Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #4: Negativity

February 28, 2017 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #4: Negativity

Show me a salesperson with a negative attitude, and I’ll show you someone who will be looking for a new line of work before too long. Sales – and sales engineering – just isn’t a good fit for someone with a gloomy outlook. A while back, I wrote about skepticism and the damage it can do to a sales engineer’s career. In that context, I defined skepticism as approaching each sales opportunity with a dubious perspective and relentlessly putting the sales representative on the defensive – hardly a recipe for a harmonious relationship.

But negativity goes far beyond mere opportunity cynicism to color how the sales engineer interacts with everyone else in the organization, from immediate peers to people on other teams such as marketing, engineering, and product support. Negativity manifests itself in many ways, including continual criticism, doubts about the basic competence of everyone else, and questions about why the company is even in business! People pick up on this attitude very quickly, and it’s one of the most common reasons why a seemingly successful sales engineer is shown the door, whether or not they’re reaching their sales goals.

For those readers that are thinking of becoming a sales engineer but haven’t made the transition yet, I urge you to honestly evaluate your mental outlook and worldview before you start the process: Are you someone who sees the glass as half full, half empty, or shattered in pieces on the floor? If you can’t change your attitude for the better, my recommendation is to refrain from embarking on what is universally acknowledged as lucrative yet very taxing career.

Seven attractive career paths for sales engineers

December 20, 2016 Comments Off on Seven attractive career paths for sales engineers

Whether you label it sales engineering, sales consulting, or simply pre-sales, supplying technical guidance during the sales process for highly complex goods and services can be a lucrative, intellectually stimulating career. 

Many people happily spend decades working as sales engineers: I’ve met plenty of contented – and very well compensated – sales engineers (SEs) in their sixties who first took on this role in their twenties! On the other, lots of SEs view the job as a stepping stone on the path to other responsibilities – in their own organization or in other companies.

As I’ve depicted elsewhere, the most successful SEs are masters of blending technical and selling skills, which makes them highly desirable candidates for all sorts of different jobs. In this series of posts, I’ll be describing the advantages and drawbacks for some of the most attractive career paths available to sales engineers. Here’s a brief list of those alternatives:

  1. Post sales technical consulting
  2. Marketing
  3. Product development
  4. Technical support
  5. Sales
  6. Client-side jobs

And since there are plenty of opportunities for SEs to advance within the sales engineering organization itself, I’ll write about that too.

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.

Overcoming a Technical Sales Ambush Best Practice #2: Request a List of Questions in Advance

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.

What do all effective custom demos have in common?

June 29, 2016 Comments Off on What do all effective custom demos have in common?

Selling a high value, technically sophisticated product or service usually means showing it to the prospect before they’ll buy. This makes the demonstration an absolutely essential task, yet many businesses – both large and small – take a very haphazard approach. Naturally, these oversights often lead to unwanted outcomes and lost revenue.

I’ve been involved – as a spectator and participant – in an uncountable number of these events. Based on my years of experience, here’s a subjective list of what the most successful demos achieve:

  1. They’re concise
  2. They’re bulletproof
  3. They’re repeatable
  4. They’re adjustable
  5. And most importantly, they’re part of a well-designed sales cycle

I’ll be writing about each of the recommendations in future posts, but for now it’s worth pointing out that I’m not talking about something that’s shown to just anyone (such as you might find in a recording or on a website). Instead, these suggestions refer to custom demos that are directly linked to a sales effort.

If you’d like to discuss how fine-tuned demos can help you win deals, feel free to email me.

Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #3: Egotism

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.

 

Overcoming a Technical Sales Ambush Best Practice #1: Include the Sales Representative

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.

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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