Sales Engineering discussion with Marjorie Abdelkrime

Published on: April 8th, 2021

Guest Speaker


Marjorie Abdelkrime

Head of Multi-Cloud at VMWare

About the Podcast

Marjorie Abdelkrime is sales engineering leader and has been instrumental in many presales forums. She is currently working as the “Head of cloud” at VMWare. In this episode, she shares her view of sales engineering processes, and talks about the technical close plan, among many other interesting topics.


[00:00:00] Vik: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the podcast, the Proof is in the Pudding. For this episode, we bring you a very experienced and seasoned SE leader. We have Marjorie Abdelkrime in our show today.

[00:00:12] Marjorie, how are you doing?

[00:00:14] Marjorie: I’m doing great. How are you?

[00:00:16] Vik: I am very good. Thank you, Marjorie, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your experience as a solution engineering leader, and how you’re doing at VMware?

[00:00:26] Marjorie: Sure, Sure. Thanks again for inviting me Vik for this very interesting chat here today.

[00:00:31] As you mentioned, my name is Marjorie Abdelkrime and I lead our America’s cloud SE team at VMware. And basically, what our team is doing is helping our customers. Transition into cloud environments leveraging our solutions as well as partnering with other organizations. My background is in actually data governance.

[00:00:50] So it’s not even in infrastructure. I started early on doing archiving for customers and helping them understand, the rules and regulations around data and how to manage their data in their environment. And obviously one thing leads to the next. But yeah, so solution engineering, I started actually in an SE role, I think it was about 2008.

[00:01:14] And we’ll talk a little bit more about, how I started there, but, any anecdotes or fun facts, love hiking. I love traveling. Definitely enjoy being outside and spending time with nature.

[00:01:27] Vik: Great. We definitely need more women in sales engineering.

[00:01:32] And I was curious how did you get into solution engineering?  How did it happen?

[00:01:37] Marjorie: Yeah, I actually was a consultant for a software company. That’s actually where I started my career in the vendor world. And the company had decided to change directions as to how they were managing professional services and wanted to

[00:01:54] leverage partners more. So, they decided to change their structure internally. And I was actually pushed into an SE role. I like to say that I went kicking and screaming because I had a very different perspective of what it was to be an SE. I had never, done it firsthand. And I remember very succinctly one day I was walking with the VP of our services organization that they were making the decision and the changes were being made.

[00:02:22] And, I was very unhappy and he looked at me and he said, Marjorie, this is going to be the best thing that happens to you in your career. And I looked at him with. This, look of you have no idea what you’re talking about mister. And I recall two months after the switch into the SE role, my manager calls me after a vacation and he’s Hey, how are you enjoying the role?

[00:02:44] And I said, this is the first time I went on vacation and no one called me about a customer’s data center going on fire, or, something completely falling apart. So, I was excited about the fact that I, as a services person, you have to be available, especially when you’re implementing something in incorrect mission, critical environments.

[00:03:03] That’s not necessarily the case of an SE also is very different in terms of how you engage your customer. You’re not fighting against dollars that you’re trying to get. Once the deal has been closed, you’re trying to actually get things implemented. And it was all obviously very different and a lot of fun customers are a lot more Interested in hearing from you.

[00:03:20] There are a lot more engaging and, I’ve enjoyed the role. I’ve obviously gone back and forth into services since then, but I’ve always come back to the SE role to say this was a much more fun place to be.

[00:03:32] Vik: Sure. No, thank you very much. This is a great background, especially for the people who want to join solutions engineering or sales engineering because it’s sometime, it’s not very obvious. What does it take as the people who are experienced? They already know what the role is, what the expectation is, but someone who’s moving from the other side, sometimes it’s not very clear. What exactly does it take to become a solutions engineering and to run it. So

[00:04:00] Marjorie: There’s just one thing, sorry. So, there are a ton of resources, by the way out there for folks who are coming from a non-traditional background, there are groups that are being formed, like one that we are part of here in New York area, it’s called Solution Engineering New York.

[00:04:16] There is this new group that’s being started called the presales collective. So, a lot of organizations are being stood up to. Help people understand more about the SE role, especially if you’re coming from a background that’s not traditionally sales.

[00:04:30] Vik: I agree. And I would like to give a shout out to a Sales Engineering New York group.

[00:04:35] It’s a great group of very active, very supportive of each other. And it’s a great group to be part of.  So now, I want to talk to you about the technical close plan. I still remember, I saw one of your post about the technical close plan. And I was curious what it is.

[00:04:54] And so can you talk about what the technical close plan is and how SE leaders should build and execute it?

[00:05:03] Marjorie: Yeah. So, I think a lot of folks, when they think technical close plan, the first thing that comes to their mind is proof of concept. How do I structure a POC? But I think that’s a mistake, right?

[00:05:15] We as SEs have the opportunity to influence how our customers manage and deploy whatever software we are introducing to them in a truly effective manner by introducing them to services, to education, to our customer success teams and making them really think about the overarching impact to their end users as well, and even their own customers.

[00:05:37] So I view the technical close plan beyond just the basics of a POC, quite frankly. I’m more of the advocate. If you can avoid doing a POC avoid it, you don’t necessarily need to validate your solution through a POC. Like I said, technical close plan can encompass it. I view the technical close plan as an opportunity to accelerate the value.

[00:06:01] So if you think of plans that you put together to help your customer truly understand the output outcomes and the impacts that are linked with the overall life cycle of the software that you’re looking to introduce to them. You should be working with the customer to propose an overall design that doesn’t include just the software.

[00:06:21] You’re thinking about the delivery, the outcome, the risks that you’re potentially introducing the end user experience, and then the customer experience. So, the customer’s customer, and then it’s about defining these clear, measurable goals. So, for example, a leader should be really thinking about, does the SE understand what is the business problem that the customer is looking to solve?

[00:06:45] And a lot of times SE’s believe that the business problem is only held at, a C level or VP level, but we should be talking about business problems at the technical decision makers level. Do they understand the problem that they’re trying to solve? Because quite frankly, sometimes they don’t and when we help them understand that we now can help them become so much more creative and so much more valuable to their leadership.

[00:07:10] So now you’re giving them a promotion opportunity, right? Driving their own value. So, helping them understand the business problem, then it’s about defining the technical problems and the requirements that they’re looking to solve and putting through all of the needs of the customer has, and actually documenting it, making sure that you and the customer understand it.

[00:07:30] During, also the initiative, you’re also trying to help them understand what does that life cycle look like? So, once you’ve implemented, what does the rollout look like? How do you get your end users? If their end users involved? What’s the impact? What’s your technology refresh life cycle look like, right?

[00:07:45] Helping them again, think about the end to end versus just I’m buying a piece of software. And, I know that a lot of times now we think of SaaS is easy to build and easy to configure, but even some SaaS products. Do require you to think about every component of how you’re impacting your customer’s environment.

[00:08:04] And then really, it’s about helping them define measurable outcomes. So, what are things that you can measure, how quickly are you trying to deliver value? So, what is that time to value? How are you establishing those measurements? How are you impacting operations? What is the downtime that you’re looking to make sure that you’re avoiding or make sure that you’re documenting?

[00:08:25] So there are things like that. The other thing that you want to include in your technical close plan again, is, are you inviting to the conversation, your education peers, right? If you have folks within your organization that are support supporting customer education, are they part of this discussion?

[00:08:42] Is customer success part of the discussion so that we can talk about actual adoption and making sure that we understand what the usage is going to look like from month one, month two, et cetera. And then finally, obviously services, I think is a big one that a lot of folks tend to not really think about.

[00:08:57] Tends to be an afterthought when we’re doing sales. I was like, Oh, let’s hurry up and put together a statement of work, but that should actually be part of your initial discussions. Let’s talk about how we actually get this done in your environment.

[00:09:09] Vik: That’s great.  I’m also curious to know how does solution engineering work at VMware?

[00:09:16] Can you give us some insights into what it takes to build and run SE team at the scale of VMware and especially because you come also from the services background how do you see and how does your lookout impact. Or help you in running the solution engineering team at VMware?

[00:09:35] Marjorie: Yeah. So, VMware we obviously sell a lot of different solutions to our customers from, security to application support to cloud solutions, right? So, our portfolio is very varied and that means that we have specialist teams that provide the technical expertise to support it.

[00:09:54] Now we have, what we call our core team. And those are the individuals that you would consider like an account, SE, right? The individual that owns that account relationship and makes sure that they’re having those day-to-day conversations with their customers and bringing to them, the specialist teams to talk about the latest and greatest thing.

[00:10:11] So that’s the nuclear component of, or the nucleus of our organization or from an SE perspective as a core SE, and then. As necessary we bring in the additional team members. I think what makes VMware successful is the collaboration that exists within the organization, right? The ability of all of these teams.

[00:10:32] And there are many of them within our company, all, we seem to be able to work together in a manner that is very seamless to our customer. Our customer doesn’t see 15 companies, our customer sees a single company that’s really trying to help them. Through their digital transformation by the support of the core SE with all of the underlying, it’s like that that analogy of, the duck with the swimming legs, you don’t really see the swimming legs.

[00:10:57] It’s very stable up on the top. That’s your core SE and the legs on the bottom is then, working with their specialist teams.

[00:11:04] Vik: Oh, so I want to talk to you about now about the POCs. So, we already discussed about the technical close plan and sometime even avoiding the POC, but it is not always possible to avoid the POC sometime we still end up doing the POCs.

[00:11:22] When we, when you go into those situations where you have to go through the POCs, have you identified any best practices or pattern to keep the POC short or more efficient or how to make a POC successful any best practices you can share with us?

[00:11:39] Marjorie: Absolutely. Yeah. So, I think a POC, like you said, sometime is unavoidable, and you’ll need to make sure that you’re having those conversations with your customer and your team.

[00:11:50] I think. A lot of times, like I mentioned here, we have core and specialist teams and making sure that conversation is really clear from the beginning. So that’s step number one is. What is the expectation? What are we looking to drive? What is the customer looking for to make sure that we’re all on the same page to to deliver the proper results to the customer.

[00:12:13] So understanding roles and responsibilities, not just from, within your customer not from within your own organization, but also from, within your customer. Think about it. If you are selling software that impacts the customer’s infrastructure. And you’re looking at, implement one component you need to understand, are you going to need to involve the networking folks?

[00:12:32] Are you going to need to involve security? Are you going to need to make sure that you have the communications in place that if you’re going to bring something down that it’s part of an outage plan, right? So that’s number one. I think number two is defining what are you actually looking to achieve and validate throughout the POC process?

[00:12:50] What are some of the highlights. That you are looking to make sure that you’re demonstrating to the customer and make sure that they agree to those as well. I think it’s super important that it’s very clear. You’re looking for the following. Let’s make sure that we’re showing you the following in that validates the POC.

[00:13:06] And then finally, I think one thing that a lot of a lot of us are always afraid to do it should be time-bound. You should not have a never ending POC. This tends to happen with our larger customers. I’ve seen some POC go for a year or more which is why it’s super important that you have a time bound POC, right?

[00:13:26] We don’t have unlimited number of resources in a company, whether it be, our own team members or the tools and software licensing that, might need be needed to support a POC. It’s super important that we time bound it so that we can make sure that the customer also understands that they have something that they need to report back to us to make sure that we’re delivering on the success criteria that they defined.

[00:13:48] Vik: Absolutely. I can’t agree with you more on being a time-bound and making sure the POCs are finishing on time and the longer the POCs are going most likely the chances of being successful gets lesser and lesser as the POC is good.

[00:14:04] And especially the POC, especially with the, I’ve done POC with large customers who go for a year more than almost one and a half year. So, I definitely agree with you. Now, what are some of the success factors that you look for when you are doing the POCs or running solution engineering team?

[00:14:22] Marjorie: Yeah. So, I think it’s important that you as a leader, you’re having a strategic cadence with your teams that you truly understand the impact that they’re having to the business.

[00:14:33] I re recommend that you have a clearly defined quarterly cadence with your SE team, that you’re defining certain components that you’re looking to execute on. And it doesn’t have to just be, Hey, what are the top five deals that you’re working on? I think it’s important that you talk to your team members about, Hey, what are some of the demos that you’re.

[00:14:51] You’re doing what are the new use cases that you’re seeing? What are some resources that you need? So again, as a leader, it’s important that you do that, but other things that you want to look out for from a successful SEs perspective, are they engaging your channel, right? If your company is channel friendly and you’re doing a lot of work through your partners, it’s important that your teammates also partner with their partners right in, and make sure that they’re having conversations on a regular basis with them understanding, what other tools and resources they might need to continue to up-level their game.

[00:15:22] They don’t have the same internal insights that you might have as an individual that works for a certain company. To his understanding, we tend to do a lot of white spaces of products, right? So, if if you are a company that sells security, you tend to try to figure out which one of your customers does has your software, right?

[00:15:41] So that’s the type of white space we tend to talk about, but I’d like to do a customer contact white space. So, what do I mean by that? In the decision tree of a person that acquires your product you tend to have, for example, the technical decision maker, a manager, VP, a C-level person, and then the cross-functional be used that might necessarily, might be the ones that are actually funding this, who are your contacts and what’s your white space in your customer base.

[00:16:08] So that’s one conversation I like to have with the SEs is around customer contacts. Also understanding the level of attach services again for VMware, because we, we have super complex solutions. We do like to make sure that we’re selling services in our opportunities. One one thing that I like to look for in just our deal base and conversations that I’m having with SEs is how are you pulling in services?

[00:16:34] How much of an attach are you bringing in your opportunities that are services oriented? Those are certain things. Obviously the other KPIs that you could potentially measure is how much training are you doing? I know a lot of companies. That have asked me this question and I’m asked, Hey, how much is good?

[00:16:49] We here tend to average around 40 hours per quarter, but I think it’s important that, if you have a rapidly changing solution that changes every month, then it should be evaluated on a monthly basis. How much learning is your team doing on a monthly basis to be able to keep up. With the changing products that you have also, if you’re in an industry or vertical, that’s rapidly changing as well, what are you doing to keep up with the education from your customer base to make sure that you’re able to hold those conversations?

[00:17:16] Vik: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, especially I can imagine the different the so many different variety of products at VMware and the length and breadth of the technology at these success factors is definitely very important. Now, I want to move a little bit on on the other side. So, can you share, what was the last book that you read recently, or in the past that you found very useful?

[00:17:40] It can be useful for other people who are working. It could be a technology book. It could be non-technology productivity book, any book that you can share with us.

[00:17:50] Marjorie: Yeah. Yeah.  The one that I’m currently reading with the recommendation from someone on my new team, so I just moved into this role.

[00:17:57] It’s been about a month and a half that I’ve been in the role. And I’ve been a you know, leader for several years and he’s Hey, I’m reading this book called, The First 90 Days and it’s about strategies on how to integrate into a new team. And at first, I was kinda thinking Oh I’ve done this many times before.

[00:18:14] I was like, you know what, let me just check it out. I’m sure there’s something valuable.  And actually, it’s a great refresher. So, if you’re entering a new team, whether it be as an individual contributor or as a manager the book gives you tons of recommendations on how to

[00:18:28] demonstrate your value, demonstrate your ability to influence your ability to work with other teams to team members that might not know you. I think that was super, super interesting. And then the other book that that I read that I felt was really neat was, Playing To Win. So, it’s really, it talks more about, product development, but I found it very applicable to just projects in general and how you should prioritize

[00:18:53] your time, your team’s time on different initiatives and making sure that you’re actually getting to closure. I think a lot of us tend to start initiatives, especially in SE world and don’t get to the end point. What does end actually look like? And what does good look like? I think the book really helps you put some thought together to that.

[00:19:13] So those are two that I like to recommend around just learning leadership, learning. And then the other one you asked earlier about women. That I like to share with women specifically is called career warfare. And I know the name sounds scary, but it really helps with folks thinking about how do I define my brand the way I want my brand to be defined.

[00:19:35] I want people to know me as a thought leader. How do I do that? So, it’s a very, it’s a very good read from that perspective. Definitely one that I suggest anyone to read. But especially, like I said to all of my female mentees that I spent a lot of time with that’s one book that I always tell them to read.

[00:19:52] Vik: Absolutely. This is great. I’ll definitely check these books out. And I’ll also add in my list of recommended books from our SE leaders for other people to know. So, thank you so much for sharing that. Now we reached to our one last question that I have, and that is. You’ve been working in services and you’re working in solutions engineering.

[00:20:15] What are some of your favorite tools or apps that you have used in the past, or that you find very useful that make life easier? It could be a technical tool or simply a productivity tool that something that you found really useful that made the life really easy for you.

[00:20:31] Marjorie: Yeah.  I’ll talk about something just now.

[00:20:33] I So I was always very resistant to using Slack. It just becomes this chatter box and people are very noisy and you’re not, you’re not actually communicating anything of value, but this new team that I’m on and I’m sure other teams are using this the same way is really using it as a collaboration tool to the fullest.

[00:20:52] And I have learned so much in the past four weeks. Just by watching the conversations that go through on Slack. So, if your team’s not using Slack or some other type of collaboration tool to communicate or if they already do, and you’re not a part of it, I would highly recommend that all leaders become part of you know, their team members, communication channels.

[00:21:14] Because I think it’s so important to see what they’re talking about and you get to see what are the challenges. And it also creates a great sense of community. So, my current favorite is Slack.

[00:21:23] Vik: Yeah, that’s very interesting. And I do agree with you. I think the, the tools are getting more real-time we had an emails which are, which are asynchronous.

[00:21:32] The Slacks are a little bit more real-time than email. You can talk to the people right away. They can respond right away. The messages are a lot shorter, more casual. They are not, don’t start with hello, hi. So, they definitely save lot of time in sending the emails back and forth. Also, I think recently with the new these work from home changes, I’ve seen some new tools coming up where they are more, customized for the virtual office kind of scenario, where they allow you to create virtual rooms and people can just, they will be going to a conference room and things like that.

[00:22:02] So, it’s great to see the, how the technology is changing, especially with this COVID-19 working from home. People are adapting to the new situation, how they can be more effective even while working remote.

[00:22:14] Marjorie Yeah, absolutely.

[00:22:16] Vik: So, Marjorie thank you so much. For this podcast today, I know the schedule gets very busy, but still you found some time for us and to join this podcast, I’m sure our listeners will find it very useful. So again, I thank you very much for joining us today.

[00:22:33] Marjorie: Awesome. Thank you for having me, Vik. I really appreciate that.

[00:22:36] Vik: Alright. So, that’s all for our podcast today. Thank you everyone and stay safe out there. Thank you.

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