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:
 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:

















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.
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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Handling That "Why Are You Better Than Your Competition?" Question

We’ve all been in that position when the customer directly asks you a question like “why should I buy from you?” or “why are you better than your competition?” It was certainly one of my favourite questions as a CIO and it still a question that I am asked today running the MTS business.

 Typically responses fall into two categories. Either you get a “let me tell you why my competition is terrible and why you cannot trust them” or “let me tell you why we are so amazing and marvelous”. Think of politicians as a proof point for that! Although both answers can be effective depending on the circumstances- and I’d always prefer the positive to the negative – there is a third approach.

 I’d like to think of this as the consultative / trusted advisor type approach that can be very effective in the hands of a knowledgeable and empathetic Sales Engineer. My suggestion is a response more like:

 “Well, Mr. Customer – I’m not really an expert on my competition as I know my own product much better. What I can share with you are the top three or four reasons that my customers have told me why they choose to do business with us. Will that work for you?

 “OK. So what my customers tell me is that   (list of features-advantages-benefits that make you look good and aren’t so great for your competition). How do you feel about those items?”

 Put that into your own natural words, adjust for local culture and make sure you have three or four really good items to share with the customer. Note that I say Features-Advantages-Benefits and not just Features. Think Value!! (Time, People and Money). The rest is up to you. The reason it is so effective is that you are referencing, even indirectly, what your customers think and not what you think.

“It is not your customer's job to remember you. It is your obligation and responsibility to make sure they don't have the chance to forget you”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Can Presales Generate Sales Leads (and still stay "technical?")

This was the "Ask John" question from the April MTS Edge newsletter.

Hi John,

As part of a new sales initiative, my SE team has been asked to generate a set number of leads to “feed the sales pipeline”. We are a very technical team, with a very technical product, and are very hesitant about getting into cold calling prospects. In fact, my team is rather resentful of the request and I hear comments like “we don’t ask sales to do complex installs and demos, why should we do their job?” I believe some of my staff would rather quit and find a new job instead of being co-opted into direct sales.

What can we do to help the process along and be good corporate citizens without stepping too far outside of our collective comfort zone?

Thanks – “Steve” – SE Director, Europe, Middle East & Africa 

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the question. That is certainly a difficult and highly emotive situation to face. You can tell the team that it is everyone’s duty to help the company thrive, point out the ”Sales” in Sales Engineer and talk about teamwork and learning new skills .. but .. many SE’s either cannot (because they lack the skills) or will not (because they lack the belief) directly “sell”. When an SE’s sense of self, professional pride and credibility is wrapped around the technology they know and the application of that technology you are asking them to change a central set of their beliefs by explicitly selling that technology instead.

There is a middle ground. If you look at a classic land and expand strategy in accounts. Where land is driven by the rep getting an initial opportunity, and expand is driven by the SE encouraging utilization across the customer. Since the average tenure (length of service) of an SE team is typically 2-3 times that of sales – most customer knowledge and many relationships lie within the SE team anyway. It’s time to utilize that knowledge to your collective advantage.

Sit down with sales, and categorize your install base into three buckets – A,B and C. A means a likely opportunity to expand or a targeted account, B has some opportunity and C not so much. Make contact with your technical (and executive) contacts and go visit the customers without a sales presence. Position it as a courtesy visit, a health check (my favorite) or an “I’d love to see what you do with our stuff” type visit. Learn as much as you can, talk to as many people as you can, and get an idea of plans and actually ask your user base “is there anyone else you know that I should be talking to?” – you’d be surprised how often you (being the SE) get a positive response that sales would never get.

Also conduct Discovery in reverse and look at the business outcomes or results the customer gets from using your solutions. That’s your opportunity for an up or cross sell. Position that as a “have you considered..” or “you know, many of my other customers…”. Try very, very hard NOT to sell, but to inform and advise. You may get some CYJ’s (Can You Justs) as a result of these calls (to get a support ticket pushed or an enhancement lodged) but they are usually worth the time. Plus you’ll build an excellent set of personal technical “go-to” references.  As an added bonus be a little more aggressive at trade shows and user group meetings. Asking that same “is there anyone else you know?” question over breakfast, lunch or a cup of tea can be done in a very low-key techie way yet can provide amazing results.

Postscript: Steve asked this question back in October, and I’ve held back the question and answer so I could report specific results. Here is what happened. One SE quit anyway. No tears were shed over his loss. The remaining eight SE’s found five new large opportunities and about a dozen smaller ones during calendar 4Q2015. Three of those large opportunities and eight of the smaller ones closed by the end of calendar 1Q2016 resulting in a 22% increase in quota achievement for the EMEA region.

Mission accomplished and the outreach program continues.