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.