Book Review (Part 2): The Sales Engineer Manager’s Handbook

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This post is Part 2 of a 4-part in-depth review of “The Sales Engineer Manager’s Handbook”. Read a summary review and Part 1 here.

As a Presales Manager: How to “Develop and Serve Your People”

In Section 0 (Part 1 of the book review) the authors focused on “Managing Yourself”. In Section 1,  John Care and Chris Daly present nine chapters devoted to the topic of building and developing your team. 

  • RADAR: Recruit, Attract, Develop, Advance, and Retain
  • The Real Cost of Hiring and Firing
  • Introduction to the SE Value Proposition
  • Productivity: I want to Do Great Things
  • Teaming: Who Is On My Team and How Do I Contribute?
  • Winning: Will You Reward Me Fairly and Recognize Me When I Do Great Things?
  • Develop: Will You Invest in Me?
  • Coaching: How Do I Know Where I Stand and How I Can Improve?
  • The Sales Engineer’s Brand

RADAR: Recruit, Attract, Develop, Advance, and Retain

The Sales Engineer Manager’s Handbook

The section starts with “I love acronyms” and they don’t disappoint with the RADAR acronym. In addition, to this team development framework, they add the ABR Mantra: “Always Be Recruiting”. I’ve found this to be particularly true in my own career. If you’re not always recruiting, you’re behind. The authors recommend putting time on your calendar every week for recruiting.

One of the key stats they point out a study that shows that “28% of candidates have backed out of an offer after accepting it.” That’s almost 1 in 3. From a Sales perspective, you might think of recruiting and hiring as a pipeline and, as in Sales, the time between commitment and close is one of the most perilous times. Even though the candidate has made a commitment, they are still prone to being pulled away from their decision by various forces: either a better offer from another employer or their current one. Adam Slovik, one of our advisors at Consensus and experienced former CEO, recently advised us that you always have to be selling to the candidate until the day they come on board. I’d add to that, we need to continue to sell them on the value proposition of joining the team even after they come on board. They need some personal wins both financially and professionally before they will feel completely locked into and committed to their new home.

One of the most interest areas of this chapter for me, was the results of a study done by the authors asking this question: “30 Months from now, what role/job position would you (realistically) like to have as the next step in your career?” You should dive into the meaty results yourself in the book, but one of the interesting takeaways for me is that one in six want to go into Sales but less then half of those become actually successful at doing that.

The Real Cost of Hiring and Firing

My favorite section in this chapter is titled “The Cost of Keeping a Poor Performer”. An error often made by new sales engineering managers is to fire underperforming team members too late, or not at all. So the authors ask the question, “What is the cost of keeping one of your poor performers on the team instead of replacing them?” I particularly like their advice to “not subscribe to the ‘Bad Breath is better than No Breath’ false premise, meaning the fear that you won’t be able to backfill and having a low performer on your team is better than no performer.

After doing the calculations, the “surprising answer is that the overall cost of keeping a poor player is usually remarkably close to the cost of losing an A player!”

Surprising indeed! I think most of us would conclude that losing an A player would be much more detrimental to the organization than keeping a Poor Performer.

Introduction to the Sales Engineer Value Proposition

This chapter begins with this thought provoking statement from a Sales leader. “I can succeed with a mix of A and B players in Sales. I cannot have anything less than A players in my SE team.” – Gary Kennedy, former EVP of US Sales Oracle

The focus in this chapter in on attracting and retaining top “A Player” talent.

The main advice here is to “Develop and Serve Your People”, which they begin to define more broadly than you might suppose. “For maturing SE leaders, ‘your people’ is a growing body of cross functional team members who have a material impact on your success. …sales executives…professional services, customer support, product management, internal partnering organizations, your boss.” They also throw in the mix: your peer SE leaders.

One of the key stats here is that “your best Sales Engineer will get 3.2 firm and formal offers per year.” They emphasize focusing on the RADAR framework to help keeping the value proposition for staying at your organization strong.

For the rest of the review of this section, I will just point out one or two key quotes from each remaining chapter

Productivity: I Want to Do Great Things

  • “The customer has a process too. Do you know their process for buying? Whose process wins?” To state the obvious, as we are engineers, it is always the customer buying process that wins.
  • The priorities of great SEs:
    • Technical Excellence
    • Alignment and partnership with sales
    • Strong customer focus
    • Ownership of their business
    • Making the team better through selfless collaboration
  • “Another way of thinking about these five great SE skills are that they become your expectations of every member of your team.”

Teaming: Who is On My Team and How Do I Contribute?

  • “The most important team your SEs are on is not your team. It’s the team with their rep, their customer, and their selling and delivery partner.” Love this point. It’s where the actual value happens. 
  • “Managers can ensure teams are operating at a high level by focusing our SEs on five traits, habits and behaviors:
    • Trust
    • Conflict
    • Commitment
    • Accountability
    • Results

Winning: Will You Reward Me Fairly and Recognize Me When I Do Great Things?

  • “Never mess with an SEs compensation”
  • “Some of the larger tech companies have six or seven levels for SEs, ranging from Associate up to Master Principal or Distinguished Engineer.”
  • “Don’t be that manager who sees your recognition program as a soul sucking task.”
  • “Sales will always own the recognition of the biggest deal of the quarter, the biggest partner led deal, the biggest this, the biggest that….If we have taken time to discuss our expectations with our SEs, are we not duty-bound to recognize them–privately or publicly–when they do a phenomenal job?”

Develop: Will You Invest In Me?

  • “Hire talent; you can train skills.”
  • “Hire mindset and hire attitude”
  • “A leader is not a job title. …Everyone is a leader, regardless of job title. They lead their mindset, they lead their sales teams, they lead their customers and partners.”

One thing I would add to this area of personal development is that we need give them opportunities to step up to the plate. There is no way to develop more rapidly than having a highly uncomfortable challenge. As a hockey coach once said, the role of a coach is to “trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”

Coaching: How Do I Know Where I Stand and How I Can Improve?

One of my favorite parts of this section is the “formula” for the charcteristics of a “Trusted Manager”.

T=[C+R+I/S] * P

  • T = Trust
  • C = Credibility
  • R=Reliability
  • I=Intimacy
  • S=Self-orientation
  • P=Positivity


This is an excellent section on how to build, keep, and grow your team. Lots to learn for new and experienced managers.

NOTE: This is part 2 of a 4 part book review. See Part 1 here. Parts 3 and 4 to follow.

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