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Hi John,

I manage a global team of Subject Matter and Technical
Experts. Our mandate is to provide “deep support” for the
local SE teams in those areas where they are short of
expertise. My question is how do we set up rules of
engagement as to how and when the team becomes
engaged with both sales and presales in an account

I’m looking for rules or metrics that don’t involve masses of
paperwork and justifications, but also prevent a free-for-all
or the buddy system that seemed prevalent before the
team was established. Any suggestions for how we decide
what are strategic accounts, big deals etc?

Thanks - Mike
Hello Mike,

Thanks for the question. You’ll quickly find out a couple of
things. First, a SME/SWAT team is almost always busy, and
usually operates at 120%+ of capacity once the field team
understands what they do. Secondly, as soon as you put any
kind of rules into place, the field (notably account
managers) will find a way to game and defeat them. Given
those two characteristics, the best approach is to look for a
way to throttle and prioritize demand.

usually cite the example of a client, who set an engagement bar
of either a “global account’ (of which they had 3) or a deal larger
than the local equivalent of $500,000 USD. Over the following two
quarters they noted that an amazing number of deals were logged
into the SFA system at 500,000, that the global account SE’s
formed an over-reliance on the SMEs, and that the non-Americas
geographies were starved of assistance because of the revenue
bar (their deals were naturally smaller because of product
penetration and market maturity).

With this in mind I’d suggest a few solutions to examine.
These are a mix of tactical/strategic and short/long term.

    1. Rule #1 is follow the money. To ensure the personal
    and group success of the team they need to be linked
    to specific deals, rather than spending too much time
    building infrastructure, giving speeches and just
    doing training. It’s also the best way to justify the
    team. (I’ve rarely seen a SME team not be able to
    legitimately justify its existence, but it is still
    something you should be able to quickly accomplish).

    2. Push the selection and prioritization out to the field,
    usually at the regional or theater level (i.e Americas,
    Latam, EMEA, APJ, China – however your company is
    organized). At the next Quarterly Business Review,
    each VP (in conjunction with SE Leadership) takes
    nominations for SME help and chooses a number (N).
    These accounts have to stay on the list for at least 6
    months (to prevent gaming by in/out swapping). The
    basis is that if a large opportunity arises mid-quarter
    out of nowhere, how strategic can it be, and how
    strategic are the account team?

    3. You’ll need different selection schemes by region.
    Usually Americas is the easiest and Europe and APAC
    can be more problematic because of multiple
    language and culture issues.

    4. One of the primary goals of any SME team is to put
    themselves out of business in terms of their
    knowledge base. As such, each SME member needs
    an objective of training “X” number of field sales or
    presales engineers with sufficient knowledge to raise
    them on a skills scale from a 3 to a 6 or 7. That means
    they can cover first and even second calls.

    5. Keep a 15-20% reserve going into a new quarter to
    account for local overloads, field resignations,
    transfers and promotions. You’ll also need this time to
    handle what are endearingly called CYJ’s – Can You

    6. Consider making the SME team a rotational
    assignment for at least half the team. It’s a great place
    for a senior SE to gain some “seasoning” before
    moving into management.

    7. Although the field, especially SE’s, are taught to
    look for definitive success criteria – it’s your job as
    leader of the group to avoid providing numbers (like
    revenue, products) for engagement. As soon as you
    do, the system will be gamed within the quarter. So
    unless you want to continually adjust the gating
    process, you’re better off leaving it a little “fuzzy’.

Good luck with the process. SME teams invariably provide a
great benefit to both field sales and sales engineering, as
long as you focus on the correct deals.