Sales Engineer MBOs

I recently covered some of the different compensation split options available for Sales Engineers at a very high level. This prompted a few questions, mostly around the use of MBOs. As a follow-up, let me go into the various options available to SE management as well as some common pitfalls.

MBOs are targeted performance goals. As such they should always follow the SMART approach. Even though a standard quota plan is just an example of an MBO, most sales/SE managers use the term more to apply to goals other than sales targets. For this article, I will refer to it in its more general sense.

The Four Pillars

Others may group them differently, but to me there are 4 categories of MBOs for SEs:

  1. Business/financial
  2. Employee satisfaction/enablement
  3. Customer satisfaction
  4. Process (continuous) improvement

This ensures that the 3 main stakeholders in business are accounted for: shareholders/owners, employees, and customers.


These are the goals that concentrate on the financial statements and address the needs of shareholders or owners. I suppose this is technically a euphemism for “shareholder satisfaction” These are also the most common compensation plan metrics—sometimes the only one (over 70% of SEs have a bonus plan tied to sales/revenue). This is even more so for AEs. Here are some options that may be available depending on your company’s revenue reporting capabilities:

  • Percent attainment of quota
  • Number of new customers
  • Number of tradeshows attended
  • Percent time spent in customer-facing activities
  • Percent growth in pipeline
  • Percent growth in average opportunity size
  • Percent decline in average opportunity age
  • Percent decline in assigned opportunities without SE involvement/tasks
  • Percent growth in deals won with SE involvement or specific activity (e.g. POC)
  • Percent growth in deals won vs. competition or specific competitors

Employee Satisfaction/Enablement

There is a host of revenue generating activities that are not specific to one’s own accounts. Creating sales collateral and supporting other account teams are specific examples. This category also applies to activities that go to morale boosters which address the needs of the employee stakeholder. Examples include:

  • Number of supplemental sales/marketing/support/implementation collateral created (and shared!)
  • Number of opportunities assisting regional sales teams in your personal niche
  • Number of posts on company bulletin boards or other social networking contributions
  • Number of published trip/win/loss reports
  • Number of informal training sessions (e.g. lunch and learns) delivered

Customer Satisfaction

Goals in this category encourage positive and long-term relationships with customers, which is in everyone’s best interest. These can include:

  • Number of repeat customers (renewals)
  • Number of published case studies or customer references
  • Percent achievement on customer sat surveys
  • Number of customer requested product features submitted to product management

Process (continuous) Improvement

Each of the other categories addressed a specific business stakeholder. Process improvement is a very broad category that concentrates on the foundational goals that generate continuous improvement in each of the others. This is best illustrated by the concept of moving the fulcrum over, or sharpening the saw in Covey terminology. It covers everything from contributions to business process improvement to personal development. Examples include:

  • Number trainings attended
  • Acquisition of a new skill or certification
  • Percent of activities documented in CRM
  • Contribution to special projects
  • Time management goals


Each of these basic options can be tailored (and weighted too) in numerous ways limited only by your creativity and ability to get at the data. You can focus these goals on specific products, business segments, or even competitors so that they align to company strategy.


With the ability to be flexible also comes the possibility of actually lowering productivity if you aren’t wise in how you approach them. Some of the most common pitfalls include:

  • Not keeping them SMART. The biggest culprit here always seems to be measurability. In many cases a desired result is qualitative. In these cases I employ “correlated result” approach where I seek out measureable events that typically lead to (or are correlated with) the desired result I am after. Example: It’s difficult to measure someone’s product knowledge, so the measureable result is attending a training, passing a specific test, etc.
  • Not publishing continuous results. We all need immediate feedback to make the biggest impact on results. If you’re only reviewing quarterly or (gulp) annually, you’ll find the process very ineffective and discouraging.
  • Reliance on manual compilation. If you need to manually jump through hoops to get the data you need it is that much harder to integrate them into daily practice. Automate the process whenever possible.
  • No scoreboard. Even if you just keep it in your team, your people need to benchmark. Friendly competition in my experience is good. The best will benchmark against themselves. Keep it updated frequently.
  • Tedious recordkeeping. If your SEs have to spend an inordinate amount of time entering data so that you can report on it, your program is destined for failure (or minimally noncompliance).
  • Unintended consequences. Over reliance on these metrics leads to pressure to game the system. Communicate the spirit of the goals and the behavior you are wanting to see.
  • Top down only. When each of us is involved in setting our own goals, we feel natural ownership. Involve your team in the creation process, even if by a committee that standardizes them for the entire organization. No taxation without representation!
  • Not communicating the why. If your SEs don’t know why something is important, you will have a difficult time getting ownership of the number.
  • Metric overload. Anything over 10-12 goals starts to become overwhelming. Keep is short and sweet.
  • Business only. We in Sales are naturally focused on business results. Over-weighting your goals in Business ignores other stakeholders and ultimately leads to lowered effectiveness.

Hopefully this gives you a head start on crafting your own MBO program. By no means is my list comprehensive and should be thought of as a starting point of discussion. Mastering Technical Sales also has a balanced scorecard that may be helpful that matches fairly well with this post. I’m also working on a template for me to use personally that I will include here in the future.