How important is culture to your presales team? Jesse White of Katalyst explains why culture matters and how to build a great culture with your team.

Jon Scott
Hey everybody, welcome to the first episode of In Scope. I have a friend and colleague of mine here, Jesse White, Director of Solutions Engineering and Field CTO of Katalyst. And he’s been a big part of our ScopeStack journey.

I’m just excited to have him here today. Thank you for joining us!

Jesse White
Jon, excited to be here, and to the audience, thanks for tuning in. What are we going to talk about?

Jon Scott
We’re going to talk about the importance of culture and a presales team. I’ve seen you build some pretty awesome teams, and they always have something special.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about how why is culture important? What are some of the things that you do?

Jesse White
It’s a cosmic issue that I think a lot of people struggle with. And if nothing else, happy to share what I think.

Jon Scott
Does it start with who you hire? Is it something that you can build?

Start with an Assessment

Jesse White
Every employee that we onboard takes a DISC assessment. Let’s say you were coming on to work at our company. You would take about a 90-minute behavioral assessment. And from that, we would meet behind your back with a psychologist.

And she would profile you and plot you based on your behavioral intentions against all the other folks in our organization that has had success in a similar role.

And so what we’ve tried to do literally before we’ve even shaken hands or had an in-person on-site interview we have a pretty good understanding of what makes that person tick.

Hire for Curiosity

We know there are coin-operated people in the solutions engineering space, there are propellerhead-operated people, ones that just are so curious. And in the first, you know, persona, if you will, you can almost smell that, as we like to call it, “commission breath” coming through their assessment and that is not a fit for us.

And the curious person, which is a requirement for anybody on my team, clearly comes through in a completely different light. And, and so I think culture starts, you know, innately in a person. It’s something that I think is somewhat teachable, but mostly natural – people either have the attributes that you want to incorporate to your team or they don’t.

Look for Culture Add, Not Culture Fit

And then I think the other thing that a lot of people get wrong, is they hire for what they call a culture fit. And I think my philosophy and I think the one that our company embodies is a culture add ons, right.

So we have swim lanes, we run our organization on the Entrepreneurial Operating System, and we have our core values and ideal client profile, and all of these things clearly documented, which we’ll talk about clarity and culture here in a second.

But I really do think that making sure fundamentally, you’re getting that part of the equation, right, solves a lot of other problems.

Jon Scott
I know from my past experience of hiring someone that finding someone that is good at presales, someone explained to me as being like a Jedi Knight. It’s a very unique individual that has that level of curiosity.

But that can talk to a client talk business outcomes, and like talk to, you know, where you want to take this business. Have you found that to be the same?

What Makes a Good Presales Engineer?

Jesse White
I think it’s hard to find that person in any realm of technology, right? You know, when we talk about what we talk about is being a chameleon, right?

And so no matter what setting a reasonably good solutions engineer presales engineers in, they have to operate with this perception of the people that are around them, right and usually you’ll talk to who you sound like.

Solutions Engineers as Trusted Advisors

But great presales are solutions engineers are able to elevate and climb that escalator of relevancy as they move throughout the organization. And so, you know, there are the six keys to winning and so many times that that inside champion, and so many times that relationship is not owned by the seller. It’s owned by the solutions engineer.

Those are the ones that are having cocktails with the family, you’re going into barbecue or whatever on the weekend. And once you forge relationships like that, this perception of a trusted advisor really shines through I think one of the

Jon Scott
things, that’s part of the reason they’re one of the most valuable resources, and in some of these organizations, right, not the most valuable, but one of the most valuable, and also the most expensive.

Jesse White
Yeah, for sure, I think the good ones, you know, are well compensated, I think solutions engineers, you know, in general, if you were to line 1000 of them up, you know, and pick, you know, three of them out. There’s one similarity that they all have, and that is that they almost want to stand a little bit under someone else’s risk umbrella.

Encourage Your SEs to Step Outside of Their Comfort Zones

And so while they don’t mind confrontation, or conflict or asking hard questions, one of the things that I think is that cautious, you know, left brain, right brain kind of collision between a traditional seller and a solutions engineer, and where we see culture really stand out is when we can get those competent solutions engineers to step a little bit out of their comfort zone, and lead from the front.

And I think this is fundamentally when you find someone that can do that. And I have the benefit of having several on my team. The transformation that can take place in your organization is it’s immeasurable. But yeah,

Jon Scott
So going back to the whole culture piece, and really, the relationships that a presales engineer can have with a sales executive, like do you find yourselves matching certain characteristics and a seller and a presales engineer? Like how do you go about putting those pieces together?

Pairing the Right SEs with the Right Selleres

Jesse White
There are really four roles of solutions engineer, I think there’s actually like a Dilbert about this right. But the first one is marriage counselor. And so I think, you know, depending on who they’re paired up with, they’re always that rock and confidant for their seller.

And if they’re in a, in a shared role, it’s the same thing, just at a less severe level. What I also would say is that pairing and matching strengths and weaknesses is something that we use that tool for, okay, so if we have a very high influence person, and a very dominant person, you put those two together, you may have a recipe for butting heads, right?

But if you put a planner wedding kind of coordinator, person, and very strong Solutions Engineer together, you’ll have a Batman and Robin team that really goes well.

Jon Scott
And how do you know what will work well together? Is it like you’ve just been around, you’ve seen it enough times to know, okay, that person, that person is not going to work?

How to Improve Your Team Culture

Jesse White
Yep. So what we do is, again, we literally use a psychologist to help make that decision, because it can, it can be tarnishing, to the culture to have the wrong pairings of people, right.

And sometimes the velocity at which our business runs, we don’t always have an opportunity to get that perfect. And we make some adjustments later.

But the other big thing in that is, is in the thing that I think most impacts our culture is clarity. And what I mean by clarity is the key to speed, right? It’s the key to velocity, it’s the key to focusing, you know, people and I think when culture gets out of whack, it’s because people are going all over the place.

And because of that, we really focus on clarity in making sure our culture is whole, you know, for sure.

Team Culture Exercise

Jon Scott
So myself as well as many other people have seen a few posts you’ve had on LinkedIn, one of them was you had people wear a poncho of paper. Why did you make them do that?

Jesse White
Well, this is one of the best exercises, I think that we’ve ever done. I didn’t think through some of the logistics of it. You know, some people wore their best shirts and were worried about the Sharpies. And obviously, there’s the personal bubble, right? Some people have this space that they don’t want people getting in.

But this is really around just what we call radical candor, right? And a culture of not letting problems fester and not letting things that are small, and may be seen as unimportant turn into, you know, major challenges in the business.

So that exercise, which is one we’ll certainly do again, we’ve got another one for our next all hands, we do these things quarterly and they’re just it’s a great fun time to really help build relationships because we’ve all been a little disconnected as you’re heard of this thing. I can’t remember what it’s called.

Jon Scott

Focus on Amplifying Your Teams’ Strengths

Jesse White
COVID! Yes, yes. I think we’re past that. But the whole point there is in our culture, we truly believe that if we work to amplify the strengths of our people, versus correcting the weaknesses, we will have better results.

And so I could spend all day telling you all the things that you do terribly. I could share experiences and challenges that I’ve had, and how you either contributed to my success or took me away from the goal.

And in all seriousness, you could do the same thing to me, and it would take a lot longer.

Or I could spend that focus, enabling you to be great at the four things that really make you who you are, you could do the same for me, you could say, hey, Jessie, you know, we want to work on your presence, because we feel like it needs help, right? Or you could say, you know, maybe you use comedy more in your podcast, or whatever.

We try to course-correct things that you can’t really change instead of amplifying the strengths that people have. And that’s what we’ve chosen to do.

The Poncho Exercise

So your original question, what’s the poncho exercise, you literally take a pair of a piece of the tear-off poster board, you fold it twice, you know, in half and in half, and you tear a small semi-circle out of it at this point, and then you adorn yourself with it.

And on the front, you have your team members write the one thing that you do that enables our company to dominate our market. And everybody can see that, and they’re happy about it. And it’s a very powerful thing.

But on the back, you write the one thing that Jon Scott’s doing that’s holding our company back. And the goal is, and if you’re familiar with Greek mythology and Roman mythology you know that where we get January from was a Roman god. And she had two faces, one was happy and always looking forward, and the other one was very unpleasant and looked backward.

And the point is, is that you’re supposed to always be looking to improve in both ways, not being completely oblivious to your weaknesses.

That was a fascinating exercise. And my hope was that it was encouraging and fun and a great team-building thing. But then, when the people got home, that they literally unfolded their poncho because we didn’t look at the back of them. And in a point of reflection, they could see what their peers said about them.

The Importance of Trust

And that’s the third thing is trust, In solutions engineers, there’s not a bigger trust component, because essentially, your seller is putting the destination in the future of their solution, and in their commission check right in their hands, for a period of time.

And then from there, most importantly, the client is just 100% in trusting you to bring the right solution process, methodology, all these things that we talked about. And it’s a very, it’s a high, high-velocity role. And there’s a lot of room for error if they’re not skilled at it. So

Jon Scott
I think, just to kind of wrap this up, one of the reasons we wanted to start our very first podcast episode with this topic is sometimes we overlook these important aspects that are building a business and building a great team.

And we go straight to the, you know, the nuts and bolts of workflows and automation, all the things that we love talking about, right, but like, until you have a really solid core of culture and clarity, it’s really hard to then make a scalable process.

So what is to again, to wrap this, like, what is one thing that you would suggest or you could recommend to people that they can do, is the first step to get engaged with a psychologist?

Jesse White
Yeah, I think that’s made a tremendous difference. And I know a lot of our competitors do that, right. It’s a service that I think a lot of us subscribe to because the most costly thing we can do is make a bad hire. And so that investment is huge.

Keep Your Team Happy

But I think really, you know, for me, at least, and in making sure that that you’re driving that you know, kind of in a 360-view is the power of kind of the one on one eye and making sure that you know, one of the things we do in our company is like the star rating system.

“Jon, how happy are you on a one to five? In your career, in your destination, in your journey, at Katalyst?”

“Well, I’m a 4.2.”

“Jon, my job as your leader is to get you to a five. And I want to keep you at a five and if there are challenges, right, literally talk about those things.”

But I really do think providing your be your teammates, again, my people work with me, not for me, I just get in the trenches with them every day and enjoy that.

But making sure that you’re excavating, you know, a lot of times people have, believe it or not, sometimes people won’t actually tell you what they weren’t really thinking. And so having a process to kind of excavate that real thing, that’s, you know, in the back of their mind or in the challenge, that they may not share is key.

And of course, you got to have trust first, right? And you’ve worked to earn trust, you don’t automatically get it. But I do think, Jon, that that that clarity piece, and then getting from your team, an understanding of exactly what’s on the back of your own poncho, right? And what’s on the front of it.

I think working on amplifying those things is, is really big. So if you said “Jesse, what’s ‘the one thing'” I would say, “focus on amplifying your people’s strengths.” There’s, there’s this book, and it talks about the red thread.

And the whole thought is that in the event that you’re doing something that you love, generally, your strengths, you’re going to be like 40 times more productive.

So think about that, the average SE is carrying a $2 million gross profit number, right? If you can make them happier, they’re gonna make more. And it’s just it’s a win-win.

Where You Can Find Jesse

Jon Scott 
Again, back to the importance of culture, right? Yeah. So massive. Tell us, you know, I love everything you’re about and all your wisdom and all this great stuff. Tell us where can people find out more about you your business?

Jesse White
Yeah, so LinkedIn is the way to get a hold of me, I would say. And then Katalyst is literally, you know, what we like to say, Jon is we are our clients’ tour guides, not travel agents.

And so we don’t want to be transactional. We want to be on the journey with our customers from start to finish whatever their destination is.

And so is the place to get the buzz, the feeds, everything that you need to know about us.