Do Sales Engineers Need Their Own Opportunity Management System?

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Phil Janus, founder of salesengineering.com, thinks so. After chatting with him and seeing a brief demo, I think it’s great to see some attention to this important role. But more focus is needed on skills development, not just tracking performance.

Janus certainly has the credentials to understand what SEs need, with nearly two decades of sales engineering experience at high-tech firms like Sybase, UniSQL, and Siemens Pyramid. He founded salesengineering.com in 1997. Originally named TechSellEnts, the new .com name was established in May of 2007 to better reflect the company’s intent to provide a community and solutions for SEs.

I spent the early part of my IBM career as an SE. It was the most fun I ever had at Big Blue! SEs got to focus on solving customer problems without direct quota responsibility. Yet we were clearly part of the overall sales team and received bonuses and rewards for top performance.

Still, I’m not sure how I’d react to the tracking/monitoring approach that Janus is building in SEplanit, which allows SE managers to use a dashboard to “monitor SE performance metrics such as solution sales funnel revenue and quality, time to solution closure, and solution win rate.”

Sales reps are none too fond of heavy-handed measurements, and some (most?) SFA failures can be traced to too much “big brother” attention. I guess it’s a sign of the times…

Anyway, everyone has to be more accountable these days, why not SEs? The dashboard should help manage “solution pipelines” better and spot problems earlier.

For more experienced SEs involved in the account selling strategy, I thought the “stakeholder analysis” and “circle of influence” diagrams were quite useful.

Thinking back to my own time as an SE, I would have preferred more focus in SEplanit on helping me excel, not just tracking what I’m doing. But that’s not the focus of this solution.

Janus says SEplanit is “not designed to improve the SE’s tactical skills such as demos, proof-of-concepts, RFPs, etc.” Rather, it’s designed improve process-oriented pre-sales skills with techniques like:

  • structured analysis
  • models (circle of influence and project plan)
  • checklists
  • reverse engineering
  • divide-and-conquer
  • sales intelligence re-use
  • documentation

There is some overlap with existing SFA tools. Janus says that most of his 50 customers are in high-tech, and that Siebel and Salesforce.com are the SFA solutions commonly used. So integration on data fields like account name, opportunity name and stakeholders is planned for the future.

SEplanit is in beta now, expected to be generally available in September as an on-premise installed application. List pricing is planned for $49/user/month. But in 2008, an on-demand version may be available too.

What do you think? Is the time right for an SFA-like tool designed specifically for Sales Engineers? Or is this a case of automation running amuck?

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