I had a great talk with a technology CEO today, and we talked about how the perceptions of a prospect/customer can impact the sales cycle. While we want to, or even assume, that everyone knows all about or fancy new shiny toy (software), this is seldom the case. If you aren’t a brand name, welcome to the struggle.
I used to say that you know you are cutting edge or have a good/new idea, when you spend 1/2 your time explaining WHAT you do, and the other 1/2 talking about why the prospect/customer needs what you are selling.
But these days it’s a more complicated story I tell. For example, I would represent our discussion this morning more like this:
Some of this is easy to figure out, some not.
What They Think They Do
as an enterprise sales engineer, I can tell you that this is not as predictable as you might think. Ask each person in a company what they do, and you will not get the same answer. Below The Line, you might hear “We Solve Problems”, and they would go on about what kind of “pain points” they solve. This is Tactical Selling. I never use the term “pain points” in a meeting, or, well, ever because it is not the way to do enterprise sales [well].
If, on the other hand, you ask someone above The Line, they will say “We Create Opportunity”, and they will go on about opportunities for their share holders, management staff, and growth. Even then, each will describe a different opportunity… You see where this is going.
What They Think You Do
I love this one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked “What keeps you up at night?”, and heard “XYZ, but you guys aren’t involved with that.”-and of course, we actually did. So what is the issue at plpay here?
You remember earlier when I was talking about 1/2 your time talking about what you do? This is it. Come to find out, even though we use our technology on a daily basis, not everyone else does. What is worse, if this has happenned to you, then you are not in control of your image.
What this means is, the market/vertical/specialty that you play in has been advertised & marketed for you. Someone else has taken this job on for you, and there is a 99% they were/are wrong. If it was TV/Rags/Media, then it is easily reparable. If it is from a competitor, though, it is much more insidious. Often times, the prospect will tell yo uwhere they heard this if you ask, so ask!
What They Think Is Possible
This is what our discussion brought out. It is actually a more subtle aspect of the “What They Think You Do” circle above. This is the perception (isn’t perception reality) that they already know (so they think) everything in the realm of possibilities. It means that the prospecct is certain they know what can be done for them, and they are just shopping for someone to do it. Well, as I’ve said on many occasions, “The surety of a prospect that they know their issues/problems is inversely proportional to the truth.”
Why is this the case? Well, it’s really because they are not experts in what you do, but they do not want to appear to be uneducated about what you do. They have many technologies from many markets/verticals at play at their company, yet their company may have nothing to do with any of them. How does the head of a shoe company become an expert DBA? Or more germane to our discussion, how is an executive at a non-IT company able to keep up with the myriad of technological advances, along with emerging providers, that are out there? True, they are interested in hearing what other companies like them are adopting (some markets are unhealthily habitual like this: Insurance & Finance leading the pack), but beyond that, they really know nothing.
You need to be expert at manipulating conversation to understand these subtle dynamics, and give them what I call “A Way Out” of being either uninformed, or worse yet, dis-informed. You need to be gracious.
So with these 3 circles, imagine your last call/solution/sale. How closely were these 3 circles overlapping each other? Were some or all disconnected completely? This is why you will hear people talk about a “complete disconnect” when they are talking about qualification (another topic we’ve dug deep into on this blog).
The more these 3 overlap at the front end, the shorter the sales cycle, and the higher the likelihood of closing-and both of those make everyone on your team happier!
Now this is all well & good, but as the title alludes, this is only their perspective. The sale takes more than just them, though! It takes you, and what you do. So as you can imagine, there is another key perspective set to look at, and that is from our perspective:
What We Think We Do
This is the start of our perspective. Things here are just as important, but much harder to face. We are inherently dishonest with ourselves [in business]. But once again, if you ask the tactical/technical in your company, they will say “We Sell Drills!”. But if you ask the strategic/solution executives & managers, they will say “We Sell Holes!”. Do you see the difference?
One is concerned with selling as many drills as possible, focusing on features like speed, durability, and specs. They will list all the features and say “There is no product like it!”.
But what of our strategic employees? What of our enterprise sales? What will they say? We already know they say “We Sell Holes”, but what does that mean? We don’t really charge “By The Hole“, do we?
Of course not. What it means is that we sell a world with holes that we have drilled. Strategic selling deals with painting a picture of how things could be. We capture imaginations, create dreams, and drive opportunities for (you name it).
I have an easy to remember axiom to remember selling tactically or strategically:
A prospect/customer has one of 2 things:
1. They have something they don’t want (problem to fix/tactical)
2. They want something they don’t have (opportunity to take advantage of/strategic)
Well, they can have both at once, of course, but I was talking about each individual DSO (Discreet Sales Opportunity).
So just like the Good/Fast/Cheap triad, these 2 simple triads should remind you that there are 2 ways to look at each opportunity. Their way, and yours!
I’ve been designing a software product seriously for coming up on three years now, and a further two before that just convincing myself it was possible. The product operates on collected data and creates interesting relationships between them. Really, that is all there is to it. But like any simple objective, the road has become longer and more circuitous that we could have ever imagined.
The idea isn’t new, but the tools available today make it practical. Those tools are computers. Computers, though, need things represented as numbers. They crunch those numbers, and out comes a number. Sound familiar Douglas Adams fans?
The problem for me was routine up until the point where I had to interpret, and establish as events, text. The problem of textual language represented in computers is actually much older than AI (Artificial Intelligence). Continue reading How to [Define, Describe, Classify, Group, Find] Everything?
Many products and services, especially those purchased by large companies and institutions, are highly complex. Sales engineersâ€”also called technical sales support workersâ€”determine how products and services could be designed or modified to suit customers’ needs. They also may advise customers on how best to use the products or services provided.
Sales engineers specialize in technologically and scientifically advanced products. They possess extensive knowledge of these products, including knowledge about their components, functions, and the scientific processes that make them work. They use their technical skills to explain the benefits of their products to potential customers and to demonstrate how their products are better than the products of their competitors. Often, they modify and adjust products to meet customersâ€™ specific needs. Some sales engineers work for the companies that design and build technical products, while others work for independent sales firms.
Many of the duties of sales engineers are similar to those of other salespersons. They must interest the client in purchasing their products, negotiate a price, and complete the sale. Some sales engineers, however, are teamed with other salespersons who concentrate on marketing and selling the product, enabling the sales engineer to concentrate on the technical aspects of the job. By working on a sales team, each member is able to focus on his or her strengths and expertise. (Information on other sales occupations, including sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, appears elsewhere in the Handbook.)
We’ve all heard the many stories about how bad a customer database can get, but my recent experience with this issue is just too good of a story to let pass by. My wife called me at work the other day to let me know about a nice gift that we received in the mail: an entire case of toothpaste from a consumer healthcare company. No hitch here, they just wanted to share some of their latest, greatest product with Dr. Gerard’s dental patients as part of a free sample give-away. A few problems with this strategy though: 1) I’m not a dentist; 2) no one in my household is a dentist; and 3) my father, who had been a dentist for 40+ years, had retired over 25 years ago and unfortunately is also no longer alive. Maybe it was a special message from my father to get my kids to brush their teeth more. Regardless, another example of customer intelligence gone wrong.
This only happens in the BtoC space you say? From our research, I continue to observe that business IT buyers also perceive a lack of customer intelligence from their vendors. How does this perception take hold? A CIO panelist from a $10B+ company at one of our events indicated that he has to continuously teach vendor sales reps what he has purchased from them in the past. During the same meeting with a rep, the IT buyer notices that the rep is either unwilling or unable to let go of the generic PowerPoint deck and to engage in a deep and customer-specific conversation. Poor customer intelligence was a significant factor in each of these cases, leading to poor credibility on your front lines. (Sales enablement, talent management, sales methodology and sales management are other potential factors of concern in these examples.)
So what’s happening across our marketing and sales organizations to result in this break-down of intelligence. There’s plenty of blame to go around, from a people, process and technology perspective. But let’s keep our efforts focused on fact-finding versus fault-finding. Here are a couple of places to start in improving these problems as well as some insight from our research of better performing sales organizations:
This is only the tip of the iceberg of course. Focus in on some key short-term wins as you improve the quality and leverage of customer intelligence, while in parallel maintaining your course along a longer term strategic path.
Please do reach out to me if you would like to participate in our ongoing research, including a best practices study in account planning for BtoB sales teams that is currently in progress.
For years, all there were about the land were Sales Engineers. Unfortunately, almost everyone got the role wrong and figured they were Sales Reps that knew how to explain the product/services. Wrong. I’ve written about this often here, and it is just as wrong now as it was then.
Today, sales teams selling high end software are comprised of specialists. Things are too complex, and the roles too diverse from one another to try to mangle them all into one person. The Rep (or whatever your culture calls them) gets the appointment, either by calling/emailing themselves, or waiting for a campaign (either Acquisition or Retention) to provide them with the opportunity.
Depending, the Rep might even plug in numbers into a proposal generator, and present it for signing at closing. These days, though, the Sales Engineer is being relied on to qualify the opportunities with the Reps. Qualification, in Pat’s world, requires 4-1/2 things:
1. The Customer Knows What they Are Buying.
They understand the solution, agree that it is what they need, and like the solution within which our stuff plugs in. This may sound silly, but it is vital. Remember, DSOs (Discrete Sales Opportunities) come in two flavors:
1. They Have Something They Don’t Want (Solve a Problem)
2. They Want Something They Don’t Have (Create Opportunity)
2. We Have Access to the Buyer.
We are meeting with, taling to, and solving problems for, the buyer. If we are still talking to lackeys, gate keepers, and their layers/levels of qualification, we are not talking to the buyer.
3. The Have the Budget.
An old saying goes “Only sell to folks that have money”. There is an endless stream of useless people at any prospect that will let you buy them lunch.
4. There is Date Related Motivation.
Something will happen at a certain date. Something Bad(TM) will happen if the prospect does nothing.
4-1/2. An Identified Project Exists Where Our Stuff Plugs In.
So remember, there are only Sales Engineers, and Engineers. Post-Sales is considered fulfillment, while Pre-Sales is considered either Acquisition or Retention. Engineers work on all kinds of things, some of which is considered after the sale was made.
[Pre-] Sales Engineers impact = Top Line
Engineers impact = Bottom Line
If you understand what Sales Engineers are, then you realize that they should be isolated from the general population in the same way that field reps are-and for the same reasons. The same traits that make a Sales Engineer effective are the same that alienate them from the common cubers, and I’ve recently proved this is true.
For one thing, successful Sales Engineers are able to convey confidence above all else. That confidence, in a sales situation, translates into credibility for the Sales/Account Rep. That confidence is completely 180 degrees against the flow of a successful cuber, in that they learn to survive by being passive in all matters, avoiding making decisions. A no-decision is a decision that can never be wrong, right?
But in the Sales Engineer’s world, there is no room for indecision-we may only get this one chance in front of a prospect! We need to be able to say what is needed, and say it confidently. There are many funny names/phrases for what we do in a tight spot, such as “being frugal with the truth”, but one of my primary axioms for Sales Engineering is:
Never leave the call with questions about your stuff.
I get this search string for a web browser’s referrer more so than any other. And I’m really glad someone is asking, but way too often the wrong answer prevails. Well, at Google, this is what a Sales Engineer does:
But really, to answer what a Sales Engineer is, it might first be good to read an article I wrote a few years back about What a Sales Engineer is NOT. From there you will also see some “related Links” below the article to lead you to other defining articles.
The confusion as to what this vital role is, and even what it should be called remains …inexplicably. Companies way too often see the word “Sales” in a title, and assume that you are a sourcer, or cold caller that hunts for leads, then closes them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. True, a proper Sales Engineer is paid on base+commission, but as I’ve written before, this is due to the requirement for suggestions outside of the protective Account Rep’s to be geared toward closing the most business ($) in the shortest possible time. This is how your reps are comp’d, and if you are not, then you will not be invited to the party.
If you are like I was, and am an accomplished engineer in many diverse disciplines, then your best shot might be to ask to tag along with your sales reps on actual calls. This might be the first sales call you’ve ever been on! Say not a single word, unless asked to do so by your rep. Do not speak unless spoken to, in other words.
Do this a few times, and start to get a feel for what your company’s customers are asking for, what they actually need, and how your company’s sales reps perceive your products. The analytic in you will soon see that they do not overlap each other perfectly. In fact, there might not be any overlap at all. Your reps won’t see things like this, but your engineering mindset will, and you’ll be compelled to figure out ways to “fix” the situation. RESIST THE URGE!
Your opinion is not wanted. You have no street cred with these reps, and they don’t think there are any problems-or they affix blame to others (what I call Blame Management, but more on that another day). You need to continue on these ‘expeditions’ until you learn more about how things are in the streets, versus how they are at your HQ/office. They are far from the same.
So back to the 3 areas of understanding (which are really perception). Imagine 3 circles drawn on a piece of paper. Each circle is labeled as:
There are other tools in my methodologies that are related and similar, but lets just focus on these for now. For the most part, you will be able to tell where each one of these circles lie after a month of going to sales calls. Things may look like:
So the job, or objective, of a Sales Engineer is actually quite simple. Create as much overlap as possible. There is much, much more to it, but for now this should act as a good intro. Be sure to cruise through the related posts below this article to fill in more of the blanks!
Sales engineers generally are required to possess a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and many have previous work experience in an engineering specialty. New sales engineers may need some on-the-job training in sales or may work closely with a sales mentor before they can work on their own.
Education and training. A bachelor’s degree in engineering usually is required for a person to become a sales engineer. However, workers without a degree, but with previous experience in sales and technical experience or training, sometimes hold the title of sales engineer. Also, workers who have a degree in a science, such as chemistry, or even a degree in business with little or no previous sales experience, may be called sales engineers. Continue reading The Sales Engineer – Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
[Saying it was the World Championship is like baseball in the US having a World Series]
On Aug. 23, Sri Lankan human resources consultant Dananjaya Hettiarachchi was crowned the World Champion of Public Speaking by Toastmasters International. He survived seven rounds of a competition that lasted six months and included 33,000 competitors from around the world.
He and eight other finalists competed at the Toastmasters annual convention last month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hettiarachchi took first place for his speech “I See Something,” which clocked in at seven minutes and 20 seconds. You can watch the full speech below:
We spoke with Hettiarachchi about his winning speech and what you can learn from it. Here are a few things that made it great:
Hettiarachchi tells us that the modern style of speech-making has transitioned from a theatrical monologue to a conversation with the audience.
There are several theatrical elements to Hettiarachchi’s speech, but they’re done in a way to connect with the audience rather than dive deeper into himself.
He bookends his speech by holding a rose in his hands — the first time to pull the audience into his message and the second time to send them off with a laugh. He avoids being melodramatic or silly by finding a rhythm of silence and laughter, drama and humor.
“A speech has to be like a rollercoaster,” he tells us.
Hettiarachchi tells us that a common mistake beginners make when crafting their speeches is starting with a topic instead of a clear and concise message. This message is whatever you want your audience to be thinking about when your presentation concludes.
The message of “I See Something” is that anyone has the potential to be great, even if they’ve long abandoned their greatest aspirations. To avoid making that sound trite, he tells his own story of going from a law-breaking and lost kid to a motivated and focused adult. His story is the vehicle for a message, which the audience can personalize for themselves.
Hettiarachchi is far from monotone, but he also doesn’t sound off the wall. He expertly alternates between lowering his voice to a solemn level and raising it for comedic effect.
Pay close attention to the way he makes use of pauses. He takes anywhere from one to a few seconds of silence to emphasize a point, staring into the eyes of audience members to hook them even further.
At the same time, his gestures are open but controlled, so he doesn’t look like he’s flopping his arms.
There’s a technique comedians use called a “callback,” in which a joke alludes to a previous joke in the set for added laughter. It serves as a sort of reward for being an active listener and makes the set feel more cohesive.
Hettiarachchi pulls this off with the phrase, “I see something — but I don’t know what it is.” It shows up in the beginning, middle, and end, and feels fresh each time because he plays with the delivery. He also introduces his parents in the story with similar audience prompts.
When he concludes his speech, you’re left laughing and feeling satisfied.