While I’m not technically the person building the team, part of my responsibility is to interview potential candidates for the Solutions Engineer role. To the uninitiated, a Solutions Engineers (SE) focuses primarily on the sales side of things. We are here to listen for technical questions and help the sales team navigate that journey before someone ever becomes a customer. Because we aren’t in the department of Customer Success, many people don’t view this role as part of CS. This is precisely the reason I am so excited about launching this project! I want to help shed light on the fact that there are so many more roles and employees that are part of customer success and the customer journey. Customer success does start pre signature and is all about setting up the customer for success is just as important as getting the customer up and running in your product!
In my current role, I carry a great responsibility for the customer’s success. While the Sales Reps are focusing hitting quota, I’m focusing on whether we’re solving their current pains and planning for their future. We in pre-sales are the bumpers in the bowling alley. We want to let the customer dream big and then help them achieve that vision. While they may not knock all the pins down right away, they won’t strike out and we can continue to try knocking them all over in a phased approach together.
We need to build our team of SEs to think more like this. Our responsibility to the customer stems from our team mentality, which is why I look for the following traits that every successful SE has: A realistic approach, forward thinking, enthusiasm and humility. Each of these traits are what I look for when interviewing potential candidates for the teams I am on. I think technical prowess is a smaller part of finding a good candidate.
A Realistic Approach
You are the gatekeeper to the customer’s success. You’re not there to simply say “yes”, you’re there to think of the minutia, the tiniest problems now that might explode into massive issues down the road. These situations often lead to upset customers, sometimes during initial onboarding, and become a burden for the rest of the organization. These situations can be avoided simply by being realistic about what the customer is asking. Being realistic not only allows you to set proper expectations for the customer but it also gives you credibility. Saying no or “the product doesn’t do that” is not a deal breaker and can oftentimes increase your reputation as the trusted advisor. Being realistic means you can accept the idea that not all current prospect workflows are going to fit in perfectly to your existing offering.
The SE should always have one eye on the current situation and the other on the long-term success of the customer. Being able to comprehend current prospect workflows and then incorporating that into your offering and solution is crucial. A good SE should be digging into their current tech stack and strategies so they can plant seeds of further integrations. Showing a customer how their problems can be solved today is a way to close a deal, showing a customer how they can grow functions internally with your solution in the future is how you build lasting partnerships. Coming up with solutions out the current state and future state not only set the customer up for success it gives the account managers and customer something to work towards together.
I want to see enthusiasm when pitching or sharing a demo. This shows me that this candidate is capable of passion in what they’re doing. It also shows they enjoy sharing their love for the product and company. Seeing and listening to someone who is excited and believes in what they are selling goes a long way and can really build credibility and comfort with a customer or prospect. This is an often overlooked attribute that is impossible to fake and it elevates every conversation.
The final trait is a tricky one because not everyone is comfortable admitting they cannot answer something or saying “I don’t know”. A good SE should have the ability to take a problem as far as they can but then be able to say “I don’t know. I need some help”. Lying or saying yes never ends well and often times snowballs either pre signature or after. When you have the self-awareness to say no, you’ll find that you’re much better off on most of your deals.
These are simply the traits I look for most in an SE. Someone that is invested in the customer’s success is precisely the kind of person that tends to succeed themselves. Keep this in mind as you develop, grow, and interview yourself, both as a candidate, and interviewer.
Stay tuned for more content and our first podcast to be posted! I’ll leave you all with a great interview question I heard the other day.=
“If you were sitting on this side of the table, what would you ask me? And I want you to answer that question after you ask it.”
Ben Fleishman is a guest writer on the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Solutions Engineer with Showpad.