Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Acquisition: Novell to Attachmate

So another old name bites the dust - Novell has been sold off to Attachmate, and is selling off patents worth about $450 million to a consortium led by Microsoft

More news here: http://www.microscope.co.uk/news/vendor-news/novell-sold-to-attachmate-for-22bn/

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Consumer to Enterprise crossover - and back again

Today I am thinking about how easily consumer technologies cross the fence into the corporate world and vice versa.  Its easy to imagine people bringing their iPhones, netBooks and iPads from home into the office and start using them on the internal network.  Many companies are allowing users (or trailing with premium users) the downloading of emails to the devices outside of the internal network, and allowing Salesforce.com access or other access to their core apps.

I find Blackberries as great at handling emails, and typing them in on a full tactile keypad is much better than using a touchscreen.  Apart from this,I find the other apps on a Blackberry as serviceable, compared to the more usable iPhone or Android apps.  Perhaps this will change with the newer full screen blackberry products, but then again, maybe they will lose the edge that they have on the email side.

The main opposition I've seen is that many IT departments are underfunded and struggle to add extra services to the ones they currently offer.  To integrate new products, power users need to try and get the devices working themselves, and then spread the news among the other top users on how to do it.  Only then will widespread access be developed.  There still remains the security barrier though - some organisations are very concerned with data loss, corporate spying and simply leaking information.  If this becomes more likely then someone will be held accountable and the IT department doesn't want to be left in the spotlight.

The iPad has a great potential to be a business device.  The user interface particularly is exiting in terms of its prospects for making business apps more user friendly and accessible.  However there are many things V3.co.uk see as necessary before it becomes the de facto standard.  It needs to play well with existing enterprise IT infrastructure There needs to be the ability to provision and configure by the IT department, centrally.  If the iPad is able in future to integrate with corporate infrastructure, then it will become a very compelling device internally.  However lets see if the competitors move quicker!

A report is available which discusses how rogue devices are infiltrating the enterprise.

Social Media use in the Enterprise is yet another way that normal consumer technologies are infiltrating the enterprise and pretty soon you will be hard stretched to find any company without a Twitter feed, Facebook fan site, LinkedIn profile or all of the above.  How effectively they can use it is another question entirely!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Light as Air

Speaking of demos, I've always wanted a lightweight demo laptop.  Sadly my products requirements make this an unlikely thing for me to have anytime soon, but one can dream.  It would make a great second laptop - one that I could use apart from when using it to demostrate the product running blazingly fast.

Ben Rudolphe (@BenThePCGuy)  blogs on the Windows Team Blog about 5 great PCs as light as the Macbook Air (another PC I'd love to have!).

Of course, many times now I run a demo without actually running it on my PC, using a cloud based demo capability.  In these cases I could be running it on a lightweight.  But that's not going to get my boss to buy me a second lightweight laptop is it...

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Demo Doctor

As a sales engineer, sometimes you just have to deliver that perfect demo.  And lets face it, just turning up, firing up the product and clicking through a few options is not going to cut it.

This is where you should be able to show your unique value that you bring to the sales process.  Even if a sales rep could open up the application and show a few screens, show why they need you to sell the technology - your way of showing the customer the vision for its use.

"Great Demo!" describes a great demo as showing them what they want to see, telling them a bit about how you get there - make them believe you do it for real - and then show them the good stuff again.

A good demo is not teaching someone all about your system.

A good demo is as much about entertainment as it is about education.  Think about a car advertisement. Its not about knowing how big the engine is, or how fast the car goes or any of the pure facts about the vehicle.  It is about selling the feeling you get when you drive the car.

Now even if you are selling some software that makes some boring aspect of business work slightly more efficiently and more behind the scenes than it did before. There must be a way of presenting that in a way that will make the buyer feel better about the problem it is solving.  The confidence that a powerful process is driving the activity and reporting on it in a clever way.

You wouldn't sell a house just by teaching someone how its built. You would want them to feel at home in it - that it solves their problems and makes their lifestyle more enjoyable.

To demonstrate your software, you are fulfilling a reason why you visited a prospect.  Make sure that you get some value off them for visiting them. Find out how the product would be used.  Make them feel that this is the solution for them.  Provide some vision at how it fits into their organisation.

Sometimes you are made to realise that you have lost somebody in a demo. Sometimes this comes way too late as feedback from a lost deal.  In better times you realise mid-demo that you are loosing their attention, recover and get your audience back on side. This is a difference of an average or great SE.  Knowing how your audience perceives your product.  And adapting the situation accordingly.

There are times you just shouldn't demo as well.  If you've had a good discussion with someone who would never use the product, do you need to show them how much you know about it? I would never demo unless I know what I get in exchange for doing so.  It can be a very good control point in moving forward with a customer, and after a demo, you have less reasons to go back and see them - if you don't discover anything new by doing so.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Barrier to Cloud Computing

Bank Systems and Technology are reporting that Banks Still Face Obstacles to Cloud Computing

In my experience, I have found that Banks - although they use a lot of technology - are also reluctant to change from their existing systems, and also want to keep control of technologies they use.  Its not surprising to see that they are reluctant to embrace Cloud Computing

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Email in the Cloud

Microsoft have been barraging me with mail lately about putting our email on a Cloud based exchange server.  I have also heard much about the Google for Enterprises option.

Mitch Irsfeld writes about this being the low hanging fruit of the Cloud based services world in TechNet Magazine.  Apparently this is based on ROI and a Forrester based survey suggests that most 15000 user companies will find it cheaper than hosting it internally.  Apparently the first year ROI can be as high as $63 per mailbox.

Now lets look at the pros and cons of this approach.
First of all, many people are already used to using Cloud based email.  Hotmail began in 1996 and was quickly snapped up by Microsoft in 1997 for $400 million. Other alternatives include AOL, Excite, Gmail, GMX, and so many more that it isn't really worth listing them all.  So it seems reasonable to expect that enterprises would allow this kind of access too. 
Microsoft's exchange has already allowed for HTTPS based synchronising with the fat clients, and already has a usable web interface too.  They have extended Exchange 2010 to allow for hybrid deployments, where your on-premise mailboxes can interact with the cloud based ones - so you could easily start rolling some of your users to the cloud straight away.  Depending on the user's requirements, you could choose some of the more beneficial accounts at first.
It also will make it much easier to upgrade your systems.  Many companies find it hard to impossible to upgrade their mail systems, because it is hard to retain the expertise in house to manage the migration.  It gets expensive to bring in the experts too, and it is a major project in any case.
The removal of all of the infrastructure needed to store and manage mailboxes for a global company would be a huge benefit, and outsourcing this aspect of business means that the organisation can really focus on using the system.

Cons could be the lack of integration capability to any legacy kinds of integration.  It might lead to running multiple systems, and not getting the full ROI because of this.  Users might have a backlash against any change - however minor - to such an important system.  Finally, the loss of control that comes with outsourcing in any way is something that comes with this.  The SLAs of the cloud service need to be checked against what the current solution is able to deliver, and should come into the decision making process.  Denial of Service of email would be a huge hit in any company's operations and is an important point to consider.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

SE Kit Bag

The latest addition to my SE Kit bag is rather an update.  I just got myself a

Western Digital My Passport Essential 1TB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive

 and I find it to be nothing less than awesome.  1 terabyte of storage is ample for backups of demos and presentations, and also a full backup of working documents.  The drive also has encryption, and comes with easy utilities for backup and retrieval.  It is also so tiny I am never without it on the road.

I have also looked into using eSATA drives for demos from external media - as the USB2.0 is a fair bit slower, but find the need for external power a bit too much for me right now.  It could be good if you find yourself doing more webinars though.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Government vs Oracle: Contract Fraud

Contracts are usually the domain of the legal or commercial part of the sales team, but failing to deliver on a contract can result in large damages years after the revenue has been booked.

In this case, the US Justice department is suing Oracle for "hundreds of millions" of dollars in damages - for failing to offer improved terms in line with commercial deals it was signing elsewhere.  Oracle had promised to do so in the contract.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Qualifying out of a Deal

When running a successful sales operation it is often not the cost of running successful sales efforts that hits the bottom line, but actually the cost of running unsuccessful efforts.  Think of it this way. If 50% of the net revenue was met by the sales costs, then if you have to convert more than 50% of opportunities to sales.  If you won 1 in 3 deals, you will be loosing money because of the lost opportunities.

So why not just make sure you are more successful? Because this isn't always a possibility. You might be an emerging technology, and some companies only buy from the Gartner top right quadrant!  You might have a best of breed niche solution, but the prospect wants to buy from a large existing provider. You might have something that is written in English, but have to sell it to a company whose internal language is French.  
So you rock up to a sales call, having found that there is a budget, a project, a recognition that your solution can solve their pain. So the opportunity is well qualified? Maybe... Maybe not.  You need to find out if this is an opportunity you can win.  If it isn't - like some of the above reasons - is it a fight worth fighting?

Not only is there a cost advantage in qualifying out of an opportunity early, there is an effort and a time advantage too.  How many trips have you made as an SE only to find out that the customer won't buy your product - or the chance is very small? 

As an SE, often this won't be your call, but your job is to ensure the sales team are well informed about the technical viability of your product.  Sure that many objections can be overcome, and that you need to really find out if an obstacle is a real one. However if you can find out more quickly that your solution is not one that is being seriously considered, then it is to everyone's advantage to not waste further time.

To check that a problem is not too serious, make the customer sell back the solution to you. Get them to tell you how you can get around the problem. Find out if they will install a windows server, in their Linux datacenter.  Find out if that small french speaking team can use a tool written in english.  Find out if there are other champions who might fight to get your product in to solve the problem.  If they won't fight for it, then it won't be very likely to win the business.

The advantage for the business again, if in the above example the customer could qualify out of the 2 lost deals earlier, and not spend 50% of the cost of sale on the losing efforts, the company might make money instead of losing it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How many Sales Engineers Does it take to...?

I find the book Mastering Technical Sales is a great handbook for SEs developing their career beyond being a demo dolly.

July's newsletter has an article looking at how to optimally structure a team of SEs to bring the best value to the business.

You can sign up to their newsletters and regular articles on their blog: http://masteringtechnicalsales.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Salesforce for Sales Engineers

Why is it important for SEs to use SalesForce.com?

When Salesforce.com (or any other CRM) is your key point for communicating the value of the opportunities and current accounts, it is vital that all relevant data is summarised and available for the sales management to read.  Having all the information the deals you are working in your head, your email or just on a spreadsheet is not going to help people realise how your deals are going.  Since the job of the SE is to ensure that the technical recommendation (and the business one where possible) is made in your company's favour, it is important that the sales team is aware in general of how the deal is looking.

Of course business is fluid, and there may be times that the status quickly changes, but you should make a point of keeping the opportunity data up to date, and logging any important actions in the system.  Often, SEs and their Sales reps are often separated either by miles, timezones and availability, even the main two people on the deal will have to check what the status is, and it may as well be the same place everyone else will look.

Don't be afraid of putting problems or issues that you've discovered here. Your management will look upon these much worse if they turn up right at the time the deal was supposed to be signed, when you are hopefully off snowboarding in Colorado.

Putting templates of your RFP answers, and your regularly sent emails into the system means you can quickly send things out to lots of customers, or find that sizing recommendation that everyone needs.

So train your sales rep to put you in their Sales team, BCC salesforce.com onto any important emails you send out to your customers, and become that key person in the sales team that everyone knows you are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Being a Different SE

In my time I have met many different SEs all with different style, engagement manner and ability in front of the customer.  The important fact here is that there are key skills that are needed in dealing with customers. 
They include:

  • Honesty - tell the customer the truth
  • Promptness - always get back when you say you will
  • Sales focussed - goes without saying, but "keep your eyes on the prize"

One SE I have been in touch with lately is the self named WeirdSE. He records some very amusing 'webisodes' which would make great training material for any SE team. I have used them in some recent team gatherings with great effect! 
They are also available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/WeirdSE

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Services and Sales

I read this article solutionsellingblog: Solution Selling for Services, the Problem and the Solution. It looks at how the Services department of many IT vendors is in closest contact with the customers.

Is there a way of leveraging this to get more sales?  

The issue is, that Services people are generally not motivated towards selling in the same way that sales people are.  Even if we could motivate them the right way, would the act of selling change the nature of the relationship?

The solution is to use services as a source of leads, to be followed up within Sales, or by a sales orientated services manager.  This way, the services chaps work on the relationship, the sales guys work on closing, and everybody is happy.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Procurement Processes

Ever wondered what is happening on the other side when you receive an RFP or ITT on your desk? 

The Negotiation Experts go through the process in the following article, describing the differences and similarities between these terms RFT RFQ RFP RFI.  It can be very impiortant knowing these differences as they can be the difference between winning business you can't economically fulfill, or not winning business you desperately want.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

iPad in the Enterprise

Does the iPad have killer enterprise potential?  After all, most business applications these days have a browser based interface, surely it is a nicely sized device to assist many business processes and functions.

Randall C. Kennedy of PCWorld thinks not. Citing the lack of keyboard and mouse making for harder data input capabilities, he suggests that the main way of using these lightweight tablets is as a Citrix Receiver session viewer.  However, I'd question whether this is jsut a temporary view on how the devices could be an efficient solution in the enterprise. After all, Citrix Receiver is just being used to turn the iPad into a remote session for a Windows 7 screen. The two devices weren't really meant for each other.

Rather, I'd turn to the potential of new applications being made to assist users perform their everyday tasks without needing a full laptop device.  People on the move, working outside the office, frequently use handheld devices to log visits, sign off delivery of goods and services. The simplest use of the iPad would be as an improvement on many of these jobs. 

The next thing would be looking at new applications for handhelds, that were not practical before.  
Suggestions include as:

  • an E-learning tool 
  • presentation device for salespeople 
  • mobile email client
  • e-manual for product documentation
At first, they will come into the enterprise as unmanaged devices that power users will connect to the network via wifi mainly for personal use. However these users will find true business purposes for the devices and then they will be embraced. Tony Bradley's article highlights how this has already happened with iPhones, which were first seen as purely personal devices. 

What remains is for the business itself to identify some uses of the iPad, where other devices are not appropriate, and justify it.  Is there also space for all the different kinds of devices - ipod touch, iphone, pda, blackberry, netbook, laptop, desktop?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What is in a Name?

Often you won't present yourself as an SE. Sometimes it is easier to get access to a customer posing under various other guises.

SEs can fill a number of roles in an organisation, the title of Sales Engineer is really an internal job description or designation of the focus of your work with customers. The focus of the role is to be the technical face of the solution or product offering in dealings with prospects and customers.

It can be a 'guerilla' style tactic to turn up on customer sites more often than you might if you wait for the Account Manager to get you there.  
Suppose your company has some consulting work or perhaps a support visit with the customer, but there is also an opportunity to sell more software or services in the account, then ideally an SE can go along as the Consultant or Support Engineer to perform the activity, potentially accompanying other staff.  It this situation, you can find out more information than the customer might give during a sales pitch kind of meeting. You might find out who really runs the project, or some new business objective that needs to be solved.  All of a sudden you might get the jump on the competition and be able to alter the proposal to meet your customer's needs.

If you can't get on-site, you still might be able to get the other technical staff to find out answers to your questions while they are there.

Titles that an SE could use to perform these tasks include:
*  Technical Account Manager (TAM)
*  Field Engineer
*  Technical Consultant
*  Solution Engineer (Also abbreviates to SE)
*  Project Manager
*  Technical Manager
*  Solution Specialist
*  Solution Architect
*  Enterprise Architect
*  Systems Engineer

While some of these titles don't sound that flash, it can be important for the 'disguise' aspect of the SE job to go in with these titles as a good reason to visit the customer and to be a trusted opinion.