Managing the SE/AE relationship

Blog

Margot Howard

An effective Sales Engineer (SE)/Account Executive (AE) partnership is essential for technology sales success. That’s especially true with buyers doing a significant amount of online research before ever engaging with sales. By the time that happens, buyers are so overwhelmed by the massive amount of quality, but conflicting, information they’ve gathered that they need help understanding what it all means.

The ability of SEs and AEs to function effectively enables them to act as a “sensemaking” sales duo. Combining their knowledge and sales skills enables them to offer clarifying technical insights and guidance for buying committees to differentiate solutions and verify which is the best choice. In fact, 80% of buyers interacting with sensemaking reps completed high-quality, low regret purchases. The result of these deals is greater customer satisfaction and retention.

But here’s the rub, SEs and AEs are very different personalities that approach the sale from very different perspectives as analytical introverts and extroverted optimists. This often ends in misunderstandings, finger-pointing, and blame when things go wrong. So, how can revenue leaders manage the SE/AE relationship to maximize sales outcomes?

Establish a firm foundation

Increase the odds of a successful SE/AE partnership by starting off on the right foot. So get SEs and AEs on the same page when it comes to mindset, roles and responsibilities, and open communication.

Mindset

Having the right attitude at the onset is important. Both parties need each other and should play to each other’s strengths. Sales is a team sport and requires collaboration. AEs handle many of the day-to-day interactions with the prospect and set appointments to keep deals advancing through the funnel. And SEs achieve the technical win by providing the prospect with differentiating technical explanations, answers, and insights. Together, the duo closes the deal.

Clarify roles and responsibilities

To prevent SEs and AEs from stepping on each other’s toes, clearly delineate who does what and when. Set out a process and cadence for actions to ensure efficiency and harmony even when functioning under pressure.

Encourage open communication

Understand that things won’t always go as planned, so communication is essential, especially when process adjustments and exceptions occur. And when there are miscommunications, it’s sometimes necessary to have difficult conversations about what went wrong and why. Working through tough situations this way leads to a stronger partnership and a deeper understanding of each other.

Avoid issues and optimize results

Implementing some additional practices allows the partnership to develop and become fruitful.

Be proactive

It is best for SEs and AEs to prepare for each joint sales call. This strengthens the partnership and provides a chance to share information and brainstorm the best strategy for the opportunity.

Discuss potential outcomes

It’s important for AEs to share their goal for each customer call with the SE so they are both on the same page. Then the duo should discuss ways to reach that goal and prepare a plan B in case the call doesn’t unfold as hoped.

Debrief after each call

SEs and AEs benefit from sharing feedback, so encourage them to discuss what went well and what needs to improve after each customer call. This encourages open communication, helping them develop an effective and efficient partnership.

Focus on the customer

Today’s buyers want sales reps to know them before asking a lot of questions. So be familiar with the prospect’s industry, role(s), typical challenges, and any additional information you’ve learned about them. Then keep these things in mind during pre-call planning sessions. After all, the call should be all about the customer, not about your product or service.

Revenue leaders can help their SEs and AEs start off on the right foot by laying a firm foundation. Implementing some routine practices aids in the development of a successful and productive partnership. You and your team will be rewarded for investing the additional time and effort.

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