October 11, 2015 § Leave a comment
I recently had the pleasure of hosting an angel investing training event for existing, new, and prospective members of Astia Angels as part of our portfolio gathering. We had a fantastic collection of panelists and speakers, including Trish Costello from Portfolia. Trish has very impressive experience in all aspects of angel investing and venture capital, and is now leading Portfolia.
Portfolia is a collaborative investing platform designed for affluent women. It features thematic micro-investing funds enabling women to invest on their terms in companies they believe in. Portfolia’s Rising Tide Fund is a ‘learn-by-investing’ fund that lets women invest $10,000 into between six and nine companies over one year while learning the process of entrepreneurial investing.
Portfolia aims to prepare and focus one million affluent US women investors in five years. When women green light the companies, teams and products they want to see succeed, we’ll see positive disruption in the marketplace.
As part of her talk to our group, Trish presented a tremendously useful graphic that helped clarify the major players in the highly complex and dynamic world of crowd funding. These platforms are disrupting banking, venture capital, and angel investing, so it’s important to understand the entire landscape. Trish has graciously permitted me to display it here. Click on the thumbnail to view the full image.
September 30, 2015 § Leave a comment
As I recently depicted, a technical sales ambush is a scenario where a prospect convenes a technically focused “review” meeting with the hidden purpose of introducing impossible or unreasonable requirements that end up monkey wrenching the entire sale.
While ambushes can’t be totally avoided, their outcomes can be ameliorated through proper preparation. For example, sales representatives – at least those that are making or exceeding quota – are masters of interpersonal relationships and reading between the lines. I’ve found that the best reps can instantly sniff out an ambush or other situation where the prospect’s technical experts are not acting in their employer’s best interest, and are advancing their own private agendas instead.
A proactive sales representative will quickly take steps to stop an ambush in its tracks. This can include entirely rejecting the meeting without adequate representation from the business, or demanding a quid-pro-quo about what happens after the meeting (like setting up a proof-of-concept).
One of the most important things a rep can do is simply make sure that they’re part of the meeting: a sales engineer (SE) should never face this type of audience alone, especially when it appears that an ambush might be in the cards. Having the sales rep present frees up the SE to focus on making a good faith effort to address all technical questions, while strengthening the case that the vendor is making to the prospect.
September 19, 2015 Comments Off on Das Auto, der Algorithmus, und der Smog
Looks like Volkswagen is going to have some ‘splainin’ to do: the company has been ordered to recall 482,000 diesel-powered vehicles (including Jetta, Golf, Passat, Beetle, and Audi A3) by the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Justice, and California Air Resources Board.
VW is being accused of implementing an algorithm that detects when the car is being smog-tested and then applying full emission controls so that the vehicle will pass. At other times (like during normal road operations), the emission controls were programmatically relaxed and the car belched out much higher levels of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide.
You can read the violation notice here. Wow.
And as algorithms become more prevalent in everyday devices (i.e. “the Internet of Things”), there should be all sorts of entertaining stories to come. Some will involve felonious behavior, while others will just be the natural outcome of poor design or shoddy quality control.
August 27, 2015 Comments Off on Not scared of algorithms? Perhaps you should be.
A while back, I wrote about a run-in I had with a rental car company, or to put it more accurately: a rental car company’s algorithm. It’s quite frightening to think about the implications of “lights-out” algorithms making important decisions that can affect all aspects of your life. And as someone who witnesses – first hand – the often abysmal job that enterprises do when testing their APIs (which frequently have algorithms running beneath the covers), I’m particularly concerned about what this will spell for the future.
If you’d like to learn more about these possible repercussions, check out the extremely well written article by Frank Pasquale on aeon.co.
Cyberspace is no longer an escape from the ‘real world’. It is now a force governing it via algorithms: recipe-like sets of instructions to solve problems. From Google search to OkCupid matchmaking, software orders and weights hundreds of variables into clean, simple interfaces, taking us from query to solution. Complex mathematics govern such answers, but it is hidden from plain view, thanks either to secrecy imposed by law, or to complexity outsiders cannot unravel.
If you’d like to read more of my posts about Big Data, click here.
August 20, 2015 Comments Off on 5 Ways to Overcome a Technical Sales Ambush
As I’ve described in other posts, there are many advantages to being a sales engineer. One of the most attractive benefits is generally being free of the politics, mind games, and brinksmanship that take place during a high-value, strategic technology sale. These are usually the domain of the sales representative, which is why they get such big commission checks – or get fired.
Unfortunately, there are circumstances where sales engineers can be dragged in to some distasteful encounters with a prospect, which usually revolve around a live session to go over deep technical aspects of the proposed product or service. I label these interactions as “ambushes”, because an unsuspecting SE often has no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late.
I’ve been on both sides of the table in a technical sales ambush, so in this series of blog posts I’ll provide some guidance about how to avoid them, and what to do if you get caught up in one.
First, what are some of the signs that you’re about to walk into an ambush?
- You are selling a product or service that will replace an in-house solution created or maintained by people still on the prospect’s payroll, or there’s an alternate offering from another vendor that has passionate backing from some members of your prospect’s technology team.
- You’re in the mid to late stages of a sales cycle, when it appears that your solution actually has a chance of being chosen.
- The prospect has requested a live, onsite meeting at their offices. They may call it a “review session”, or a “technical deep dive”.
- The prospect has invited a large and diverse group of technically focused people to the meeting, often including someone with a title like “chief architect” or “lead engineer”.
- The prospect can’t (or won’t) provide you with a list of topics for discussion in advance. Instead, the session is billed as a “friendly, open-ended exploration to get more technical details” about your product or service. Trust me: there’s nothing “friendly” or “open-ended” about an ambush.
At first glance, none of these attributes necessarily indicate that the meeting will be an ambush. However, when you step back and look at the big picture – especially from a cynical perspective – you begin to realize that the true purpose of the encounter is to introduce fear, uncertainty, or doubt into the equation, and thereby torpedo the deal if at all possible.
I’ll write about guidelines to cope with an ambush in some upcoming posts, but for now here’s a high level list:
- Make sure the sales representative is in attendance.
- Request a list of questions in advance.
- Encourage one or more of the prospect’s business executives to observe.
- Consider bringing someone from your own engineering team.
- Don’t take the ambush personally.
July 11, 2015 Comments Off on Poshly – one of Fast Company’s 10 Most Innovative Big Data Companies – is growing
I’ve long been a fan of practical usages of Big Data: applications that aggregate raw information – and lots of it – to address real-world business challenges. I’ve already written about Poshly (disclosure: I’m an investor), and I continue to be impressed with their progress.
Poshly is expanding their team by hiring a lead front-end engineer and deployment specialist, so if you – or someone you know – is interested in joining a winning team in a hot space, I encourage you to check out these opportunities.
June 19, 2015 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #2: Skepticism
As I continue my tour of seven of the worst sales engineering (SE) traits, let’s take a look at skepticism. Selling complex, high-value products and services is hard enough even when everyone on the team is upbeat and optimistic. Long hours, grueling travel, and the interpersonal challenges of coping with mercurial prospects all result in generous amounts of stress and significant sales professional turnover.
An already-difficult job is made much tougher when the sales team is burdened by friction between the sales representative and the SE. In particular, skepticism is one of the most toxic attitudes an SE can display, and it’s often one of the biggest sources of tension in the relationship.
I define skepticism as continual – and even adversarial – questioning of sales representatives by their SE colleagues, especially in the early stages of a sales cycle. SE skepticism can emerge even earlier, such as when marketing leads arrive, or on initial telesales qualification calls.
I once had an SE on my team who needed to be sold – every time – on why he should deign to deliver a demo. Unsurprisingly, this created extensive and unnecessary hostility between him and his sales partner. This SE lost sight of the basic reality that his customer was the sales representative, not the prospective client.
Don’t get me wrong: rational, unemotional evaluation of potential opportunities is essential when allocating scarce sales resources. But unless something looks really off, the SE’s job is to give 100% and be an encouraging participant as the deal moves through the funnel. If something appears troubling about the prospect or opportunity, it’s most productive for the SE to position it as a challenge that can be solved by positive, constructive teamwork.
You can learn more about sales engineering here.