August 3, 2016 Comments Off on Overcoming a Technical Sales Ambush Best Practice #2: Request a List of Questions in Advance
Continuing this series on technical sales and sales engineering, a technical sales ambush is a situation where prospect calls a technically-oriented meeting with the hidden (and bad-faith) purpose of introducing impossible or unreasonable requirements that end up monkey wrenching the entire sale. Naturally, legitimate technical questions are part of every sales cycle, but an ambush is deliberately meant to derail the sale while making it look like it’s the vendor’s fault. Any new product or service can be disruptive and threatening, so you should be on the lookout for it.
While ambushes can’t be totally avoided, they can be managed through proper preparation. For example, you should avoid open-ended “discovery” meetings at all costs. Instead, all interactions should be structured: by simply requesting a list of questions – well in advance of the meeting – you have an excellent chance of thwarting surprises. In fact, scheduling the meeting should be gated on receiving the list of questions, and you should also keep the decision makers in the loop.
Once you have the list, prepare to put your answers in writing, and distribute them to all prospect constituencies (including line-of-business leaders) in advance of the meeting. During the session, you can discuss the answers, provide demonstrations, and so on. This is much more effective than an open-ended “fishing expedition”. And if unplanned questions arise, you can either address them on the spot (and append the written list), or use the time-tested “I’ll get back to you on this” response, and simply come back with your answers once you’ve done your research.
Either way, this strategy gives you much more control over the interaction with the prospect, and can help you win the opportunity.
June 18, 2016 Comments Off on Informative Forbes article about men investing in women-founded ventures
I wish my schedule had permitted me to join my Astia Angels colleagues at this year’s United State of Women (#StateofWomen) event in Washington. Convened by the White House, it brought people from all walks of life together to share ideas about advancing gender equality, a mission that’s very important to me. I’m also a firm believer in using entrepreneurship as a vehicle for making this happen.
Geri Stengel has just written a very informative article on the significant role that male angel investors can play in helping support women-led ventures. This is particularly urgent given that the vast majority of angel and venture investments continue to omit companies founded and/or led by women.
This gap was a big reason why I joined Astia Angels. I’ve long believed in – and witnessed first-hand – the power of diverse leadership teams. To support our quest to propel women’s full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses, we draw on a diverse, far-reaching collection of highly talented investors, each with their own unique background, perspective, and relationships. If you’d like to learn more about Astia Angels including our investment philosophy, portfolio, and even becoming a member, please get in touch: I’m always happy to answer questions.
April 22, 2016 Comments Off on Seven easy ways to scare off an angel investor
I’ve been an angel investor for nearly two decades. While the investment climate is highly dynamic, what’s unchanged is that pitching to angels is always a challenge – we’re often skittish and faddish at the same time (just like venture capitalists, by the way).
During the past 20 years, I’ve read and heard more presentations than I can keep track of. There are probably 500 ways to chase away potential investors (and probably 5,000 articles and blog posts about what not to do), but in my experience, here are seven of the most effective ways to guarantee a ‘no’.
- Insist that there’s no competition
- Ask for nice, even, round numbers – with no logical linkage to your budget or sales projections
- Make overly optimistic behavioral assumptions for your customers
Casually describe all of your hobbies and side-projects
Paper over intellectual property and regulatory issues
Point out that you’re building a business to hand down to your children
Counter an investment offer with non-standard terms
I’ll be describing these observations in future posts, so stay tuned if you’d like to learn more.
January 31, 2016 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #3: Egotism
In the previous installment of this series of posts about detrimental sales engineer (SE) behaviors, I described how a skeptical attitude can damage the morale of the entire sales organization. Egotism is another debilitating trait that a not-insignificant number of SEs display.
For the purposes of this post, I define egotism as a general and palpable sense of superiority when dealing with one’s peers. It can be driven by numerous factors, such as better technical skills, stronger sales acumen, and recent wins. The fact that there’s a severe labor shortage for SEs doesn’t help, either. It’s always nice to take pride in one’s work – especially when it’s deserved – but it’s regrettable when it mutates into full-blown conceit.
Whatever the cause, this mentality often manifests as unwillingness to pitch in and help others out with their sales opportunities, and frequently entails withholding presentations, best practices, and other hard-won experiences. Compensation plans can also be a factor here, since many of them don’t specifically reward teamwork. This can lead to an “every man for himself” approach, which is obviously damaging to the overall business.
Fortunately, the smartest and most effective SEs go out of their way to help their colleagues, and these efforts commonly pay off in career advancement and other leadership opportunities.
You can learn more about the overall topic of sales engineering here.
October 11, 2015 Comments Off on Excellent infographic showcasing major crowd funding platforms
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 Comments Off on Overcoming a Technical Sales Ambush Best Practice #1: Include the Sales Representative
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.
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.