Sales Engineer Skills - Shut up and Listen!

Over at Mastering Technical Sales, there is an excellent PDF article on Shut Up And Listen.

Listening is one of the most important parts of Selling, and of Sales Engineering.  It is more important than talking, more critical than knowing the right answers, and more important than being able to fix someone's problem.

If you find you are speaking more than about 20% of the time in a meeting - you are probably speaking too much - and that is for a one-one meeting.  Seriously, what you want in a good customer meeting is to spend a very short time introducing yourself - spend half a meeting telling people about the wonderful things your company has done and you won't really get to know what you can offer this customer.

A good meeting for me runs like this:

5 mins - introductions - make sure you know all the people in the room, their names, and a fair idea of what they do.  It is ok to ask people to explain this in more detail, and shows that you care if you take the effort to write down their names and get the spelling right.

5 mins - why are we here? Agenda.

20-40 mins - get the customer to tell you what the business problem is. Why are we here today? Tell me about the problem. Tell me why it matters to the business.  Find out how this problem ranks against other problems. When do they need/want to solve it by?

10 mins - explain the kinds of business your company is in. Don't get too deep yet, this is a chance for your customer to emphasize with the business problems you can solve.  Don't go off the reservation though, this needs to be brief but show how you might be able to help.

15 mins - ask how they'd like to proceed. Don't assume they need to see a technical demo, or have a business case built for them.  Demos should be used to prove a point. You should use this point as a chance to go back into their problems and start to ask how they would like to try and solve the business problems, what kinds of solutions they have already looked at.  What is the alternative way to solve this problem if your company didn't exist?

5 mins - suggest ways that you could work together.  Use their definitions of problems and solutions - not yours.  You want them to decide how they want to solve this.  The problem is theirs to solve, not yours.  If you have multiple people from their company in the meeting, try to promote discussion between them.  They trust each other more than they trust you.  Try to use this to build. Look for actions that build a relationship, or sealing some business that is mutually beneficial.

Now - this could be a close to the meeting.  I have gone to many customer 'demo' meetings and never performed a demo, sometimes not even using powerpoint or my laptop at all.  You can even make a sale without doing this.  However, if they have expressed an interest at seeing something, then do some brief demo or show reports to help show potential solutions to the problems.  Try to promote discussion as you do this.  It shouldn't be you telling them facts or saying "You should buy this because..."

You could also defer this technical session if you feel that the main audience for that is not there.

What do you get out of a meeting like this:

  • You understand their business problem
  • You know what the alternative is
  • You know when they are trying to solve it by.
  • You get a feeling for if they like your solution

And with these answers, you should be able to build a relationship and hopefully develop some business.  If they aren't a good fit for your company, you won't waste the next few months finding out why and explaining it to your management.