Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Resolutions For The Sales Engineer

Every year I publish a list of New Year's Resolutions for the Pre-Sales Engineer. Since one of my resolutions for 2010 is to use this blog way more than I did in 2009 I figured I would get an early start. So .. here for your enjoyment .. is a list of do's and don'ts for 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Bull Is Back

An example of branding and what happens when you mess with it.

Overheard at the local Starbucks this morning - two financial advisors from Merrill Lynch, bouncing up and down like six year olds (or maybe as if the Dow was up 500pts). The reason?

After Bank of America "rescued" Merrill they decided to put the ML bull out to pasture as part of a cultural remake. The most recognized icon in US finance was being killed. ML brokers whine, complain and bitch for months (so maybe they are six year olds). This week, BofA management relents and allows the brokers to place the bull on the back of their business cards.

The morale - even though what got got you here won't get you there, what got you here will stop you being dragged back to the there you were before. Crystal clear.

Really - it's protect the brand. So in your personal quest to be the best possible SE, which usually means learning new technologies and new markets - still keep up some of the old skills for a while to act as a bridge. Just in case.

Monday, December 7, 2009

You Know You're in Pre-Sales When ..

Someone gave me the idea to use this at the end of a recent speech, so .. with apologies to David Letterman - here are the Top Ten Reasons You Know You're in Pre-sales When ..

10: Everyone in the room waits for you to nod your head after the sales rep finishes speaking.

9: You have more email addresses than pairs of shoes.

8: The custom demo you worked on all week wasn’t the product the customer was expecting to see.

7: You spend more time changing the settings on your laptop than using it.

6: The only people who call you after 3pm on a Friday are sales reps who need something urgently by 9am on Monday.

5: Every deal you are working on is going to be HUGE!! I promise!!

4: Your sales rep thinks “RFP” means Really Fast Paperwork

3: You have to use the showers in the customer’s gym to freshen up before that 9am presentation of the POC results.

2: You have more servers in your basement than your customer has in their data center.

1: Not a single deal will be signed in 2010 without the involvement and expertise of everyone in the Pre-Sales Engineering Team!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Next MTS Newsletter

The next MTS Newsletter will be posted on Tuesday December 8th.

I will be featuring a Talking Point about "Working With the Difficult Sales Rep" , an article about male-to-female and female-to-male presentations and a fun Top Ten List : "You Know You're In Pre-Sales When .."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Updates

The November content is now available. The website has been updated and the newsletter will be published on Tuesday (11/3) morning. I will be travelling this week in Europe and running a Perfect Pitch workshop in Amsterdam.

For November, the main Talking Point article is Activity Tracking for Pre-Sales Engineers. I make the case that time tracking is a useful tool, but only if sales and pre-sales leadership know how to use that tool. It should be used for driving changes inside and outside of pre-sales, not as a club to beat people with. Reminds me of a boss I used to have, who practiced “kiss up, kick down” leadership. I also (re)introduce a change methodology known as SCAMPER! If you are looking at a complex internal process or infrastructure which needs updating – this could be a resource for you to use.

Ask John covers what to do with a sales rep who constantly interrupts your demo with “show them this, show them that, why don’t you bring up that screen …”.

Safe travels, safe demo and much discovery!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Time Tracking For Sales Engineers

I overheard a lively conversation between a group of Sales Engineers and their manager last week. The topic wasn’t compensation, bad salesreps, lousy technical support, endless RFPs or any of the usual suspects. The conversation was about the requirement that they track their time and enter it into a CRM system by activity.

“Why do I have to record my time? It’s like Big Brother watching over me. Don’t you trust me to do my job?”

The manager immediately became very defensive, and replied “it’s now a job requirement. You better get used to it.”

The conversation kept going for a few minutes more without a satisfactory conclusion. It occurred to me that it would be a great Talking Point article for November. Why is it so important that the SE organization tracks its time when Sales doesn’t? So stay tuned.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Trade Show Tango

OK – so how many of you really enjoy staffing the booth at a trade show? Once you have been in a pre-sales for a few years it feels more like a punishment than a reward, even if you are sent to some exotic location. If you are sent to run a trade show booth for day or two, how do you maximize the return on investment for both your company and your career? Here are some personal best practices for the Sales Engineer to get the most out of the Trade Show Tango.

One addition to this list of best practices is to take notes on every “A” and “B” prospect you meet. Don’t rely on your memory to make notes afterwards, take them on the spot so you can pass them on to the rep or marketing department.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

31 Tips For Webcast Best Practices

The Mastering Technical Sales site has been updated with new October content. Of special interest is a one-pager which lists 31 actionable tips to make your remote demos more watchable and to compete more effectively against people doing their email while you are presenting. If you want to learn how having a photo of a group of people on your desk, and your photo on the title slide can make a difference – read on!

This month's "Ask John" deals with the difficult salesrep. You know the one who always does his/her email at the book of the room as you do your "technical stuff". How do you get the rep to pay attention and help you to perform at your best?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Certification for the Pre-Sales Engineer

There have been a few questions about certification programs for Sales Engineers bouncing around the LinkedIn discussion boards recently. I started wondering about whether it would be practical to have a national, or even global, certification program for SE’s.
Over the years I have designed, in full or in part, at least a half-dozen company-specific programs, but never gave much thought to the applicability of the programs outside my company, or whether there would even be any value to the certification. We could set up SCAPE – the Society of Certified American Presales Engineers, and then add international chapters! I challenge you to come up with some other acronym…

Musings aside, there are many common skills required of the pre-sales engineer – whether they be in software, hardware, services, finance or heavy industry. The most basic skill is Discovery – understanding exactly what your prospect needs, why they need it, and then figuring out why you are uniquely qualified to solve that business need. Next you need to place that skill in the setting of some sales methodology such as Solution Selling. There are Presentation and Demonstration skills – in various flavors such as Whiteboard, PowerPoint, Story Telling, Short Demo, Long Demo, Web-Based Demo, Competitive Lock-Out. You have precursors like responding to RFIs and RFPs. Potentially handling Trials, Proofs of Concept and Evaluations. Business skills around Finance, ROI, Asset Management and Vertical-specific Subject Matter Expertise. Throw in some optional classes around “handling the salesrep”, “Global accounts”, “buyer psychology”.

You’ll notice we haven’t even touched the technology of your product/service/solution yet.

This is why being a Pre-Sales Engineer can be the greatest job in the world.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

POC Provisioning & Demo Delivery

A few months ago I was working on a project looking at how to completely reconfigure the entire demo creation, setup and distribution capabilities of a large software company. While doing some research I came across a SaaS solution from start-up company IT Structures.
They effectively allow you to instantly provision Proof-Of-Concepts and deliver demos with just a few set-up clicks. When I think of all the frustrating hours SE's spend doing exactly those tasks I realized these guys were onto something. If your company is struggling with the infrastructure around the distribution of demos both internally and to customers/partners, or with provisioning a POC environment, setting up standardized training environments I'd encourage you to investigate their solution - it may be a real time and money saver for you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Dash To Demo

After a lot of feedback from my readers about creating a special page for advice about demos I decided the customer is always right. So ..

The art of the demo and the presentation is key to the success of a Sales Engineer. Yet is is not completely an art - there is a considerable amount of science involved in making The Perfect Pitch. Here is a collection of tips, techniques, checklists and other resources designed to help you become a Demo God. You can obtain even more detail from the book or from our classes and workshops.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


After spending so many days every year training pre-sales engineers and salesreps how they can successfully "Solution Sell" I decided it was time to have a little fun with the subject. So I put together a number of Worst Practices - things no self-respecting rep or SE would ever do - and titled it SLAM SELLING. It's the sales methodology for product pushers.

Tired of having to go through a nine month sales cycle for that million dollar deal?

Fed up with cumbersome and bureaucratic sales methodologies?

Exasperated because solutions are for chemists?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Money. Money, Money

Makes the world go round. The topic of Pre-Sales Engineering Compensation Plans is always an interesting one.

If only most companies would put half the effort and thought into the Pre-Sales Engineering compensation plan that they put into the sales plan we'd all be better off and motivated.

Here are some best practices, insider tips and lessons learnt over the past twenty years through my experiences of designing, implementing and then defending Pre-Sales Engineering compensation plans. Even if you are an individual contributor at some massive software or hardware company it is still worthwhile to understand the behavior your plan is trying to incent, and if you are aligned with the expected behavior of the salesforce.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Complexification: If it isn't a word then it should be. I'd define it as the natural tendency of technical pre-sales engineers to complicate what should be a simple topic. Aided and abetted by product marketing it is the questionable talent to transform a simple solution into a complex web of products, features and functions.

Symptoms are excessive use of bullet-points to highlight every possible capability, embedded and almost illegible screenshots, liberally sprinkled with polysyllabic explanations expounding upon flexibility, scalability and expandability. Complexification also causes three-minute answers to a simple question that just needed a Yes or a No.

If you or one of your colleagues has this disease the cure is simple.

1. Remember you are not paid by the spoken or written word - but by the deal.
2. Remember the job is to sell the customer, not educate him on how to use your solution.
3. Throw away any marketing slide with a colorful screenshot
4. Throw away any marketing slide with a bullet list of features
5. Use the whiteboard
6. Try answering questions with a Yes or a No first.

Repeat as necessary

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What vs Why?

Why use What?

We are all taught that the best questions in the discovery process are open-ended questions which can kick-start a conversation. They are way better than closed-ended questions which elicit a "yes" or a "no". Closed questions have their place at the start and end of conversations, but open-ended questions are the way to go.

Almost every sales methodology teaches the utility of "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?" So is one of them better than another? Today we'll look at Why vs What. Now maybe it is my classic British education, but I find What to be a far more open and smoother conversational pivot than Why? Using Why always seemed to be more confrontational and questioning than using a What? Take a second to think about it and examine these two variations.

1. Why do you think that?

2. What do you think about that?

I prefer option #1, as do most people in my unofficial poll. In fact, to borrow a line from Scott Eblin, the only bad what question is "What in the hell were you thinking?"

So the lesson here, especially if you are one of those people who mentally prepare their questions beforehand, is to prefer the What over the Why when you are trying to build a relationship in the initial phases of the sales cycle.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Technical Win

Has the Technical Win become redundant in the modern world of Solution Selling? Ask any group of Sales Engineers to define their job, and the phrase “we’re responsible for winning the technical sale” will be heard. Many SE organizations measure and publish their Technical Win Rate for RFPs, Proof of Concepts and Trial/Evaluations. This month I’ll examine the Technical Win (TW) and determine if it is real, if you should care, and what the metric tells you.

The concept of the TW has always bothered me, as no-one actually gets paid for a TW. All that matters is the full business win which involves th etransfer of money from the customer to your company and eventually to you. The TW rate is usually at least 20-30 % points higher than the Business Win (BW) rate - so publishing the TW rate is equivalent to telling sales that they stink at their job. There is a use for the TW, but only if carefully measured and then judiciously applied in the field.

For more read the fullt Talking Point : The Technical Win : A Pointless Metric?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Training Wheels For Politicians

Over in the UK there is a growing scandal about the outrageous expenses claims submitted by the MPs (Members of Parliament). These claims have been made public and are infuriating the British public.

On the practical side of the equation it is worth noting that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary (Hilary Clinton’s equivalent) , has received over £7,000 (Nearly $11,000) worth of presentation training since June 2007. Interesting that a career politician felt it necessary to obtain these skills – you would think they were par for the course. The debate has been going on with regard to whether he should have had these skills before the Prime Minister appointed him to the position - as a requirement of the job. The more balanced view is that everyone has the “right” to receive on-the-job training to make them more effective and more efficient. In fact that balance is really between your current skills and your potential to do your job (and possibly your boss’s) better.

So then circling back to your job as a Sales Engineer – have you had that discussion with your boss about the training and development you need over the next 12-18 months? Even with tight budgets and travel restrictions your company needs to invest in you as much as you invest in it.

Have that conversation today.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Averages and Superstars

Every business is looking for efficiency gains and improvements in productivity. Your company is no different. So how can you, as a Sales Engineer, contribute towards those efficiency gains?

Firstly, some background on labor efficiency. As a rule, the more complex the job the greater possibility there is for a larger variance between the average and the superstars. For example, in manual labor, a superstar may be able to carry 25-30% more bags during a day, unload a truck that much faster, pick grapes etc.. In sales, especially in this economy, many reps will end up the year at 60-75%, a few stars will finish the year at 250-300% or more.

Simply being able to conduct one more presentation, demonstration or sales call a week will put you in the minor productivity gain arena – so how can you leverage your Mastering Technical Sales skills to fully maximize your productivity. Here are a few ideas:

1. It’s not just you. By building a new demo, sharing competitive data in a new way and generating Pre-sales ready messaging you can make everyone more efficient. A 10% gain applied to, say 50 people in your company, results in an overall 500% gain based on your hours.

2. Look back on all the sale calls you have participated in over the past six months. How many of those have required “re-do’s” when you needed to set up another call to cover some technical or business point that was omitted? How often do you need a “recovery” call because you missed something in discovery? How many pointless RFPs or POCs have you completed, knowing that you weren’t going to ever get the business. THOSE are the sales activities that you need to fix – because that is where you can claim time back from the demo gods, and accelerate the sales cycle because you execute perfectly.

Think about it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

He Said What ? - and other May content

The MTS website has now been updated with new content for May. We’ve added :

The Three-Hour Demo : how to shorten a long, boring demo.

The MTS Reading List : Suggested Reading for the Sales Engineer who wants to Master Technical Sales.

He Said What? – This month’s “Ask John” features that eternal question of how and when to correct the sales rep when they say something horribly, horribly wrong.

And a reminder to sign up for the Monthly Newsletter on our main Web Page.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sales Call Debriefs

Nothing, absolutely nothing, used to upset me more than a salesrep who would rush out of a sales call and refuse to take the time to debrief. "It went great, great job. Thanks! You were great..".

Aside from not really advancing the sales opportunity along - how does that kind of feedback help you to improve as a Sales Engineer? It doesn't! Even when reps would sit down with you to debrief it was often a haphazard affair without much structure for personal feedback. So after a while I came up with the T3-B3-N3 system. It's very, very simple. Try this:

"What were the Top 3 things I said or did that you really liked and I should do again? What were the Bottom 3 things I said or did that I should never do again? And what are the Next 3 things I should consider in a similar situation that I didn't do this time?"

Be prepared - you may not always like what you hear, but it is great feedback. Once you get this feedback you need to act upon it, and not let it fall upon deaf ears. You'll also find that about 25% of reps will reciprocate and ask you the same question in reverse.

So give it a try : T3-B3-N3!!

Monday, April 6, 2009

New April Content

New content has been posted on the Mastering Technical Sales website for April. As a reminder, the electronic newsletter is released on the first Tuesday of the month (i.e tomorrow April 7th).

This month the theme is "The Power Of Three's". Over the past three weeks I have had three different articles pass through my inbox about the powerful use of three's or thirds. One dealt with framing in visuals, the second with messaging and the third with words and phrases. So I decided to put them all together into a summarized single document - in three sections of course.

The usage of triplets is nothing new, as in "blood, sweat and tears" , "wine, women and song" etc. I was just amazed by how prominent the concept is within everyday marketing.

Our one-sheet primer for April is Eye Contact - The Eyes Have It! The eyes are called the Window into the Soul for a good reason. If you fail to make eye contact with your audience (from 1 to 5,000) you will have a very tough time connecting and getting your message across. It is an essential skill for any Sales Engineer to master - for both their business and personal life.

Enjoy the piece. And should you have missed the early 2009 Talking Point about Selling In A Down Economy then make sure you download that and read it too.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My Sales Manager Hates Account Plans!!

The April "Ask John" column deals with

I am a Pre-Sales Engineering manager with a difficult situation. Our company is really embracing Solution Selling, yet my Sales Manager partner is violently opposed to any kind of formal strategic account planning - either verbal or documented. this makes life very hard for my dedicated team of SE's. How can I get him to adopt this proactive and sensible practice?

Aside from conducting some psychoanalysis I provide three strategies for dealing with this very common situation. Read the full response here

I am amazed by how often this happens. Given the situation with the Down Economy, and almost every company, whether software, hardware or services trying sell Solutions instead of Products - salesreps still refuse to conduct any kind of formal planning. And their management chain allows this to happen.

If the rep was crushing his number at way over 100% I could possibly live with it - more than likely he is doing some form of innate informal planning anyway. But for folks at 25% , give me a break and get with the plan.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I was flying out to California today - minding my own business on the plane. Then the two folks next to me crack open their laptops and start working on a presentation. Curiousity being a natural human habit, I kept sneaking a peek at their efforts.

Finally the guy (VP of Sales for a SAP VAR) challenges me and says "so what do you think?".

Never one to be a shrinking violet I responded with "it looks really boring and you have wayyy too many bullets". His companion smiled and then she gave me a quick smile.

"How would you do it?" she asks

So I tell her. We cut and paste the eight bullet points on each slide into the notes. We insert a couple of appropriate visuals and include a small amount of text relating to the two most important points on each slide. Voila. It's cleaner - and even the sales guy nods in approval.

So Marcus and Heidi - if you are out there - let me know how the big presentation goes today in Palo Alto.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hope Floats

We are in the business of selling hope!

So said a relatively well-known politician speaking to a collection of business-finance-economics students at a local college last week. I'm not sure how to categorize my initial reaction - except that i resisted the impulse to hurl my shoes at him. Yet after a few minutes I thought .. "well, yeah!". It's really a classic case of current state (misery), desired state (happyness and security) with hope as the bridge to get you there.

Of course, when you look at the bridge of hope in more detail ..

My point is that using good ol' Solution Selling terminology - we are in pain. Some of us have latent pain, most have real pain, and a distinct few have the vision as to how they may overcome their pain. So Selling In a Down Economy does need to focus on economics, tangible ROI, extensive differentiation - but don't forget to throw in that little shining nugget of hope.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Content

The March updates to Mastering Technical Sales were published over the weekend. You will note that I am doing a lousy job of updating the MTS Blog. So March will be better!

New content includes

The Stress-Free Demo

BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front

Ask John - Rewards with no cash.

Last month's talking point Selling In A Down Economy is still generating a lot of interest and is the most downloaded file from the site this year.

Over the course of March I'm going to be updating the Leadership section, as well as working on a project I'm calling S3e - Solution Selling for Sales Engineers.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New February Material

The MTS Website was updated over the weekend with some new material.

Selling In A Down Economy : A guide for Sales Engineers to make the most of the current economic state, featuring six strategies for success.

Customer Stories: "Tell Me A Story" : We all know customer stories are important, but how do you go about informally collecting them in a sales organization, and how should they be structured?

Follow The Money : A handy-dandy one-pager which lists all the really useful sources for gathering key business initiatives and financial metrics for publicly traded companies.

Enjoy - and as always I would be interested in your thoughts and feedback.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

First Or Last ?

You are involved in a four-vendor bakeoff. You have the opportunity to choose whether you present first, last or in the middle - what do you choose?

In the absence of any other data, I always say "go first". Why? Here is my logic. For even more details visit the MTS Website.

Now let me walk you through my reasoning. Firstly I look at the experiences and habits of other very successful sales organizations. The example that comes to mind is Siebel Systems in the late 1990’s – no matter what the situation was, Siebel always found a way to go last. There were often suspicious circumstances surrounding their request due to passing away of some distant relative, travel plans or vacations. However, better than 80% of the time the Siebel sales force went last to show their stuff. This pattern was echoed by Oracle and Sybase in their hey-days. My friends in the consulting and media/advertising business also tell me that they always prefer to go last.

Secondly is the matter of education versus selling. I have often found that the first vendor is often placed in the position of having to educate some of the people in the room about everything, ranging from the general marketplace to specific product functionality. Although that may appear as consultative selling, it detracts from your overall message as it can make your solution hard to use or understand. On the other hand, you can make the point that you get to set the stage and drop competitive landmines for the following three vendors without having to defuse any yourself. Should you have an extremely strong product and are confident of your superiority then going first is the place to be. It allows you to cover off the checklist and agenda items requested by the client, and then add in a few extra credit items of your own. When going first, work with your inside coach to make sure that some general literature is made available to everyone before to mitigate the educational impact discussed previously.

The third point is differentiation. Going last as vendor 4 of 4 means that you need to shake things up and present a little differently. I like the image of Mental Velcro. Can you tune your session to such a degree that it just sticks in the customer’s mind? Proceeding with the standard corporate overview, followed by this is what we know, this is how we’ll fix it, here is the product/solution/services , here are the financials and this is why we are different and unique is NOT going to make you different and unique. So going last will allow you to make points that the other three vendors cannot immediately rebut, plus your pitch, if sufficiently different yet still laser-focused on solving their business problem, will remain in their brains as the selection committee sits down to rank the four performers.

Finally, unless there are exceptional circumstances around timing, customer attendance or your own team’s availability, I have yet to come up with a defensible position as to why you should go in the middle. Good selling!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fixing The Garage Doors

Last week one of the large springs on my garage door broke – resulting in much wailing and grinding of metal as the one remaining spring took up the load to lopsidedly raise and lower the door. I know from previous experience that (a) I have to replace both springs and (b) it is a much easier job to do with help. Replacing the door springs single-handedly is about a 90 minute job, replacing them with my son’s assistance would be a 15 minute job. Swallowing my male pride I asked for help and everything went smoothly – plus now my son knows how to replace a garage door spring (or how much to reasonably pay someone else to do it for him).

The moral here – mentoring can help both sides of the relationship, AND, sometime admitting you really need help of any kind can make you stronger, wiser and save you time in the long run. Think about that the time you are gamely struggling through a RFP, a new demo or a troublesome installation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tough Talk For Hard Times

Thomas Hoffman's cover story in the Jan 19th edition of Computerworld is subtitled "Nine Ways To Get More Out Of Software Vendors in 2009".

Now, I'm all for customers driving a fair and reasonable bargain and always asking for a little more. Indeed, in these hard times I am all for the customer and the software supplier to renogiate a contract if both sides get something out of it. Yet this article takes us back twenty years to when a vendor was exactly that - a vendor. No thoughts of partnership, trusted advisor or strategic supplier - just a miserable old vendor. It is a very one-sided view of the relationship with nothing in there for the vendor, except, eventually, some revenue. I thought we had gotten past that by now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nortel and Better Days

Nortel filing for bankruptcy really brings closure to the dot-com era for me. Back in 1999 I worked for Clarify – a growing CRM company. Nortel acquired them for what effectively amounted to $5bn (and two years later sold the remnants to Amdocs for $200m). With the screaming stock price in 2000 I have no complaints and many of the material things I have today were bought with NT stock.

Somehow over the years I lost track of 12 shares sitting in a brokerage account. That became 1 share and a few dimes after Nortel made a reverse stock split. I decided to frame the stock certificate and it has pride of place in my downstairs bathroom. I keep it there as a reminder of the good old dot-com days, and to humble me because it is a $1,000 mistake. What was once worth $1,000 become several dollars, then fifty cents, and is now worthless. Except it really isn't because it teaches me to enjoy what I have, and to appreciate the not-so-material things in my life even more.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The New MTS Blog

Welcome to the new home for the Mastering Technical Sales blog. Over the next few weeks we'll be transitioning across to Blogspot from Yahoo. The original blog can be found here.