Thursday, December 29, 2016

10 things Sales Engineers can do at Christmas time

So what does Christmas mean to your average SE?

Firstly, it is usually a time when there is little point in travelling to visit customers. Like you, they want to spend time with the family and enjoy the downtime.  However many of us have quarterly (or annual) sales targets that end at 31 December, so there is still a focus on closing business and ensuring that customer questions get answered in a timely manner.  Just looking at my dashboard and I see 2 or 3 opportunities that need someone to help on them.

So if you happen to be in the office, or sitting at home working on some last minute deals, what can you do in your downtime?
  1. Read a book? Now is a good time to get thoughtful about your future and think about how you can approach your job differently next year.
  2. Update your demo kit? You can work on your equipment, and make it slicker and quicker
  3. Update your demo script! Now is a great time to look over your notes, look at the questions people normally ask, and make your "standard demo" clearer than ever.  there could be several different things to do
  4. Brush up your CV and look for new jobs? Perhaps your current role isn't so appealing? Take advantage of the slow period and look at your future career
  5. Sign up for some training - your company might have some great internal resources you can review or else check out what external training you can book.
  6. Look at ways you can redefine your personal role in the SE team.
  7. Summarize how you can help customers with satisfaction
  8. Improve your RFI/P answers
  9. Contemplate the role of an SE 
  10. Enjoy a holiday - take some time off and relax!
Most important - enjoy the end of year, party like its 1999 and come back relaxed for an exciting 2017!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to position a new release?

Does a new release make it harder to position your value?
Are you stuck thinking about the new shiny features and talking less about the overall value?

Has the overall value proposition changed? 
If you are offering the same benefit areas as before, then the headline value isn't radically different from before.  Getting straight in to demo the new features isn't going to sell the product better.  There might be some corner cases of individuals who understand your product and market so well, that they just need to see those things.  Your average buyer will need to understand the value proposition as before.

What do you need to change in your demo?
You need to think again about what are the best capabilities to show for each customer which back up the overall value proposition.  Don't just extend the typical harbor tour demo to include the new things.  Look for better ways to back up the value and show these.

When should I change it all completely?
Sometimes your product update will introduce new areas of value to new customers. Sometimes the marketing changes to have customers come to you in a new way. Your product may change visually so that your old demo no longer works, or you need new data or stories to show.  In these cases you should reconsider the value proposition, and then think about a demo script which addresses the value and shows the relevant capabilities.

The best demos will showcase the value of your solution to the customer, and cut the time that it takes them to understand how it will work for them.  Don't waste your time and risk losing the customer's attention by showing a chronological history of your product and problem area.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How can SEs help with Customer Satisfaction?

Do you overpromise and underdeliver?

Many companies fail to live up to the early promise or ROI that is claimed in the sales process.  Some customers make assumptions that they don't test and these catch them out in the end. Companies that make their customers successful get repeat business, and a great reputation.  Making customers successful should help SEs be more successful in the long run!

The Sales Engineer's job is to ensure that customers are excited at the prospect of working with their company, and that the proposed solution meets the customer's requirements.  However to ensure that you make them a satisfied customer in the end, it is also important to ensure that the company can deliver on them.

  1. Share information with your implementation team, which you gain from the purchase process.
  2. Avoid "smoke and mirrors" in demos.  Don't show things the product doesn't do.
  3. Don't make promises that can't be supported
  4. Make it clear what the customer will get from the proposed solution, and what they might do beyond this.
  5. Give the customer useful hints and tips that help them avoid typical pitfalls.
If you follow these simple rules - you avoid 90% of the usual problems that customers run into.  

If you make customers successful, then when you walk into the next meeting, you have an easy reference call, and eventually customers will know before you walk in the room by your reputation.
If you set customers up to fail, by over promising,  no one will want to be your reference, and new prospects will be skeptical about what you can do.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Selling Simple Solutions for Complex Problems

How do you make complex things appear simple?

Many products address challenging problems.
Challenging problems often need complex solutions.
Customers find it hard to understand complex solutions.

One of the biggest challenges good SEs face is to showcase complex solutions without losing their customer in the process.

Einstein has a great quote
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Many times, I find I open my mouth to explain something, without really thinking about how to express the knowledge as simply as possible, and taking into account that the person I'm talking to is not necessarily up to my stage in the thought process of the concept.

You need to help them build it up in their mind, from the most simple way of explaining it.
Wait for them to come up with questions, before diving into complex answers, examples or additions.

When selling a complex solution, or a solution to a complex problem, you need to ensure you give your buyer or prospect a chance to come up with a way of understanding the problem.

If your competitor explains something simpler than you can, then you have a challenge to make the customer understand the difference.

A few things you can watch to get the idea of simplicity in design and solutions better:
David Pogue - Simplicity Sells (even has a fun song at the beginning)

Friday, July 15, 2016

How to become a better listener

Sales people often talk too much.
Sales Engineers often talk too much.

Customers often take time to think about the insights you are providing, and it takes them time to think of the right questions to ask.  You've been in this kind of conversation often many more times than they have.  Give them some time to think and come up with their questions and you will learn much more about what they wanted to say.

Anne Miller's article on 5 Tips to Stop Interrupting Others gives you some easy methods of handling the way you interrupt people, and help you become a better listener.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Want to become a Trusted Advisor?

We always strive to work closely with our customers as Sales Engineers and earn their trust in order to position our solutions as a way to help.

This is a hard thing to measure, in terms of whether the customer is trusting you and how much weight your opinion may have.  Trust needs to be earned and built over time, but is the most valuable thing we can do as SEs with our customers.

A new book on becoming a Trusted Advisor is coming from John Care, author of Mastering Technical Sales.  I've pre-ordered my copy and hoping to learn some more things from it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How to get people reading your articles

Here is an interesting book I'm adding to my reading list, on getting people to read your stuff.

Thinking about your reader's needs is an important way to ensure you adjust your style to suit them, not yourself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Nobody cares about your product version

A quick tip for today!

When showing your products to customers, please remember:

  • New customers don't care about the difference in this version to the last 
  • It doesn't matter when a particular feature was added
  • If you used to have more features, you should probably not talk about it.
  • If you personally don't like how it was developed/implemented/designed or presented, you don't need to share this.
  • If you have a future release to solve a problem, this is of minor interest to them.

All that matters to customers, is what you can do NOW that is relevant to their BUSINESS!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trap: Proving without a Concept

Why do some successful Proof of Concepts not lead to sales?

One trap many Sales Engineers (SEs) fall into is to doing the Proof without a Concept.

  • SEs might not have a clear vision of the customer's business challenges, either due to lack of communication or in fact the Sales team as a whole might not understand what the customer really needs.
  • For more established markets and products, people will assume that customers fit into one of their "typical" use cases.
  • Some customers will find after the POC that they don't have the ability to complete on a project.
  • Sometimes people think they have to do a POC just because the competition has.

What should we do to avoid this?

  • Before we agree to the POC, we should agree to the Concept.  What business concept are we looking to resolve
  • Is a POC the way to prove the way forward?
  • Does the customer know enough already to determine what a successful POC looks like?
  • Are there other unresolved needs the customer has before we agree to a POC? Budget? Business Case? Eliminating too many different options?
Getting a tighter definition of the concept, will help you eliminate the wrong kinds of POC activities and focus on winning good quality business.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How to support a broader portfolio?

Are you finding it hard to support more and more products?

Many Sales Engineers are being asked to support more and more products as time goes on.  Businesses are finding new ways to expand offerings, acquiring new technologies, or downsizing sales organizations, and SEs need to pick up the slack and learn how to present more.

How do you get started on new product areas?
Many people find it easier to use a script to get started in a new area.  This helps you structure a good demo (and this is often a good idea even for experienced SEs too). It also means you can focus on each aspect of your presentation and even keep some important points written down so that you don't miss them.

How to have the technical depth to be considered an expert?
Some solution areas can be challenging to support, due to the breadth of questions that could be asked, and the overall complexity of the business problem.  This part does take time to become the proper expert, but an initial focus on the frequently asked questions, watching webinars from other experts, and doing some study into case studies will help you build up the expertise.

How to stay up to date on multiple solutions?
Each of these solutions is now taking a share of your time.  In my business, we make each SE in the team take responsibility for keeping us all up to date in a different product area.  This splits the workload and helps us all still have a great level of knowledge in each area.
Still there are logistic problems of having access to all the different sets of materials and solution sets.  Here it is worth having a more conversational method to ensure 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How to Truly Differentiate from your Competition?

Do you keep hearing - "You sound just like the other guys who were here last week"?

It can be hard to keep sounding different from your competitor.
Why should you differentiate from your competition?

It will help drive more value and avoid competing just on price.
It can make your customers identify better with you
You will be remembered more and more likely to be called back.

However this can be hard to do.

How do you sound different from the competitor? Do you sound like a clone?
Competitors or Clones?

First up - there could be a case for copying your competitor in some ways - "When is it OK to copy your competitors" describes a few ways that it is - and isn't - ok to copy them. These include improving on what they do, and also "drafting" in their slipstream can help you get something out of the noise they create in the market.  However these methods also imply differentiation as well.

Sometime the language you use is identical to theirs.  We had a marketing campaign recently where we actually coined a new phrase to define our competitive advantage, and about a year later, the main analyst and then all our competitors starting using the same term.  Watch out for using too many buzzwords or jargon terms, as these will quickly lump you into the same category as them.  "Stop Talking Like Your Competitors"

The other thing is - the competitor may have a flawed business strategy, and by following the herd, you might end up in a place you don't want to be either.
They could be giving away a vital part of their product, or focusing on the wrong segment, or even just building the wrong features for the future.  Either way, by following them, you make your pitch, product and strategy sound the same as theirs and end up in the wrong place.  This article "Stop Copying Your Competitors: They Don’t Know What They’re Doing Either" talks through some of the pitfalls in following your competitor's strategy

What you should do?  
Work out your key strengths, what they mean to your customer, and express them using language that will sound like a breath of fresh air.