Super Bowl LIII just happened a few weeks ago so let’s use a sports analogy to talk about who’s in charge and how the Account Executive (AE) and Sales Engineer (SE) work together.
The Head Coach vs. the Quarterback
I’m going to argue that the AE is like the head coach of a football team and the lead SE is the quarterback. While they have their respective roles, the coach and quarterback win more when they work together than when they don’t. Whether you love or hate the New England Patriots, they just won Super Bowl LIII and are now tied for the most Super Bowl wins of all time. Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady (who now has the most Super Bowl wins of any player in NFL history following this latest win) are amazing partners and a legendary duo.
The AE as the Head Coach
Let’s think of the AE as the head coach of the football team and the sales deal as a particular football game. The coach manages the overall strategy for the game, continuously analyzes the current situation, and make appropriate calls on what they think is necessary to win the game. They also give specific direction to each of the subteams (i.e. the offense, defense, and special teams) to execute on the game strategy. In the end, the coach either walks off the field head hung low after losing the game or cheering wildly while getting doused with Gatorade. Such is the life of the AE: setting the strategy for the sales opportunity, directing resources such as sales engineering, IT, and legal in line with the strategy, and either frustratingly losing the deal to a competitor or triumphantly getting back signed contracts.
The SE as the Quarterback
Sticking with the football analogy, the offense is often considered the most valuable part of the team. Sales engineers are the team’s offense and the lead SE is the quarterback. Just as you cannot win the game without points on the scoreboard and just as your offense is designed to score those points, you cannot win the sales deal without the tech win and your SEs are designed to get you those technical wins. The quarterback takes direction from the coach in line with the coach’s overall strategy. However the quarterback has some degree of freedom to call audibles based on how they are reading the defense in the moment (in this case, the defense is your prospect). When the quarterback doesn’t have a good read on the defense or doesn’t like the current play nor audible options, the quarterback calls a time out and discusses how to proceed with the coach. Such is the life of the SE: listening to the AE’s overall direction, calling specific plays and audibles based on how the SE is reading the prospect, and calling time-outs as needed to regroup with the AE before proceeding.
The Evaluation Plan as the Playbook
The last part of my analogy is that the offense learns a ‘playbook’ while preparing for a game, which is a collection of plays that should work well against their opponent. The right playbook can make the win look easy. Think of this playbook as the ‘evaluation plan’ that SEs use with their prospects. If you are not using evaluation plans just yet, the evaluation plan is a collection of use cases/scenarios that prospects will test during the evaluation and that showcase your product in the right ways. Just like running the right plays should win the game, successfully testing the right use cases should earn you the technical win. One of our 7 Best Practices of Successful Pre-Sales Evaluations is about ‘Having a plan to get the win’ and focuses on the evaluation plan. The quarterback runs the plays, just as the SE manages the scenarios within the evaluation plan.
The AE+SE: Become A Legendary Duo
Like coach and quarterback, the account executive and the sales engineer must work closely together to earn the win. When they are in sync, each doing what they do best, they start winning far more than losing. Win enough times together and you become legendary as a duo, just like Belichick and Brady.