When we take on a new employee here at FirstRain, a lot of thought and energy is put into ensuring they are a really great fit. And so, unsurprisingly, when we recently expanded our sales engineering team, in the summer, it took us a few months and a couple job description rewrites to find our ideal candidate. Through that process I realized something interesting: what we needed in our early days when the FirstRain solution was still evolving is not what we need today.
Like many growing companies, in our early days we had a great idea and strong core technology but went through a process of understanding the real needs of the market and adapting our solution over time. In such an environment, the sales engineering role needed to be focused on tinkering and crafting solutions, managing clients, demonstrating consultative selling skills, architecting solutions and acting as a product specialist—really whatever needed to get done to help our growing customer base to “seamlessly” adapt the product to their needs and get the job done!
Needless to say, finding the perfect person to fit those chameleon-like standards was a bit tricky! At that time, we focused on finding an individual who could demonstrate analytical abilities and design thinking, who would excel in flexible environments, and would thrive as part of the tight relationship between our client solutions team, product development and leadership. This was essential in order to take important customer input and feed it back into our organization for immediate development or adaptation. In other words, bending the product to the customer’s will.
Although times like that are exciting and fun, they’re not easy. There were days that made you want to hide under your bed, and others where you were thumping your chest, knowing that that you are cracking the code. At times, every couple of weeks, we’d modify the sales process to see how we can shorten the sales cycle, increase close ratios and triage the outliers. Back then, we were correcting and adjusting, correcting and adjusting, getting ever closer to a repeatable solution and support model that worked across our target markets, or sometimes, just axing a target market from the list completely.
But as we started to hire for the team again in the summer of 2011—even though we had many extraordinary candidates—something was off.
We realized: the candidates were right, it was the job description that was wrong—wrong for the kind of company we are now. Today, FirstRain has a sophisticated solution set, clear target market and crisp sales process. In this environment, we now needed a different role, a more focused role that corresponds to what our customers need us to do today: Listen & Match.
As we noted in our (now updated) job description, today’s FirstRain Sales Engineers need to:
Listen to prospects and the account executive to validate and better match the solutions offered with the prospects business challenge. Asking good questions becomes critical, executing on the deliverable and work on workflow issues with the prospect becomes paramount.
With a new job description the resumes began to roll in, and we started to interview 3-5 candidates a week, it became clear … the new candidates matched what we needed today.
As our solutions have matured, we are no longer looking for people whose main skill was “bending” the product to do whatever a given customer needed. Instead, we now need people who deeply understand the capabilities of our solution set, can demonstrate design thinking, as well as understand the business challenges our customers experience – to effectively bridge that gap, develop a rollout plan, and execute! It’s often a delicate dance, and one that still requires great flexibility. Instead of ‘Solution Benders’ we now need ‘Solution Dancers’, a role which is more nuanced, more sophisticated, and, I’m starting to find, is a lot more fun to manage.