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Hi John,

I’ve now had 18 months in the Sales Engineer position and
(all modesty aside) I’m doing really well. The salespeople
are extremely comfortable working with me and I have
established a solid track record of assisting in larger
enterprise deals and getting some fantastic competitive
wins. The downside of this success, which my manager
calls the rule of
unintended consequences, is that I am now
overwhelmed with requests from the various reps. My
manager tells me to just say “no” and that she has my back,
but I am wary about doing this or not sure even how to
approach it.

What are your thoughts?

Hello Scott,

Thanks for the question. That rule of unintended
consequences catches us all at some point, although in
your case I’d say it’s a good outcome – although you may not
think that right now. There are many complexities in this
situation, so I’ll just cover a few of them.
As in all cases,
practical common sense and doing the right thing for the
customer should prevail over theory and book smarts.

I’d say that you made the correct first step by speaking to
your manager about the issue. However, “I’ve got your
back” can mean many things and I’d suggest an additional
discussion to set the parameters and boundaries of exactly
what that means. Look at specific examples rather than
generic “what if” type situations.

As far as the relationships with your salespeople, “no” can
be a very charged and emotional word. Bear in mind that
reps are essentially pad to get past a “no” and turn it into a
“yes”. In the majority of cases they are way better at doing
that than you are so a direct approach isn’t always the best
or the recommended approach.

Editorial note: Having said that – I have found No to be one of
the most effective scheduling and calendar-clearing tools
available to me. I put as much, if not more, thought into things
I say no to (such as some speaking events, article requests and
run pure sales classes) as opposed to most of the yes answers.
I spend a few minutes every day looking at my calendar and my
inbox trying to figure out where I can say “no” or what I can
politely avoid. Certainly I have more leeway in that I run my
own business yet we still have over 150 customers and have
only ever “fired” one of them

So .. some ideas for you.

1.        Do speak with the reps about the overload. Some will
understand, especially if you express the concern that in
order to maintain your magnificent win rate you can only
work on X deals every month. Others will ask for “Could You
Just..” and one more yes in that area will breed many more.

2.        Use your manager, with her permission, as a buffer.
Tell the reps that you are at maximum capacity and that any
additional work has to be approved by her.

3.        Use the sales process as a buffer. The process is the
friend of any SE, and if a deal has no opportunity id, is not
forecasted, or is of minimal value – blame the process. It
can’t fight back.

4.        Trade opportunities. If you are already working three
deals with a rep and he comes along with a fourth one, then
respond that you can certainly work on it if he is prepared to
offload one of the other three to someone else.

5.        Prioritize opportunities. Use time as your wedge.
“Look, I can certainly get on the call with you. I’ll need some
time to prepare (because that’s why you like working with
me), so which of these other four tasks I am assisting you
with should I give up?”

6.        Enable the rep – so that he/she can do some of the
work for you. Great for early discovery calls, price quotes
and RFx’s in particular.

7.        Block out parts of your calendar, especially if others
have access to it. Enter time for much needed research,
demo preparation, self-study or even your own calls. Don’t
be blatant about it or clear out the same time every day as
that becomes way to obvious.

8.        Take more control of your calendar. Although it may
seem like taking on more work – offer to schedule a follow-
up call yourself and place it at a convenient time for you,
and then add it to your “sales resource” calendar (i.e. the

9.        Go out of your way to help the reps who help you the
most. It’s a positive feedback loop and will build up some
solid relationships outside of just closing deals.

Good luck – and to repeat:

As in all cases, practical common sense and doing the right
thing for the customer should prevail over theory and book