Thursday, May 14, 2009

Windows 7 Demo at Tech-ed

Check out this demo by Bill Veghte and friends on Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Exchange 14.
This is Microsoft's future platform, which looks to me like it may have a much better uptake than the Vista platform has.
If your product will use these platforms - or your customers want to take you that way - I am sure this is compelling viewing, and you can also download it to watch later.

Never waste a lunch hour

This one applies not just for sales engineers, but for everyone in the sales team.

Often you will find that you are visiting distant cities just for a presentation, partner meeting or just passing through. If you happen to have a contact - whether it is a customer, lead, partner or industry mentor - you really should take any opportunity to just drop by and meet for lunch or even just a coffee. People tell you different things in real life from on the phone.  Also, just meeting up is an opportunity for you both - after all you both have to eat, why not take the chance to squeeze out some business value as well at the same time.

It's that perfect chance to sell a few services days to ensure the product is working well, address any quick issues, find a new lead or just make that bond with your contact that much closer.

Recently I had a meeting like this which was just a last minute, "I-was-in-the-neighbourhood" kind of meeting, where we uncovered a quick opportunity that wouldn't have been thought of by the customer as a reason for them to contact us.  The meeting led to a call to the right contact person, which led to a demo (and another chance to drop by for lunch) and a sale in rapid succession.  

Some of this might seem like the basics, but doing some free product promotion or customer management instead of sitting alone at lunch is a very productive use of your time.

And even though you will usually shake out something that helps someone else in your team, it will still  build your personal network and make you a more valuable resource for any company.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Early Product Partnerships

One thing about Partner selling is that it is great when it is well established. Product seems to go out the door almost on its own, and you find that your job turns into a bunch of supporting product demos and then you hear later in the quarter that the partner has sold, implemented and moved on. However to get a mature partner model up and running, you need to put in training, site visits, customer visits, and marketing.

The key to a successful partner model is that you act as partners! That is, you both contribute more than 50% to the relationship, ensuring that you put in the effort at the things you are strong in, and that the partner does the same. A successful product partner operates in an environment where they are more effective at dealing with the customer directly than the product vendor is themselves.  This could be that they are geographically closer, operate in the customer's industry, already act in a consulting role to the customer or any similar circumstances.  The partner however realised that they cannot make their own product, or even if they could, that yours fits their needs better and is a better overall solution.
Once a good potential partnership is founded, the next step is to design the overall solution. This could be as simple as fitting the products together for an early opportunity, and removing any points of overlap, by deciding on the roles and responsibilities.  It could be that the solution contains technology from one side, and implementation know-how from the other.  Early presentations to customers need to communicate that this solution is holistic and consistent, and see that the strengths of both sides are being used.

It is vital that both sides of the partnership understand the same key benefits to the customer, and are able to describe parts that the other side is providing accurately and truthfully.  A larger amount of prep time for any meeting or demo is called for - and if technical integration is going to be shown, ensure that enough time is spent to put it together. This could mean visiting the other partner before demonstrating the product to a customer so that all things run smoothly. A dry run is highly recommended with all meeting participants.  If any problems exist in the demo system, everyone needs to know how to avoid showing them!

Follow up from these early meetings is also important. Keep in touch with the partner, even if it is just a courtesy call every week or more often to check for feedback from the prospects, and check further opportunities and business. This should be done on each level of the business, so your Partner manager to their partner manager, your sales rep to theirs, and between SEs or technical equivalents.  You will be amazed at how often different kinds of information filter through differently on the levels.
Once the early deals come in, the partnership should then grow and be nurtured to the nirvana of partnership, where each side of the relationship can bring in business on their own.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Customer Unready to Evaluate

Often you get a prospect who is eager to get the product, test it, and evaluate it, but they don't seem to get their act together. It might be that they can't get the right kind of hardware, test environment or meeting rooms, for you to come on site and show how great your product really is.  
This rings alarm bells for me. 

If they can't manage the infrastructure for a test or evaluation, does the prospect have the right executive buy-in to actually purchase and use your product?

Going in too early to prove that your product works in the customer's environment (also known as Proof of Concept or PoC) sometimes takes you further away from winning the deal. The problem is, you are probably appeasing the wrong audience by running an early PoC.  The correct audience is the buyer or final decision maker. Unless they are sponsoring the final evaluation, you set yourself up for a later, more comprehensive exercise, potentially with very different success criteria from the first one.

Use the Proof of Concept as bait to find the right people in the organisation, and don't let them have the proof until you know the buying process from there on.  If there is a higher authority, see if you can get them involved in the PoC process or at least let them know that this is going on. If they want something to do with the purchase of the product, then you will want to know what they need to see to become a buyer.

Have a checklist or PoC Sign-Off document ready for your customer showing ideally how they would prepare for a proof of concept, the kind of success criteria you expect to fulfill (and use their requirements as you are aware of them - in their own terminology).  Get the buyer to sign the document to get the understanding on both sides that if the product does what they want, then they will buy it.  If they are unwilling to sign this, chances are that you haven't found the actual buyer yet!!!

If the customer wants to Pilot or do some further Evaluation with less of your help, ensure that you set some kind of boundaries on the use, and measurable success criteria that you can help the customer evaluate.  Remember the product is yours. Until they buy it, they don't actually get any rights to use it.  Imagine that you are handing over the keys to that Bentley (like the one you hope to buy with the commission) for them to take it for a spin.  Don't you want any assurances that it won't be mis-used.

Even though PoCs are normally free of charge, don't undervalue their use - they can be a powerful part of your toolset - but question if it is the right time to do one. Usually you only get one crack at it - so make sure it is your best shot and at the right time.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Running a Sales Demonstration Solo

While I always plan taking in a "friendly" face into a demo, there is always the case that you end up in the room demonstrating the product on your own with the customer.  Maybe your sales rep called in sick that day, or you get separated at the customer and you are in a different meeting. Also you may be in the situation where your "friend" in the meeting cannot help you. They might be acting impartial, or not have the information or experience to carry your side.

The main thing to realise in this case is that you can't just put your head down, show the demo and go home. You have to be the whole sales team in that meeting.
  • At all times, you need to remember the goal - how this meeting is moving the customer forward, 
  • You need to note down any action items,
  • You need to present the corporate and commercial side for your organisation
  • and you need to do your normal side of the presentation as well!
All of these tasks are equally important. 
How to drive the customer forward:
Every meeting should be there to bring you closer to a deal. It is about moving your way closer to the decision maker, and then moving them towards the decision. Don't stray from this focus - distractions can waste a lot of your time, and can also move you further from the goal. If you can't progress in the meeting because the right people aren't there, don't give away the means to come back and see them. If a technical demo at this stage would take away any urgency to see the customer again, don't do it!
Action items:
The most important piece of kit you take to a meeting is your notepad (and pens!). Mine is just a spiral bound pad of A4 paper. I use it to take down notes, draw diagrams, and ensure that I know what I have promised to do for the prospect. I also note down what they promise to give me. Don't be timid in taking actions away from a meeting, because each one is an ironclad reason to come back and continue your dialog with the prospect.
Corporate and Commercial:
Because you are acting solo, it is even more important for the customer to know who they are dealing with as a company. You need to explain how your organisation is able to support them. 90% of all sales is fulfilling the need of the customer, and they need to know that your company will be around to help them. If your aren't very commercially inclined, this is the minimum you should fulfil. 
Secondly keeping in mind the aim of the meeting, you need to discover how to move the customer closer to buying the product. Simply by seeing a demo doesn't achieve anything. You need to know what business needs are being solved and map out how your product provides those needs.  Taking this further, help the customer make their decisions on showing how elements of the solution provide that value.
Find out who in their organisation is responsible for the buying decision.
Your normal demo:
It is important to ensure that the technical side of the meeting is also fulfilled, but because you are taking on the extra responsibility, keep it briefer than normal, and watch your audience closer than normal.  You need to know when they have seen what they need to, explain how this meets their requirements, take away any action items (Does this work on our platform XYZ? I will find out for you!). Make it briefer and slower to learn who is your champion in their organisation.
It is very important to debrief after the meeting. Chances are that your sales rep will be the one to follow up (Hello - I just wanted to check how your meeting with our techie went the other day...) so fuel them up with all the relevant information.  If you show them that you have moved the sale forward despite their absence they will see the value added and your working partnership will improve immensely.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Running Oracle on VMware

There is an interesting fight coming from VMware and their EMC owners  to get Oracle to approve their software as a supported deployment and License option.

Oracle's official position is that its software is not supported on
ESX or any other 3rd Party hypervisor software.

Their recent purchase of SUN will of course ensure that their
capability extends from the Hardware to Software. However for VMware
solution providers this is a large obstacle for getting their product
into the door, and it is an obstacle provider by a large rival Vendor.

The current calls from EMC sound a bit far fetched to me. A customer
isn't going to risk their install of a pricey product like Oracle on
an unsupported platform. They need to get these customers to approach
Oracle pre-implementation and press the point. If Oracle doesn't budge
on this, than my guess is that their platform costs will slowly go up,
due to the difficulty of competing with them.

From an SE perspective, this kind of obstacle is very hard to
overcome. Selling products that work on the Oracle stack need to be
checked against Oracle's supportability, and it is important to not
design solutions that put customers into an unsupported position from
a 3rd party vendor.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sales Engineer Guy Top Stories Overview

I've seen a fair amount of interest on Sales Engineer articles lately, so I thought I'd summarize my top articles and questions I get asked a lot lately.

Compensation is a key thing driving all sales engineers.  Recently I reviewed the Labor Statistics in Compensation of Sales engineers. This is a good article to check where you sit against all Sales Engineers. Previously I looked at How is a good Sales Engineer Compensated? If you are looking at why a company needs sales engineers look at The Value added by Sales Engineers.
This is a really hot theme, and I would love to go deeper into it but really need some good stats or information from SE Managers to get any further. In particular, I'd like to know whether the percentage of total earnings from commission or variable bonus goes up or down due to seniority in the team or role.

I also had a short focus on running Webinars. Due to their lower cost, Financial controllers often dictate that Sales tries to use these tools more. I visit these topics with Webinar use to minimise travel and another article more specifically looking at the Gotomeeting tool.

Finally I have had a lot of interest in cloud computing and SaaS as ongoing themes, looking at SaaS adoption in Europe, costs of Cloud Computing vs Virtualisation among others.