The 7 Rules of Sales Engineering – The Review

coverSE Director, and now author, Jay Kiros set out to write a book that could convey his essential lessons learned about being an SE. Targeted at the busy Sales Engineer, these lessons are packaged in a simple to digest set of 7 rules.

Jay was nice enough to send me a copy. Being that I only review SE-centric content, it’s been a while since I had to chance to dive into a new book. At about 40 pages (in long form PDF), it was a quick and straightforward read. For the average senior SE out there with more than a few years’ experience, you can digest these concepts on a single plane ride. Newer SEs should be pausing for contemplation more often.

What I loved the most about the book is that I’m hoping it heralds the next form of maturing the practice of Sales Engineering. Jay had a problem of how to artfully convey a lot of very time/industry specific process and best practice for his own engineers. His solution was to codify something that could be given to someone coming on board to make training them easier, but then also making that artifact available for the rest of us to consume on our own.

While the other three main books on the subject of Sales Engineering attempt to run the whole gamut of the role and are (by nature) generic on many aspects of implementation, this book is largely geared at the SE who has to sell a fairly complicated product on which the product demo plays the determining role in the sales cycles.

If your product demo was the key in winning a deal, how should you approach that demo?

Jay’s answer is the 7 rules: Understanding the features of your product, knowing how your competitors relate to those features, gaining insight into what features your clients actually need, scripting it out like a pro, knowing the proper way to convey your features, nailing the narrative of the demo, and finally how to be memorable in your delivery.

Three good things – The Feature Map
In any treatise such as this, what you get out of it depends on what you bring with you. I like frameworks and procedures that help me organize information I need to remember. Jay makes the case that in order to script the most effective demo, you have to know 3 points on a chart: your features, how your competition compares, and which ones your client cares about. Laid out like he recommends below, it becomes a trivial connect-the-dot exercise as to what to show.

Capture

Being that most of us have evaluation guides, comparison matrices, and battlecards already, most of the work may already be laid out for you; you just need to capture the clients wishes.

The Tradeshow Demo
I guess both of us really dislike these rapid fire indiscriminate demos. For me, they wear me out, and they rarely end up going anywhere. Jay has a great idea: Just schedule them every so often. So instead of doing 12 ho-hum demos, schedule 7, one every hour. Spend the rest of the time qualifying and focusing on the real opportunities that present themselves. This prevents you from doing demos to people just so they feel ok asking for a t-shirt, and if the prospect comes back later, you have two touch points and you know they’re really interested.

Be Prepared
Jay goes off on a completely needed detour to discuss tactics to ensure you can recover from disaster when it strikes. I’ve always been leery of demos that relied on too many moving parts, unnecessary add ons, or had a heavy reliance on timing to work. Jay goes even further and suggests how to be recoverable from laptop/drive failures, corrupted VMs, and the like. He’s got me thinking how I could use a checkup here myself. I’ve got my own trick I’ll write about in the near future.

Three Things to be Aware Of
First, this is not a treatise on the SE role as whole. It is very focused on getting you prepped for, and delivering a differentiated demo. Even senior SEs will find something new here for them.

Second, don’t fall into the trap that because the layout is very plain and practical that you are in fact already doing it. Even as a refresher to SEs who have been demoing the same product for a while: Give the matrix tool/process a shot. I caught myself the other day in a bake off demo, and there was 2 differentiated features I wanted to cover in depth, but I let my audience get too much control over the direction and didn’t really get to cover it. Better planning up front would have helped me here.

Third, go easy on the “magic” section. A little goes a very long way. I’ll put it this way, I’ve seen way more SEs that caused me to think “I wouldn’t buy anything from that guy, ever” by trying to use these sales tactics, than SEs who would have talked me into a deeper look because of their use of them. My advice: Add one small thing, then get feedback. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

My Conclusion
If you’re in your first few years of an SE role, there’s a lot of value here, especially if your product line is complicated and demos reign supreme. For the industry vets out there, I spent a couple hours on it and was very glad I did so. I think you would too.

My hats off to Jay for putting this together. I hope he becomes a trendsetter with a lot of other managers (or SEs!) out there publishing some of their best practices. You can pick up a copy from Amazon here: http://amzn.com/B00I7I9JL8