Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #1: Jealousy

January 18, 2015 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #1: Jealousy

Sales engineering (SE) can be a rewarding, intellectually challenging, and lucrative career. I’ve written many blog articles about the characteristics that exemplify a successful SE, but this series of posts is all about the kinds of actions that can damage a career.

I’ll begin with jealousy: one of the seven deadly sins that can rear its head even in places like technology sales. Surprisingly, envy is often worst when the firm’s having a great year, and everyone’s making money.

Enterprise technology salespeople live a professional life that’s fraught with peril. They must cope with constant rejection and dashed hopes from prospects, while their own management shrinks territories yet raises quotas. Predictably, this results in high job turnover and continual insecurity, not to mention lots of lost sleep.

With all these downsides, who would take on this job? Someone who wants to make lots of money, that’s who: it’s not uncommon for a sales professional to make two, three, or even ten times their expected income if (and only if) they have a good year. Meanwhile, their SEs tend to bring home a relatively predictable income every year. In a bad year, they’ll make less, but not drastically so, and in a good year, they’ll make more – maybe 25% or so, which is great, but not stunning.

In my experience, jealousy arises when a salesperson is paired closely with a single SE, and the team far exceeds their quota. Naturally, these uneven financial outcomes can breed resentment and envy in the SE, particularly when they perceive that they’ve “done all the work” to win the deals. Some SEs internalize this bitterness, while others broadcast it to the world.

A single, loud, jealous SE is all that’s necessary to create a toxic environment. First, other SEs may start questioning the compensation system and making demands, while salespeople will start wondering if their own SEs will “turn on them” if they have a good year. Ultimately, all of this reflects badly on the instigator and can even result in their replacement.

Fortunately, thwarting income envy is quite achievable. For the SE, it’s vital to accept that there’s a fundamental difference between themselves and salespeople. Quota-carrying salespeople get fired much more easily when they miss a number, while SEs tend to be kept on even when inevitable revenue shortfalls occur.

SEs should also be mindful about never complaining out loud about the disparity in take-home pay. If things seem really out of whack, it’s reasonable to discretely engage management to discuss the problem, but nothing will change the reality that salespeople will always make more money in a good year.

Finally, a relatively small percentage of SEs are capable of making the difficult shift to becoming winning sales professionals. A progressive management team should offer a clearly defined career path and supporting procedures for those that want to undertake this ambitious transition.

I’ve written quite a lot about sales engineering and the entire technical sales process. Click here for a comprehensive list.

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