Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Power Of Customer Stories . And The Sales Engineer


As a former IT Executive, I’ll tell you a sales secret. One of the best ways to get your message across is to tell me a customer story. Speaking about other customers, their successes and your experiences makes you appear confident, knowledgeable and authentic. Most sales organizations have official references – complete with a glossy brochure accompanied by a PowerPoint slide with logo – and all blessed by legal. And they are totally ineffective!

They are ineffective because they are sanitized. They are ineffective because they are impersonal, and they are ineffective because they are not your own words. As your customer, I want you to bring me some value, tell me something new I cannot read on your website. A corporate reference slide designed by some person in HQ does not do that. A personal customer story does.

So what about using all those unofficial customer stories? The ones that are lying around, uncollected and mostly unused, in your head and in those of your colleagues? Why not collect them and share them to boost your sales performance by removing some risk from your customer’s buying process?
 
How To Get Started


Ask your more experienced and tenured colleagues to share some of their customer stories with you. Don’t just limit yourself to sales and sales engineers, reach out to people in your services or installation teams and ask about their customer experiences too. These people are a walking encyclopedia of customer stories, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons they have been so successful for so long. At your next regional meeting, ask everyone to write down a story as his or her homework.

Unless you are new to your company, you probably have a few stories you can use from your own customer base as well, if only you took the time to think about them. Perhaps next time you visit a customer you can ask them to give you some quantifiable benefits or ROI they have received from your solution. If you don’t ask you don’t get.

Even as a new hire you can say “a colleague of mine told me about one of his customers who ..”. Just put it in your own words.

What Kind of Stories Do I Need?


I classify them as ‘conversational stories” in that you should be able to establish the relevant details in 45-60 seconds. That equates to a maximum of around 160 words. Go any longer and you’ll lose the flow and the customer attention. Imagine you are sharing the story with the customer over a cup of coffee. Michael Bosworth, in his New Solution Selling book lays out a framework for a customer story that may help you – adapted here for the world of the Sales Engineer.


Step
Content
Situation
Customers name, industry and job title
Critical issue
The pain of the person or company
Reasons
The business reasons for the company’s issue biased towards your eventual solution
Vision
In the words of your customer, the capabilities he said he needed to solve the problem; “he told me he needed a way to..”
We provided
If properly described in the vision, just say “we gave him those capabilities”. NO PRODUCT NAMES!!
Result
Some specific measurements


“The Operations Director of a large fleet rental company couldn’t accurately track the mileage and maintenance records of the cars in the fleet and provide that data to his clients as they had no central recording and maintenance system. This was causing massive maintenance costs and lost business as their competitors could supply the data and pointed out this competitive difference. He engaged with us because of a recommendation from one of his management-consulting partners. The director said he needed a way to provide online access and reports to his fleet customers. We provided him with a web-based online system which cut down his maintenance costs by $11m and allowed his sales team to retain 100% of their corporate customers.”

Every Story Has A Happy Ending

 These stories take less than a minute. They can cut days out of your sales cycle as you establish “credible” and “low-risk” as two adjectives the prospect now links to you and your company. A quick customer story can often be a great response to a “can you do..” question in a demo, especially when asked by a mid-level manager. Instead of showing the “how”, you talk about how some other customer did the “how” and speak to benefits instead of features.

Switching personas from a former IT exec to a former presales leader I can tell you this approach absolutely works. Many of my customers now have collections of these unofficial customer reference stories. It works for them too. One of my former SE’s jokingly called my collection “Tales From The Book Of John”. Imagine my surprise when three months later the CFO of our company called me to ask if he could “borrow” some of my stories. I told him yes – as long as they never ended up in a PowerPoint deck!


CALL TO ACTION: Write down your informal references, ask your colleagues to do the same – and share them for success.


“Of course it's the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story”

Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister, UK.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Summer Break .. And Back To Work

After the effort of both releasing The Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer and creating some brand new SE Leadership modules - it was time for a summer break. The break was in reality just a slow down in classes and consulting operations and now it's time to get back to speed.

With that in mind, the MTS Edge October Newsletter is being sent out this week to over 27,000 SE's around the world. This month we are featuring The Sales Engineer Career Path (which is pretty self-explanatory) and The Little Grey Dot (a neat trick to help with presenting PowerPoint builds).

"Ask John" looks at how I start the day - which might give you a few ideas about time management. I'm nowhere near perfect, but believe I do a pretty good job of getting my days started on-track and on-time. Our featured book is "Oh Great One!" by John Novak. It's a light hearted, but quite compelling, story about the power of recognition. Reading the book you'll see the ghosts of previous bosses - both the good ones and bad ones.

More to come ..

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

More About The Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer


Today is Launch Day for the Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer eBook! It has been available for pre-order for the last two weeks and is now e-shipping from the major Amazon global distribution outlets. The demand has been fantastic and I'm confident it will (at least for a day) be one of the top selling eBooks on the Amazon platform.
 
Here are some additional locations to learn more about the book, the training program and the original concept that started it all.
 
The original Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer article.
 
A follow-up about Listening Skills and Trust.
 
An outline of the Curriculum
 
The Book Page (with supplemental download files)
 
 
You can order the book from these locations:
 
Country
Link
USA
UK
Germany
France
Spain
Italy
Netherlands
Japan
Brazil
Canada
Mexico
Australia
India
 Enjoy The Read!!
 
 


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer eBook Is Available For Pre-Order


I'm thrilled to announce that The Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer eBook is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The official launch date is Tuesday July 12th.

Here is the description:


Sales and Pre Sales Engineering leaders across the world have used the Trusted Advisor label hundreds of times over the past fifteen years. Yet it really doesn’t mean that much without a lot of explanation. You may be thinking about some of these questions right now. Becoming a Trusted Advisor is not as simple as it sounds, which is why so many organizations either never try, or make a half-hearted effort. Trusted Advisor – two words, five syllables and fifteen letters hide a massive complexity. For the first time ever, there is now a book specifically designed to start the individual Sales Engineer on the journey to becoming a Trusted Advisor.

Section One covers how to define and actually measure trust with your clients. Section Two looks at the practical aspects involved in building trust through Discovery, Presentations, Demos and all the other standard activities of an SE. Section Three examine how to get started and put it all into practice - both for individuals and for SE teams.

This is not one of those tiny 40 page eBooks. It's over 150 pages and 45,000 words of thoughts, ideas, best practices and real life examples based on dozens of clients and thousands of students who have already taken the Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer workshop.


The full list of pre-order sites is:



Country

Link

USA


UK


Germany


France


Spain


Italy


Netherlands


Japan


Brazil


Canada


Mexico


Australia


India

 

Monday, June 13, 2016

11 Visual & Verbal Signs That Your Demo Sucks


This month’s title sounds like it comes straight from Buzzfeed as it is time to stamp out bad habits. The intent is to make you sit up and take notice if you or any of your colleagues are seeing any of these indicators in your customer demos. I am focusing on visual and verbal signs – things customers may see or hear, rather than anything particularly thought provoking and strategic. The good news is that these 11VVI (Visual + Verbal Indicators) are easily fixed.

Your pre-work is to take a recording of your next demo and to use that as input to this document. It can be a live video recording or a webex-style recording of a virtual pitch.


The 11VVI List

1. Kill The Browser Bars.  The customer doesn’t really want to see all your browser bars, search engine aids and bookmarks. Not only are they distracting, but they also take up valuable real estate on the screen. Either use F11 to go full-screen browser, or use a browser skin if your company has developed one. You’ll also get about an extra 10% of usable screen area which may make a difference between scrolling or not.
 
2. You Get Navigational.  Note when and where you use any navigational terms such as “click” , “pull-down” , “selection-list”, “menu options”, “drill-down” etc. Whenever you use these terms it is highly likely that you are talking about a feature instead of a meaningful advantage or benefit.  Remove these phrases from your customer pitch unless you really are teaching someone how to use your product. Your goal as an SE isn’t to teach the customer how to use your stuff, it’s to help them imagine themselves using it and being happy.

 
3. “And Then”. Listen for connective phrases such as “and then”, “also” and “next”. They usually signal that you are chaining together a collection of features without much focus on competitive advantages and benefits. Those phrases are also a sign that you may want to work a story into your demo instead of showing speeds and feeds
 
 

4. You Have Bad Data. Your demo data needs to support the premise of your demo. You can’t show enterprise software and only have four users, seven laptops and a single network. You need scale. You also need up-to-date information. Four-year-old data will get noticed, especially by detail oriented IT of financial folks. So will showing an empty screen and saying “Now, if you actually had any alerts you can imagine that this is where you would see..”
5. Pause And Take A Deep Breath. When the customer asks “Can you do/can you show me..” DO NOT say “Yes, Let Me Show You How..” unless you know WHY they want that particular capability. Many SE’s forget to ask the “Why?” and try to please the customer by showing them the HOW first. Resolve to pause and think it through first. (That’s really a verbal sign from the customer, but …)
 
6. The Invisible Mouse. Change your mouse settings from the default small white mouse outline to a double sized black solid mouse. Why? Because that way your customers can see the mouse and pay attention to what you are doing instead of trying to figure out where the mouse is! There are various “Mouse Enhancement” programs like Mousepose and PointerFocus you can try.
 
7. Filler Words. Everyone uses filler words in an ad-hoc, free-form situation. The key is minimize their use otherwise your audience starts subconsciously counting them. This is where the recording really helps you. As well as listening for “ums, errs and ahhs” you should also note “so”, “you guys”, “right”, “basically” and all such words that serve no purpose. The key to eliminating a filler word is understanding when you use it. Once you figure that out life becomes much easier.
 
8. Clicks And Flicks. Count the number of screens that you show the customer. That’s both unique screens and screens in total. Pop-ups count! Also count the number of mouse-clicks and the number of times you have to scroll up/down or left/right. You now have your base case. Divide the total number by the length of your demo in minutes. Congratulations – you have calculated your DEMOS – Demo Efficiency and Memory Observation Score. Now what can you do to drop your DEMOS? There is no perfect objective score – but the lower the better.
 
9. Throw Away The Product Names And Releases. As a customer I don’t really care what you call your product and what release level you are talking about until I know it can help fix a problem I may have. Stop talking about “new in version 5.2” or the “integration manager”. Instead, focus on what the product does and the benefits.
 
10. Test It With A Projector. What you see isn’t always what you get. When using a projector, test your pitch on the projector from at least 40 feet away. Colours (yellow/red) don’t always show up exactly as you would expect. Don’t make the visuals too difficult for the customer. (More on that topic here)
 
11. Fiddle With The Font Size. Similarly, make sure your screens are legible and easy to read. That may mean you increase the font size or the browser magnification. Use CRTL-plus to increase browser size and CTRL-0 to restore it. If your customer cannot read the screen they certainly will not remember it.
Summary
 
Small changes can make a big difference. Read through the list and pick two or three bad habits (if you have any!) to change and start from there. Make them standard, get used to them. Then fix the next two or three. Repeat as needed.
“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”
-      Bill Clinton
 
 (Yes - there is a typo in #4 for "detail-oriented IT folks")
 

 
 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pick Up The Phone!

“So then I sent the rep an email…”
“I’m waiting for support to respond to my status update request”

Whenever I hear a phrase similar to these in one of my consulting engagements, I know I’m close to finding a problem, or at least uncovering a major symptomatic issue. Let me explain ..

After four months of travel running enablement and training workshops, May has been kinder and gentler and I have been working on a couple of “take-home” consulting opportunities. Both involve some badly broken internal sales processes at a couple of mid-sized companies. These processes were impacting both the effectiveness of presales engineers and ultimately the win-rate of sales. You know when a process is so badly broken that the injured parties readily admit that they spent more time trying to fix the blame as opposed to fix the process, which is why a third-party comes in to obtain resolution.

In both cases, email was to blame, and the people who relied upon it as their primary communications mechanism. Instance #1 involves a company with incredibly poor Sales Discovery habits and instance #2 a company where Sales Engineering spends 35% of their time bailing out Customer Support. Repeatedly, an email was
  1. Left unanswered
  2. Sent solely as a CYA (Cover Your A$$)
  3. Incomplete and poorly written
  4. Partially answered
My response in both the situations was to say “pick up the phone!”. An email is linear (in the good old days we’d call it half-duplex) as only one party can communicate at a time. An email can’t contain (much) emotion – I don’t feel there is much room for smiley-faces in business communications unless you really know the other person. A phone call allows you to get all your questions answered (you’re in sales – you know how to ask questions and get them answered!). Plus a phone call leaves no audit record other than that the call was actually made. You can say things in a call you cannot in an email.

So if you are frustrated in some internal process (or even in a customer communication) see if email is in the communication chain. If it is – ask yourself what would happen if you picked up the phone rather than send another email?

Maybe things would magically get better.

In my two engagements, the discovery rate doubled and presentation standards have improved dramatically in just three weeks for one customer, and the other customer reports that post-sales time has decreased from 35% to a still-high 22% and is trending downwards.

Pick Up The $^#@ Phone!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The #1 Trick To Improve A PowerPoint Deck

Google "PowerPoint Presentation Tips" and you will get over 47 million hits.

There is some great content out there, ranging from slide design techniques to the classic Non-Verbal Communication tips (stand up straight, look at your audience, breathe, speak slowly etc.) Yet there is one basic, fundamental rule that I see broken all the time - and hardly anyone writes about it. It's simple.

Here is the Prime (PowerPoint) Directive:

"Review your PowerPoint from 40 feet (13m) distance using a standard overhead projector or on a wide screen (60" plus) HDTV".

One of the biggest attention killers is that people simply have to work too hard to read / understand your slides. That because while they may look great on your laptop - when viewed in a conference room setting (where >80% of PPT pitches take place) you have:
  1. Poor choice of colors. Red, Yellow, Green and even Light Blue may disappear with an old or underpowered projector. If they are your corporate colors then good luck.
  2. Font size is too small. Dinky "product marketing" 10 point font is illegible from that distance.
  3. Images are unclear. Usually because they are too small or poorly labeled.
  4. Animations and highlighting get lost.
You get the idea! And why 40 feet? The most important person in the room will often sit at the back of the room in the power position. They may also be one of the older folks in the room. If your VIP cannot read your slides - you are lost.

So - call to action. From now on review all your sides using the Prime PPT Directive. If they are slides produced by another division or department - send them back if they fail the test.

Let me know how this works for you.