Friday, January 23, 2015

Is 2015 The Year Of Sales Engineering Leadership?

I have long maintained that first line leadership, whether as a sales or as a presales manager, is one of the hardest jobs in the company. You are responsible and accountable for so much, yet have little decision making authority. Add to that the fact that the management selection and promotion process is often “who is our best SE – let’s make him/her a manager so they can teach everyone else to be just like them” instead of “who would make the best leader, make smart decisions and motivate their team to obtain maximum efficiency?”

This means that first line managers often flounder and struggle in their new positions and don’t receive much guidance and training except perhaps for some generic HR stuff. This is where the sales and presales path tends to divide. Sales managers can attend coaching classes about negotiation, about mentoring, and about guiding reps in account review processes. The metrics that sales managers have to measure and are judged by are relatively simplistic and predominately monetary. Presales managers get … reheated sales training or sent back to that generic HR material …  and no clue as to how to run presales as a business.

For years I have had a passion about SE leadership as it is one of the few things I miss about the corporate world. I sure don’t miss waking up in the morning wondering which of my SE’s want to quit, who had a fight with a rep, who skipped training, who apparently “screwed up” a deal etc… And every year I run maybe one or two SE leadership oriented sessions with an “enlightened” client.
That is now changing in 2015.

Already, here at MTS, we have four SE leadership sessions booked, and three more that I would be willing to forecast to my boss (if I had one). I’d also place another five or six early in the pipeline.

What is happening?

I don’t believe that I, or my business partners in Singapore, have suddenly gotten smarter about how to pitch and sell the requirement for this kind of training.. No .. you, the collective SE/High Tech community have suddenly realized that you have been significantly under-investing in a key component of your sales force. One of my more famous analogy quotes is “Sales Engineering is the oil that keeps the sales engine running smoothly”. If you believe that the #1 job of a SE Manager is to develop and serve their people then maybe the manager is both the filter that keeps the oil clean and the mechanic that ensures it is regularly topped up and doing its job.

It seems that 2015 is shaping up to be the year of improvement for the SE Leader – and maybe we can rid ourselves of that horrible “Player/Coach” position whilst we are at it!”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Technical Win : A Worthless Metric?

I have always disliked the concept that Sales Engineers are responsible for winning the technical sale
and gaining the Technical Win. During my pre-MTS career as a presales leader anyone in my organization who spent a lot of time talking about The Technical Win (TW) was generally met with a withering glare and a statement like “Where in your compensation plan does it say that you get paid on the Technical Win?”. It’s an intermediate point in the sales process – at best.

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” is mentioned. Many SE organizations measure and publish their Technical Win Rate for RFPs, Proof of Concepts and Trial/Evaluations. This month I will examine the Technical Win (TW) and determine if it is real, if you should care, and what the metric tells you.

 A VP of Sales Engineering at a large software company told me his POC Technical Win rate was 82%, yet the Business Win rate (generating revenue) was only 59%. I asked if his team was directly compensated for a Technical Win. They are not. My point exactly. But you can learn something from the statistics.

The Technical Win

The strict definition of a TW is when you are informed, in writing, that your solution has been accepted and judged superior to that of your competition. For example, you may have scored a 13/14 on a POC evaluation compared to an 11/14 by your competitor.

Most SE organizations have a far looser definition, which may only require you to complete a POC or trial by meeting the success criteria. Acceptance may also come in verbal fashion. Recording of the TW may be as simple as checking a box on a screen in salesforce with no proof. An exasperated Regional VP of Sales based in Hong Kong once told me that in his opinion the TW was the equivalent of not losing – which is very different from winning.

 By contrast, the Business Win is definitive and measurable – as it will result in the generation in revenue flowing from the customer to your company, and eventually, one hopes, into your personal bank account. You are paid to generate business that will cause a purchase order to be issued.

Should You Care About The Technical Win?

Another way of looking at the TW is that it says to everyone that the SE organization did its job and the sales force did not. This is hardly the best way to promote teaming between sales and pre-sales. I have always believed that pre-sales is also responsible for the Business Win, just as sales has some responsibility for the Technical Win.

Given the incredible focus that most organizations currently have on Selling Solutions instead of Selling Products it is hard to rationalize the justification of a Technical Win in that environment. Selling value means that you continually need to link your achievements in a proof, trial or evaluation to not only the technical criteria, but also to the business and financial criteria. Put simply, how does your solution increase revenue; decrease costs or mitigate business risk better than the other guy’s stuff? Technology and Business are inextricably linked.

It is an unpleasant fact (small startups aside) that the TW rate will always be higher than the BW rate. Companies can decide to do nothing, lose or move funding, make an acquisition, change market strategy, fire your internal champion or base their decision upon boardroom or golf course politics. The BW rate can underperform the TW rate by 20 or 30 percentage points.

The most important aspect of the TW versus the BW is why the difference occurs for each specific deal. Should an SE team successfully complete an onsite evaluation, but then generate no revenue because there was no executive sponsor, no budget or no agreement to consider a purchase – then that is a sales execution problem. However, that leaves the SE organization open to charges of execution errors every time they engage in a perfectly teed-up evaluation and lose. It is a two edged sword.

 How To Use The Technical Win Rate

1.      Measure a TW against a tight definition – with proof required from the participating SE team. Which means define your rules for a TW and then stick to them. No cheating or grey areas.

2.      Make TW an internal SE metric, which is never provided to sales unless accompanied by a fully prepared pre-sales executive. Given a statistically valid quantity, breakdown the numbers by geography, vertical, solution area and competitor and monitor the trends for a rolling period equivalent to your average sales cycle.

3.      When presented to sales, position the TW-BW difference as an opportunity to (a) close more deals; (b) highlight competitive or regional trends and (c) operate more efficiently.

4.      Investigate the reverse win. That’s when the SE team loses the TW but your company gains the BW. There are often patterns, especially around executive access or partner utilization, that can yield positive results the next time around.


When the SE organization is focused upon, and satisfied with, the Technical Win you are doing your company and your bank balance a disservice. It is a useful intermediate metric, and can promote a good discussion at the executive level, but should be selectively applied at a field level. If you are truly focused upon selling value, then look at a Solution Win – which is when both the business and the users accept your solution as being uniquely qualified to solve their problems.
Because no one is paid for a Technical Win.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

So What Happened To The January Newsletter?

It's late! We're actually going to publish the Mastering Technical Sales Edge next Tuesday - January 13th. But there is a really good reason, and it's worth explaining and it points out the power of making a change.

December 2013 was a crazy busy month for the company, which - coupled with a death in the family - didn't allow a lot of time to enjoy the holidays with my family and celebrate Christmas. It was all too hectic and rushed. So one of my 2014 resolutions was to improve my work/life balance. Now I think I have one of the best jobs in the world, and although I travel a lot (150,000 miles in 2014), I really do get to spend a lot of time with my wife, Allison, and with two of my children. Just not before and during the Christmas of 2013.

I vowed I would do better. And instead of a vague "do better" I made a series of micro-resolutions. (See Book of the Year - Small Move, Big Change for more details). One of them involved not working on certain days or when my wife was off work. Circumstances meant that I spent a lot of wonderful time with friends and family - and didn't write. Hence the late delivery. It's a good reason. The good news is that one of my 2015 micro-resolutions is that I will blog/write at least twice per month. (Instead of saying I will blog more - which means nothing.)

There is already some new content on the website. You'll find my annual list of suggested 2015 New Years Resolutions For the Sales Engineer. (Which also apply for the Year of the Sheep) I'm also going to take another look at The Technical Win which is a term I absolutely hate and think drives a wedge between sales and sales engineers.

During February I'm going to write something up about useful presales metrics and the fallacy of metrics. Books on the list over the next few months include The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Wiser (Making Groups Smarter) by Prof Cass Sunstein. If there are any other books out there you'd like to recommend to me please email or leave a comment.