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.


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 #1: Jealousy

January 18, 2015 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #1: Jealousy

Sales engineering (SE) can be a rewarding, intellectually challenging, and lucrative career. I’ve written many blog articles about the characteristics that exemplify a successful SE, but this series of posts is all about the kinds of actions that can damage a career.

I’ll begin with jealousy: one of the seven deadly sins that can rear its head even in places like technology sales. Surprisingly, envy is often worst when the firm’s having a great year, and everyone’s making money.

Enterprise technology salespeople live a professional life that’s fraught with peril. They must cope with constant rejection and dashed hopes from prospects, while their own management shrinks territories yet raises quotas. Predictably, this results in high job turnover and continual insecurity, not to mention lots of lost sleep.

With all these downsides, who would take on this job? Someone who wants to make lots of money, that’s who: it’s not uncommon for a sales professional to make two, three, or even ten times their expected income if (and only if) they have a good year. Meanwhile, their SEs tend to bring home a relatively predictable income every year. In a bad year, they’ll make less, but not drastically so, and in a good year, they’ll make more – maybe 25% or so, which is great, but not stunning.

In my experience, jealousy arises when a salesperson is paired closely with a single SE, and the team far exceeds their quota. Naturally, these uneven financial outcomes can breed resentment and envy in the SE, particularly when they perceive that they’ve “done all the work” to win the deals. Some SEs internalize this bitterness, while others broadcast it to the world.

A single, loud, jealous SE is all that’s necessary to create a toxic environment. First, other SEs may start questioning the compensation system and making demands, while salespeople will start wondering if their own SEs will “turn on them” if they have a good year. Ultimately, all of this reflects badly on the instigator and can even result in their replacement.

Fortunately, thwarting income envy is quite achievable. For the SE, it’s vital to accept that there’s a fundamental difference between themselves and salespeople. Quota-carrying salespeople get fired much more easily when they miss a number, while SEs tend to be kept on even when inevitable revenue shortfalls occur.

SEs should also be mindful about never complaining out loud about the disparity in take-home pay. If things seem really out of whack, it’s reasonable to discretely engage management to discuss the problem, but nothing will change the reality that salespeople will always make more money in a good year.

Finally, a relatively small percentage of SEs are capable of making the difficult shift to becoming winning sales professionals. A progressive management team should offer a clearly defined career path and supporting procedures for those that want to undertake this ambitious transition.

I’ve written quite a lot about sales engineering and the entire technical sales process. Click here for a comprehensive list.

The 7 sales engineer behaviors that will wreck your career

September 29, 2014 Comments Off on The 7 sales engineer behaviors that will wreck your career

Over my career, I’ve worked alongside many sales engineers, as well as built and led sales engineering teams. The vast majority were highly talented, conscientious individuals, but there were a number of people that just didn’t have what it took to succeed.

Some struggled with innate personality characteristics that blocked their success, but others just brought the wrong attitude to the job. I’ve already written about the traits that I consider to be most effective, and I’m grateful for the very nice feedback I’ve received from many of the thousands of readers of these posts.

I always try to keep this blog positive, but it’s worthwhile to look at the other side of the coin, especially for people that are considering how to become a sales engineer or advance their current careers. I’ll be writing about each of these behaviors in future installments.

  1. Jealousy
  2. Skepticism
  3. Egotism
  4. Negativity
  5. Tactlessness
  6. Stagnation
  7. Unreliability

Here’s a link to a complete list of my technical sales and sales engineering posts.

Proof of concept best practice #2: The POC must have a client-side business and technical sponsor

November 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

In the introductory post for this series, I present a list of POC suggestions that I’ve learned – too often the hard way. Next up, I describe why it’s so important to have client-side sponsorship.

I’ve already written about why a POC should only happen when there’s an active sales opportunity. Assuming that there’s indeed a live deal, there are still many ways for things to go off the rails. First, every substantial technology sale I’ve ever been involved in was impacted by client-side politics. After all, any significant new systems, processes, or technologies will affect large numbers of people. Some will be strengthened by the purchase, and others will be weakened. These machinations are often invisible to the sales team, but trust me: there are definite winners and losers, your client’s employees know this, and this impacts how every one of them will behave regarding your POC.

This means that there’s a very good chance that some individuals will be rooting for your POC to fail. Resistance may be passive, such as taking a leisurely three days to respond to your emails and calls, or giving you wrong or incomplete information. You might also encounter active opposition, even to the point of deliberate sabotage of your POC.

Given that every POC is a potential minefield, you need at least two trusted guides to help you get through safely. These sponsors should represent both the technical and business side of your prospect. It’s a huge red flag if your client won’t assign anyone, or if they assign people who don’t seem to have the respect of their colleagues.

Good advocates will help remove barriers to your success. They know the landscape far better than you do, and they can head off the active damage to your POC – often without you even knowing that they were acting as your guardian angel. In particular, a technical benefactor will quickly get you access to the resources you need – which is helpful, since time is of the essence on a POC. And a business champion will be intimately involved in drafting up the rules and goals of the POC.

As a sales engineer, you need to speak up – to your sales rep – if you determine that your sponsors are weak, disinterested, or not giving you the resources you need, because guess who will get blamed if the POC fails?

If you’re interested in POCs and all things related to sales engineering, check out my posts on the habits of the most effective sales engineers.

Winning sales engineer trait #4: Confidence

May 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here’s an old technical sales joke for you:

Q: How many SEs does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: I don’t know at the moment, but I’ll get back to you with an answer soon.

In this next installment of the 7 Habits of the Most Effective SEs, it’s time to see how a little confidence can go a long way. Many people think that confidence is like charisma: either you’re born with it, or you lack it your whole life. When it comes to being a capable SE, I don’t subscribe to that point of view. Instead, I’ve always felt that knowledge and experience breed certainty. Earlier in this series, I described how being technically skilled and inquisitive can pay big dividends, and confidence just happens to be one of those benefits.

Regardless of whether it’s in your DNA, or you gain it through the school of hard knocks, confidence is essential in technology sales. SEs will often find themselves in front of potentially hostile audiences, from scowling executives in dark suits to skeptical middle managers to jeering technical wizards. Each audience considers the SE to be an inferior:

  1. The executives view the SE as a peon attempting to extract large sums of money from the firm.
  2. The middle managers view the SE as a mere technician with no business sense.
  3. And the technical wizards view the SE as an impostor, incapable of understanding their unique technical requirements.

The SE must be able to overcome the natural instinct to flee in terror, instead relying on their confidence to gracefully face whatever challenges lie ahead. Prospects pick up on this self-assurance, too, which can help cement a winning sales cycle. Finally, it’s critical to remember that it isn’t necessary (or advisable) to answer every question on the spot, but they must be addressed promptly afterwards – just like the light bulb question I listed above.

Winning sales engineer trait #3: Intellectual curiosity

April 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the first two installments of this series, I described how the best SEs have a competitive nature paired with solid technical skills. The next essential characteristic that I’d like to portray is the innate curiosity possessed by these top performers.

An SE who enjoys learning new concepts and technologies will be a joy to have on your team. An inquisitive SE won’t view the necessary training on your product, service, or marketplace as a chore to be avoided. Instead, they recognize that learning increases their job effectiveness as well as their marketability. This also means that good SEs take an interest in your industry by continually reading trade publications, blogs, applicable Web sites, and by attending conferences. It’s even better if they go the extra mile and establish themselves as domain experts by writing articles, speaking, or blogging.

Training can also play a big part in bringing a new SE up to speed and keeping them current. Sadly, far too many organizations are skimping on this indispensable prerequisite, and it always shows up in the sales cycle: nothing destroys an SE’s credibility faster than being exposed as out-of-date on vital knowledge.

Winning sales engineer trait #2: Technical skills

February 12, 2012 § 4 Comments

In this next segment of the continuing saga of what makes an effective sales engineer (SE), it’s time to talk about technical skills. While it’s hard to make sweeping statements, in general the ideal SE will possess a good measure of technical expertise: after all, ‘engineer’ is part of their title.

But technical talents are just the start of the story: it’s even better if they pair this knowledge with hands-on practical experience. Some SEs will have learned your technology as users or developers in an IT shop. Others will have represented competing products at other vendors. And the most motivated candidates will have invested the time and effort to learn it on their own.

Naturally, the ideal technical background is highly determined by the job’s requirements. For example, selling a consumer-oriented SaaS solution has very different necessities than representing infrastructure aimed at software developers.

When I was hiring SEs, I always kept these factors in mind:

  • Does the candidate have a degree or not? It’s certainly helpful, especially when selling highly complex solutions or targeting C-level buyers. However, it’s not necessary to have a computer science degree. In fact, in some cases being overly technical can be a drawback – SEs have ‘sales’ in their titles, after all.
  • How deep is the candidate’s technical expertise? By necessity, SEs must be spread a mile wide and an inch deep. This can be very frustrating to someone who is very technically skilled and likes longer-term engagements.
  • How much relevant real-world experience does the candidate have? A background in implementation and/or managing ongoing operations was especially appealing.

In my experience, the most important attribute is the SE’s ability to rapidly master a new technology; in fact, the most effective SEs delight in picking up new proficiencies and relish the challenge. Find an SE who has a history of quickly acquiring new skills, and you’ve probably picked a winner. One final thought on expertise: don’t forget to evaluate the candidate’s writing skills. Ask to see samples of reports, RFPs, and so on.

The 7 habits of highly effective sales engineers

December 8, 2011 § 9 Comments

Selling complex technology frequently relies on the efforts of the technical pre-sales team. Surprisingly, given the importance of this role, it seems that every company has a different name for these professionals. Some of the most common titles include:

  • Sales engineers
  • Systems consultants
  • Sales support analysts
  • Systems engineers

I’ve been a sales engineer, and I’ve led my share of sales engineering organizations. Based on many years of experience, I’ve found that there are very few people out there who possess the special blend of talents necessary to flourish in this challenging but potentially lucrative job. Here’s a list of those traits along with links to posts about each one:

  1. Competitive
  2. Technically skilled
  3. Inquisitive
  4. Confident
  5. Articulate
  6. Diplomatic
  7. Self-directed

Many sales engineers spend a considerable amount of time working on proof of concept (POC) tasks. If you’d like to learn more about this aspect of the job, be sure to check out some of my other blog entries.

If you’re curious about other technical sales and sales engineering subjects, click here.

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