Guest Post: The Cranky Sales Engineer on how to get R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The Cranky Sales Engineer has been truly touched by the tales of abuse heaped upon his brethren in Marketing (see the Cranky Marketer Posts).  Sitting among a din of the kind of violin music that must surely accompany such tales of woe, the Cranky Sales Engineer helps in the only way he can.  So, to wit, here is The Cranky Sales Engineer’s Guide for Marketing: How to Get the Respect of Sales.

There is ONE major issue the marketing person must understand in order to gain the respect of Sales.  This understanding is easier to come by when one has actually worked in sales (hint: never use the phrase, “well I’ve never been in sales myself”  to try to influence a sales person), but a marketing person who has never carried a bag or a number can still work to intellectually understand the issue.

The marketing person must understand the massive, crushing, and depressing rate of failure that goes into every sale, especially a sale to a new account.  For a smaller product,  you typically call 100 people to find 10 who have some need for the product, but just one who will be able to negotiate the budgetary hurdles necessary to buy the product.

For larger deals (larger being B2B deals of a million dollars or more) a sales person must find at least three million dollars of potential business to guarantee one million dollars of revenue.  The other two million will be lost to budget cuts, organizational changes, and competition.

Unless you can understand, in your gut, the true and alarming rarity of a real deal with real revenue behind it, you will not be able to truly gain the respect of a sales person whose personal fortune is tied to bringing that rare real deal through to closure. Unless you truly get what the sales team is dealing with or asking for, you will be deemed irrelevant to the process of success and shunted aside.  You gain respect, by making the rare live deal happen.  Here are something things to do to gain respect:

Tell the Truth

If a product is not going to be ready in time for the deal, tell the sales person it won’t be ready.  If a feature won’t be out, tell the sales person it won’t be out.  You know what will happen if you do that?  You will probably get yelled at.  Because the sales person has sifted through three tons of dreck to find this one live deal and now you’re saying we don’t have the product the customer is asking for.

When that happens, suck it up and step back.  Let the storm pass and find out why the customer wants the feature.  See if you can get to the solution a different way.  If you can’t give a firm, real, date for when the feature will ship.  Be pessimistic, but be right.

Deliver on Time

If you are the kind of person who delivers when you say you will, the Cranky Sales Engineer can build mountains with you.  But if you don’t deliver, you are just another problem to be managed or worked around.  Being a problem is not the road to respect.

Work in Field Time not Factory Time

Things happen fast in the field.  When a customer asks a question, a clock starts.  A fast clock.  A clock that wants an answer in a day.  A clock that cannot wait for everyone to get together and have a meeting to discuss the question, and that meeting will happen next week because that’s when we have that meeting, and no, Cranky Sales Engineer, you can’t tell the customer anything before that meeting, because it will probably be wrong, and yes you’ll have to stand out there, with your thumb up your ass, looking like an idiot because we can’t move any faster than getting an answer to you in a week.

The field works fast.  If you want respect, you need to work fast too.

Earning Respect

Folks in marketing have a handicap when it comes to gaining respect.  The things they do are just so damn intangible that its hard to say whether marketing has gone well or gone poorly.  This is a handicap when it comes to dealing with the Cranky Sales Engineer who is measured on hard dollars and being connected to successful deals.  The Cranky Sales Engineer doesn’t have time to figure out if marketing is really working.

Instead, the Cranky Sales Engineer has been called into an account because, after hundreds of phone calls, and dozens of meetings a sales person has found a real live wiggling deal that could actually result in some money.  And now, at this crucial point, the sales person needs the Cranky Sales Engineer to make the product hum and demonstrate to the customer that the CSE’s company is worth the money.

This is when marketing can earn the respect of the sales force, by recognizing the difficulty of finding a real deal and responding quickly and accurately when a deal presents itself.

Marketers who recognizes the difficulty of finding a real opportunity and responds to calls for help with urgency and accuracy will be respected.

The rest will be ignored.


  1. Fiz

    I think half the SE’s I deal with are just like the cranky SE. So please tell me – when I do win/loss analysis, my first pass is to talk to sales and the SE’s. Why is every win due to perseverence and tenacity of the sales team, or the superior negotiating skills, and why is every loss due to a some feature, or lack of preferred pricing?

  2. Service Pro

    Funny to hear an SE skeptical of those who never ‘carried a bag’. Start working on commission (and no, i don’t mean a bonus or commissions based on “team performance”) and then we can talk.

  3. (another) Cranky Marketer

    The cranky SE seems to have an interesting perspective on what Marketing can actually *do* for him/her.

    Marketing can craft incredible collateral, drive demand like nobody’s business and build a strategy around what product/engineering tells us will be ready.

    Problem is, we can only go so far in actually delivering a feature or fix, even though we know it’s needed as much as you do. We probably got where we are without ever crafting a “hello world,” and while we understand the product in and out, we can’t build it. Oh we want to, but it’s not where our expertise lies.

    I would hope that my marketing brethren would tell the Cranky SE the truth as often as we can (regular sales, maybe not, but the SE are a special breed, and we generally love you), and I hope that the Cranky SE realizes that engineering and product don’t always tell *us* the truth. Don’t shoot the messenger, man!

  4. Gander

    I am with Fiz on this. I do not lie to the sales team. I have NEVER lied to the sales team. I tell them the hard truth (unlike my bosses, or former boss I should say, that told the sales team anything rosy they wanted to hear). When they have a question, I will go hunt down the people I need to one on one to get an answer (however, I f*cking hate it when the CSE poo poo’s the truth I deliver, and feels the need to go to engineering directly).

    While I am not strictly marketing, we really have no dedicated marketing role in our organization, so I am the one stop shop (I do have a shared marketing communication team to help with lead generation and collateral production, but I have to do all of the setup for them).

    Just like Fiz, when I do a win/loss analysis, I get huge ego stroking herioics of the sales engineer in the wins column (usually a “Superior Sales” category), and all sorts of “missing feature”, “Can’t meet spec”, “Preferred to stay with a familiar brand” or “poor relationship”.

    I also see that we win > 80% of the cases that we are in. That tells me that my field organization is gaming the system. We finally took away their ability to cull the opps that they wanted to hide (they had a good ride with THAT vector), but now it appears that people are holding their opps off-sheet.

    I have not doubt that sales engineers work hard. I travel with enough of them to know what a life it is, and how hard it can be to make their plan. I truly know what it is like to do 6 countries in Europe in 4 days, eating at gas stations and living out of a suitcase at crappy Mercure hotels (where non-smoking rooms mean that nobody has smoked in them since last week).

    You talk about earning the respect of the sales team, but that respect is a two way street, and while I never ever badmouth sales, I listen to a constant barrage of sales team abuse targeted at me both directly (when they call to ream me a new one) and indirectly via feed back on performance reviews and through the regional sales directors. You SAY you want the truth, but what you really want is the truth that makes your life easier, not what makes the product stronger and will bring the competitor to its knees

    If sales really has such little respect for marketing and product management, they should try to live without it. In my world, I have a sales engineer that can go make a pitch at a solar cell company in an industrial park. While driving into this industrial park, we literally drove by 3 other solar cell makers. Do you think the sales engineer would stop and check in? Maybe you would, but in my world, the answer was an emphatic no. Is it too much to ask a sales engineer to open their eyes, and do some cold calling? 5 months later, and not a single follow up with any of the other companies we drove by…

    Sadly, as one person is trying in the previous blog, I too have been trying to escape the PM role for about 3 years, but it seems that spending 12 years in this role, pretty much paints you into a corner. I think driving a Schwann’s truck might be a better long term career. Certainly would lead to lower blood pressure.

  5. Dave Daniels

    Great job on the post CSE. You captured it. As former SE I can definitely relate.

    @Fiz – you’re wasting your time talking to sales first about win/loss. They will always say price is too high, product sucks when they lose. And despite all the shortcomings I am a masterful salesman when they win. Go straight to the source.

    @Gander – Sales would want nothing more than to live without Marketing. They could finally get to use the stuff they make up but can’t get away with now. Don’t expect SEs to make cold calls. Their sales guys would have a cow. I’ve dreamed of being a greeter at Walmart.

  6. gander

    @Dave – In my world, SE = sales person = account manager. We do not have an organization that segments those roles. It sucks, but that is the way it is. So, in short, I do expect the sales droids to open their eyes, and to introduce themselves to similar prospects when they drive by.

    I agree with you about using Sales for input into win/loss. Real bad idea if you want objective data.

  7. Don MacLennan

    I think the “field time vs. factory time” requirement is crap. If you want to know whether the product in its current version satisfies a customer requirement, get trained on the product. If you want to know whether a feature is on a roadmap, have a current roadmap versus needing to go to product management ad hoc. If you want the roadmap to contain a different feature (which I suspect is what you’re really referring to), there’s no way you’re getting an answer in “field time”. This type of evaluation just takes time. And usually not a day. And usually not on the day you called.

    Having carried a bag for a long time, I understand how nice it would be if product management was on-demand, ready to commit new features at a moment’s notice. Certainly would help close deals. But it’s not the way the product gets built.

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