Thursday, October 17, 2013

PreSales Engineers, White Boards, and Mojo...

As an IT executive I suffered through far too many really awful PowerPoint Presentations. That was back in the days when everyone threw in a piece of clipart (remember the duck with sledgehammer?) and bullet points had to twirl, whirl and fly in from all sides of the screen.

Sadly, many sales presentations haven't improved since then. Mostly it isn't even the "fault" of sales and presales engineers, they just use what is given to them. Since customers universally say they want conversations instead of presentations - it's time for a change. And that is where the Lost Art Of White Boarding comes into play. Drawing pictures was once natural for us, yet we've grown out of that skill. Yet if you can make a customer say "I see what you mean" - you're on your way to the sale.

Last year I wrote up a study on The ROI Of WhiteBoarding. Give it a read. Because recently, a startup, Zamurai, has developed a fantastic mobile whiteboard application. I stopped by their offices and had a conversation with Michael Parker, one of their founders. This is the short 2 1/2 minute version of that conversation.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sales, Sales Engineers and Discovery

One of the biggest disconnects I see between sales and pre-sales teams lies in the area of Discovery. In many sales organization there is a chasm between the sales implementation of Discovery and what pre-sales think they actually need. One of my clients said “my rep thinks that Discovery is telling me who is on the phone before a webex demo starts”. Thankfully it’s not always that bad.

Here is the basic problem, and I am generalizing a little here:- Sales views Discovery as something that gets in the way of the deal and slows it down. “Why do you need to ask all those questions – all they want is a demo.” Sales is also concerned that they may discover something that will prevent the deal from happening or may totally unqualify the deal out of the pipeline. (I have never figured out why they regard that as a bad thing – doesn’t it make sense to stop wasting time on something you are never going to win?)

Pre-sales engineers believe that there is no such thing as too much Discovery. The more you learn about a customer the better you can target the demo/presentation/proof-of-concept. That’s true – up to a certain point. Repeating the questions that someone else may have asked, or simply asking them a different way, can really annoy the customer and make it look like there is no co-ordination. SEs also start to stray into deal qualification (do they have a budget?) which is the #1 way to annoy a rep as they hear that from their manager all the time.

The trouble is – there is no perfect line to be drawn between sales and presales responsibilities in this area. Given the usual sales:presales ratio it is virtually impossible for the SE to be included in every single first call or discovery call that sales conducts. There are not enough hours in the day. Plus the relationship between every account rep and every SE is different. Some reps are more technical than others and some SE’s are more business/sales oriented that others – you need to adjust.

My usual advice is this:

1.       Discovery is a mandatory and necessary phase of the sales cycle. It is not to be rushed through. It’s also a constant process as you should always be learning more about the customer in every interaction.

2.       Sales and Presales need to agree on what needs to be ‘Discovered’ before a demo / presentation / pitch takes place.

3.       It doesn’t matter who does it, or if it is a combination of rep/SE – as long as it is done well.

4.       If you don’t understand why the customer might want to buy from you, and what the business drivers are behind the technology decision – then you shouldn’t move into the next phase of the sales cycle. Known collectively as The Dash To Demo, The Push to Present or the Sprint to Solution.

5.       Put a simple process in place to capture the info agreed upon in (2)

The outcome will be much better sales calls (and probably fewer of them) , less unqualified deals, a better pipeline and fewer back-to-back-to-back-to-back demos by SEs. Everyone wins.