I have a good-news/bad-news type of situation with an SE
in my team. The good news is that he moved across from
our services organization, and is the best SE in the region
as far as his technical product knowledge is concerned. He
can answer every product, feature and capability question
a customer can throw at him. The bad news is that his sales
and business solution skills still have many gaps and areas
That’s not unusual, except this SE is highly reluctant to
receive any kind of coaching and very resistant to
feedback. I need some ideas as I genuinely believe he has
the potential to be our #1 SE – if only he’d listen. I’m
hesitant to play the “I’m the boss, so pay attention” card, but
may soon have to do that. Help!
Laura - Boston, USA
Thanks for the question – to use your analogy, the good
news is that it’s not an uncommon situation, the bad news
is that you’ll have to do some more work before engaging
in some serious coaching.
Like most things in pre-sales, it pays to do additional
discovery beforehand. I’d go have a word with his former
boss on the services side and see if he has exhibited this
behavior before. I’d also speak with a couple of the more
senior salespeople he has worked with over the past
months and get their impressions. This can help you
determine if his issue is with you (personally or because of
gender), or if it is general “smartest guy in the room”
Next step is to examine what “reluctant” and “resistant”
actually mean, and the situation in which they occur. For
example – does he seem to want to accept feedback, but
never has the time to sit down with you? Or accepts
feedback and never changes – or maybe openly resists and
believes he is doing a fantastic job?
Now you need to decide whether you truly need to coach,
or whether you need to give some “I’m the boss, so pay
attention” direction. The primary driver of this is whether
revenue is at risk. If he is potentially losing or delaying
revenue with his lack of business/sales skills you should
take a harder line. I am prepared to bet that he is the type
of SE that reps love to take on their complex demos, on
feature/function battles and get engaged in their
evaluations, and they probably drop him for presentations
to business line people and mid-level management and
My preferred approach at this point is to get the SE out of
the office environment and have an open discussion. Most
of my former management team and individual SE’s knew
that when I invited them out for a coffee (or beer) it was
sometimes because I was thirsty, but usually because I had
something important to speak with them about! Start asking
some questions, and don’t be shy, but also don’t be critical.
You need to bring up some specific occasions where you
have tried to coach him, and just say that you felt he wasn’t
that interested in hearing what you had to say. Why was
that – and (most importantly) what would he suggest? Point
out that reps love him in one part of the sales cycle (praise)
and not so much in others – why does he think that is, does
it concern him.?
I’d also say that part of being a good leader is that you
focus on developing and serving your people. Certainly
part of your job is making sure that he has “air cover” and
can focus on his job, another part is making him the best
he can be. Tell him that you want to help him in becoming
the #1 SE in the region/company – that’s part of your job.
“We need to put a plan together to do that. I’m committed to it,
you need to be as well.”
If none of that works, then you play the boss card.
Unconditionally. For two reasons – firstly your SE needs it,
and secondly, the rest of your team knows this is
happening (trust me – they absolutely do!) and you need to
show leadership. Rally the troops and solicit some help
from a couple of salespeople as well as one of your most
senior SE’s to reinforce the behavior you are asking to see.
Good luck. It’s worth the investment. In over 90% of these
cases there is a misconception or some past history – and
once you get past it – you’ll end up with a superstar SE.