Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Problem: Sales people want the best SE

Selling as a team is a little bit like a relationship. You always want to be sure the person you are selling with complements you, and also is able to make up for your deficiencies.

In fact that is the reason why Sales Engineers are necessary at all, to make up for the deficiency in the Salesperson to know enough technically about the product in order to sell it. The reason why SEs need a Salesperson is equally about the SE's lack of ability in commercial, negotiation and selling skills. There are probably rare cases of people who can do both, but then, if you are a good salesperson, you probably won't want the bother of having to stick around and explain technical details with techies.

So at the end of the day, the Sales staff will try to get the SE who can fill their gaps, and naturally the SE who can fill multiple gaps will be more desireable. So they will be encouraged by the Sales staff to learn all of the company's products, and be an expert in each of them.
Once someone has that aura of success over them, other Salespersons might feel that their deals are not as successful, and that with this SE, they might solve their problems. So they will gradually demand that this successful SE will help them as well. This is good for the SE if they are paid on commission and if they can choose to do the biggest and best deals, but in general, they will be torn in too many directions to make them all work.
Also it means that other SEs will miss opportunities when they are available, and possibly better positioned (either through knowledge or location) to deal with them.

How to solve this problem? Ensure that SEs and Salespeople have well defined pairings or groupings, and that the roles are well understood among the company. Also it is vital that new SEs get the training and attention they need to get up to speed and make their Salespeople successful. Its equally important that the Salespeople don't lose confidence in their SE, and that both sides feel comfortable in the relationship and optimistic in its success.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Problem: Sales people don't like the SEs

What's there not to like? Actually, quite a lot. Since many salespeople have a 50/50 commission to base ratio or higher, it is quite important for the salesperson to get along with and value the work of the sales engineer. So I guess you have to be a likeable person.

More importantly, as an SE, you need to make the salesperson successful. Its also your commission, but with a ratio of 2:1 or more salespeople to SEs, sometimes you have to make more than 1 salesperson happy. This can also lead to competition for your valuable time, which in turn means you need to spend your time on the things that make you more successful.

This final idea is probably the most important point. If you are able to manage your own time effectively, you should spend most of your time on the things that will make the most money.
That $500,000 deal that you spent 6 months on? Less important than the $100,000 deal that just took a 2 hour demo.

The salesperson who made you do all the work on a doomed project? Less important than the other guy who wins every deal he goes into.

Once you are into making the right balanced decisions on where to spend your time, you will see something leading to my next post... that the Sales person will always want the best SE.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Problem: Sales people cannot get an SE

It might be difficult for an SE to be available every time a salesperson wants them. In fact, the better an SE is, the more salespeople will lean on them, and also prefer them to other less successful SEs in the organisation.

The trick is, as a salesperson, sometimes it is an easy option to just get the techie in to show them the product. However, done too soon, this leads to giving an evaluation before finding that vital power person who could actually buy the product.

So obviously, a good SE skill is to have that power to lean back on the salesperson and get confirmation that the process has been followed up to that point. And then ask, is this necessary.

Although it is nice showing the product around, it doesn't always move the deal forwards, and if you show the wrong things, it can move things backwards!

Focus on PROOF. Prove that the product does what they need. No point in showing irrelevant things, just make sure they believe it works, and that it fits their vision (or redefines) of how they can solve the business problem.

Doing the right Proofs leads to moving the sales process forward, and removing any final doubts over whether this is a solution to the customer's problem.

Beware of people who just want to see the product, or think it is their job to evaluate fully every product under the sun. If you don't have any reason to think the customer could and will buy if the evaluation is succesful, then you shouldn't be in there.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Role of the Sales Engineer

I was reading a good article on Pragmatic Marketing about The Role of Sales Engineers in sales, and problems that occur in organisations that can't effectively use their SEs, or try using Product Management to fill the gap.

The article points out the main common problems, such as

Problem: Sales people cannot get an SE

Problem: Sales people don't like the SEs

Problem: Sales people want the best SE

and that Salespeople often try to use product management interchangeably with SEs. Product Management however is developing the next version of the product, while SEs are knowledgeable about the current one.

Over the next week, we will look at these three problems and possible solutions for them.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Pricing in a market - Bumps, Rollers and Cheapos

I was reading Seth Godin's blog today, on bumps or price points within a market. I then though about how it affects the Enterprise Software market.

A funny thing that happens is that you come in with what you feel is a reasonable price for a product and you could be out of alignment with other solutions easily by a factor of 10. I.e. Vendor XYZ is selling a tool for $100,000, and finds itself up against Tool ABC at $10,000 and also Enterprise Suite HAL for $1,000,000 or more. And it isn't necessarily the cheapest or best tool that wins.

How can this happen?

Well, software is created in various ways. Engineers write code, designed by overall product architects to achieve business goals.

Cheap Tool
Sometimes, an engineer or a small group of independent people will write a small point solution product and then just release it onto the web. This becomes a low-end solution, when a few companies use these products to fulfil a business need, but in general these products need the customer to do most of the implementation, support and basically fund upgrades themselves. This forms the low end of the market (normally) because this software doesn't have a business that is actively selling it to support.

Mid-Range Tool
Above the low end tools are the mid-range solutions developed by large and small software houses, who support their products and usually actively develop them. They usually can also help customers implement the product, and can also sometimes get into the business of building business process around them.
These tools can be attractive because they are new disruptive technologies, niche players fitting custom needs, solutions accurately tailored to the problem, rather than systems designed to do everything or else just fit a price/benefit point good for the customer.

Rolls Royce
At the top end of the market, you get tools similar to mid-range solutions, but it is usually the Rolls Royce solution of that market. Usually these are long established tools, perhaps owned by Corporations who have acquired the original manufacturer, to own the best of breed solution and even put it into a suite or toolbox of tools.
These products usually have big lead in times for implementation, but the software company or its partners will do the whole implementation, it might even be a hosted solution that sits off site, and even the processes surrounding the product are managed by the vendor. The attractiveness of these tools is that they are well known, referenced, and are overall a safe choice for CIOs.

With this knowledge in place, you see that different kinds of customers will want a tool from a different part of the market. Some companies might not expect their staff to be able to use a command line tool. On the other hand, other companies will not want an extended on-site presence from the vendor.

In the end the Cost of Ownership of the products can be mapped out, and the customer might decide on that basis. Building a framework of infrastructure to get the cheapo tool to achieve the business need might cost much more than the tool.
Midrange tools might require an amount of staffing, but basically do enough to solve the problem.
Rolls Royce solutions might need only minor staffing, but they might have already priced themselves out of it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Another Death by Powerpoint

I was reading David Airey's Creative Design site today and saw this funny video of Don McMillan showing his Life After Death By Powerpoint presentation. He gives great examples of things that shouldn't be in your powerpoint presentations, such as:
  • Including all the text that you speak on the slides
  • Having too much data
  • Spelling Mistakes
  • Death by bullet point
  • Bad Colour Schemes
  • Using the default font - and I'd extend this to default templates and styles - they've all been seen before...
If your presentations look too much like this, get yourself over to Presentation Zen to learn the art of presenting.

Friday, June 1, 2007

What does a Sales Engineer do?

Having searched in many of the wrong places I found an excellent article on Frank Hecker's site, telling the world what a Sales Engineer (SE) does.

Fundamentally, it is the job of the SE to support the sales process, to the point of selling the product, until the customer has paid the money. By that time, a full transition of the account should pass it on to a long-term implementation or support based team, whose job it is to keep the customer happy.

You often hear of customer's complaining that the consultant who got things working disappeared after the customer paid up, but that is basically their job. They are also called Pre sales consultants...

The basic tasks that exist before the sale are:
  • Getting technical requirements from customers
  • Web and Live Product demonstrations
  • Advising customers which products they need for a proposed solution
  • Writing more formal documents such as proposals, and answering RFIs
  • Managing the relationship with the customer at a technical level - including support questions, evaluation requirements, proof of concept, architecture
  • Assisting salespeople with sales strategy for an account
But the SE should work themselves out of the process by the time the product is sold. In my company this is facilitated by the Services Manager getting introduced before the sale, and assisting with the final Statement of Work (SOW) for the implementation. This works well if the Services Manager is aware of the product requirements of the customer at an early stage. Of course it is not good if the SE is the Services Manager...

SEs are also in an excellent place to feed back to the company any customer requirements that are not satisfied by the current product, and see if it is possible to find solutions. Often the ability to think outside the box will be of great assistance.