8 Signs You Need To Up Your Game as a PreSales Leader

Ramzi Marjaba January 5, 2022

I have seen many blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos about “the signs of a bad manager”, “the 3 signs of a good leader”,  “the 15+ signs your employees hate you”, and many other variations. Many of these articles will state that a good leader is empathetic, and a bad leader is indecisive. No humility equals a bad leader. These are all personal attributes that mindful people may choose to work on; however, some managers may not be self-aware enough to identify these traits within themselves.

In my opinion, these articles may be asking too much. Asking that someone looks within themselves to figure out if they fit the attributes listed.

Instead, let’s look at the results of bad PreSales management and leadership instead of these intrinsic and vague attributes, which most people do not know whether they have or not. Unless an employee will tell them flat out, which is highly unlikely. 

This brings me to today’s topic—the 8 signs you’re a bad leader that can be seen objectively. These are not intrinsic properties that you may or may not have. It’s how people react to the leader and how the leader can affect change within the company.

Hopefully, you can identify whether you’re a good or bad leader and make the necessary changes to be the manager your team needs and deserves. 

These are the signs that I want to discuss today, starting with the first one below. 

1. SEs are breaking up with YOU

People move companies. That’s a fact. However, when there’s a higher churn rate than other SE Managers in your company, you should probably start looking in the mirror. 

Some people will leave a company if they’re underpaid or maybe because they’re looking for a new challenge. If that is the case, a good leader will do their best to compensate them better or provide them with new challenges. As the saying goes, people don’t leave companies; they leave bad leaders.

I don’t necessarily agree 100% that people don’t leave companies, but having a bad leader or even a good leader who made a couple of mistakes may make a good employee look elsewhere. I’ve worked for an organization where a good leader left the company to pursue other opportunities, and, shortly thereafter, a large number of SEs followed suit as they felt they were stuck with a new bad leader. They left after having many years of stability and commitment. They may not have left the organization as a whole, but they made sure to leave the manager. 

I was one of those who left when the manager did. 

2. Your SEs don’t open up to you

SEs have a very demanding job. They are often traveling (pre and post-pandemic, hopefully), doing demos that can bring in or lose the company thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars. Not to mention that we all have our own personal baggage. 

Managers don’t have to be psychologists, but they should be able to create an environment where SEs can talk to them without judgment, pity, or feeling stupid. My boss should know if something is going on at home. Many SEs I’ve worked with have had a sick partner or a sick child. I’m not talking about the cold or the common flu. I’m talking debilitating or life-threatening, and sometimes the SE needs to take extra time here or there to help the family. If you find out after 3 months that the SE has had these problems but never talked to you about, even if the SE is a private person, then you missed out on some major signs.

Forget about home. Sometimes SEs are facing tough times at work. Maybe their account manager is not doing a great job or being a bully (that never happens), or it feels like there is no room to grow. SEs should be able to talk to their manager about that and not feel despair after their chat. Talking too many times about the same topic and witnessing nothing happen is disparaging, and the SE loses faith in their manager.

3. Your team is blamed often for lost deals

They say players win games but coaches lose them. Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal Commander, talks about a deadly situation in his book, Extreme Ownership, where members of the same attacking force started shooting at each other by mistake. As the commanding officer who did not actually participate in the shooting, he could have easily blamed the people who did. However, he told both his subordinates and his leaders that he was the one at fault. Either he did not train his people properly or did not plan the mission properly or a multitude of other reasons. He also promised his team that he will do everything in his power not to let that happen again.

Contrast that to the corporate world. If a support engineer could not figure out the issue in time, it’s the support engineer’s fault. An SE did a demo that bombed, and it’s the SE’s fault. A Salesperson was not able to close a deal, and it’s the SEs fault for not doing a better demo and getting the purchase order on the spot. The company lost a large deal to the competitor; it’s the SE’s fault for not showing the value of the overpriced product that product management refused to discount to market rate.

The manager has to have the SE’s back and make sure that they are protected and supported to not blow deals in demos or proof of concepts. The SEs have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. I’ve worked with SEs who were hired, were not given any training or the means to succeed, and were fired. Who’s fault is it? The SE for not going the extra 10,000 miles and learning to skydive before learning to walk? Or their mentor for not taking the time to bring the SE up to speed and help them be successful in deals?

As Jocko says everyone needs to take ownership of their failure and that includes the SE Manager.

(This is Jocko btw)

4. Your team does not get credit for their work

I have to admit that most SE managers I’ve worked with always give credit where credit is due. I’ve been lucky. That being said, I’ve worked with other managers in Sales at previous companies, who, if someone sneezed, took credit for making the perfect environment for that person to sneeze.

Again, players win games; coaches lose them. By the same token as blaming everyone else for their mistakes, taking credit for other people’s jobs sucks. 

5. SEs don’t recommend friends for roles on your team

An external sign is when SEs within the company don’t want their friends to join their company. They either don’t refer them at all or warn them about joining the company. I know when there is an open position in my company for an SE, I’ll do my best to get my friend who is perfect for the role hired. The SE gets a good role, and I get a small monetary reward for making the referral. On the other hand, if the employee is willing to forego the monetary reward and not recommend someone, a self-assessment is needed on the leader’s behalf.

6. You cannot remember the last time you reached out to one of your SEs

I mentioned the company I work for where the good manager left, and we started reporting to the VP of Field Engineering. In the two months after the manager left, the VP did not set up any group meetings. They did not text or email and did not do anything to reach out to the team. Now I hate meetings in general, I’d rather be sent an email, but managers should be reaching out to their SEs on a consistent basis.

So if you are a manager, ask yourself when was the last time I talked to my SEs. Use a calendar if that would help, but if you cannot find any information or remember the last time you spoke to your SEs one on one, you’re missing something that is part of your job description, and that’s a sign.

7. In one on ones, you spend the majority of the time talking

In a previous role, my manager would call me and proceed to talk about his achievements for the day. I didn’t have to say anything, and after a while, I found out I didn’t have to be there. I could go on mute and do a workout, go for a walk, or do jumping jacks, and that manager would not even notice.

He would talk to me about the policies he’s creating for car rentals, and when I felt like it, I’d remind him that I don’t travel or rent cars. By the end of the call, he didn’t learn anything about me and how I was doing. He may ask a couple of questions here and there about the funnel, but it was all about him.

As an SE Manager, I understand that they are in a business and they have a business to run,  but one of my former managers told me that his employees are like his customers. As long as they are happy, they will stay on the team. So it is in the manager’s best interest and the business’s best interest to keep their people happy. If the one on ones are not used to coach and guide and are only used to understand the funnel and what the Sales Engineer is doing for the company, then the one one one is incomplete.

8. You don’t know what your SEs aspirations are

The common question we ask our children is:

 “What do you want to be when you grow up”? 

Then we say 

“Hey, you can be whatever you want to be as long as you work hard enough”.

When we grow up and become SEs, our manager may ask during the interview process, or if the manager is really good, during our first one on one:

“Where do you want to be in the next 5 years”

Then, unfortunately, we are never asked that question again. I know from some colleagues, at VMware at least, they do get asked these questions on a regular basis. The managers are seen as coaches and help the SEs achieve their goals, and there may be a few other companies that do that, but they are so few.

And I get it. Most managers don’t want their team members to leave them. They’d have to find new replacements, take the risk of bringing in the wrong hire or take the risk of someone who would not achieve their full potential. That’s a lot of work, and it’s easier to just keep the people they have in their place. 

But then again, people leave. And if this is the policy that the managers take, they will not even see it coming, and they would not be able to guide and positively impact the SE who is leaving. Even worse, they might leave the company altogether. 

So not knowing what the SE’s aspiration is and helping them achieve it is not only bad for the SE, it’s bad for the manager and the business they are trying to run.

Ok, this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve had similar conversations when I asked for a piece of equipment, or why we’re doing a process one way vs another. If my boss is not willing to stand up and fight to provide me what I need to win and succeed, why should I as a person on the front line, work late nights, and put up with account managers who don’t understand the technology or customers who are very demanding?

So these are 8 signs that a leader is a not-so-great one. I have to specify that you will have to check more than one box to be considered a bad leader in my mind. No one is perfect, and most managers I’ve worked with don’t become leaders because they want to get all the glory, but they do it because they want to help people. So for those managers who work hard to get better, thank you on behalf of all of your employees. 

Ramzi Marjaba January 5, 2022