A Growing Respect for Salespeople II: SE’s

My last post covered a few awesome salespeople / account managers I’ve been lucky enough to deal with over the last few years.  In this post, I’m going to discuss some great Pre-Sales Engineers (or similar folks) I’ve dealt with.

But first, let me mention that, for many years, I had just as many negative experiences with vendor engineers as with their salespeople, both on the pre and post sales side.  My favorite example was an “engineer” from a VAR who argued with me during an install of a product his company resold that FQDN’s (something I had to explain to him) weren’t necessary when using their product, then wanted to call support when I proved to him they were, rather than just accept our large university environment was a bit more complex than what he was used to.  Every experience we had with that VAR over the next few years reinforced that initial impression – that their engineers were skilled primarily in clicking next and calling the vendor support number when they ran into problems.  Was every VAR or vendor engineer I worked with that bad?  No.  But none of them were good enough to balance out the really bad ones.

A Pair of Great Engineers

All of that changed when I began working on my Citrix XenDesktop project.  I never encountered an actual Citrix SE during that process, primarily because LPS Integration brought their Citrix Team Lead, Patrick Coble, to the table.  I remember thinking after the first meeting we had with Patrick, “damn, this dude might be better than me.”  That probably makes me sound arrogant, but it was the first time in a very long time that I’d met someone who knew more than I did, not about some product or technology I didn’t work with, but about something I’d worked with for years.  Patrick attended several meetings with my team and larger groups, whiteboarding everything from the design of the various Citrix systems to the server hardware and storage.  He’s also the guy who introduced us to the possibility of using Cisco UCS.  Through it all, Patrick demonstrated the casual comfort that only comes from being awesome at what you do.  Don’t misunderstand – he’s not humble, but people who operate at this level never are, nor should they be.  What sets Patrick apart from many technically excellent engineers I’ve encountered, though, is that while he can play his role in “stump the chump” with the best of them, once all the “alpha nerd”  stuff is settled, he treats his technical counterparts on the customer side with respect.  You’d think it would be obvious to anyone working in an SE or similar role that getting into a nerd chest-thumping contest with the people who are thinking of buying your products would be dumb, but you’d be wrong.

Another excellent SE I’ve gotten to work with over the last year is Joey Jackson from NetApp.  Joey had instant credibility with our team because, before moving to NetApp, he worked for a large public university.  Maybe that sounds shallow, but you’d be surprised how many vendor folks we deal with who sell to the higher education market and don’t understand it.  Not having to explain concepts like, “our faculty have tenure – we can’t make them use this just because we say so, we have to show them how it benefits them” is huge.  Joey not only demonstrated time and again he knew NetApp storage and how we might use it, but could reference specific projects and use cases he’d tackled when he was a customer and administrator himself.  Joey’s laid back, polite, and confident enough with his own skill that, on the rare occasion when I might have asked him a question he didn’t know the answer to, he had no trouble admitting that but saying he’d get me an answer.  Another thing you’d think would be obvious, since nobody can be expected to know everything, but I can’t tell you how many SE’s I’ve spoken with who obviously don’t know something, but insist on doing a bad job of pretending they do.

A Wildcard from the Twitterverse

I first encountered Joe Onisick via Twitter about a year and a half ago, when we were first looking into the integrated stack / converged infrastructure options.  He was one of the bloggers I followed on Twitter, and I believe he saw a tweet I sent asking for opinions on the topic.  He reached out to me and offered to discuss it over the phone with me.  We had a great chat about it, and he detailed the pros and cons of the various options.  I didn’t know much about Joe besides the fact that he ran a blog I admired and that he was generous enough with his time to spend almost an hour talking to a stranger about technology.  I later learned that he works for World Wide Technology, and that not only gave me a favorable first impression of WWT, it drove home the point that all of these interactions we have with people over Twitter, on the blogs, at conferences – they all can reflect back on the companies we work for.  In Joe’s case especially, his generosity with his time with no expectation of making a sale or anything, reflected well on WWT.  By the way, Joe wrote an excellent post titled The Art of Pre-Sales – and it’s definitely worth a read.

And that’s really the point, isn’t it?

All three of these guys know a ton about technology, and just knowing a lot would probably be enough to make them decent at their jobs.  What makes them awesome at their jobs is more than just what they know, it’s how they communicate it to others.  It’s how they listen.  It’s how they explain things and design solutions that meet the needs of the business.  Even more than that, it’s how they act, the passion they have for technology, and how they represent the company they’re working for and the products they’re selling.

These guys are pros, and they’re the standard to which I hold SE’s to now.  Which SE’s do you know or work with that you would say that about, and for what companies do they work?

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