Winning sales engineer trait #6: Diplomatic

July 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

“No one ever won an argument with a customer” is a time-tested adage that is doubly true when interacting with a prospective client. In this next installment of 7 Habits of the Most Effective Sales Engineers, I depict why diplomacy is such an essential talent for the sales engineer.

To begin, it’s vital to remember that the solution that’s being pitched during the technical sales cycle will typically require alterations to the way the prospect conducts business. In some cases, the proposed new technology will displace existing solutions – often developed, supported, or sponsored by the prospect’s employees. And let’s face it: new solutions really can cost them their jobs. For example, an insurance company doesn’t need a whole team of programmers to build and maintain an internally developed ERP package when they can acquire and support a best-of-breed product for a fraction of the cost.

For these reasons – and many others – it’s very common for the prospect’s technical staff to feel threatened by new products, and to find innovative ways to monkey wrench a sales cycle. These can range from passive aggressive techniques all the way up to belligerent confrontations. Every SE faces these types of situations but only the most diplomatic SEs can gracefully cope with these intimidating circumstances with dignity and poise.

Here are some simple recommendations about how you can incorporate the fine art of diplomacy in your technical sales cycles:

  1. First and foremost: you should always maintain professionalism, even when being berated by a socially maladjusted engineer during a sales call.
  1. Maintain credibility by having a solid and relevant technical background without feeling the need to throw your PhD in engineering from MIT in your prospect’s face.
  1. Demonstrate extensive product knowledge without denigrating your competition.
  1. Don’t be too sales-y: that’s the sales rep’s job. And it’s the rep’s job to alert the prospect’s management if their technical staff are acting in bad faith to disrupt a legitimate sales cycle.
  1. Communicate clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing: stick to the point, back it up with facts, and avoid hyperbole.
  1. When you have proof that someone from the prospect is wrong on a technical matter, point it out gently: there’s no need to celebrate your victory.
  1. Finally – although passion about the job is a good thing, don’t get too emotionally involved in the sale. Win or lose, you’ll be on to the next deal soon.

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