Friday, December 21, 2012

The Fallacy Of "Fine!"

 "How did the sales call go?"
“it went fine.”

“How was the demo?”
“It was fine”

“How are we doing on the RFP response?”
“It’s all going fine”

As both a former pre-sales leader and former IT executive, the word “fine” sends shivers down my spine. Fine is supposed to be a term of praise relating to excellent quality as in a fine wine, or a fine-looking horse – however, it seems to becoming one of those indeterminate words that can be either good or bad. For those of you who don’t have English as a primary language I apologize for the nuances of the spoken word, because “fine” is downright dangerous in the profession of Sales Engineering. Let’s take a real life example.

“How was the sales call?” I ask.

It went fine”, replies my SE.

I pause, raise a quizzical eyebrow, and use the power of silence.

After 5 seconds he continues, “Well, they seemed to like what we were saying, although they didn’t ask very many questions and I’m not sure that they 100% got our message.”

So what are the next steps?” I prompt him.

Well, we really don’t have any. They said they did not need any further information at this point while they were figuring out their budget. They’re going to get back with us for a demo date.”

Just so I’m clear, we don’t know any of their business drivers, they really don’t see a fit for our technology solutions, they probably have no budget and there are no next steps that we can drive? That’s your definition of fine?”


I first learnt this lesson when I was teenager out with my girlfriend. I learnt that when she said everything was “fine” it really wasn’t – and after a while I could judge just how fine she was not by counting the number of “f”’s the word started with and the degree of snarl in her voice.  We are not that extreme in the business world, yet the next time someone tells you that everything is/was/went/will be fine – push back and ask the next question, as there is way more than meets the eye to a fine SE.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Selling Solutions Is Only Half The Sales Story

As a CIO, the only “Products” I ever bought cost $299 or less and got some user or department off my back by providing them with some helpful utility. More importantly, I never,ever, ever bought a Solution!

Yes. Everything that your marketing and sales enablement teams have been telling you isn’t exactly true. Surprise! Most of those “solution” methodologies miss the mark if you take them purely at face value.

Stunned Silence? So what do IT and Business Unit leaders actually buy from a vendor? There is relationship, security, relief from pain etc. .. but what we really buy are ..   results and outcomes.
In case you think I am playing with words, let me explain.
Many years ago I needed to make my programmers more productive, so we did the usual thing. That was build an RFP with our wish list, and send it out to 4-5 vendors with a really tight deadline for responses. The vendors all whined and complained, the smart ones got on the phone with some of my department heads, and the RFPS were submitted. The next week we paraded the vendors in for their pitches .. five of them .. so that by the end of the week our brains and our behinds were numb. Fortunately I had smart people working for me, they created an Excel score sheet, and voila!! Vendor #1 had a score of 73 points, Vendor #2 had 71, and the rest were in the mid to low sixties. Technically there wasn’t that much to choose between vendor #1 and #2, although #1 had a few more features and functions.
I had to make a decision – and chose Vendor #2, despite the lower score. Why? Two reasons – firstly I felt they had done a much better job of discovery, and secondly they didn’t try to sell me a solution that made my programmers 39.2% more productive. The sales team was smart and sold me an outcome. The back story is that my company was coming out with a new product, and that IT was on the critical path as we couldn’t reprogram our internal systems fast enough to support the launch. We would delay by a month, and that would cost us $8,000,000. I was also tired of going to executive meetings about the project and having the finger of shame pointed at me. Enough! So the outcome the sales team from Vendor #2 sold me was that of accelerating development by 5 weeks so that we could launch in time and gain an additional $8m in revenue, PLUS .. my IT department was no longer holding things up and my political risk disappeared in the executive suite. Sweet indeed.
The solution was software and processes that would make my programming staff more productive (as I’d said I want them to be more productive). But the result was those magical five weeks and some major political clout.

A more mundane example is this .. an aspirin is the solution to a headache (a literal pain!), yet what I am really buying is relief from pain – the outcome is a clear head. Don't sell aspirin (and especially don't talk about dosage levels, uptake values and side effects to a man with a bad headache).
So what do you sell – products, solutions, or results and outcomes?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November Content : Webcast Demo Crimes and More ..

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone in my part of the world (Just North of Philadelphia) and the cleanup has started. Fortunately we survived with minimal damage to the house, just a few loose roof tiles and window shutters. There are trees down on roads, cars and even houses, and much of the region is still without power even after 4 days - so we're thankful that we have power and a warm house with a solid roof over our heads.

The November Issue of The Mastering Technical Sales Edge will be released on Tuesday 6th. Here is a preview of the content:

Back in the mid-90's I created a Demo Crime list and presented it to my fellow technical managers at Sybase. Many people have picked up on the idea since then, so I thought it was time to create a Webcast/Virtual Demo Crime Files list. Review the list and see how many of these heinous crimes you see committed every day ( I also provide some ideas for good, clean virtual demos as well).

Many companies hold their annual Sales Kickoff (SKO) meeting in January or February. The Corporate Sales Meetings article provides some thoughts and ideas for making it more productive from a Sales Engineering point of view. You can also hire me to conduct a presales keynote or some Professional Skills training workshops too!

Ask John deals with the perennial question of "how can I stop my salesperson treating me like just another sales tool?" . It's surprisng how often I get asked that question.

Book Of The Month is Sexy Little Numbers by Dimitri Maex. It's an interesting look at how companies can analyze their customer data and get more value from it. If you are engaged in Big Data, BI, Analytics, In-Memory Databases or regular CRM it's a good background read.

Stay tuned for two exciting pieces of news. The first is about a partnership that may extend the Mastering Technical Sales Brand on a full-time basis into Asia-Pacific; the second about the creation of a Professional Organization for Presales Engineers. Things are happening!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Less You Know, The Better The Elevator Pitch

Yesterday I participated as a panel judge in reviewing the 2 minute elevator pitches / door openers of a 35 member presales team. The panel was the VP of Sales, VP and Director of Marketing, and me. The scenario was that you suddenly get two minutes alone (anywhere – cafeteria, lobby, elevator) with a relatively senior executive of a company that you have been working with. How do you make that executive curious enough about what you are doing, or what you have learnt, in just two minutes? Curious enough that they will grant you more time or another meeting?

The exercise is useful because it teaches you to condense your thoughts into less than two minutes and get a high level summary that may provoke or challenge the executive. This actual situation doesn’t happen as often as marketers  or sales trainers would believe, but it certainly does happen. (I once got 60 seconds with Bill Gates in an elevator!)

What was interesting is that there were two classes of people who excelled in this situation. The first type was exactly what you expect – the seasoned SE who is used to rapidly translating technology into key business issues and then clearly communicate. The second type – was the people in the audience who knew the least about the technology! Really! The sales operations staff and two new hires gave an awesome pitch. Why? Because they didn’t commit any of these “elevator” crimes.

1.       Taking one minute to get to the point. (that’s 50% of your time)

2.       Using techno-speak and jargon and acronyms.

3.       Failing to talk about current/future issues.

4.       Neglecting some vision phrase like ‘suppose’, ‘imagine’, or “what if?’

5.       Having so many points there was no focus

6.       Not asking any questions

7.       Failing to have a call to action at the end.

So let’s be positive instead. Next time you are asked to give an elevator pitch – give it the shaft. No executive wants to hear who you are and what you do – they want to know how you can help them and maybe learn something new. So, instead

1.       Bottom Line Up Front after the basic pleasantries.

2.       Speak clearly and concisely.

3.       Lay out the pain statement. But don’t overdo it.

4.       Help the exec imagine the future with the pain fixed.

5.       Single point, single focus

6.       Ask at least one question.

7.       Ask for a next step.

Is that a lot for two minutes? No. When you plan ahead you may even have 30 seconds left over. Give it a try.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Critique Of A Fidelity Investments Webcast

This morning I sat through a 60 minute webcast, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, titled “Fidelity Bond Investing Beyond Yield: A Deeper Dive Webinar!”

The webcast was driven by two Fidelity Vice presidents – Richard Carter and Jay Schwartzberg - and was essentially a demo of how to use their Bond Investing Tool, with some interesting market commentary thrown in.

Here’s the bottom line – Richard and Jay are obviously two very well-spoken and knowledgeable individuals, who were badly let down by their demo and visuals. I’m picking on them as the “web-demo crimes” they committed are very common and can be easily avoided. In no particular order –

1.       I’ve no idea what Jay & Richard look like as there was no introductory slide that had a photo of them. So I’m left listening to two (admittedly pleasant) voices drifting out of my speakers.

2.       They decided to cover four main points in 45 minutes. Too much!

3.       Almost every slide was packed and tough to read. When you use a screen shot it should be clearly visible and use up as much of the slide as possible. Their shots were fuzzy and marooned in the middle of the screen.

4.       The “demo” was a tour of the features of the online tool. It consisted of “and if .. and if.. then …” It was very navigational with lots of talk about click and drop-downs. They would have been better off telling a story around the tool. “Imagine you are Billy The Bond Investor, and you have a problem because you want to create a municipal bond portfolio/ re-invest cash from a maturing bond.” etc.

5.       On that same topic, there wasn’t a roadmap introduced to explain what was going to happen – it was just screen after screen after screen – a recipe to encourage the audience to become lost.

6.       Each slide had the Fidelity logo , a brand symbol and text splashed over the bottom of it. As well as being annoying (I know it’s Fidelity Investments!!) it interfered with diagrams and text on several slides. Designing around that green swoosh has to be tricky.

7.       On the positive side, a couple of times when they really drilled down on a screen, they “exploded” just a part of a screen to provide context – of course it was fuzzy.

8.       Their final slide was (sorry) a little amateur and way too busy. You can see it on the right here >>

There is text outside the cube, an acronym (HNW), covered text, bullet points and too many points.

9.       I had no idea what their residual message was. Which is three days from now if there is only one thing I remember what would it be? I bet if you asked 100 people watching you would get more than 50 answers.

A classic example of two fine presenters (I bet they would be very engaging face-to-face) getting buried with a poorly designing demo/presentation. Don’t commit these crimes!!

(Disclaimer >> Fidelity is not a client of mine - I am a client of theirs)

For a more positive list of great things to do in a webcast read this.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

You will never "find" time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.

Yep. It's that time of the year. For many of my customers it is the end of Q3, and Q4 is rushing upon you. That quarter when it's "all hands on deck" / "close everything in sight" - you know the drill.

It's an especially tough quarter in most parts of the world as you move into the winter holidays. Here in the US when you take account of Thanksgiving and Christmas the 63 actual selling days rapidly decrease to less than 55. China has the whole of next week off. It happens everywhere. That doesn't mean that as an SE you throw your hands in the air and panic like most of the sales force.

In the next couple of weeks - take a little bit of time to invest in yourself and your future. Back in April 2011 I wrote "The Quarter Is Over - Now What?". I received a lot of positive feedback about the article and I think its worth reading (again!). The only person who is really in charge of your career and your development is ...  YOU. When you wait for some "free time" it rarely happens. There is always some last minute POC that needs to be completed, a proposal that needs to be changed, a "just one more time presentation or demonstration" that needs to be made, or a customer support problem you have to fix.

That's a lot of "needs". Take a little control, a little direction, and selfishly invest in one of your most important assets - you!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

YES!! Global Availability Of The eBook

I've heard from a number of you over the past few months that you have had extreme difficulty obtaining the Kindle version of Mastering Technical Sales outside of the US. Those problems should now be over - here is the update from my publisher as of Sept 12th.
1.   Kindle informed us this morning that they’ve brought your book live on their international sites. We’ve verified it is available on the UK and all European sites plus Japan. Not yet in China.
2.  Although Amazon is selling Kindle devices on their Japanese website, customers who want to buy a Kindle book need to register on the US site to purchase a Kindle book. Obviously not very convenient, but I’m sure this will change in the future. (this isn't just me - it's everyone!!)
Let me know if you have any more problems.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Outcomes and Results v Features

Over the past two weeks I've had the opportunity to review three "Strategic Direction" and/or "Where The Market Is Going" PowerPoint decks. Each of them was designed by Product Marketing for the Sales and Presales Engineering teams to give to their customers. Each and every one of them looked like a deck I'd expect to be used in a Gartner analysts briefing - but certainly not in front of mid to senior level people at their customers.

Why is this so horrific? Aside from slide design, 8-10 point fonts and more bullet points than an average armory - each of the decks was PITCHING FEATURES and DIRECTLY SELLING, versus looking at OUTCOMES and RESULTS.

Why is that so important? Let me tell you a story!

Benjamin Franklin, in addition to all his other inventions and achievements, is often credited with being the father of classified advertising in newspapers. One day, Ben is sitting in the offices of the Philadelphia Gazette when a local shoemaker visited him. The craftsman explained that his business was growing just as the city of Philadelphia was growing, and that he wanted to open up a second store on the other side of town. Was there any way he could pay Franklin to inform his customers, through the newspaper, about the new store?

He didn't come to buy advertising ( a feature that Ben then made up). He came to INFORM his customers that they no longer had to cross town to use his services. Instead they could use his new, second, store and save themselves time.

(Footnote: Ben, being a smart guy, figured out this was a great business, and then hired his son-in-law to go around Philadelphia businesses, knocking on their doors, to see if anyone else had something they wanted to tell the rest of the town about. And that is how the classifieds got started over 225 years ago!) No surprise that Ben graces the front of the US $100 banknote.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer

So what exactly is a “Trusted Advisor” Sales Engineer? The position is one of those “I know it when I see it” type things. Anyone – sales or presales – who sells to at least a strategic/enterprise customer (with any hope of getting some repeat business) should aspire to become this. Yet the fact is – YOU cannot call yourself a T/A. YOUR COMPANY cannot call you a T/A. It’s YOUR CUSTOMER who has to see you as THEIR T/A in order for the label to work.

It is not that easy. There are so many things that get in the way, mainly the culture of the quarterly or monthly revenue pressure. Quota hangs over the head of a presales engineer, or at least over the head of the salespeople that you work with. Every presales engineer has probably heard the words “you have to build a relationship with your customer and become their trusted advisor”. No-one ever explains how to do that!

So – for the first time ever – there is now a workshop directed towards presales engineers that explains both the behaviors and the practical applications they need to demonstrate so that their customers will trust them. When an SE is trusted, then they can give advice that will be listened to. That usually results in higher revenue, larger deals, less competition, and better customer satisfaction.

Today I am announcing the availability of a new Mastering Technical Sales workshop – “The Trusted Sales Engineer”. The workshop will be delivered to a few early customers in October and will be generally available – in a 1 and 2-day format - in November.

Contact me for more information and an outline syllabus.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Patience Is An SE Virtue!

Patience is not one of the first skills you think about when it comes to the requirements of being a great SE. I’m not talking about patience in terms of:

a)     Dealing with “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” sales people.

b)    Handling that beta product that just won’t behave

c)     Wandering why support takes so long to handle a problem and call the customer back; or even

d)    All the other non-core activities that you have to perform as “the organization of last resort”!

I am speaking about patience in terms of dealing with your customers. Patience in forcing yourself to learn more about your customers and talking/presenting less. A couple of examples to make my point.

Customer says : “We’re looking for a solution that will enable us to ”. Can you help us?

Easy, but wrong answer: “Yes. In fact, let me show you how we can help you right now” – and you start either a demo, presentation or a long monologue.

Harder, but correct answer: “Yes we can. Tell me a little more about why you are looking for .

Customer remarks: “Last month we had to store an additional 2TB of data.”

East, but wrong response: “What kind of storage are you using?” or “How do you back that up?” or “how do you report on that?” (All good questions a little later in discovery).

Harder, but correct answer. “Wow – how do you (or your company) feel about that?”

See the difference? You are asking at least one more question before you dive into “presentation/all-about-me” mode. It makes a big difference and you’d be surprised what you can learn.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So What About So What?

Here's an interesting addition to (and warning about) the "So What?" question I wrote about in "Three Simple Questions" earlier this month. Peter Cohan, author of Great Demo! writes about the So What Fallacy. In his post he explains the dangers of using a "so what" (SW) type methodology during a demo.

His example:

Feature Statement: “We provide support for the software in 22 languages…”

So What Statement: “We provide support for the software in 22 languages, so that your team can access the software anywhere in the world using their native languages…”

The Risk: The customer says, “Everyone in our company speaks English and we want to make sure that all information is captured consistently in the system, so that everyone can access all information equally – without having to learn 21 other languages…”

The Additional Risk: The customer adds, “…and we don’t want to pay for the additional 21 languages, since we won’t be using them – so either take out the support for those languages for our implementation or reduce your price accordingly…”
And he is right - it can be a dangerous thing to do. "So What" is the difference? Sorry! The version of SW I wrote about is a question that you ask yourself before the demo or presentation. You need to be able to answer that question, as well as "Who Cares?", otherwise you shouldn't show or speak about the feature/capability/item etc. You should know, based upon your Discovery or Research, that mentioning the 22 languages will get you into trouble. Simplistically, you only talk about the 22 langaue support if you can add "which is something that you told us you needed."
Where I do disagree a little with Peter is his comment about "and we want a discount as we don't need the 21 languages." Based on what I have seen, this isn't a tactic that customers use anymore - as there is almost always something in the product/service/solution that they won't use or don't need. It's a fact of life. (I cite the example of Excel or Word - you don't get a discount from Bill Gates because you don't use all the features).
That's a minor point, because where we are both violently in agreement is that if you don't know why you are discussing any item/screen/feature/benefit with the customer then you are potentially walking into the unknown - and that is not a good place for an SE to be when selling!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The SE Job Market

Wow. This is the first week since 2007 I don't know a single Sales Engineer anywhere in the world who is out of work and looking for a job. That is amazing. I usually have a list of 20-30 people. The market seems so hot right now, with many SE's rotating out of the bigger names into small start-ups and mid-tier companies.

Although the job market may be horrible ( at least in the US), for anyone under 25, it seems that if you have a couple of years of SE experience you can take your pick. And the more exoerience the better. A friend showed me six (that's SIX) job offers he received in the last 4 weeks when job hunting.

Once you have bene in the business for a while you learn that these things are cyclical. The moral of the story being if you want to make a move and trade up, down or out - now is the time.

Monday, August 6, 2012

August News

This month’s lead article is all about Three Simple Questions that can keep you out of trouble. They are not questions that you ask the customer – they are questions that you ask yourself. If you ask yourself these questions, and have a sensible and concrete answer to them, before every single customer interaction I can guarantee your meeting will be more focused, productive and profitable.

Ready?  So What? Who Cares and Says Who?  : Not that difficult is it?

I’ve also had a few conversations in June and July with presales leaders who measure “The Technical Win”. To me, it’s an almost worthless metric, especially when exposed to sales and other organizations. Read more on my thinking about why it is a divisive measurement.

Ask John looks at Aggressively Attacking The Competition. A sales org gets brand new leadership. The new leader decides to attack their #1 competitor – in print, in sales calls and at every opportunity. What’s a poor SE who wants to develop a trusted relationship with their customer to do?

The August book is Brian Burn’s “Selling In A New MarketSpace”. After a rough start, it really hits its stride and has a couple of fabulous chapters about setting a vision. If you are an SE in a smaller non-mainstream product company or an SE looking to move into Sales – it is a good read. It gets you inside the head of a successful salesrep with a mixture of war stories, rules and overall non-standard strategy.

Finaly – a heads-up on a couple of MTS activities I am working on. The first is a couple of SE-leader specific sessions at Dreamforce in September (San Francisco Sept 19-20). The second is a teaser – get ready for my latest course announcement in the September newsletter. You’ll love it!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why I Don't Have A Corporate Overview

Interesting call yesterday. A reader had invited me to participate in a webcast with some of his manager peers to discuss their Professional Skills needs and a potential customized class they wanted me to develop. I’d fully prepared beforehand, researched the company and discussed the call format with my coach.
After the basic introductions, the senior manager present said:
Cust:      “John – why don’t you start off by presenting your Corporate    Overview?”
John:     “Actually I don’t have one. I have never needed to build one.”
Cust:      “Surely you must have needed one in the past. How do you let people know about all the things you do?”
John:     “Well, that’s what I use my website and the book for. In fact – I believe starting off with a Corporate Overview is wrong because it’s all about me. You are the customer, we should start with you. How about you tell me about what you do in the Professional Skills area now for your SE’s, how that is working, and what could be improved upon? For example – what do your sales partners think about your team?”
They talked for 50 minutes and all I had to do was affirm, reconfirm and ask them to explain a few acronyms. I uncovered some major pains, and pointed out a few items that they hadn't even thought about.
So my customer got a free preview of how I wanted them to sell. No customer wants to hear “Who We Are And What We Do” until they know that you care and that you understand them.

If your customer sessions start with “Hullo, I’m Joe, your account executive. Our company was started in 1995 by our three founders and we went public in 1999 and are now listed on the NASDAQ with the ticker symbol BOZO. We have 600 employees in 19 different countries serving over 60,000 users. This is a picture of our new corporate headquarters. Now for the next three hours here is my pre-sales engineer who will take you through every module of our product.”

Think again.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Between the July 4th Independence Day Holiday in the US, and a 17-day European Tour I am making in July – the month is going to be a little hectic. So the July updates have already been applied to the Mastering Technical Sales site, and the newsletter will be released on Tuesday July 10th.

The July lead article is The PreSales-Sales Partnership. It’s an edited transcript of a Q&A session I held with about 20 presales managers at a recent sales kickoff. At the end of the piece I’ve included a page relationship summary sheet – that should help you judge the quality of the partnership between Sales and PreSales. It’s important, as without an effective partnership, everything and everyone suffers.
That’s followed by an updated version of 31 Great Tips – a TipA Day To Keep The Webcast Blues Away. It’s a collection of “great ideas” taken from my Remote Demos and Presentations Workshop. Unless you’ve already been through one of my Perfect Pitch Workshops I am sure you’ll pick up a few ideas from the sheet.

Ask John revolves around Presales Readiness for new product launches. So many companies are focused on just “getting the product out” that they neglect the sales and presales personnel who actually have to sell ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is! I encourage a more aggressive approach in demanding training and collateral before product release and setting up a stakeholder go/no-go meeting to get some leverage.
The July SE Book Of The Month is “All-In”. It looks at how some of the best and brightest leaders around the globe have motivated their teams – big and small. Once you get past some of the “well, duh..” obviousness there is actually a god concept hiding underneath it.

As far as the European Tour. I’ll be in Amsterdam on July 5th, and will be zipping through Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia over the course of 14 days – featuring some work and some play.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Its Black And White

My wife and daughters will readily volunteer that I am one of the last people in the world who should give out fashion advice. However – here is my case why “Black Is The New White” – at least for PowerPoint presentations.

 After every single speech or seminar I give – people comment on my use of slides with a black background.

“It’s Different”  
“They Got My Attention”
“Very impactful to drive home your key points.”
“They look SO much better than our boring standard white slides”.

You get the idea. So here, with apologies to my friends all over the globe in Corporate Marketing, is my reasoning.

1. White is jarring on the eyes. It is bright; it tires the eyes and psychologically fatigues the brain. A common trick we “black hats” use is to sneak in a slide with a white background after 10-15 dark slides – the audience gasps in horror and covers their eyes.

2.  In a dark room (sales kickoff, big seminar event), the use of white hurts even more because of the contrast with the surroundings.

3.  Pictures and images display so much better – as they usually blend in better with a dark black/grey background than a white one. That means no ugly white border strips.

4.  Look at me! Maybe this is the trainer’s ego – but I want the audience focused on me, once they have read the minimal text on the slide and processed the image. Bright white light attracts the eyes away from the speaker.

5.  White=Bad. Many presentation gurus and bloggers equate white slides with the Pavlovian experience of previous really awful PPT pitches. The last bad PPT was in white, so this one must be bad too. Sometimes you do just need to be different and give the brain a chance

6.  It works for Apple. OK – that may not be a completely valid argument, but they are doing pretty well with it.

Think About It.
Give Black A Try. Maybe for an internal presentation when you don't have to worry about branding - see what happens.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The June MTS Newsletter

The June Newsletter is being released on Tuesday June 5th.

The lead article examines "Moving Beyond ROI". Even though we have been trained to look for key business issues, financial returns, economic buyers and speak a little less about our technology - there's more to making the sale than a simple ROI. Customers buy for two reasons - economics and emotion. If you have the economics but forget the emotional side of the sale - you'll probably lose.

Then continuing with my theme in May of "Pick Up The Phone" - I look at some of the reasons why you need to take your hands off the keyboard and actually speak with someone. It may be internal, like a rep or support analysts, or it may be external such as a customer contact. There are times when you can cut through all the broken processes, CYA and other emotions with some good ol' fashioned conversation!

Ask John deals with "My salesrep used to be in pre-sales; and is driving me crazy!" Enough said.

Book Of The Month is "The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook" by Green and Howe. It's a good read. I've started work on a Trusted Advisor class fopr several clients and it was great research material. Worth the read if you are being told to become the Trusted Advisor" to your client. (My entire recommended reading list is on the website).

Good Selling!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

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 in 2012 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 processes at a couple of mid-sized companies. These processes were affecting both the effectiveness of presales 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. (I am going to write a longer article about this topic but I need to get it off my chest now). Instance #1 involves a company with incredibly poor Discovery habits and instance #2 a company where presales spends 35% of their time bailing out customer support. Repeatedly, an email was
A)     left unanswered
B)      sent solely as a CYA (Cover Your A$$)
C)      incomplete and poorly written
D)     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 presales – 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. So you can say things in a call you cannot put 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.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The No Discovery Demo

This month's lead article is the Zero-Discovery Demo.

We’ve all been in that situation when you walk into the conference room, or start-up your webcast, and you have no idea what the sales call is about or what the customer really needs. It is variously known as the “spray and pray”, the “dog and pony show” or “the three hour tour”.

 We also know that although it is usually a complete waste of your time, these calls do happen in real life and the professional SE needs to be prepared to deal with them. So, two days from now you are visiting a customer and the only information you have is the name and address of the company and the guidance of “they just want a general overview of our products and what we do.” What happens next?

My article gives you some tips and techniques to gain some additional information so you can at least pretend to be a professional - so I won't repeat them here..

One other interesting question, put directly, is "Who Is To Blame?". Is it

  1. The Salesperson who thinks Discovery is a 2-line email with the prospects name, location and time of the meeting?
  2. The Customer who won't share information with a vendor in case it gives away some negotiating power?
  3. Your Manager who tells you to "suck it up" and make the call?
  4. You - for participating in the call, despite knowing what will eventually happen?
The answer, I believe, is all of the above. And .. the situation can be fixed by some behavior modification. As far as management and the salesrep are concerned, I prefer the personal analogy with plenty of guilt. I used some variation of:

a) "You know, I coach a girl's 12 year old travel soccer team. I spent more time scouting and preparing for their next game than we have preparing for this call."
b) "It's like sending your children to school in the morning in their underwear, with no book bag and no money for lunch. Plus... it's snowing."
c) "If you tell me to "Bring My 'A' Game" one more time on a call like this, we're both going to end up with an "F: - for Fired!"

For the results-oriented rep, I'd compare and contrast either them against a very successful rep who did allow Discovery before her calls, or even directly against one of their own calls when we were properly prepared.

My point is .. you can't sit back and just enable the behavior. Even if you do go through with the demo/presentation (and do it with a positive attitude), there needs to be some consequences. Don't whine, don't complain, just point out how it can be done better. Ultimately it puts more money in the reps pocket, and more money in yours.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sales Engineer Budgets And Headcount

After the usual compensation questions, the #1 question I hear from SE leaders is “what is the correct sales/SE ratio?” The answer, like most things in life, is “it depends” – but here are a couple of thoughts that may help.

1.       The SE Budget. My preference for setting an SE Budget is to base it on a true budget and not on a headcount number. That is, I’d rather be told I have $10m to fund an organization than be told I have a target headcount of 50 people. The monetary number (as long as it is reasonable) gives me far more flexibility in my hiring profile. Look at it this way – suppose I am told I can go out and hire two additional people – the usual response is to hire the best two SE’s I can find in the marketplace and bring them in as master/senior/principal SE’s. Yet it may make more sense for my overall business to hire five recent college graduates into an associate position – and it will cost me the same in terms of cash. Headcount gives no flexibility – budget does.

2.       The Sales/SE Ratio. Back in June 2010 I wrote “How Many SE’s Does It Take ToSell A Solution?” It was intended as a primer to walk you through the growth of a typical SE organization. However, it was still based on the fallacy of a Sales/SE ratio. The problem with a ratio is that unless you are a small single-product company it really doesn’t work too well. Sure – it’s a good starting point, yet the correct number of SE’s should be based on a return on investment as opposed to meeting a ratio or adding quota.

As an example: One of my customers re-aligned their Americas SE team, and decided that for global accounts the ratio would be 1:1, Strategic accounts and Federal got a 3:2 ratio, corporate/middle market was 2:1 and everything else (SMB, telesales and partners) was 5:1. These numbers were dictated by finance, and where they got them from I have no idea (and nor do they!).

So what is a better way? Base the ratio on how busy and how productive your SE’s are. I use a baseline figure of 60% customer-facing time (carefully measured, including prep time) as a metric for SE’s. If a team is consistently below that number, they are not busy enough, and if they are over 60% then they are running hot. Now – running hot is not the same as being efficient, so you need to look at what they are doing and the revenue generated. That is ROPE – Return On Presales Effort. All things being equal, if your North-East group has a ROPE of $2.3m and the South has a ROPE of $1.4m – I’d add SE budget to the North-East.

More later – obviously the art is in determining if all things are equal, and what to do if they are not .. so stay tuned.