixed in 2010 unless you want the Cranky Sales Engineer to start selling your product in 2010.

Guess what?  EVERY product has missing and broken features*.  As a Sales Engineer, you might have no idea, and your stomach might churn when you hear the truth**, but many mature, industry-leading products regularly ship with well over 10K known bugs and feature requests.  Yep. (Don’t tell the customers.)

So if you want to wait until everything is fixed before you start selling, well you might want to look for a new profession.

Next objectionable paragraph:

6. Do not have more than seven words on a slide

You gotta be kidding.  This is not a Guy Kawasaki-style psych-up speech.  This is heavy, technical content that you need to know cold.  The content cannot be found anywhere else.  It’s stuff you’ll want to refer to later.   7 words per slide is not appropriate and not adequate.

Ok, ok.  In theory, this MIGHT work if people typically remembered 100% of a presentation instead of  just 10%.  And it might work if the Cranky Sales Engineer and the rest of the Droids didn’t show up to PM presentations late/drunk/hungover, or if they didn’t just skip the presentations altogether.

As a result of the above, plus an SE turnover rate that matches fruit flies, you Sales Droids NEED slides that you can read later, that have enough content for you to learn with out a voice-over.

Don’t suggest that the Cranky PM record the presentation — she tested that idea and has hard data proving that printable PPTs are more effective and more used than recordings.

(To be continued…. see the next post.)


* In enterprise software, at least. The Cranky Product Manager appreciates that several industries (medical, government, hardware) have much higher quality standards, but she assumes the Cranky Sales Engineer would not be bitching about a released product being broken if he were in those industries.

** Rest assured, the Cranky Product Manager also feels physically ill when looking at the huge-osity of the bug list.

  • The Cranky Product Manager

    Howard, Steve – you’re right. The cranky pm wrote this article assuming that Sales Engineers were trained separately from the Account Reps – that’s the way Dysfunctosoft and every other company she’s been at does it. Those two groups have completely different needs. So, if the Cranky Sales Engineer had to sit through a joint-SE-Account Rep training, well he has every right to be cranky and would definitely have many of the complaints he listed.

  • Steve Johnson

    I think the CPM missed some of the point of the CSE’s post. He was saying, “Don’t give rah-rah, cheerleader, marketing crap.” Give me technical detail and then get out of the way.

    You’ve been to these sessions where the marketing folks pass out shirts and caps that say, “2009: A year to remember!” or “We’re gonna KICK BUTT!” (But as for product, yeh, sorry, nothing new this year. SSDD.)

    In my experience, sales engineers have little patience for marketing fluff and the people who spew it. Instead, give ‘em the straight poop, give ‘em a day in a room with the new technology, and leave ‘em alone.

  • Steve Johnson

    As for recording sales training, interesting idea but I agree with the CPM. Doesn’t work. Anything you give to sales people will be given to customers, often unseen. Confidential means “give to customers faster.”

    Give a Guy K prez to the sales droids (“product=good. Discounting=bad. Bar = open); give the SEs access to the product so they can learn it themselves. And then write sales tools and collateral and competitive information assuming that the customer will get them.

  • Howard Pressman

    I agree with both the CPM and the CSE both. Here’s the problem. When we as product managers are presenting, we’re not presenting to SE’s or Sales droids (god bless ‘em ’cause they bring in the money); we present to both. So what the sales droids need and what the SE’s want is different. In my experience, the SE’s want to have a paper talking about what each feature is, how it works etc., and the sales droids want someone else to be brought in to talk about all the stuff that they aren’t going to read no matter what is on the slide……

    So I’m a bit surprised that the SE here is leaning more on the sales droid side. But the answer is to have a separate session for the SE’s (a round table type discussion, since I’m sick of doing Powerpoints) to discuss what they need without putting the hung over sales droids in a coma.

    Oh, and as for roadmaps; every sales person wants one because it is soooo much easier to sell what doesn’t exist yet than what is available now and competitors may have.

  • Geoffrey Anderson


    Great point. I know that we (my company) often get our competitors “freshest” presentation material within 48 hours of first presenting, so I have to assume the flow goes the other way. I have tried distributing slideware as encrypted PDF, encrypted PPT (what a joke either of these are), or as hard copy only, but the sale management leans mightily on me to releast it in native format.

    I would love for there to be a secure vehicle to get the goods into the hands of our sales engineers, and not worry that I am feeding the competitive analysis by my competition.

    Of course, my boss is super trusting, and insists that We (my team) give the sales team any and everything, including the weak points.


    Great rebuttal. I look forward to the second post. I share much of your pains. I have one guy who gripes like the CSE, yet when he was exposed to the sausage making innards of the product management world, he ran screaming. He still has unrealistic expectations (Give away all the good features free, sell nothing, help the sales team by just discounting to the lowest level, yada yada yada).


  • Bill S. Preston Esquire

    As far as #3 goes:

    3. Do not tell the Cranky Sales Engineer how excited you are about the future—The Cranky Sales Engineer makes money selling real things that exist today…

    Tell you what, let’s agree that we won’t get excited about upcoming features, if you stop trying to sell them before they get released.

  • Geoffrey Anderson


    Great spot. 3 years ago, I started adopting the no talk to the sales team before 90 days prior to FCS. That went over like a fart in church. The senior managers kept talking about the upcoming developments to make it look like we were doing things.

    In the last case, letting the cat out of the bag a whole year early, we essentially sent a quite profitable product to 0 bookings for 12 months until its replacement was available. The sales team was waiting for the futures.



  • David Locke

    Yes, “And hats off to you for wanting to sell what exists today. That makes you a rarity among Sales Droids. Really.” I’ve seen sales reps, not SEs, selling the next version long before its release, and doing that meant that they were not selling the latest version. It killed the company. Where was our cash flow?

    On the slides, use those six words to sell the SEs on listening to the heavy technical talk to come.

    On the confidential, insert some disinformation that you want your competitors to have. Insert different disinformation in each presentation. Eventually, you will know who the source is. If this sounds nuts, I used to use a product where the marcom said it supported MS Project, hardly, just barely, and only if you could see all the reporting, exporting, cleaning, and importing involved–tasks that were not automated. We paid for a subscription, so they had to give us something–a marcom release!

    In another company, we had a market leading competitor that read all our marcom and beat us to market. Competitors don’t really need your presentations. If you listen to the same customers you will converge unless you actively change your vector of differentiation on some dimension in each release.

  • Richard

    Have to agree with the CSE on only 7 words per slide. Anymore and they’re not listening to you, they’re reading the bullet points.

    Prepare a handout with the bullet points and keep to 7 words a slide.

  • David R. Johnson

    Cranky Product Manager is entertaining, but insightful!

  • Mark Sigler

    Basic presentation skills suggest limiting the number of bullet points, and please don’t read the slides to me… I can read. Elaborate on the key [bullet] points, but don’t read. Maybe you could do a whiteboard session and make it interactive?

    It’s a shame that the field and corp are so disconnected that they only interact once a year at kickoff, but that’s how many corps run things. Routine updates from to PM to the SE’s, and better yet, get the SE’s into the lab with the PM’s to learn new features.

    Finally, I think I’m a better AE (Sales Rep) when I know how the product works; and I’m a better SE (pre-sales) resource when I understand the benefits and how to convey those in a compelling way to the prospect; and I’m a better PM (prod mgmt/prod mktg) when I spend time in the field with the AE’s and SE’s and customers to understand what works/sells.

  • Janet Jozefak

    TOO FUNNY RT @crankypm: New blog post: The Cranky Product Manager Responds to the Cranky Sales Engineer – Part 1

  • Penelope Product

    No wonder the Sales Engineer is cranky. It must be so lonely and soul defeating to be the only Sales Engineer out there wanting to sell “real things that exist today”. Poor thing.