Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sales Engineers - How to Build a fast Demo Laptop

Many SEs get given special treatment when it comes to demoing their products. Sometimes demo laptops are dedicated machines which are only used for that purpose and shared around the office.  Having a high end machine means that it is not a standard device, and here you might consider a Bring Your Own Device policy for sales engineers.

To make sure you can show the product(s) at peak performance, it is good to use a high-spec machine to ensure that typical end-user bottlenecks don't impact on the demo.  Nobody wants to wait for you to reboot your machine, and starting support components like virtual machines should be invisible to the customer. You are demoing your own product, not VMware! A similar thing goes for gamer laptops - while they are powerful, they also don't look like business machines and can distract from your presentation.

Typical machine optimizations might include the following:
  • High RAM - you don't want to be using your swap file
  • Multi-core processors - don't let your processors queue up jobs
  • High end graphics cards - best for multimedia and flashy graphics and high resolution
  • Solid State Drive (SSD) storage - speed up boot time and applications
  • Different form factors - why not demo on a tablet if that makes sense?
You might also consider running a demo image from a cloud based server - to get a high performance back end.  There are cloud based providers like CloudShare and Skytap that offer specialized systems for presales use.

Finally, if you are using this machine for your standard work, make sure it doesn't have too much personalization.  By all means use the latest base OS and supporting applications, but don't confuse your customers with complexity or unnecessary distractions.  Use backgrounds that complement your presentation and not distract from it.

Here are a few suggestions for SE laptops, based on what I have looked at in the market recently.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sales Engineer to Salespeople Ratios Survey Results

Recently we had a survey to check how many SEs the average sales team has in relation to the (non-SE) salespeople.  I had a lot of feedback from the field and am now making it available as some early feedback.

First of all, some assumptions (which we may want to test in a future article)
  • One thing I didn't consider that some companies may have more SEs than Salespeople.
  • Other was relatively small, but a very interesting category. I'd love to hear what the people who used other meant.
  • The respondees were SEs
  • The responses were weighted by company.  So companies with more SEs responding still get one vote.  
What does it all mean?
  • SEs want a lower ratio.  This would allow SEs to build a working relationship with a lower number of reps, and mean less time juggling responsibilities with different people.
  • The grouping of responses in the 1:4-8 category was because I didn't expect many responses. Next time I would give more options and split this category.  
  • 1:2 seems like a magic ratio
  • 1:3 like a very undesirable ratio, however 1:4-8 seems to be reasonable to those with this ratio.
I would like to discuss this more widely, in the meantime if you'd still like your voice heard - the form is still open!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Survey: Sales Engineer ratios

Getting some good responses in the Sales Engineer Ratio survey from last week.
Remember you can also access the form directly here and forward the link to other people in the market.

We are seeing all sorts of ratios of 1:1 to 1:4-8 appearing as responses so I expect to see some diversity.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How many Sales people per Sales Engineer?

Today we don't have a post, there is a survey instead. Once I have a good number of responses I will go ahead and publish results. Please get all your SE friends to respond! You can also access the form by clicking on this link

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Aidan Finn compares VMware and HyperV

For those either brushing up their Virtualization knowledge or interested in whether they should use one or the other for building product demos, Aidan Fin makes a quality in depth analysis of the two dominant formats VMWare and Hyper-V (Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V And vSphere 5.1).
Hyper-V - clearly better?

Key comparisons:

  • Scalability
  • What can you get for free?
  • Networking speed
Aidan Finn is a Hyper-V advocate so take what he says with a grain of salt, but after a solid comparison he summarizes the status quo as:
"The facts speak for themselves. WS2012 Hyper-V does more, scales out more, is build as the foundation for an enterprise cloud, and is effectively free. You can go ahead and use vSphere 5.1 if you want, but why would you wan to pay more for less?"

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mastering Technical Sales: Patience for SEs!

Over at Mastering Technical Sales today I read an excellent article on Patience Is An SE Virtue!
I find this is one of the hardest (but most rewarding) parts of being an SE.  It is not a job where you can just show how good you are or how much you know.  It is about listening to people, understanding how they feel and only when you know and feel what they are feeling, can you possibly qualify their problem, and talk about ways that they might be able to solve it.

John Care and Aron Bohlig have written (and revised) one of the most comprehensive books I have read on Sales Engineering. I think of it as one of the manuals for my job, and it works for SEs and their management.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Run a Sales Engineer meeting

Taking your team off the road has a definite cost in terms of time that could be spent out selling, and also the direct cost of travel and accommodation.

Whenever you do a team meeting, you should make sure that what you do is more valuable than the cost!

  • Have a clear agenda and purpose

Don't spend time unless there is a clear outcome that will be beneficial.  Ensure everyone knows what they are going to achieve by coming - and this should make them more enthusiastic about participation.

  • Limit the scope of the meeting to an achievable goal

Keep the scope achievable and you will make the goals. Just like a sales meeting, if you cram in too much, you loose track of the important things.  Keep unnecessary agenda items for future sessions or for your regular calls or emails.

  • Ensure everyone learns something new

Even old dogs can learn new tricks. If everyone learns something it reinforces the value of teamwork and being part of something bigger than the individual effort.

  • Be open and transparent

If there is a problem, make sure everyone knows about it. Only through clarity and clearing the air will people look for solutions.  Lack of clarity breeds paranoia and destroys teamwork.

  • Keep everyone active

By rotating the leadership of the meeting, or other roles like taking minutes, booking trainers and organizing part of the session, each person will be able on focusing on making their part better and improve the quality of the session.  Also even brand new team members have come from somewhere else - get them to present about who they are and their background.

Another trick I like to do is have a quick 10 minute presentation by each person on a topic that will be interesting to the rest of the team.  Even if you have a single product, there are different aspects each person could cover like new ways of presenting it, ways of networking with your target market, ways of working with the sales team.  Make sure each person can bring something new to the team.

Finally make your team meetings fun.  You spend so much time in the job being serious - being with your team you can afford to learn something while enjoying yourself.  This will make for closer ties in the team for the future.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Give your presentation a gold medal performance

Sales is often compared to competitive sport, and to come first and win that gold medal, you need to be better than all the competition. You need to keep improving and working on your selling ability to make sure you are the best you can be. Sometimes sales comes down to the best pitch and this is where Sales Engineers have the most influence on the sale.

Don't assume you will improve your ability as a sales engineer on your own by repetition. All world champions have a coach who helps them. You can spend time yourself working on your skills but it is often difficult to put that time aside and you can’t practice the interpersonal skills necessary to sell on your own. You can also bring people in to help learn how to do it better.

Recently our company brought in Rob Garneau from Bottom-Line Training. Bottom-Line Training run courses for sales engineers, by sales engineers. He ran a two day course focusing on our product demo skills, across a mixed group of SEs working on a variety of our solution areas.

Rob's course went over a range of topics, and I think some of the key lessons were to not treat every demo as the same thing. We shouldn’t turn up and give the same message to everyone because not every customer will buy for the same reason. Instead we should listen to what the customer needs - starting from their high level business need, and prove that we not only help solve that need, but are able to quantify the value and differentiate from any competition.
Avoid Spray & Pray - part of the BLT course material
This common problem is aptly presented as spray and pray - just really hoping that if you say enough cool things about your solution, some of them will hit the mark.

In reality this approach misses the mark more often than not, and dilutes the real value your solutions have for the customer. You lose the opportunity to show an interest in the customer’s success when you don’t understand what is important to them up front. 

You lose the opportunity to build trust. 

Customers can feel like their time is being wasted if you present irrelevant topics to them. How can you influence the customer’s decision making process if you don’t know what is important to them? In the worst case, your customer’s will be irritated by your attempts to sell them something they have no interest in.

So, a better approach is to understand your customer before you give your pitch. In order to get a good understanding of the customer’s needs, you have to be adept at asking the right questions in a way that doesn’t appear to be an interrogation. Rob taught us ways to ask questions to not only understand the needs the customer knows they have, but to also uncover needs the customer didn’t previously realize they had. Of course, we should only uncover needs we know we can solve as those needs represent opportunities.

Rob and his colleagues travel the world helping sales engineers improve their craft. I feel that the beginners and experienced SEs alike gained a lot from our session and I feel spending more time on it would be even better. I hope our company continues to invest in “coaches” to propel our success.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Building a Versatile Team of Sales Engineers

Last article I introduced the concept of the Versatility Vector and how it applies to an individual Sales engineer.

These place of an SE in the diagram is not fixed, and individuals develop over time.  If the disciplines or fields of a team broaden then the versatility of the team will be reduced until people pickup the new knowledge.

Also, new advances in each field mean that those who don't keep their knowledge fresh or their skills honed will slip back to the left (less depth of knowledge).

The balance of a team depends on the scope of activities required.  Some activities require more versatility - it may be unknown what knowledge or skills are required, so versatility is key.  Other situations call for the absolute best person in a particular field.  

In a group which is under supplied in versatility, it may take multiple resources to fulfill a single task.  This reminds me of many HP demos (apologies HP but you come readily to mind) where one person knows each product well, but not many people can string it all together.

A lack of specialist knowledge however can be just as bad. There might be no one with that can force things across the line and win a deal or close down an open question. Each team member may feel spread too thin or afraid to call for help from outside.

So obviously a balance between the two is required.  

The superstar might seem like the answer.  One person who both versatile and has in depth knowledge.  They certainly would be in demand in many situations. With a large team, superstars might be a luxury, but with a small team they are necessary. 

To make best use of the other players in the team, the superstar should be used to help boost the other members, turning the unknowledged into knowledgeable, and increase the versatility of other members.  They should be used in the situations that require the flexibility first, rather than being just the first choice for each situation.  

Holding them in reserve extends the versatility in the team. For those who play bridge, it's like holding back your high trumps until you need them. Using the person with the least versatility required means you can handle that next request regardless of the skills required.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Introducing the Versatility Vector

I have been thinking of a concept which is of interest to sales engineers, their management and also mathematicians who like studying sales engineering.

A vector as many of you know is an entity with both magnitude and direction - which is used to measure many things such as forces. These are things where it is important to know both the strength and direction of the entity.

So the concept of today is the Versatility Vector.  It is a measure of your depth of knowledge against your depth of knowledge in any specialised field, as rated against those specialists.

It is important in team make up, especially when it is difficult to ensure a specialist can be arranged for each meeting, or where multiple specialists are required, that a good number of highly versatile characters exist.

In an analyst-style quadrant diagram, I would classify SEs in 4 classes based on this assessment:

FLEDGELING (bottom left). Those who don't have high knowledge in any area or in any broad range.  The key skill for a FLEDGELING is to learn quick and move into a different quadrant.

GENERALIST (top left) has high versatility but low knowledge depth. These GENERALISTs are grat at starting and going on roadshows where a wide variety is needed, but will need SPECIALISTS to help finish the job.

SPECIALISTs (bottom right) these are the super knowledgeable but highly focused to their field of knowledge.  Their job is to fulfill tasks that fit their niche(s) and pass on everything else.  Over time specialists may broaden and add to their knowledge, or else they might prefer to stay in their field if kept fully occupied.

SUPERSTARS (top right) these are the folks who can do it all.  New concepts come to them easily and they keep pushing the boundaries of their knowledge.  Complacency of these types means that they can be forced into specialism or lose their edge and become more general.

Next article I will go into more detail on the effect these different types have on team make-up, and also the effect of adding further fields of knowledge to the mix.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sales Engineers go to Club too!

It must be that time of year for many of you. It certainly is very exciting for those that get selected to go off to join the Sales team elite at President's Club.  For those of you who haven't heard about it yet, President's clubs are a company trip for the elite of the sales organisation (and sometimes extended to other top performers in the company) and good Sales Engineers should get to go too.  Companies have all sorts of budgets for these trips ranging from $0 (shame on you) to $10,000s per person. They might send you to one of these places: Top 10 President’s Club Destinations.

In the Mastering Technical Sales blog article Pre Sales Engineers And Presidents Club, John Care discusses 1. Should SE’s be able to qualify for club? 2. What are the qualification criteria?
If the SEs are part of the high performing sales team, then they need to be represented. Otherwise it segregates and  creates an US vs THEM environment, which isn't good for any team.  It also rewards and drives all SEs to want to be the ones to go.
The qualification criteria is the tricky bit, and can be hard for companies to balance.  Ideally, if the top 20% of sales reps go, then the top 20% of SEs should go.  How you choose them depends on how their overall performance is measured, but ideally you get the SEs who bring in the big revenue along for the trip.  If your performance is tied to particular Sales reps, and they qualify, then the SE should qualify too.

This article at Salesopedia Everyone Makes President's Club is about what your Sales Manager (and SE Manager too) should have as a Mantra. Their success lies in the success of their team, and successful SEs should go to club. To get everyone to go - the manager need to be that driving force standing behind team members driving them along.  While it is a lofty goal, every member of the team should have a chance to go, and be driven to go. To have an all star team, everyone need to give it their best shot.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Sales Engineers Really Do!

What Sales Engineers do - click for fullsize.

Getting in on the meme - all tongue in cheek mind you!

What my friends/family think I do: My family and friends just hear about the good parts of the travel and luxury.
What Sales Reps think I do when it's a great demo: Sometimes it's just magic.
What Sales Reps think I do when it's a bad demo: Sometimes it's not.
What my Boss thinks I do: Endless partying and huge expense bills
What I think I do: Presenting concepts like Steve Jobs
What I really do: I was going to just repeat Steve Jobs, but the reality is that most of the time its just a series of meetings explaining concepts...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Raising your Industry Profile

Sales Engineers (and other outwardly focused Technical experts) can help their careers and stature in their own company by raising their industry profile.  What I mean by this is make sure that people in the industry respect your opinion and will come to you with questions regardless of the products & services you sell. Obviously this puts you into a privileged position with those people as long as you don't abuse this respect.

Speaking at Conferences
How to become a Industry Expert?

  • Speak at conferences
  • Write articles for independent industry sites
  • Go to user group meetings
  • Write a blog on the industry
  • Publish a book/manual
  • Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/etc

How do you get to do the above things?  Really I don't believe anyone is stopping you.  Some of these might be hard as a first step - such as conferences or books or so forth.  Use the easier entry points to get known though, and your profile will be improved.

Be being the expert - it makes your opinion worth something. You become sought after, and more people will read your material.  It helps your current employer, but also may open up your career options later.

Further reading

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SE Guy Highlights of 2011

2011 was a busy year, both out in the field and on the blog with 34 new posts.

My blogging highlights are: 

In Presenting the Product Roadmap I discussed how presenting the product roadmap can be a tricky kind of presentation - one that needs to consider your customer's current and future needs very carefully. 

Types of Sales Engineer Roles discusses the different hats & titles SEs may wear.  It is good reading for SEs who want to think about career direction and ways they can develop themselves and still be an SE

What is a Sales Engineer (SE)? Helps clarify the question of what an SE is and does

Free Sales Engineering Resources on the Web points you outward to some other quality sites on SEs

What is the ROI of Sales Engineers? looks at justification of spending money on SEs from a business perspective.  This is a tough topic and one we will revisit in 2012.  Businesses always need more justification when the position supports revenue generation rather than directly is responsible.  Lets look at more ways of measuring the benefit.

I managed to travel considerably - 4 continents in a year including trips to 4 new countries.  I supported an ever growing team of Sales professionals, and gained some valuable experience in new product areas and technologies.

I have been pretty busy also on Twitter and you can get regular blog updates by following @SalesEngGuy!

Here's to an even better 2012!