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My Best Presales Manager – What Made Him So Great?

Vivun is thrilled to welcome this guest post from Ramzi Marjaba at WetheSEs.

So far in my career, I’ve had 7 managers. Like any normal distribution, most of my managers land in the “Good” section, a couple are just ok, 1 is horrible (you know who you are), and 2 were just spectacular. 

Looking at my career, when I get the chance to be an SE leader, I want to emulate the 2 spectacular managers. One was my manager for around 6 months so I didn’t have the chance to develop the relationship very much. During those short 6 months, however, I felt that we could have developed a great partnership. The other spectacular manager on the other hand was my manager for around 4 years. Let’s call this one…Matt. I want to delve deep into what made him so great, and what that did for me as his loyal subject…I mean employee. 

Matt was the manager I’d follow into the gates of hell knowing that he willingly went in there to make my life better. Now, if Matt reads this blog he’ll think that it’s a love letter, and it kinda is. He inspired me to become the best Sales Engineer I can be, and yes, it is still a work in progress. In turn, it made my life better. My family and I are thankful for that. 

What made Matt so great? He’s a normal guy. Just like everybody else, he cannot read minds. He cannot do demos for you or make your salesperson love you more. So what was so special? Well, the answer is nothing and absolutely everything. Here are 5 things I noticed he did to make me feel special, which in turn made him special to me.

1. He took a chance.

The only reason I’m here, writing this, describing how great Matt was is because he took a chance on me. Surprise, I was not born a Sales Engineer. I was a network design engineer who did most of the work after the sales team did the selling. I didn’t really know what sales engineering was. After my interview with the team, the Senior Sales Director wanted someone else for the job. I, after all, did not have the prerequisite experience of 10,000 years as a Sales Engineer who hit his quota every year. 

Matt, who was a brand new manager at the time, was able to stand his ground and took a chance on an unknown, knowing that he will have to invest time to mold me into a mediocre to great SE. 

2.  He was strong.

Physically, he was average. But his personality was strong. He didn’t do anything because he was told to do it. He took action when he knew it was appropriate. He hired me despite the fact that more senior and seemingly more powerful people within the organization fought against him. They wanted someone senior, but he did not let them bully him into hiring someone else. He fought for getting his SEs in sales training and even created his own SE-specific training. He did what’s best for his SEs and that turned out to be what’s best for the organization.

3. He shielded his SEs from unnecessary politics

Not many people like politics. If we did, we would not have chosen the engineering route. However, politics are a fact of life. You have to do some “politicking” (it is a word now) to get some of the things that you need. As lowly SEs, politics happen to us more than we happen to politics. Since politics happen a few rungs above us, in a VP or director level, we are usually informed of the outcome and are not able to participate and/or influence. That’s when it’s great when there is a leader who is there to protect you, and that’s what Matt did. He did his best to make sure the outcome of politics at the higher levels yielded a positive outcome for his employees. 

Here’s a real example of something that was happening to me, and I only found out about it after Matt had left the company. 

I started the We The Sales Engineers podcast in 2018. I had informed Matt that I will be doing that and everyone in the management chain was ok with it. Then I made the mistake of chatting with someone who was a great leader within the company at one point but recently left for greener pastures. It turns out that he had a falling out with upper management and everyone kept it quiet. As soon as I interviewed that person for the podcast, my boss’s boss’s boss did whatever he could to shut down my podcast. To clarify, they tried to shut down a podcast that was meant to help me and others become better SEs. Matt stopped them from shutting it down, and I only found out about it several months later when Matt was leaving the organization for bigger and better things. He told me about this so that I wouldn’t be blindsided moving forward.

In short, he fought for me–and he had my back.

4. He was honest. 

I didn’t have to guess with Matt. If I was doing a good job, he would tell me. If I mismanaged something, he would tell me that too. I knew where I stood with him at all times. What did that mean? I felt more secure in my job. 

Not only that, if I needed to vent about my salesperson (and who doesn’t), he would let me. Then he would tell me to grow up and solve the problem. Having someone who didn’t mince words helped me grow as a person, as an SE, and a leader within my team. 

He was not afraid to tell me the truth even when he knew it might affect my decision to stay or leave the company. “No Ramzi, there is no room for promotion in Canada for this position, but you are an invaluable asset to the team and I don’t want to see you go. How can we work this out?” Most other managers that I’ve worked for/with just pushed out the discussion with promises of “seeing what they can do.” 

5. He was fair. 

There’s a general rule that if you don’t ask for a raise, you won’t get it. Matt made sure that his employees were well compensated at market value. One of his SEs got hosed when they first joined the company. They were leaving a bad situation, so the previous hiring manager took advantage and lowballed them in terms of salary. 

Matt made it his mission to make sure that this SE got what they deserve in terms of salary because they deserved it, even when they didn’t ask for it. 

I know what you’re thinking… potentially. Matt is great–so what. What did that do for the company, the SE team, and the customers? Why should we learn anything from him?

He was able to attract great talent to the company. I was happy to tell people about openings within the company if they reported to Matt. I never had to have a caveat along the lines of “but watch out the manager is not so good.”

He was also able to retain many of his SEs. Out of a 20 person SE team, only one SE left the team in the 4 years I was there. Others were let go due to performance, but only 1 chose to leave. After this manager left the company, there was an exodus of 4 people, including myself, who left the company or changed positions within the company. 

He also prepared his SEs to be the best they could be. That helped in customer meetings, in accelerating the sales process, and in doing demos. We were not left to fend for ourselves. 

There are so many more reasons why Matt was a great manager and maybe I’ll leave the rest for a sequel. If you’re a manager and looking to see what SEs look for in their managers, I hope this short list helps you while you’re developing your relationship with your employees.

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