Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is there a need for Office 2010?

As new screenshots emerge of Office 2010
(neowin: Office 2010 screenshots emerge)

I wonder how well this will be taken on by the market. This the
current name for the upcoming Office 14, which will have such dramatic
features as Outlook storing your voicemail, just like an email.
Additionally there seems to be some nice improvements on the Outlook
web access from the browser
(Cnet: Office 2010) which is
apparently more supportive on non-MS browsers than before. One of
these will be conversation threading as seen in products like Gmail.

Why Office 14? Office 13 was skipped - as 13 is not considered a lucky
number. I wonder how many other products have had a number 13?

In the fall we should be able to see a technical preview version which
will show more of the features on all of the products. Will this, like
Windows Vista, be one of those releases that the market shows general
indifference to? Is Microsoft hitting a wall that customers are happy
enough with the products, that they don't need to see continual change
and improvement on. Since so much of Microsoft's technology is the
basis of working environments, corporations would rather not change
them, unless it shows a marked improvement or decrease in cost.

Otherwise, many customers would happily keep plodding along on the
same old technology as before.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Using GoToMeeting to deliver a Sales Demonstration

Going on from yesterday's post on Webinar tool use to minimise travel, I'd like to look at best practice when using GoToMeeting to deliver your sales demo to a new prospect.

Firstly, you and your Sales rep should have already contacted most of the people on the call to find out exactly what is driving the opportunity. This is your customer's pain points, and every presentation you give them should be aligned to this particular customer's pain points.

Just like in a face to face presentation, welcome everyone to the call, check that the meeting's parameters are all understood. Do the standard round table thing so you know who is on the call, this might flush out some additional attendees for you. Remember, while GoToMeeting gives you a list of who is logged in - and their email details - you still could have additional lurkers sitting with those attendees, or even people dialed in without using the web client.  Make sure people see your starting slide or screen. This should be up and ready 5-10 minutes early so that people don't get a blank screen or worse - see your last minute scrambling for time getting things ready.

I like to use dual displays for doing a presentation on GoToMeeting, and I'll tell you why: I find GoToMeeting lacks some of the features more expense software like Webex have, such as Slideshow or Whiteboard modes, so I use powerpoint in full view on the secondary monitor, which gives me those features. On my other screen, I see the GoToMeeting console, and I have my application running, so that I am ready to share it. 10 minutes early, I open the slideshow and start sharing that screen. I make sure (if I haven't already) that my application demo is ready to go.  As people join, I greet them, ensure that they are on both the webinar and the telco, and see if any extra people are joining too.

Running through the demo, 
  • Make smooth simple actions to move through your demo
  • Explain the business value, linking features to  business needs
  • DON'T use the mouse wildly
  • DON'T open or close windows unnecessarily or resize windows
  • Make sure you bring attention to this customer's own pain points
  • Skip sections of your "standard" demo that this customer doesn't want or need
  • If selling as a team, make sure both of you add value and ensure people know both of you by name; reintroduce yourself as necessary
Often you might start with the Salesperson giving a quick slide presentation to uncover the business needs. As an SE, write down these needs as you go, and if you can possibly refer back to them during your demo, do so and tick them off as you do so. If your sales rep doesn't do this, take the initiative to outline this yourself. I have had customers so excited after the early discussion and pain point finding, that they see the value in the demo themselves, and you often get away with a very quick view of the actual product.

Ensure that you get the same value out of a webinar as a live meeting. It should either qualitfy the deal further, or directly move towards closing it. Have your business goals written out in front of you during the meeting, and note down the solutions as you go.

A lot of this is part of your standard demo, but very importantly, you need to adapt your standard demo to work online. You must practice, you must be familiar with the toolset you use, and also, you must ensure that you get the strengths of your solution across - tailored to the customer perspective.  Remember whiteboarding, slides, and even the product demo all look different when presented online. What is powerful live may not be online and vice versa.

After the webinar, call your customer contacts and check that the reaction you wanted was achieved. Follow up on your action items promptly and check that the prospect has as well. Plan towards the next step in the process and drive the customer.  Some steps of the sales process may need to be in person - that always gives you a better feel for the personalities involved.
Once you have a good rapport with the customer, gotomeeting can be a great tool to support, show additional benefits of the solution and above all, keep in touch with the customer without incurring a large cost to go and visit them. This makes it a great tool, as it helps move deals forward without wasting a lot of time or money.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Webinar tool use to minimise travel

Last week I just sat in the office. As an SE who normally or often travels 50-80% of the time, you might think that my career (or position) was at risk. However it was quite a productive week, where I had no less than 8 customer meetings/ not to mention many more phone calls, emails and other contact points.

This was made possible through some extensive use of web based meeting tools. I have used many of these in the past including Microsoft LiveMeeting, Webex and the current tool we are using is GoToMeeting by Citrix.  For this article I will focus on how to deliver a good demo via a web delivery tool, rather than examine the differences in the tool. I will address that topic in a future post.

How to deliver a good web-based demo
First of all, the aim of a web based demo is just like a face-to-face in that you want to move the customer through the steps of the buying cycle from learning about solutions, through to evaluation and purchase. Rather than waiting for a convenient time for you to travel to meet them, you can make better use of your time, by scheduling a web meeting. The difficult part of this, is that you need to engage your prospects attention much more on the web, as you aren't sitting watching their reactions.

In addition, you can't be sure you have all the people you need present at the meeting, so you need probably double the standard preparation by phoning all your contacts ahead of time, to ensure that you have the decision makers there.  Treat it like any face-to-face meeting, it still uses up your valuable time, and also the valuable first impression is yet harder to recover.

Write down every question you are asked. Mark them off as you answer them, and if you can't answer them straight away, either come back during the call, or answer them later offline.  Each question you get asked is another chance you can contact the customer and gauge how they like your product.

Use powerpoint slides sparingly. It is most important that they have a good active session than that they see every page of your presentation, see every screen of your product or otherwise die of boredom.

The most crucial thing on a web demo is ensure that there is some other helper on your call, whether they come from your organisation or a partner. They see the presentation as you give it, and know what they should be seeing. Also, just like in a face to face meeting, they can 'see' and 'feel' reactions that you might be blind to.  You might also be able to chat with them with a messenger to communicate how to present or answer questions.

The top 5 things to remember giving a web based Demo are:
  • Speak clearly and don't rush
  • Write down people's questions and answer as you can
  • Show the most important and best parts of the product first - Read Great Demo!
  • Ensure that you know they are watching the presentation - but don't bore them with slides
  • Have a helper on the call
What you lose doing a web-based demo:

Seeing people's faces as you go through the presentation - 90% of communication is non-verbal. The ability to turn up, shake hands, and look people in the eye is a big part of business. Make sure you do this when you need to or you won't win the deal.

Also, people tend to buy into a meeting more if they have a visitor to their office. They have to meet you at reception, take you for a quick coffee, and tour the facility. On a web presentation all you have to do is log in, and dial in. You might not even look at any of the slides - so that is a danger. Keep directing people's attention to what you show. Don't just read out every word you have on the slides.

At the end of the meeting, just like in a real-life meeting, ensure that you have follow up activity. Check what they are getting you - confirmation on time lines, budget and so on, and deliver what you promise them. Because a web presentation is more casual than meeting in real life, make sure you enforce everything promised in the call, and back it up on email and a followup call.

For further reading:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Debrief after each Sales Call

As an Sales engineer, you often get caught up in the action of demonstrating the product, that you don't notice how everyone in the room reacts to what you say - or if you are on a webex how it looks on everybody else's screen.  One thing you should not be afraid of is getting criticism on your presentation skills. After all it is the only way to get better is to eradicate mistakes or things that confuse people, and explaining other things better for everyone.

At Mastering Technical Sales: Sales Call Debriefs I read this great tip on how to seek this information in a constructive way. It is called the T3-B3-N3 system. All you do is ask somebody from the meeting (typically someone on your side of the meeting) to tell you:

  • 3 things you did well - what did they think worked well
  • 3 things you did poorly - where can you improve
  • 3 things that you didn't do that they'd like to see
The eyes of a non-technical Sales person or overlay expert can be very good at seeing what you may have left out, how certain people in the audience react or even what looks really cool about the product. As an SE, you might be excited about features or components that aren't as important to the customer.

Part of building a great demo presentation is engaging people well, showing them what they want to see and also not showing things that don't help you sell the product. A Demo is less about teaching how the product works or how to use it, but more about showing the solution to the business problem and giving confidence that you are offering the best solution.  Any advice on how to do this is gold dust. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cloud computing or Datacenter Virtualization?

Just to show I am not biased on Cloud computing, here is something for the other side of the fence.

The Register article: McKinsey Cloud report discusses a recent report by McKinsey (Clearing the Air on Cloud Computing) which looks at the benefits of running your own datacenter versus outsourcing it into the cloud. According to the report the cost of using the cloud is more than double that of your own datacenter. 

The crux of the matter is, that the labour savings, cost of running the hardware, managing the devices, owning software licenses, is balanced up against the cost of managing an additional supplier relationship, re-designing solutions  to the cloud environment, migrating data between cloud providers for inevitable changes. At the end of the day, based on Amazon's Web Services prices McKinsey sees that physical hardware systems in your own datacenter are cheaper at $150 a month against $366 per unit. And that gap will widen with the gains available for datacenter virtualization.

So Cloud solutions need to get a lot cheaper before they are the most cost-effective solution. Of course there are many other reasons to go for the cloud - but it wouldn't be the cheapest option for in-house systems that are running happily today.

See ZDNET: Is adopting the Cloud a money losing mistake for another look at the McKinsey report

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

SaaS adoption in Europe

I found this article that I was sent interested, showing a growth in SaaS adoption. Phil Wainewright(ZDNET): SaaS adoption swells in Europe writes that out of the biggest 3 economies within the EU, France has the highest level of use of SaaS at 71% of enterprises having some enterprise applications running on SaaS.

One major thing of interest to those selling SaaS solutions is:
... US research firm Saugatuck Technology’s Bill McNee noted a finding that Europeans have a marked preference for buying SaaS solutions from an IT consultant rather than direct from the vendor — almost a mirror image of US behavior.
Which is quite close to my experience as well. As a vendor using SaaS as a delivery platform (among others), it shows that the important thing is to embrace IT Consultants to help find customers, that direct selling of SaaS solutions is not the most effective way to go.

Several reasons exist why this is the case. The consultant may have more experience using the tool, rather than a vendor developing it. The customer is more likely to believe that a consultant will recommend the best tool to use and is able to show it's use, than the vendor directly could.  A strong SaaS platform should also enable the consultants in the field to manage multiple customers through one tool without necessarily visiting the customer - therefore creating economies of scale when working across multiple accounts.

For the Sales Engineer, this means engaging a more technical IT Consultant as a user - to communicate both the end customer benefits and also enablement of a IT Consultant to ensure the tool gets a good following. A good consultant will have great customer reach, many contacts in the correct industry, and also communicate well with the Vendor through the SE and the Sales team in general, and get better access to the Product management team.

Successful SEs, might see this as a future career opportunity, branching out into the consultancy field to deliver the tool directly to end customers.

Other posts that are relevant include:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Acquisition: Oracle Buys Sun

A major move in the Enterprise software sector as hardware vendor and owner of IP such as MySQL, Solaris and of course JAVA gets bought by Oracle. Surely this will put MySQL onto end of life planning now? Of course this will upset execs at IBM, as it is for only 10c more a share than they were putting up. Just shows that some can close a deal more effectively than others.

Personally I can many benefits from both sides. Solaris is often the platform of choice for large scale Oracle DB and Apps rollouts. It means that Oracle will have full control.

Here are a few links to the news:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why it is harder to find top staff during a downturn

While we are talking about hiring top quality Sales Engineers, paradoxically it might be harder to find those top A-list employees during a downturn. Why? This article at Summation discusses why the employment market is so much noisier now:
The main reasons are:
  • While top people might be out of work due to large scale economic reasons (business goes bust, niche product sales drop) but they are the people organisations want to keep the most
  • Because it is harder for less skilled employees to find jobs, they have to apply for more and go to more interviews
  • Screening Interviews have more applicants and therefore need to let a lower percentage through

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Compensation of Sales Engineers

One thing I am often asked is how much compensation a Sales Engineer should get. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition in the US the middle 50% of Sales Engineers earned between $59,490 and $100,280 a year. This description of SE is across all industries, wholesale and manufacturers. The median earnings of SEs in the computer systems design and related services industry was $90,950. Also, overall the top 10% of SEs earned more than $127,680 a year. Of course the earnings of SEs is highly variable and dependant on performance. Those doubling quota might find that more than half of their overall income comes from this performance based aspect.
While this is just the raw data from a major survey (over 76,000 people), it does help you work out where you sit. With such large ranges of course, it is important to know where you sit both in your organisation and across other businesses and industries.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Value added by a Sales Engineer

In the Sales process it can be hard to quantify how much value the Sales Engineer (SE) adds. It is a challenge to a Sales Director to decide on how many SEs to have against the number of Salespeople and part of this is the way we measure how much value each adds.

A salesperson is responsible directly for a quota of sales. If they get that quota they get a big reward, and if they don't meet it they get less.

An SE does the parts of the sale that the salesperson is not able to. They articulate the technical fit, and summarize the business value of the solution. The show that it works in a PoC, and create a personal relationship with technical decision makers that is often unobtainable to the salesperson directly.

How can we quantify this?  One way would be to check what percentage of deals can be closed without a specialised technical overlay, that is without a proof, demo, workshop or whatever the process calls for. For well established products this might be a higher number than unknown or new solutions. However for these it is a must have. Secondly, the SE might help sell additional services, find a need for additional product, or eliminate the opposition more effectively by laying "landmines" for competitive products.

A response by Phil Janus ( ) to Dave Stein's article What is a sales engineer worth? claims that:
Real customer data is showing 3 to 7 times more incremental revenue per year. SEs pay for themselves 2 to 5 times over annually. Annual program returns have ranged from 130x to 385x per dollar. One customer generated 678% more incremental revenue in 6 months. Stated another way, failing to implement a pre-sales initiative costs $300,000-$500,000 per SE per year in lost revenue.
Certainly this shows that SEs are a great resource to include in the sales team. The next question is how many are needed and where best to put them. That of course will be in another post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eating your own Dogfood - Vendors using their own technology

I read this article on on how Microsoft and VMware use their own technologies internally. I find this an interesting idea, because it shows customers that you have confidence with your own toolset and can use it in a business-critical way. What is just as strong, if not stronger, is if partners and systems integrators (SIs) also are happy to use the tool internally. For SIs to do this shows then that they have the capability of rolling this out in a customer organisation themselves.

In enterprise sales, making the customer believe that the tool does what it says can be half the battle. Getting a good reference from a third party is always a valuable step, but developing a new product line and getting that first sale can be tricky without references. Becoming your own reference and showing belief in the product is one way of gaining that respect.

Secondly, to advise customers on important metrics and expectations based on your own experience at implementing the tool is a great way of spreading this message and gaining that belief. Microsoft's technet article advises on these experiences, showing that Microsoft gets 10.4 virtual systems on their 16 to 24 processor cores, and up to 64 gigabytes (GB) of random access memory (RAM) host machines.
Those interested can read in great detail about their configuration of these and other mission critical systems.

VMware published at their VMworld Europe 2009 conference their findings about using the ESX platform and that can be read about on They also make use of their VDI desktop virtualisation as well.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Structure of an SE organisation

Creating a new SE organisation, or working out how to structure it so that SEs can work well as a team, and also with Sales Reps, Branch managers and other staff is a challenge for any organisation.

Part of the issue is that SEs tend to be sparsely spread across all geographies, with varying skills across the product set. Also it tends to be that there is a difference between being a good SE, and being a good Manager.

For a small organisation, having up to 5 SEs, all members of the team have to be actual SEs, able to fulfill the role themselves. Most organisations would structure it so that one behaves as the team leader, or in footballing terminology a player-manager.  Being a team, the manager's role here is not the full A-Z manager who checks expenses, knows everything each member is doing all the time or general babysitting. A Player-Manager is also just as concerned at fulfilling their own role, and the extra part is spent ensuring the rest of the team are connected to technical resources they need, are working well with their local organisation, ask for help when they need it and so on.

Realistically the player manager is an enabler to make sure that the SEs do behave as a team, that their skills are effective and interchangeable and that the sales organisation has what it needs to succeed. Another important role for the Player-Manager is hiring new SEs and ensuring that their team is ready for the scale of the sales efforts ahead.

As the company develops and the team expands towards 10-20 members, there will be an organisation shift. There will effectively be too many "players" for a "player-manager" to handle. It could also be that the Player-Manager is a better player than a manager or vice-versa. So the organisation would shift to having a full time manager (although some managers may remain player-managers), and as it grows further it will need more managers and even an SE Director. 

To balance this out, these Managers don't necessarily have the same skills as the SEs, and depending on the organisation, there may be SEs who are extremely important to the company as SEs. These may become Lead or Senior SEs and may not head into a manager role unless they really desire that and reskill. 

Depending on the product set, SEs may need to specialise so that the organisation is able to call upon experts on particular products, and with this many SEs there is often the luxury of having more than one at a particular office location.

In this size team training becomes an important thing (see Training for sales engineers), and a team trainer is needed to develop training programmes and material. The other part of this training is that the team needs to consider the evolution of its members and their succession within the organisation. Good team players who have potential to manage or lead others should be nurtured and kept within the organisation.

Finally, a massive organisation will have hundreds of SEs. This calls obviously for more specialisation, and also division within the organisation into units. Now there will be more Directors, leading teams of up to 30 SEs and managers. There will be managers in each region below them, and they would all report up to a Head of SEs, or VP of Sales Engineering (SEVP). Again training will be important. There would be dedicated inside roles for working on RFPs and Bids. Each product may have a Lead SE who works exclusively on that product and develops demonstration materials on that. Even Industry verticals or partner specialists would be good ways of dividing the team.

Given that large organisations tend to have larger barriers between divisions, it is necessary to
ensure that the SE organisation has access to the latest product, development engineers, marketing, the sales organisation and upper management, and this needs to be through dedicated resources to keep the business running smoothly.

For further reading on how to structure or organise the SE team, I highly recommend the book Mastering Technical Sales: The Sales Engineer's Handbook (Artech House Technology Management Library) by John Care, Aron Bohlig.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How to Increase the capacity of your Sales team

Do you find that you are often so busy running from prospect to prospect that you have little time in between to sit down and think about how you approach customers in general?

We treat our sales strategy like a tree. We operate as the trunk - the core part of the system which makes the product, and handle only the biggest deals, and the biggest partners as the main distribution network. If your sales team is tackling most end customers directly, then the activity that will fill your time most is the full end to end sales story. Getting leads, going to early initial meetings, establishing credibility, proving product capability, proving the business case and then trying to close the deal. In this case your sales team is like the whole tree, and to handle more customers you need to have more sales teams (Reps and SEs).

However in building up an effective channel strategy, it means that more and more of your time is about enabling others to go and get those customers. So instead of chasing that big lead directly, sending it along to a partner who is already trusted by that prospect and has a proven track record there. That way you greatly increase your reach, and lower the amount of time you need to spend on each deal. You can also then go to all the other customers of that partner and resell to them.
As an SE, if what you are selling is a product, you basically become the demo show pony and just turn up to give that killer demo, and answer all the big questions that the partner can't. We find that we have to give less Proof of Concepts away, have much more consumer confidence already going into the meeting, and our partners gain some additional revenue from customers they have already put the hard effort into as well.

However I don't think that this diminishes the role of SEs or Sales Reps from the Publisher, as training partners, supporting their activities and ensuring that your leads are going to the channel best suited to winning it are key roles that secure the revenue stream. Although I read an interesting article on Outsourcing Sales Engineers, I believe that new products and new companies will always need their own internal resources to take products to market.  More mature products may well lower their cost of sale comparatively to the size of the revenue stream, but effective SEs are always in high demand and even the largest companies in the world with the most established products need SEs to keep spreading the good news. However all of these companies have a channel sales focus as well.

The SE role in the Channel sales approach is to keep partner education levels up with new product capabilities, act with the partner in their dealings with customers, fight off competitors from using the same Sales Channel, and even go into end customer meetings wearing the badge of the partner as well to show how well they know your products.