November 30, 2017 § 1 Comment
Most Sales Engineers (SEs) have rare skill combinations that are only present in a fraction of the workforce. They’re technically skilled, yet they understand business requirements while also generally possessing strong interpersonal intuition. But this isn’t always the case: a not-insignificant number of SEs are surprisingly brusque in their dealings with others.
As someone who’s hired lots of SEs, I was often under pressure to get the job filled ASAP, which routinely meant lowering standards. One of the first requirements to go out the window was the candidate’s perceived ability to conduct interpersonal situations. We often felt that we could leave the relationship management to the sales rep, but the upshot was that we ended up with team members that demonstrated behaviors that weren’t as tactful as the circumstances demanded.
This shortfall manifested itself in a number of ways, including tense relationships with co-workers (especially in product development) and other peers such as SEs or salespeople. But the worst outcome was how they handled the inevitable provocations that came their way from prospective customers, particularly technically-minded people. The old adage that no one ever won an argument with a customer is doubly true when the client is still a prospect!
While it’s quite common for tactless SEs to stay in their jobs, it does hurt their ability to get promoted. I can also state this with confidence: if I had to choose between two equally technically talented SEs to let go during layoffs or other downsizing, I’d always select the one who was more abrasive. So if you’re an SE worried about your own vulnerabilities here, take some time to think about your interactions – written or verbal – with others, and correct where necessary. I’m not suggesting that you sit silently by when you’re being unfairly challenged, but there are proven polite, respectful, yet firm ways to disagree or otherwise make a point. Learning how to master this skill will help advance your career, and make the daily grind that much more bearable.
You can learn more about the overall topic of sales engineering here.
October 31, 2017 § 1 Comment
As I’ve been writing about for years, sales engineering is an intellectually stimulating, challenging, and financially rewarding career. Despite that, it’s natural for talented sales engineers to periodically evaluate the next step on their journey. In this post (which is part of a larger series of posts dedicated to progressing on from the sales engineering role) I’ll briefly describe the transition from sales engineer to post-sales consultant.
The most successful sales engineers tend to have strong technical skills. and some of these professionals elect to become post-sales consultants, either for the vendor or a third-party consultancy. I define this role as people who are responsible for deploying a complex technical product or service. By the way: it’s also quite common for post-sales consultants to become sales engineers, so it’s a two-way street!
Here are some of the most notable advantages and drawbacks for a sales engineer becoming a post-sales consultant:
- Gain much stronger technical expertise
- Help drive a product deployment all the way to production
- Offer deeper insights into actual product/service usage
- Uncover opportunities to develop a separate business of your own
- Possibility of a failed engagement: often through circumstances beyond your control!
- Lengthy projects, commonly involving extensive, long-term travel
- Lower compensation: commission (if even offered) is generally much less for consultants
- Pressure to deliver enough billable hours
Is this the right move for you? The answer is generally ‘yes’ if you feel unsatisfied with short engagements that you can’t see through to conclusion, and you want to build your technical skills. On the other hand, this isn’t a good move for you if you don’t like open-ended projects, considerable travel, or are motivated by money.
If you’re interested in being notified of future editions, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter: @RD_Schneider. You can read other sales engineering-related posts here.
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.