Saturday, December 4, 2010

Newsletter & December Content

So much for my 2010 New Year resolution of becoming a better blogger. Oh well - there is always 2011. The Mastering Technical Sales Edge Newsletter for December will be distributed on Tuesday December 7th. To get an early view of the content you can visit the MTS website where it is already posted.

The lead article for this month is "So You Really Want To Be A Sales Rep?" which looks at the pluses and minuses of moving across from Pre-Sales to Sales; also known as Going To The Dark Side. There are many things to consider before making the move, or even planning for the move - not least of which is truly assessing your motivation.

I also have a section about "The Overview Presentation - Why It May Be Killing Your Sales". I personally hate overview presentations as they are usually boring, too shallow and in a single customer situations it usually implies that soemone failed to perform adequate discovery.

With the holiday season approaching - Ask John provides my answer to "what are the top 3 books that a presales manager should give their teams for Christmas/Hannukah etc.."

Enjoy the read - and I'm looking for feedback and ideas for 2011 about articles, services and new offering I can provide to you all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

So You Really Want To Be A Pre-Sales Manager?

Based on the great feedback about last month's pre-sales career article - The Super Senior SE, I decided to continue the theme for November. This month's lead article is some advice to pre-sales engineers who want to go into management, and how they can prepare themselves for the job. It's way more than training - it's about attitude, willingness to learn, and a willingness to give up a little of the things (like technical ability) that got you to where you are right now. It's written from my perspective as a former VP of Pre-sales so enjoy the read.

The November Mastering Technical Sales newletter will be out on Tuesday Nov 2nd - Election Day here in the US. Most of the content is already up on the site.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Power Point Presenter Mode

Every time I give a workshop or a seminar at least half the class is unaware of "Presenter Mode" in PowerPoint. It is a handy-dandy way of getting the inside track on a presentation while the audience just sees your slides. It enables you (see picture) to see:

1- Your Notes
2 - Zoom the size of your notes
4 - The next 4-6 slides in your presentation
5 - The current time, and how long you have been presenting
6 - (of course) a variable window showing the actual slide your audience is seeing.
7 - back/forward and pen options.

How do you do this? Well - it only works when you have an external monitor or projector hooked up to your laptop. Plug in the 2nd monitor and extend your desktop (it is one of the "Graphics Properties") . Then in PowerPoint under the Slide Show tab you select the options as shown below. Press F5 for slide show and ...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Super Senior Principal Distinguished Architect Sales Engineer

How do you become the creme de la creme, the top 5%, one of those SE's that everyone in the company (and the industry) looks up to, admires and respects. This months Talking Point details a conversation I had with an ambitious up-and-coming SE who wanted to know the answer. So from my viewpoint as a former VP of Pre-sales, I told him what I would do and what I would look for.

The executive summary is to be active instead of passive, network ferociously, volunteer for stuff and close big deals. Oh - and find yourself a mentor or two. It is more than just being a very very good SE and executing on the core skills, it becomes more about what you give back to the rest of the SE community and the company. Enjoy the read.

Monday, September 27, 2010


"If you don't practice - someone else will!"
"You always perform at the level you practice"

 I just finished watching a remote (webcast) demo of a "revolutionary new software product" that will "change the way companies do business". Maybe it will - but it felt like it was the very first time the SE had ever seen the product. Nothing worked as it was supposed to and the demo gave a very poor first impression. What happened? The SE made a "minor upgrade" to the software a few days ago, checked a couple of basic functions - and never practiced his demo script.

This is elementary SE 101 best practices - so why am I blogging about it? BECAUSE IT IS NOT UNCOMMON. Are we getting lazy? Are we getting crunched for time? What possible excuse can there be for not practicing? I have to add that the salesperson ad-libbed his introduction and forgot to cover one of their key business issues.

Practice. That's why there are so many quotes about it!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let Go Of Perfection

Last week I was helping a friend prepare a speech he was going to be making at a school board meeting. A little different from a classic sales call - but he wanted to persuade the board to make a particular decision.

He had a great speech outlined with a terrific structure. It was clear, concise and persuasive. But he wasn't happy. Why? Because he was wedded to perfection. I told him to let go, which may seem like strange advice - but here is my reasoning...

When I put together a new presentation, I work hard to come up with the exact words and phrases to get my points across. And so I get stuck to these specific words. If I don't use those exact words it feels like a failure. Yet during the presentation, it's far better  not to worry about finding the perfect words and instead  be natural and focus on your audience. As long as you have rehearsed , you'll be able to communicate your points clearly even if you don't use the "perfect" words. Because the audience never knew what your perfect words were anyway.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How Do I Get Promoted?

The September newsletter generated a lot of feedback, especially the Ask John section about "How Do I Get Promoted (at a small company)?"

It's made me realize that I should spend some time for the remainder of the year looking at career development as it relates to the role of the Sales Engineer.

The lead article in September was The Post Sales Puzzle, which examines just why Pre-Sales gets dragged into Post-Sales activity. The soft skills piece looks at Handout Happiness, a much neglected tool of the SE.

So outside of the standard HR definitions, what really makes the difference between a staff, senior and principal Sales Engineer ?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Five Pieces of Bad Power Point Advice

Courtesy of Jon Thomas

1.That font is too big.

2.I realize this graph is confusing. How about we make it so small and have it appear and disappear so quickly that the audience only gets a glimpse of it.

3.I know the presentation looks better with images and less text, but I need my bullet points to remember what I’m talking about.

4.Don’t worry about the number of slides. If I can’t get to them all, I’ll just skip the last few.

5.Make sure my logo, website, and phone number is on every slide.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Do You Feel Like A Job Description With Legs?

One of the great things about being a Sales Engineer is that you have considerable flexibility in how you perform your job. Unfortunately it takes many SE's a long, long time to come to that conclusion. Ultimately it comes down to are you building up a career or waorking at a job.

In Great Work Great Career, Stephen Covey and Jennifer Colosimo work on the premise that you will spend much of your life and your energy on your career, so doesn't it make sense eo envision and design a great career for yourself? This book, and in particular the many stories it contains, will not give you an immediate flash of blinding insight. However, it will cause you to sit down and put a little more thought into the design of your career and how you can personalize it.

As an SE there are many paths available to you. You can progress up the management path, the technical path, move across into product management and marketing, and even cross over to the dark side and carry a quota as a salesperson. If you work for a large enough company you can seek out rotational assignments in other departments, other divisions and other companies - but you do need a plan. If you don't know where you are going, you'll never know when you arrive.

Also see The Complete Recommended Reading List for the SE

Monday, July 5, 2010

July Newsletter

Hullo all - the July Mastering Technical Sales Edge newsletter will be published on Wednesday July 7th because of the US July 4th holiday. This month features:

The lead article is the conclusion to "How Many Sales Engineers Does It Take To Sell A Solution?". In Part II I look at some possible solutions and best practices to reduce the total number of sales and presales people involved in getting a deal done. There are also a few controversial ideas in there about the long-term practicality of overlay positions.

The second article is "PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid" - which briefly lays out the case for why we need to radically change the layout and design of our PowerPoint slides. Next month I'll show you how to include more images and visuals in your decks so they are more memorable, but still business appropriate.

The "Ask John" question is from a reader whose company is pushing the SE team to leave PowerPoint behind and embrace the whiteboard. He wants to know how to get started. I'm now beginning to believe that the second half of 2010 will become the year of the White Board and over the summer I'll gather a collection of best practices and create a new page on the website just for WhiteBoarding.

Along that theme of White Boarding, the Final Word tells you about some neat software that lets you capture professional looking images of a whiteboard drawing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June MTS Content Posted

The June Mastering Technical Sales Newsletter will be published on June 8th. This month's lead article is "How Many Sales Engineers Does It Take To Sell A Solution?" Part I. In this first part I look at the typical history of a vendor (software/hardware/services) as it grows from a start-up in a multi-channel, multi-solution company. It's a "How Did We Get To This Point?" lesson.

The July conclusion will examine the potential solutions to reducing the size and complexity of both the sales and pre-sales organization.

The personal skills article this month is about "Pricing and the Sales Engineer". Although SE's shouldn't talk very much about pricing (if at all), there is plenty they should understand.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How Many Sales Engineers Does It Take...

"How many sales engineers does it take to sell a solution?"

This seems to be a question that many sales and sales operations leaders are asking pre-sales leaders this year. For the middle to larger sized companies in software, hardware, services and engineering appliances the days of having a single SE working with a single salesrep on a deal have passed us by. The portfolios have now become so broad and complex that once you get past the basic discovery stage, no single SE can reasonably cover every single product/solution. This plays havoc with conventional coverage models, 1:1 or 3:2 ratios, geographically-based SE's and so on ...

It is fast becoming the norm that a complex deal may involve a half-dozen SE's - all with their own area of expertise (especially for a POC or complicated integration demo). This usually brings about thoughts of greater cross-training, better enablement and eventually re-organization of the pre-sales team; because something must be wrong if this many people are needed to sell the solution! So the question becomes - is this a fact of life as organizations grow and expand, or are there actions a pre-sales (and sales) leader can take to head off this issue? Of course - the dirty secret is that the same thing happens on the sales side when you introduce three levels of sales management, legal, support, services, a partner and several sales overlays to the process.

This is leading up to the June Talking Point which will be cover the "how many SE's does it take?" question. Probably a multi-part series. And a little controversial.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

50% of presales engineers who go through my workshops admit that they have been told they speak and present too quickly. It’s very rare ( less than 5%) that people are consistently told to speed up. The two primary reasons for being a motor mouth are firstly too much content and secondly a mixture of nerves and excitement. Both of which you have under your control.

The May Talking Point from Mastering Technical Sales is all about speaking too quickly, and gives you some real life techniques you can use to calm down and slow down your presentations. Just remember that the most comfortable listening speed for an audience is around 150 to 160 Words Per Minute – which is about half the average reading speed of an adult. By speaking too quickly you both lose your audience as it is hard work to listen to a fast speaker and you lose the focus of your message as you are obviously trying to cover way too much material in a set time.

Read the full Talking Point here

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Best Time Of Day For A Sales Call?

Now there's a question that had been debated throughout the ages. This isn't about cold calling, but about what time of day, and even which day to choose, for a sales call with the customer. it may or may not include a demo or presentation.

That's the subject of this month's Ask John question. The executive summary of the response is make it first thing in the morning, or over lunch (on the basis that the best sales call of all is usually when your laptop stays in the car). As a postscript to the answer, I should also add that Tuesday-thursday seem better than Monday or Friday.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Back Of The Napkin

In my quest to dramatically increase the usage of Whiteboards and relegate Power Point into the hole in the ground it truly deserves - I've now discovered a book which explains how to accomplish that amazing feat. "The Back Of The Napkin" by Dan Roam explains how to use pictures to solve problems (which is mildly interesting) and sell your ideas (which is highly relevent to the Sales Engineering profession. The first four chapters explain how to use a whiteboard/napkin/sheet of paper even if you have the handwriting of a doctor, while the final two chapters explain how to get your ideas across in a simple yet effective manner.

Absolutely worth the $16 it costs to buy this on Amazon - and a big thanks to reader Bill Weinberg for suggesting this as SE Book Of The Month.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I've often wondering why certain things (facts, songs, people..) got "stuck" in my brain, and others didn't. Surely if there was a way to harness that information in a sales situation it would give you a major competitive advantage. Made To Stick by the Heath Brothers attempts, and for the most part, succeeds in explaining the stickiness of ideas.
I've long been a fan of doing something different to make my product and services stand out and be memorable. After reading this book I can now put a little science behind the differentiation. The book isn't directed at salespeople, in fact it's really directed at anyone who needs to communicate more effectively - which would be about 99.9% of the population. I'm adding this book to my Recommended Reading List For The Sales Engineer as its probably going to be the best $20 you spend on yourself this year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New April Content

The new content for April has been posted. There is an interesting Q&A about handling Questions and Answers during a presentation and demo. This is based on a session I participated in last year during a guest appearance at an MBA Technology class. We also take a look at Why Sitting Down Is Bad - which encourages Sales Engineers to get up from behind their laptop and move around to establish control of the room.

Enjoy the reading - and I'll blog later about an interesting book I highlight in this month's newsletter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Telling Stories

Last night my wife and I went to a Chris Botti concert. Besides being an outstanding jazz musician and trumpet player, I also discovered that Chris is an outstanding teller of stories. Although his music was enough to engage the audience for a full two hours, he kept people totally riveted in their seats by providing context and background to his pieces.

Think about it - most concerts you go to the performers will say something like "here's a new song from our latest album, titled <....>, we hope you like it". Chris provided an entertaining story about the song. His finale featured a Frank Sinatra tune, but he wrapped it in a story about how he dropped out of college his senior year for the opportunity to play with Sinatra for two weeks as his first professional musical gig. He segued into a story where he asked all the young musicians in the audience to stand up and then wrapped that back into how his parents felt when he quit school. Then and only then did he play.

Telling stories is important. As a PreSales Engineer it is one of the most important things you can do during the sales cycle to boost your credibility and reduce the perceived risk of the customer. It also helps to make your message "stick". Practice your stories, share them with your colleagues and personalize them - it's way better than reciting speeds and feeds!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

New March Content

The March edition of the MTS Edge will be going out on Tuesday. To get an early view of the main content you can read about Apologies and What Goes On The Last Slide?

There seems to be some unofficial rule of speaking that you should never apologize (unless you are a public figure who has been "caught"). I'm not in agreement that its 100% correct, but I do know that we, as Sales Engineers, apologize far too often when we we shouldn't. This one-sheet deals with the pros and cons of Apologizing - and maybe I should say "Sorry" right now that it is written from a US/European point of view!

What Goes On The Last Slide looks at how we end our presentations or demos. We put a lot of thought into the start, but rarely wrap the end back around to the beginning to gain closure on a topic. Read on to see why ending with a "Thank You" or a "Q&A" slide is a really bad idea. See what works instead.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Supporting Partners

One of the more interesting challenges facing small to midsize companies is how to provide technical (pre-sales) support and help to the partner community. Unless you are extremely channel-centric, partner support is usually conducted on an ad-hoc basis.
This is because, due to organizational size, you cannot afford to dedicate an SE to the partners unless there is real revenue at stake. partners can go to public classes to learn your product or services - but who teaches them how to 'sell" it? A couple of studies conducted by smaller ($50-250M) software companies found that nearly 15% of their SE time was being directed towards partner activities. That means that once you pass the point of six SE's, you should consider dedicating one of them to the channel.
But can you really afford to do that? Well - if you have anyone on the sales side who cares (and is therefore paid on) partner sell or pull-throughs they are incented to absorb as much "free" SE support as they can. In fact - it pays to have one or more partner SE's to protect the time and integrity of the rest of the SE team.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Risk And the Sales Engineer

So technical validation, demos, presentations, answering RFPs, trials, evaluations and Proof of Concepts are all important parts of the sales process. But let's lift it up a little higher and examine what the real role of the Master Sales Engineer is in the Buying Process. I'd submit that it is all abour reducing risk - from the customers viewpoint. We are always facing competitive risk, but we also face "do nothing" risk and "alternate use of capital" risk. So our job is to reduce the risk of our solution, while raising the risk of all the alternatives.
So how does the Master SE mitigate risk and increase the winrate? Read February's MTS Talking Point about Risk And The Sales Engineer. (pdf)

Monday, January 11, 2010

More On Blackberry Sales Etiquette

Heard from Steve, an old SE acquaintance, yesterday about the Blackberry thing. He tells the story about walking into the office of a mid-level Wall Street executive for a meeting in early December. The exec places his Black Berry on the desk and says "you have five minutes to convince me to listen for twenty-five more minutes - otherwise I'll leave the room and you can just present to my team".

Steve took it as a challenge, stopped his rep from still opening with a form of corporate overview, and got the exec's attention. He feels the whole email/attention disorder thing can be used to your advantage if you are brief and to the point. I wholeheartedly agree, and believe this is an example of the law of unintended consequences.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Step Away From That BlackBerry

Have you ever found yourself part-way through a presentation or a demo; looked out to interact with your audience; and found some of them heads-down reading email on their laptop or mobile device? It is becoming an extremely common situation nowadays, both for internal meetings and sadly for external sales calls.
How do you handle this kind of situation? Do you call out he offender? What if he/she is the sponsoring executive for your deal? What if it is your boss? What can you do before and during the meeting to lessen the chances of your audience straying?
That is the subject of this months Mastering Technical Sales Talking Point , being published this Wednesday Jan 6th. Stay tuned - and I'd love to hear your ideas, comments and feedback on in-meeting BlackBerry usage.