Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #5: Tactlessness

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.

Sales engineer career path #1: Post-sales consultant

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:

Advantages

  • 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

Drawbacks

  • 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.

 

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.

 

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