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!
We tell it to everyone, but they just don’t seem to get it, or want to admit it. In David Lazarus’ article HERE, he gives more examples from Daniel Pink entitled, “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others“. If you don’t know who Daniel Pink is, crawl out from under that rock and search YouTube.
A few brief paragraphs from the article:
Are you a Sales Engineer? Do you manage Sales Engineers? How about Sales Consultant? I’d really like to help you get some visibility in my book in exchange for a few quotes from you. Free is a great price, and it’s a win-win! Contact me!
It asks 10 sales reps what they do before a call. I consider this also a great practice for Sales Engineers, as we often do a lot more research than the reps do.
The best thing to do with the 15 minutes before sales call is to review the work you did in planning the sales call. You did plan the sales call, didn’t you?
You’re going to want to review the outcomes that you need to obtain in order to either create or to advance an opportunity. Achieving those outcomes almost always means creating value for your clients at whatever stage of the buying cycle they happen to be in. What do you need to do for your client or prospective client to help them get the outcomes that they need from this call?
It’s also helpful to review your notes from your prior calls. Review the names, titles, and needs of any and all of the stakeholders you are meeting with before your sales call. And make sure you’re prepared to cover all of the commitments that you made and kept since your last meeting.
Finally, it’s important to be in the right state. It’s important to be in a confident, positive, resourceful state. The interactions you have with your clients and prospects are too valuable to take lightly. You want to be prepared to create value and you want to be in the best state possible to do so.
Many years ago, I created my first Meeting Planner from MS Word, and it was designed to be filled out ahead of time to make sure we knew-even in the middle of a call, what we were supposed to make sure we left with.
Not many sales methodologies mention these kinds of tools, preferring instead to focus on what ‘base’ you are on, or what ‘stage’, etc.
What do you use to make sure your expensive call is productive & profitable?
Have you ever had a demo, and someone said something so ridiculous that you stopped in your tracks and paused, not knowing how to respond? The seem so confident, yet they are wrong. How do you tell your prospect that they are wrong? I’ll save that for another post, because today we’re talking about why they thought they were right.
From the Rationalpedia entry for Dunning-Kruger:
The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimate of themselves.
In simple words it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.
The inverse also applies: competent people tend to underestimate their ability compared to others; this is known as impostor syndrome.
If you have no doubts whatsoever about your competence, you could just be that damn good. On the other hand…
Why did they even want to figure this out? They read the story of a man, McArthur Wheeler who… well…
The Story of Mr. McArthur Wheeler
On one fine morning in Pittsburgh (PA), in the year 1995, a man aged 44, known by the name McArthur Wheeler decided to rob a bank. Since he thought he knew a lot about a peculiar chemical property of lemon juice, he decided to smear the juice on his face before executing his plan to rob the bank. […]
Back to demos and presentations, it is apparent that those who are very knowledgeable UNDER-estimate their knowledge and ability (kind of like ‘the more you know, the more you realize how little yuo know’).
But just as you’re figuring out, the less you know about something, the more you OVER-estimate your knowledge. You simply have no idea how little you know.
So our hapless CEO, in trying to trip you up, while impressing his/her flock, has put you in a very dangerous position. Either you agree with their error, or you correct them. Yikes!
There is a better way around this dilemma, of course, and I choose to ‘give them a way out’. Without getting too technical into how little I know about psychology (see what I did there?), a person who is challenged about their beliefs with expert information-especially indisputable evidence-is backed into a corner themselves. They cannot argue with you their point, because you come from a position of greater knowledge.
You are FORCING them to admit guilt! Demo Suicide!
I explain to them that there is ‘new’ information available (that they may not be aware of) that will allow them to make a more informed decision. I say something like:
“There have been recent advances in our industry that you may not have heard about yet that might make you reconsider your decision.”
You see? In this way, they are ‘off the hook’ for not making the best statement/decision. I’m just skimming the surface, but I hope this makes you a better demonstrator & speaker.
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.)
Sure, we throw the term around like a dodge ball, but how many of those using the term can actually tell you what it is, or what it involves?
Well, today is your lucky day!
So now you can at least ask the right questions about how utilizing Social Media can be used to further your career or business.
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