How taking yourself out of the picture opens up new avenues for growth.
There comes a time, when you're ready for the next step in your career journey. Your research game is strong, you're wringing every ounce of valuable information from discovery, you're acing the demos, and no one is stronger than you when it comes to getting your hands dirty and getting the implementation right.
There's just one thing holding you back - you're indispensable. You can't move up, because of the yawning hole you'll leave behind in your current role. I know what you're thinking, that's a good problem to have, Robin! Um, no.
Yes, you're getting all the love and appreciation from the management, and yes, your compensation package reflects that love, but you are, for all intents and purposes, stuck in this role.
You can't be the go-to guy for everything, and still climb the ladder.
A little while ago, I wrote about how 'making the demo' isn't the most important thing we do as Sales Engineers. In fact, it holds us back. Ditto on demo delivery.
I know, that sounds counter-intuitive. But think about it. What are the two biggest chunks of work that take up most of your time? Lemme guess: making the demo, and delivering the demo. You're the guy everyone comes to for the best demos. And you're the one they pull into demos on an SOS basis, because you have all the answers.
I'm not saying the demo isn't important, but do you think these are the same two chunks of work that give you the maximum ROI in terms of sales? Nope. That would be discovery, and down the line, all the discussions with the prospects' team to come up with the winning solution. That's where you make a real connection with the prospect, give them the confidence that you know what you're talking about, build trust, and finally, build a solution that works for everyone.
How do you give yourself more time on these tasks then?
First, stop being the only go-to guy
Being indispensable isn't all it is chalked out to be. If you're Mr Demo Extraordinaire, you're selling yourself short, and you're probably really, really exhausted. I have a system I've used to minimize the time I spend creating demos. If you haven't read it yet, please do. It will save you a ton of time, which you can then spend on doing some of the other things I'll suggest here.
Find the points of failure
Everybody wants to be great at what they do. So why aren't they getting there?
I'm talking about the other sales engineers on the team. Why are you the go-to guy? What keeps them from achieving your level of mastery? Find out. Often, a little coaching goes a long, long way. Sometimes training interventions are needed. At other times, they need to spend some intensive time with the product team to bump up their product knowledge past the ceiling they've hit.
I'm talking about your sales reps. Most companies pair up a few sales reps with each sales engineer. Why do your sales reps need so much hand-holding? Why do they need you to step into so many demos? What keeps them from handling queries, or running demos you've made for them? Find out. A good heart-to-heart is a good place to start. Take feedback on what isn't working for them, and when you do, listen.
Pro tip: Listening is one of the most underrated skills, but it is *absolutely critical* to your success as a leader. The sort of listening I'm talking about here is when you are just absorbing what the person in front of you is saying, without letting your brain off the leash to find responses/solutions/rebuttals as the speaker talks. How do you know you're really listening? When you don't start a single sentence with 'But'.
Invest in your peers
Now that you know what the problems are, find ways to be a part of the solution.
Wherever possible, create systems. Instead of jumping in to train sales engineers, work with training to create modules in the areas folks are struggling with most. (I have a great tool for that!) Instead of being the fountainhead of all information relating to the latest product updates, formalize the way you get this information, and make it so that it flows to the whole team.
Ask your boss to greenlight a buddy program, and take a couple of people under your wing. If you haven't ever held another person's career in your hands, this is a great place to start. Buddy programs are much more forgiving than a formal relationship with direct reports. Experiment, make mistakes, fail forward, and document it all. Once you have a system that's working well, try to codify the model, so other high performing sales engineers can replicate it with their buddies.
Run mock demos. Get sales reps to run demos for sales engineers. Then flip it, and let sales reps play prospects. Not only does it garner a lot of laughs and function as a great team building exercise, it gets both sides to truly appreciate what the other side does well, what they struggle with and how they can make each other's lives easier. This is also a great place for SEs to understand how good/bad/ugly their scripts are.
Explore tools. You're a SaaS sales engineer. Do your thing and seek out technical solutions! I can guarantee that whatever problem you're looking to solve, someone's already designed a tool for it. Back when I was a sales engineer, we didn't have this embarrassment of riches! I ended up designing a tool because I couldn't find one that worked just right. Today, that tool is SmartCue - a solution that is designed to make life easier for sales engineers and sales reps. Sales engineers can use 'cues' instead of boring old scripts, which allows sales reps to use their own gift of the gab, without missing out on critical information. It also lets my reps answer questions more confidently, even on screens that are new to them. They can go off the agenda if needed, without having to obsessively check if they've covered everything. See? Tools exist for even the most narrow niches. Seek, and you shall find.
… But this isn't my job, is it?
It isn't. Not your current job anyway. But wouldn't you be doing all this as a team leader? Depending on how large your organization is, that designation could be anything from 'Head of Sales' to 'Sales Engineering Team Lead'. But when you boil it down, it is the same - you're leading a bunch of people who used to be your peers, and you're management.
Speaking as a leader, I find it easiest to promote the people who are already doing the job I want to promote them to. It tells me they have what it takes, and that my investment in their learning curve will be minimal. Also, they already have acceptance among their peers. This is also how the best people I know have grown in their organizations - by making it super obvious that they're right for the job. What better way to do that, than by doing the job they aspired to?
Moreover, the fact that you're having to do all of this, is because your boss doesn't have the bandwidth to. Which means that the need for another leader exists. This is the sort of situation I like to call a triple win:
Win #1: Your peers benefitted from all the initiatives you put in place, and the team's results are improving. (Good for everyone!)
Win #2: It became obvious to the management that they need another leader/supervisor (Good for you!)
Win #3: It became obvious to management who the right person for the job is (Good for them - an easy promotion that everyone is already onboard with!)
If that isn't thinking like a leader, I don't know what is.