5 Ways to Overcome a Technical Sales Ambush

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The prospect has requested a live, onsite meeting at their offices. They may call it a “review session”, or a “technical deep dive”.
  4. 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”.
  5. 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:

  1. Make sure the sales representative is in attendance.
  2. Request a list of questions in advance.
  3. Encourage one or more of the prospect’s business executives to observe.
  4. Consider bringing someone from your own engineering team.
  5. Don’t take the ambush personally.

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