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Mike Waldrop (DataStax) on What Sales Engineers Really Want from Marketing

On this weeks episode of Scaleup Marketing I talk to Mike Waldrop, the Director of Presales Solution Architecture at DataStax about the relationship between sales engineers and marketing. We talk about what sales engineers really need from marketing, why marketers should be out on the front lines, and why SEs make great product marketers.

Tom Wentworth: [00:00:00] Yeah. It’s great to talk to you. So why don’t you just give yourself a quick introduction sure. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:00:03] So I’m currently DataStax I have worn a few different hats, but basically different flavors of pre-sales leadership.

One of the things about pre-sales everybody has a different title for it. So for some reason we call ourselves data architects instead of SES, but it’s the same idea. So yeah, pre-sales leadership. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing for quite a while. It’s what I like to do. It’s good stuff.

You were 

Tom Wentworth: [00:00:26] my bosses boss like 20 years ago. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:00:29] I know, I know it seems like a long time ago. It was an unprecedented time then I guess it’s an unprecedented time now in a whole different way. Yeah, that was a long time ago. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:00:40] So what does a sales engineer actually do or sorry, whatever we call them. Solutions.

Consultant, sales, engineer, sales, data architect. What do you guys do? Yeah. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:00:51] So I I’ve talked about this before. I think the great thing about pre-sales it’s it’s right at the end intersection of lots of cool things. It’s right at the [00:01:00] intersection of the product, the customer, the market, and marketing, and message and direction.

You’re right in the middle of all of that. So when I think when it’s working well as a pre-sales person, you’re a bit of an industry expert. You’re a bit of a product expert. You’re a bit of a. How do businesses solve problems with technology yet? And then, you know, the dig the phrase because people use a lot that I believe are super important when you’re talking about it as like trusted advisor and that, that, that person that can make a connection in a relationship.

With a user or an at a company and help them figure out how to solve problems. Right. So I know that sounds kind of vague, but all of that, goodness, I think is why that’s, why I’ve always loved this role. I’ve, I’ve tried different roles, different parts of the organization. This is still what I love because you get to touch all of that different stuff.

Right. It’s right. Where it all comes together. 

[00:02:00] Tom Wentworth: [00:02:00] How do you get measured? Is it as an se? What do you get measured on? Yeah, 

Mike Waldrop: [00:02:05] so it, you know, different places it’s been different. You remember, you know, when we worked together, we had very tight pairing between SES and sales reps and territory.

So, you know, between an se and a sales rep, you kind of ran your own little enterprise within the organization. And then I, I love it. I’ve always loved it most when that was the case. And you could just be measured on revenue. Right. It’s revenue, it’s revenue, it’s revenue. World’s changed a bit. Models are different.

Customers are different. Expectations are a little bit different. So I still think revenue is, I mean, you’re usually part of the sales organization though. Lots of organizations these days have changed. Right? So you see presales more in the services line a little more often than we used to. So there is, you know, other things that you can measure people on that I think, you know, in my current role, it’s still primarily revenue based.

And you know, some levels of trying to measure. [00:03:00] You know, other contributions and you know, from from a comp plan, that’s usually revenue, but from a, is this a great se it’s usually similar fuzzy things that were a little hard to tie to a comp plan. Like, do they, do they make great relationships?

Are they proactive? Are they trusted advisors? You know, some of those things that are a little more fuzzy. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:03:19] You as, as an se and me as a marketer are measured on the same number revenue, right? 

Mike Waldrop: [00:03:24] Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it’s really interesting. I’ve had some people that move from a services role, a consultant or whatever, and that change can be very different to them.

Right. They can feel Berry. Awkward about being measured on revenue. So but people that you know, that you and I worked with, and especially when we were doing it back then, it was people that love to be measured on revenue. It’s like the art of the deal, the, you know, going and doing that was really motivating.

But you know, in some companies now with a service-based company and things like that, it becomes a little bit more about [00:04:00] things beyond just pure revenue numbers. That, that define a really great se I think. I think that’s what 

Tom Wentworth: [00:04:05] I like about the shift in marketing. I don’t remember this, but apparently back in the day, marketing would be measured on the quality of the trade show swag.

And you know, how many martinis you could have between four and six marketing now is very much mean for me, I’m measured on pipeline creation and ARR it’s very similar to how we used to think is individual contributor, STS. We were motivated by hitting our number and that was it. Yeah. I can imagine a model where you comp SES on demos or POV’s or whatever, not being aligned.

Revenue would be a problem for me, for sure. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:04:44] Yeah. And like I said, most of the behavior, like if I look at a team and I say, who are the rock stars and who are the all stars? You know, revenue is certainly an indicator. But there’s other things that I think are apparent when you’re subjectively you [00:05:00] know, meeting with a team or meeting with a person but sometimes hard to measure.

But you know, I think, I think given a lot of the changes in the industry, the changes in the market, the changes in the world lately, I know in my current role, we’re a lot more focused on trying to be. You know, externally focused and outside in like what what enterprises need, what, what are they trying to do?

And trying to really calibrate the SES to be like, you know, worry about that problem and the revenue will come.  So I think it’s, it’s definitely harder to measure, but it’s, it creates a much better interaction model. Well, 

Tom Wentworth: [00:05:38] I think, and I want to talk to you about how SES and marketers work together with the other big change.

You know, one of the reasons why I was a good se is because  I would do whatever it takes to sell software. And that meant the demo or presentation I had to give only had to ever be used. Once the consulting team would scream at me after [00:06:00] they saw it , our product doesn’t do what Wentworth just showed.

Yeah, but in that era and the perpetual software era, it didn’t matter. My job was to sell it as somebody else’s job to worry about the rest. And at the time I was celebrated for being able to do that. And that’s why shelfware was such a big deal. But now as, as an se, can’t do you can’t get away with that anymore?

It doesn’t. Do you any good if that deal churns, 12 months later? 

Mike Waldrop: [00:06:26] Yeah. Yeah. My, my current company, we’re very much a platform kind of sell and it. It’s all about land and expand anyway. So even if it was a different model, unless I get the expansion, I’m not going to win anyway. So if you’re selling capacity or you’re selling transactions or you’re selling something that’s land and expand, it’s even harder.

Like, as you said, you know, not only ARR based that they get to. We used to say in a previous company, every year’s an election year, a customer can cancel the contract whenever they want. But it’s also like, how do I get [00:07:00] growth? How do I get more consumption? How do I get them to be more successful?

And, you know, we talked about now an enterprise that it starts with a project and then they go to a program and then they get to a platform and all that. So, you know, that message, that marketing message that you take. As an se to your enterprise has to reflect that. And that can be tricky, but you know, to your point about demos and things like that, I do think.

Gosh in my world today, I had somebody asked me, they just started. They’re like, w where are the standard demos? And I’m like, what standard demos? I don’t know what that is. That doesn’t really exist. And the product that I’m working with now is sold on the whiteboard. Right. So, yeah, I need enough message to get the conversation.

I need enough message to get somebody to show up and listen to me. And that’s really the message that matters. Once you get past that, it’s going to happen on the whiteboard anyway. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:07:52] All right. Let’s dig into that. Cause that’s really well on focus today, by the way, and expand, my model was land in shelfware land and shit.

[00:08:00] All right. So I’m, you know, I’m a marketer and I know better. My job is to tell you what to go do. Mr. Waldrip, I put this great pitch deck together. Why are you delivering? And you’re on this whiteboard. Why aren’t you delivering my pitch deck? Yeah, I’ve got the story nailed. I’ve rehearsed it. It’s amazing.

I built it myself. Why are you not out there giving my story? 

Mike Waldrop: [00:08:28] Yeah. More times than not. By the time an se shows up we’re beyond the level of this thing might do something for me. They usually want to know how will it do it. Right. So the perfect message usually gets me the why should I listen, but not the, how do I.

Get those benefits you talked about. So I’m all for alignment on the the context of the message, but in my opinion, there’s never been a perfect slide deck. [00:09:00] And. In today’s world, the attention span of somebody to sit there and look at a sequence of slides is very minimal. So I need something to grab the attention and something to get started.

That message. And then the themes have to be aligned whether or not you gave me the themes in a slide deck, or we had an hour long conversation. And you told me as a marketer, Hey, you know, the themes that are going to differentiate us are these three things. And, you know, here’s the customers that prove that and whatever.

Getting that into my head is super important, but whether I use your slide or use a conversation or a whiteboard either, there’s lots of ways to get that message across. That’s really 

Tom Wentworth: [00:09:41] important for all the marketers out there to hear. So, as an se, what do you, how do you describe marketing? I already asked you what’s marketing.

Do, what do you say? Yeah. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:09:50] So as I said before, it certainly when you think of the. That if I’m going to call somebody and they don’t know who I am, I’m not going to get to the cool part of the conversation [00:10:00] where I can convince them. So they, they need to know who I am. You know, why I’m calling? What, what, what we’re talking about, why it matters.

Does, do I have some justification for my point of view? Right? So one of the things we train at on is it’s great to have a point of view and you did this great all the time. Right? You can show up with a point of view. Hey, Mr. Customer, this is what you should do, but in order for that to mean anything, I got to have some legitimacy, some work, you know, some reputation as a company that, Oh, this guy’s not just one guy that sort of thinks about it.

So there needs to be a message out there. It needs to capture that attention. So marketing helps me do that, especially on the brand and, and, and kind of, you know, company marketing side. And then, you know, from a product marketing perspective. You know, they put tools in my toolbox and I need those, right.

They put messages, they put competitive info, they put, you know customer stories references, all that stuff. [00:11:00] They put all that in my tool bag. And I, and I’m going to have a hard time if I don’t have some of that. What are your 

Tom Wentworth: [00:11:05] favorite tools like? What’s the, what do you like best and talking about product marketing specifically.

What do you like best that you get from product marketing? 

Mike Waldrop: [00:11:14] If I got nothing else out of product marketing, I mean, there’s lots of things that I like to get, but if I could only have one thing, it would be customer stories that I can tell. If I can tell customer stories and they’re compelling, they have a point.

They ideally even have some numbers behind it or whatever. But if I got nothing else, other than that, I’d feel pretty good. Right? So number one for me is when I’m standing there, last thing people want to hear a speeds and feeds from me. So product marketing is going to help me ground that in stories of customers that I might not have worked with.

I mean, that’s super critical. And it’s gotta be more than just, Hey, you know, customer X bought the product and, and loves it. It’s gotta be [00:12:00] some meat, right. ROI, 

Tom Wentworth: [00:12:01] real defensible manager, right? 

Mike Waldrop: [00:12:04] Yeah. Yeah. And the stories, and I know this is probably part of the conversation, but. The people that go to product marketing that usually deliver the best tools for me, did what I do.

And so they know my world. Don’t 

Tom Wentworth: [00:12:19] skip ahead.

If your favorite is case studies, what’s the part of marketers are busy. They got lots of things they got to do. What’s the thing that they can stop giving you and you wouldn’t care. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:12:35] The for product marketing. Ah, it’s a good question. I don’t know. I mean, you know, We don’t do trade shows anymore. So all that’s pretty much disappeared anyway. So you know, that whole thing of here’s the here’s, all of that stuff doesn’t really matter that much. Sometimes having a favorable Gartner view is helpful, depends on product and market.

And so [00:13:00] that’s still pretty important. But 

Tom Wentworth: [00:13:02] the, they don’t need to give you a pitch stack. They need to give you a whiteboard marker. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:13:07] Yeah, they need to give me the message. And they need to give. Well me, not me, but through whatever you’re using to do BDRs or whatever you call them to go get those first calls going.

I need the, I need the opportunities to do my thing. Right. So I, I, yeah, I do need the leads if you will, or the opportunities generated. But. You know, that’s kind of a different piece of it, I guess, if that answers the question, but 

Tom Wentworth: [00:13:35] you were saying case studies and value based metrics are the thing that you use the most and all the other, all the other sales tools we produce are good.

You want more 

Mike Waldrop: [00:13:45] case studies? Yeah, generally that’s been my experience. Now again, it depends on the product. Now. There are some products where having a easily executed. Demo that really captures the imagination can be [00:14:00] super important. So I don’t want to diminish the value of that. I think that’s a little bit unique too, when you’re in a platform I’m selling a database now there’s not a database demo that anybody’s ever seen that got them excited.

It’s, you know, it’s, it’s technically impossible to make that exciting, but you know, some other cases where a demo is going to be super important. One of the things we did when, when you and I worked together, that I thought really worked well, were. Really short multiple the media content that just deliver a message.

Yeah. Right. Not a demo, but a here’s a value point. Here’s a capability that you should care about. And it’s gotta be like, literally something that I can put in a link to an email and somebody don’t look at it and go, Oh, I want to have a conversation. Right. I think those kinds of things are really, can be really very, very powerful.

Tom Wentworth: [00:14:48] I have this hypothesis that marketing teams and SES don’t work as closely together as they should. From your perspective, how do you think marketing could work better [00:15:00] with the se organizations that you’ve worked with and you’ve led. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:15:04] Well, so one thing about SCS is we have huge egos.

So this is my ego speaking, but the first thing I would say is listen to my point of view when you’re putting the message together, right? SES are on the ground. They’re having the conversations every day and while marketers that are looking at the market and that the top level have a point of view.

That’s super important. The ground game that I’m participating in every day is going to add either color or context or correction to whatever it is that they’re trying to bring from the top. So when marketing wants to hear or wants to try something out, it’s like, what do you think about this? I think we end up with a better product and a message and or whatever.

So. Yeah, how do we work best together? Certainly when I feel like I’m part of helping contribute to the message [00:16:00] and you know, I love to have marketing people that want to have customer context, right? So if, if they want to meet with, and show up on meetings with customers, I think that’s great.

They’ve done right. It isn’t the right spot and it’s the right conversation. Because I do like to, I think one of our jobs as SES is to add the reality of the marketing message, but from getting the feedback from us, putting it in front of customers, that kind of thing. So I think all of those things make it better.

Tom Wentworth: [00:16:33] What is it? So if you want a product marketer, so you’re open to having product marketers or marketers in general, joining you on sales calls, but it’s great. That’s one of the things I encourage my team at recorded future to do is there’s no better trial. It’s easy to build a message, in Google slides, it’s easy to deliver a message to your peers.

It’s even easy to deliver a message to. The sales leaders. It’s really hard to deliver a message [00:17:00] live in front of people that you could look at, read their body language, hear their questions, see the message miss and just go over them. So it’s scary, but I think it’s so important. What advice would you give a product marketer who wanted to, to get out there and start doing this in front of customers?

Mike Waldrop: [00:17:20] Figure out don’t don’t feel too precious about the exact message in slide, right? So it goes back to the whiteboard conversation or whatever, you know, if you’re going to deliver content as a marketer, to a customer, that’s great deliver it. But if it prompts a conversation, that’s way more important than your slides.

Right. So I have this with sales reps sometimes and other people they’re like, I got to get my message. I got to get through the slides. And like, I don’t care if you get through the slides, if your first slide started the right conversation, we’re good. Like, let, let the conversation go. So I think it’s those dynamics.

If you’re not doing a lot of customer meetings, then that, that can be new to a marketing [00:18:00] person. And don’t get defensive. Yeah. It’s a great right. You and I do this, have done this enough in the past where you can get beat up in a meeting and that can be okay. That’s not the end. That doesn’t mean things are bad.

Somebody starts poking at you and, and interrogating your message or your story or your demo or your product. That’s not always bad. It can be painful, but if you’re not used to it, it can feel really bad. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:18:29] It’s hard. There’s two lessons. I mean, first of all, I was always accused before I even worked with you.

The one thing somebody told me once is don’t talk 

Mike Waldrop: [00:18:37] past the sale. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:18:39] Yeah. So I was this guy that would get so excited about my product that even though the customer had clearly bought off on whatever I was trying to say, but no, no, no, wait a minute. We didn’t go over here yet. Like there’s more, don’t talk past the sale.

 So that was sort of number one. But number two is I’ve been in meetings. I’m sure you have where. It’s very clear. The person in the room doesn’t know [00:19:00] what they’re talking about, but yet the rep or the se, or both want to be the smartest person in the room. I’ve learned that you want to be the dumbest person in the room.

In some ways you want to be as smart as you need to be to get them to say yes,  I remember being in situations where  their understanding of something I was talking about and it would be 75%.

Correct. And I’d be like, no, that’s exactly right. You got it. You’re on it.  I learned a lesson. It doesn’t you don’t need to get to a hundred percent, but often marketers again, you know, we, we hang on so much, but no, my, no, you’re, you’re not quite getting it. Let me, let me focus you here. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:19:36] Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah. And that’s a great point. And I think it’s also that same motion that makes you want to try to close the whole deal in the meeting when all you’re really trying to do is get to the next conversation, the next level, the next, you know, unless it’s a closing meeting, which is unusual, but, you know, Hey, I don’t have to tell, I don’t have to convince them of everything.

I got to convince them. They need to take the next step. And then. You know, [00:20:00] all the cliches around people buy from people. They trust people buy from people. They’re not buying a product of Brian and peaceful, you know, all that stuff applies here as well. Right. So if you’re a marketer in a meeting, you’re, you’re not just selling the message you’re selling the company and the expertise and the all that.

And and part of that is listening when they start talking because How many meetings have you been in where it just gets broadcast only and everybody’s asleep. You know, nobody wants to just see a broadcast of a set of slides. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:20:28] Yeah, I think on a related point, I think if I were in sales now I’d be miserable.

I’d be terrible at it. I am not a good zoom presenter. My, my, whatever it is, does not work as well. It’s hard miss the whole part of being able to fly around the country and present and all of that. You know, I think that’s part I miss greatly and you know, maybe someday that will come back. 

Mike Waldrop: [00:20:52] Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s really hard.

And although I’ve been surprised that more things got done than I thought remotely, but it’s still hard when you’re not, [00:21:00] you know, Cause you know, the best parts of the meeting usually usually happen in the hallway before you walk in or on the way out when somebody is like, yeah, that guy’s a real jerk and I know, you know, or whatever, but yeah.

So last 

Tom Wentworth: [00:21:12] question for you. So you’ve been a career, you’ve been a career se and as you’re sorta, it’s one of the rare, you’re one of the rare career SES that I know. And I want to know a little bit the path because my path into marketing came through being an se. I think it’s something. If, if I were a junior se and I were listening to this podcast, I’d be thinking about, you know, my path and where I can go.

Like what’s. How do you describe the career path for the SES that you bring up? 

Mike Waldrop: [00:21:40] Yeah. So it’s always a tough conversation because a lot of times I get a lot of essays that are frustrated that there’s not a well charted course. Like what is the course? What do I do first? What comes after that? And then what’s next.

And it’s, it’s very, it’s very, it’s quite varied depending on what you want to do. [00:22:00] So yeah. And I’ve done, I’ve done a little bit of product management. I’ve done a little bit of other things enough to know that this is where I really want to be. But what I usually try to do is say, don’t tell me the job you want to do.

Tell me what kinds of. Activities and, and satisfaction you get out of the different things that happen. Like, do you get satisfaction from customer interaction, then you want to stay down a path that puts you in front of customers more. If you get satisfaction out of the technology, that’s a different tab.

If you get, you know, if you’re intrigued by, you know making a better mouse trap. I think the people that I see that do really well, going down the marketing path are the ones that really enjoy putting together the vision and elevating it. Right. So how do I, how do I take all of these 10 things that I know and put it into three sentences that cover all that.

And some people are really good at it. I I’ve had a lot of people that have gone down a product marketing path. That’s usually a very commonplace because. [00:23:00] That technical expertise is so useful. And, and you, and a few others that have gone down even even other marketing paths, which I think is very cool.

So yeah, I usually, you know, when the career path conversation comes up, what are the things about being an se that you like? Are you really just trying to get more money and more seniority, or do you want to do different activities and then try to use that to find a path. Right. Do you want to be a product expert?

You know, there’s usually some technical path that, you know, more product expertise. I want to be the biggest and baddest and best is that some technical piece of it? Or do you want to do people leadership? Right. So that’s the most common career path challenge I’ve seen in the se ranks is people assuming the next step is people leadership.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So that’s the presumption is if I want to move forward, I need to get an se manager job, or I need to get a, whatever 

Tom Wentworth: [00:23:56] to be. So  I worked for you and then you [00:24:00] moved on and I ended up leading the team that you had managed. At one point, I hated being an se manager, dealing with the reps who would ask.

I want this person, not this person all those management and all the SES wanting, when am I going to become a principal?  It’s one of the reasons why I got into marketing because that path to me was, 

Mike Waldrop: [00:24:22] yeah.

Yeah. It’s people assume that they’re going to like it because it’s higher up the chain. But again, that goes back to. Hey, what is it that you like to do? Let me explain to you what I know about those roles. Like, you know, remember, especially when you and I worked together, there was this. We worked with a lot of sales reps that made a lot of money.

People are like, Oh, I want to go do that. Like they don’t, they don’t have to build a demo and they get a nice big fat check and it was easy to ignore, like the pressure, the, you know, so I always tell SCS I’m like, are you willing? To get beat up for something you had very little control over. If you’re a customer and gets hit by a bus the day before [00:25:00] closing, nobody says, well, you did a great job right up until the end, and then you didn’t get the deal.

Right. So it’s like that reality of that’s the sales rep life. And some people love it and do great at it. And you know, those kinds of things, but yeah, people management is I think the, the parts that people don’t see, like if I’m a good se manager, And you’re on my team. You don’t see the ugly parts.

Yeah, 

Tom Wentworth: [00:25:23] well, that’s, we’ve got a great one at recorded future and his job is to manage the metrics and it’s it’s, it is crazy how much more metrics there are now. I don’t remember what my POV close rate was or any of the things that I think now we can measure at a much more granular level than we could ever do before.

Mike Waldrop: [00:25:42] Yeah. Data-driven, it’s data-driven is tough, but we, we face that where I am now. It’s, it’s tough to measure. SES purely on data, but it’s a, it’s a, it’s a, where did they go for sure. But it’s tricky. Yeah. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:25:55] Well, as we wrap this up, the data, I think you and I can both agree on as a marketer, as an [00:26:00] se, that matters is, is revenue.

And I feel the same way, and I felt the same way as an se, when I would lose. I remember the losses more than I remember the wins. Yeah. I can still go back and think of the deals that I’ve lost. Because they are, they were heartbreak. I can’t remember the deals I won except for the first one, but I can remember 

Mike Waldrop: [00:26:19] most of the bosses.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I think, you know, everything is good when revenue is flowing. Right. There’s no you know, there’s nothing bad about that, for sure. So and then, you know, I’ve always found it interesting that it’s part of the interview process. I usually ask people about. About that? Like, how do you, how do you feel about accelerators and how do you feel about stuff like that?

Is that something that even crosses your mind? And if it does, then they’re usually pretty sales oriented. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:26:47] Thanks for your time today. Really appreciate it. Great perspective on the sales engineer, marketing relationship

By Tom Wentworth

CMO at Recorded Future | Formerly Acquia, RapidMiner | I like math, open source, and the Smashing Pumpkins

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