Last week, Mike Brown Jr. sat down with Laura Menicucci of Cloudera to talk about hiring sales engineers for growth startups. Laura is the first VP of Sales Engineering at Cloudera. During her career, she has built teams of 100+ sales engineers multiple times. Her experience with hiring sales engineers gives valuable insight into the ins and outs of both recruiting and growing the sales engineering team from ground up. Here are three important points to consider when effectively hiring sales engineers.
Hiring Sales Engineers: A strong referral network is significant when hiring a good sales engineer. You want to hire sales engineers who have good synergy with your sales representatives. Thus, one method of hiring is asking representatives to refer you the best sales engineers that they have worked with in the past. Another method is to try to define what type of technical skill set is important for your company. You can use online networks such as Linkedin to target groups where these technical qualifications are common. A common pitfall to avoid with a first hire is recruiting from a university. Generally, you want somebody with more business leadership and experience to start off your team. The typical interview process for hiring sales engineers is to start the screen with technical questions/qualifications, then transition to face-to-face interviews, include a live mock presentation along this process so you can assess sales skills, and finally take into account fit/synergy with your sales team by involving sales representatives in the interview process.
Recognizing an Effective Sales Engineer: A sales engineer is a sales professional who is focused on emphasizing technical differentiators – they have to be constantly learning/reading sales cycle processes and understanding consumer biases to certain technological features. While hiring sales engineers who are purely sales savvy and good at presenting is a huge plus, the most important quality is the ability to translate complex technical topics in a compelling way. Three key qualities to assess your sales engineers right after the hire are revenue numbers, teamwork, and feedback translation. Teamwork refers to how well the individual internally contributes in terms of sharing best practices, competitive information, presentation demos, and other technical assets with the whole team. Feedback translation refers to how well the individual can communicate customer feedback back to product management and help product engineers understand the current market trends/priorities.
Incentivizing Sales Engineers: Sales engineers should always be treated consistently with your sales team and should have a commission-based plan. The standard rule of thumb is to compensate on a 70/30 plan, where 70% of the salary is base and 30% is based on quota. Aligning how you pay your sales engineers with how your sales representatives are compensated is very important. For example, if you pay sales representatives commission on renewals, you should do the same thing with sales engineers to keep directions aligned. While there are many reward factors, compensating on renewals remain a common target point for growing SaaS companies as the focus for sales teams are on retaining existing customers.
Listen to the whole podcast here.