Friday, October 10, 2014

How to be a GREAT SE - Be the complete solution!

When did you last hear someone ask 'Why doesn't someone do ...'?

Its a common situation, that everyone is better at spotting problems, than solutions.  On top of this, not everyone will have the same desire to solve these problems.  Much of the time, problems will slip into the cracks between different groups because its not anyone's job to solve that problem.  When people are incentivised in a way to do their job well, something that affects them, but in an indirect manner will often be an ignored part of reality, and not seen as something they can change. 

As a Sales Engineer, our job is to ensure the solution we offer is seen as the right fit for our customers.  It is a very results orientated incentive that drives us.  If we focus on just achieving the technical recommendation, or just doing the best POC or demo however we can still fail in our ultimate goal of increasing sales and earning the company more revenue.  
Today I am writing about going that extra mile to ensure your company wins more deals.  To reach this goal, you have to step outside of the boundaries to ensure your customer gets what they want.  If you don't have the right marketing brief, sometimes you will just have to write it yourself.  If your product needs to have a custom screen or image to make your customer happy, then you better get coding.  If your sales team cant think of the right executive summary, you can certainly help out here. 
The difference between being a good SE, and a GREAT SE, is the fact that GREAT SEs will not rest until they have used every option to win that deal, earn more revenue and win that customer over.  Many GREAT SEs might make up for less technical know-how, less polished performance or dress sense but they have what it takes to know what is needed in a situation and provide it.

Having this know how will not only make you a great SE, but will set you up for developing your career in any direction you choose as you will just be someone who gets things done.

Next time you find yourself with a roadblock, or lacking the right kind of collateral or material to move forward, instead of waiting for someone else to do their job and get it for you, be proactive and make it happen yourself. You will be glad that you did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Sales Engineer

You  get up early and drive to airport.  Today you are flying to Rome for a quick face to face customer meeting.

Face to face meetings are valuable as the level of interaction is so much higher.  Seeing the faces, hearing the questions, and understanding looks between different people.  However they do cost a lot more time than a web meeting, so they need to be planned well, at the right part of the sales cycle, and with the right audience.  Sometimes, you are bringing together different teams at the prospect, who rarely meet properly to discuss things.

After landing, you join a technical briefing call from engineering to update the field on a new release.  It’s good to hear this information straight from the developers, and you ask a few pointed questions about whether some customer desired features are making the cut into the next version.  Developers have a harder time getting to know customer needs first hand, so these calls have value for both sides.

You take a taxi to the customer site, with the sales rep, who flew in from another city.  Together, you quickly go over the notes you have for the call, checking on the purpose of the meeting, where you are in the sales cycle, and what you both hope to achieve today.  It is more rushed than you would hope, but this adds greatly to your readiness for the meeting. 

The meeting is early in the sales cycle, however the customer is desperate for information.  They found it difficult differentiating between the vendors they were talking to, as the marketing material worked very hard to show the same set of features.

You begin by revisiting the customer needs, telling them what you know from the discussions on the phone with different team members, but gradually sharing the problem as you understood it, relating it back to them, using as much of the customer terminology as you can. 

Carefully, once you have this understanding and agreement on the problem, you suggest some insights or unexpected but related issues, which were confirmed. Once you have established these points of additional value, you start to discuss your solution and benefits it would offer which meet their particular needs.  You use the whiteboard, go through a few brief slides to highlight parts of the solution, the architecture and then give a quick demonstration of your technology to highlight the vision of the solution. 

In less than 2 hours, you and the sales rep leave, giving a good impression, having set some actions for follow up and a firm path forward to closing some business. 

Over a quick lunch with the sales rep, together you decide who has to perform the various tasks.  Some are purely commercial and others require technical knowledge or simply knowing where to look.  One of your regional resellers arrives later to the lunch to check in with the sales rep on some other activities in the week, and checks some product capabilities with you.  You enjoy working with partners, and some of them have very skilled technical teams, who are able to offer excellent support if you enable them with the right capabilities.  It certainly helps extend the reach of your team, having local people on the ground.  The reseller tells you both that several large orders are nearing completion, and they just signed the largest order to date.  Customers in the region are really talking about your company.

After lunch, you head back to the airport, and catch a flight to the next destination, Barcelona, where the marketing team is setting up your stand at a major vendor’s annual European trade show.  On the flight you catch up on some emails, reset your demo system, and spend a little time relaxing.

At the hotel you meet up with a team member from another office, and debrief on some of the joint activities you have going on.  One of them is a Proof of Concept, coming up with a major prospect, which appears to be justified, but will take a big amount of time for both of you in the coming month. 

You get a chance to catch up which is not possible that often, with busy schedules and a tight travel budget.  You really should spend more time, sharing knowledge, tips and tricks with the products and how you work with customers.  Since trade shows can be very tiring with long hours and you have a full program the next day, you get an early night and are ready to face the challenges of a new day.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Art of a Great SE - How to Juggle!

As a Sales Engineer there is a tight balance between picking up new opportunities to support, keep up to date on your knowledge and skills, and focusing on closing the business you are currently engaged in.  If you neglect any of these it will impact on the bottom line, either sooner or later.

Let's look at each aspect and consider its importance.
A true sign that business is picking up is when you continually find new opportunities to work on.  It is important to continually offer support to these, or you lack business in your pipeline.  Depending on the speed of your sales cycle, you should bring these up to speed, and keep them warm, and keep a dialog going with these customers, as you work on their sequence of events to buy.  I find that inexperienced sales reps (and SEs!) will try to close these opportunities down before the customer is in any position to buy.  Every deal has its required steps to go through, and at the first stage you should work this out, and do everything in your power to shorten this.  Don't try to do things like POCs before they will have the required impact.  Its unlikely you'll change your customers timelines, so do your best discovery and plan out next steps.  Convert the deals you expect to be able to close into real opportunities and put less effort into the others.

Keeping up to date with your skills and knowledge is something you try to do in your spare time, as an SE, however you do need a certain amount of time to be sure of these abilities in front of customers.  If you find yourself lacking in that certain punch in front of your customers, then you need more preperation time to ensure you will be ready.  Take that extra hour to run through the presentation, demo systems, POC or whatever is necessary to be several steps ahead of everyone in the room.
If you feel like you are being asked to do impossible things, then you need to be the one setting expectations, and discussing agendas before the meetings.
The time spent preparing is critical so that you understand what you are showing, are prepared for problems, can lead the session in the right way.  If you need additional expert help, bring them in for the meeting with a defined role, and learn something new every chance you get.

Finally, closing the business you are engaged in is important for businesses of all sizes. If you are continually beginning opportunities without closing them, you will spend more and more of your time juggling expectations, meetings and time between different parties and won't get to the stage of concluding business and hitting your quota.  There comes a time in each opportunity where you could keep treading over the same ground and showing feature after feature, but if you don't draw a line and make a deal, then you won't get a return on the sales effort you have made.  If you have invested in a POC or major demo or whatever the technical side of a deal is, make sure you close down open questions, and progess the opporttunity into the decisive part and press on the sequence of events you agreed with your customer.  You did agree on a sequence of events before you put in the effort didn't you!?
This is something that grows with experience, but don't spend the bulk of your time on customers until you are sure that they aren't just learning, or checking on the market or other tyre-kicking kinds of activities.  Convert the deals you feel most confident on to this category and watch the need grow slowly in the others.
Learning to balance these three areas will reward SEs and sales teams and get the best out of your most valuable resource - time!

If you have trouble working out how much of your time you should spend in each area, review your calendar with your manager.  You should be able to work out better ways to spend your time, and push out meetings that aren't maximizing the use of your time.