Monday, December 11, 2017

The 2024 Sales Engineer

In a few recent keynotes, I have spoken about the future of Sales Engineering and taken the audience on a walk into a potential future for our profession. So – will the role of the Sales Engineer still exist in 2024, and if so, how will it have changed from today? What will some of the new responsibilities, and which ones will be delegated, outdated, outsourced, or automated?

Why 2024? It is a personal thing. I started as a Sales Engineer in 1984, back in days of clunky IBM PC-XT’s, 9-inch magnetic tapes; 35mm slide decks; floppy disks; traditional mainframes and incredibly slow modems. By 1994 I was an SE Manager, dealing with portable PCs; overhead transparencies; TK-50s, microcomputers; client-server systems and still pretty slow modems. In 2004, I was an SE Director, looking at a highly portable laptop; virtualized demos; HTML front-ends and all things internet. Fortunately, by 2014 I was running the MTS business, watching other SE leaders deal with EaaS (Everything as a Service), even larger laptops (far more powerful than the 1984 mainframes), massive demo environments, downloadable software and even more things internet. At least the connection speeds have become faster. What does 2024 hold for us?

Will You Still Have A Job?

Looking at the trends over the past few years, there has been an amazing push for SE’s to become more consultative. I loosely translate that as a significant ability to conduct business value discovery and then link the technology to the customer’s business problem. We’re still expected to have deep technical knowledge, or at least be able to bring that to bear on the customers problem by marshalling the skills of others. Yet there are also the requirements to understand the customer’s business and then to craft innovative and efficient solutions to their problems. Throw in effective and clear communications – the jobs not getting any easier.

Will You Still Have A Job?

YES. Let’s look at what is unique about the SE and what differentiates us from all other positions in the vendor space:

  1. SE’s possess a curious blend of technology and business acumen.
  2. SE’s are pleasers and fixers. We like to make people happy.
  3. SE’s have history – we know the customer and probably have a 3x longer relationship than the salesrep does. It’s hard to automate history and relationships.
  4. SE’s make intuitive leaps to connect problems, technology and even people.
  5. SE’s like to do the right thing for the customer. It’s “customer before commission.”
  6. SE’s are pack animals and mostly work better as a team.

I believe there are many more – but that’s a solid half-dozen to get started.

Will you still have a job? Well – If you are a highly technical sales engineer, who’d rather touch the technology than speak with people, your prospects will be limited. Small startups will still need you, and every organization will still have a SWAT team and Subject Matter Experts, but you won’t be mainstream.

What will be different?

Here are some predictions.

  1. The role of the Account Manager (AM/salesrep) and Sales Engineer will start to overlap even more than they do now. Companies will start to create hybrid roles, especially around specialty or acquired products. This was tried by numerous large enterprise software companies around 2006-2009 and failed miserably. Mainly because they gave SE’s individual quotas and asked them to prospect. Better luck second time around.
  2. The “low-end” part of the job will be (further) automated. RFI/RFPs are well on their way, but this will affect standard out-of-the-box demonstrations and even allow customers to design their own lightly customized demo.
  3. The demo (and eventually presentation) will be experiential. Using Virtual Reality linked with Artificial Intelligence the customer will see, feel and hear (possibly touch and smell?) themselves using your stuff in their environment.
  4. More software and hardware will be trialed/evaluated with no human sales interaction at all. The cloud is already driving this. If customers are 60% of the way through the sales cycle when then initiate contact with you now – that is going to climb towards 75% over the next few years.
  5. Therefore, more software and hardware is sold with no human sales interaction across the web. More items will be a commodity.  It is easy for your product to become a commodity if no-one ever sees it – particularly hardware.
  6. Companies will invest even more in “knowing the customer” and that personalization will start to be the difference in commodity sales situations.
  7. SE’s will climb the corporate ladder and develop more relationships with mid and senior level managers than ever before. The old “SE’s talk to techs and AM talks to executives” is dying.
  8. Personal and Business Data will drive everything and security will be even more of a nightmare. Great opportunities for the SE!
  9. Although Larry Ellison once said, “losers compete on architecture(*)”, more and more SE’s will become technology architects as systems and interfaces will become increasingly complex. Since major corporations don’t “share their toys” in terms of environments, experiences and engineering – that has to be performed in the brain of the SE (as the correlation data doesn’t yet exist for a machine to do it.)
  10. We’ll stop carrying laptops, and will instead use devices that holographically project and render information in bite-sized, ADD-proof, chunks.
  11. The last COBOL programmer will be charging $2,000 / hour and cold (phone) calling will die.

What Should You Do?
I would suggest that the next time you get together with a bunch of your SE colleagues talk about the “Next Generation” Sales Engineer and see what everyone thinks. One thing I can guarantee is that you will need to change and to adapt your skills sets over the next 7 years. Talk that walk into the future, be proactive, and cause change, instead of reacting to change.

What Do You Think?

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

           Robert Storm Petersen, Danish Cartoonist & Writer

(*) Yes, he said it many times, and I was in the room and heard it live.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mouse Radar! A Simple Trick So The Audience Can See Your Mouse

What? I’m suggesting that you can indeed deliver a better presentation by better utilizing your pointing device (a.k.a the mouse)! This is the third in a series of randomly spaced ideas about the little things that can make a big difference in your pitch. (For a more detailed explanation – see The Piranha Effect).

There are many forms of “Mouse Viagra” out there. These programs can zoom the focus of your mouse pointer, turn it into a glowing little GPS-map like fuzz ball and even allow you to make annotations on the fly. All cool stuff. Yet .. there is one very simple way to draw attention to what your mouse is doing and where it is. It only requires a check-box to be activated. The beauty of this tip is that it works both physically (in the same room as the audience) and virtually (over Webex) and doesn’t leave you trying to wave a laser pointer at a Hi-Def TV screen where no-one can see it!

It’s as simple as pressing the CTRL button. Really! In the middle of a Demo, PowerPoint or e-White Board, just press the CTRL button. An “echo” or “ripple” radiated out from your mouse – making it instantly the focus of attention.

Three Steps To Set-Up

1.       Select “Mouse or Pointer Devices” from the Control Panel.

2.       Choose the “Pointer Options” tab.

3.       Check the “Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key

You’re Done. Thanks to rock-star SE Guillermo Perez for pointing out this feature that’s been in Windows for years!!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Power Of Sales Engineering Metrics - A True Story

Here is a wonderful story about the power of Sales Engineering Metrics and how they can truly make a difference to your business.
My client (who wishes to remain anonymous for both competitive and embarrassment reasons) has been collecting numerous metrics for 7-8 months. In preparation for their first ever Worldwide Sales Engineering Quarterly Business Review (QBR) a standard set of Metrics and PowerPoint slides were constructed for each of the major geographies and/or countries. Summary versions of the decks were sent out ahead of time – so that more time could be spent analyzing and discussing, rather than presenting and listening.

However – one item really stood out from the initial decks. They had recently released a brand new product, and the primary sales methodology for selling it was “try it and buy it” through a Proof of Concept (POC) / Trial-Evaluation system. The POC conversion rate from Trial to Buy was a rather low 45%, which they attributed to a 1.0 release, some nasty bugs and a learning curve for the SE’s. Except .. one region .. ANZ (Australia/New Zealand) had a 15/16 success rate.

Rather than wait for the meeting, the somewhat surprised VP of Global SE’s called the ANZ team to discover the reason for their success, and received a typically blunt, but honest answer.

“Oh, we thought the marketing approach and the customer prerequisites were a crock of $%&^! So we changed those documents and also created a step-by-step guide for new customers to explore the product which would work around those bugs.”

“Don’t you think it would have been a good idea to share that information?”

“It was so obvious we figured everyone would do it!”

The guide and updated docs were quickly distributed worldwide – including back to product marketing.

The outcome was that 9 POCs in process were saved from disaster in the next 10 days and the following quarter the POC conversion rate increased to over 70%. The revenue impact was amazing.
If you can't measure it - it tough to improve it! For more details about SE Metrics, and why they can turn a reactive team into a proactive one - check out the MTS Leadership Page.

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.

Customers name, industry and job title
Critical issue
The pain of the person or company
The business reasons for the company’s issue biased towards your eventual solution
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!!
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:
 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: