What can you (SE’s) stop doing in the new year?

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If you’ve seen one too many posts on resolutions for the coming year like I have, I’m sure the last thing you want to see is another list of things to add to your growing stack of todo’s. So I wanted to take the opposite frame and list out some things you can safely stop doing to gain some much needed time back to focus on things you want to start doing.

In no particular order:

  • No first discussion calls – Stop attending calls where it’s the first interaction your sales team has had with a prospect. If your rep or inside guy hasn’t spent at least 20 minutes gathering basic qualification information, don’t get on the phone
  • No RFP responses! – UNLESS you helped create it with the prospect in the first place
  • No support calls – Spending time on support calls with existing customers is not the best use of your time
  • No unqualified demos – If the prospect won’t agree to a brief needs analysis call prior, they are sent to your weekly webinar and not a 1:1 demo. Don’t have one? Create it.
  • Stop writing redundant emails – Take the time to create exceptional email templates
  • Stop responding to after-hours emails – Unless a customer’s systems are down, it can wait until morning
  • No agenda, no meeting – If that internal meeting has no detailed agenda which involves you personally, skip it. Some companies like Apple, Google, and Visa have mandated this company-wide
  • No defined budget, no POC – Unless there is a specific budget amount the prospect has assigned to your project and you know what it is, do not proceed with a POC
  • No buying criteria, no POC – If the prospect won’t work with you to define their buying criteria, do not proceed with a POC
  • Forget the roadmap – Stop worrying about where your product is going outside of some high level objectives. Instead, use roadmap questions as an opportunity to bring product managers in to qualified opportunities

While there are exceptions to any rule, the benefit of this type of review is to see how far you can push these principles in your own situation to free up time for more productive activities.


As an aside, this will be one of the last posts on The Sales Engineer. There are many developments afoot, so look forward to an announcement next month on newer and bigger things. I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous FY17!

 

500 Connections and a Picture, period.

used-car-salesmanI came across this article a few weeks back and it got me thinking about how SEs leverage (or don’t leverage) social media. I’m pretty sure that just about every SE in the world uses LinkedIn, even if it’s just to find out a bit of background about a company before a meeting.

But I know from experience that there is a significant portion–maybe 20% or more–that don’t actively manage their own profiles. The minimum bar for all the reasons mentioned in Keenan’s post are: actively connecting to people, keeping your job history up-to-date, and (yes) a picture.

If you are a librarian or an accountant for example, I don’t see you needing to spend as much effort building an online presence. But, to be frank, if your resume comes across my desk for an SE (read: sales) position, and you don’t have a picture and have only 80 connections, what am I supposed to think about your abilities to represent our company in the best possible light?

And I would argue the above criteria are the absolute minimum bar. As presales we have several possibilities to help build credibility in the minds of both potential employers and our customers:

  • Writing on sales-related topics
  • Writing on technical-related topics
  • Sharing industry news and events
  • Contributing to group discussions
  • Re-sharing company announcements (do this sparingly and only on valuable content)
  • Filling out your accomplishments (certs, technical competencies, courses you’ve completed, etc.)

I generally don’t need a reminder to do this as I’m frequently on LinkedIn and other services for daily business, but if you have a hard time incorporating these into your schedule, put something on your calendar like Friday early afternoon when you typically have office time to spend 20 minutes contributing content.

Some groups to help get you started:

  • Sales Engineering Professionals – https://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=160398&goback=&trk=prof-groups-membership-name
  • Engineers in Sales – https://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2331982
  • Sales Best Practices – https://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=35771
  • Presales Professionals – https://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=64542
  • SE Certification – https://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=3296013
  • Technical Sales Group – https://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=81075

Comments here.

Commitments

commitment

How often do you get “commitments” from others that are:

a) Noncommittal – “I’ll try to get that for you by Friday”
b) Vague – “It should take 1-3 weeks to get a response” or my personal favorite “We’ll be by your home between 9a and 2p”
c) Broken – The data you were promised on Thursday got there on Monday

I know, it happens all the time. There is good news here though. The good news is that since so many people break their commitments, it’s generally built into peoples’ expectations, so if you happen to “miss” it generally isn’t the end of the world. Even better, if you’re a rare person that doesn’t suffer from this syndrome, you will absolutely shine in front of others in your career.

So, what should you be doing as an SE to build that trust? Here is what I recommend:

  • Be definitive – I will get you an answer. Remove “try” and other worthless terms from your vocabulary
  • Be specific – I will get you that answer by Thursday.
  • Remove slack – Every project manager used to be taught to add 10% time to every task. Every employee already does this when estimating time. The result is enormous bloat because people allow the urgent but non important tasks to fill up slack time. If you think it should take a day max to get a response, set that expectation. Which leads to:
  • Build in urgency – Is it necessary that you always follow up with a customer within a day? Some would say no. I say there is generally no good reason why you can’t back to a prospect within a day. Worst case, you can:
  • Get an extension – You will not always get your answer within a day, but when there is some unforeseen complication, just get back to them quickly and explain the complication and provide a new estimate. It happens, people are understanding, just make sure you provide them the WHY. It makes all the difference in the world. More on this in an upcoming article.

So what’s the absolute best response you can provide when you don’t know an answer to a question: “I don’t know, but I will have an answer to you by tomorrow at the latest.”

And then deliver.

Comments here.

Don’t Be This Guy

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Click for larger image

While I have gone through a fairly rigorous set of writing/grammar classes in the past, I don’t consider myself a grammar nazi. Those who live in glass houses and all…

But there is a definite time and place to ensure that your communications (both verbal and non) are crisp and as perfected as possible. When I was just getting started in my professional career I would sluff off comments that a slide or email communication had some spelling or grammar errors. After all, when I sat through presentations they didn’t bother me at all.

As you meet with more and more customers you will eventually come to realize that there are those that 1) notice, and 2) care a lot about these things. Even folks like myself that are pretty lax start to raise an eyebrow if there are more than a couple errors in a slide deck.

And there is one group/situation in particular that should be hyper sensitive to accurate communications: managers and those helping screen applicants for job hires.

Enter: This Guy

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Normally I don’t like to pick on individuals for posts, but if there was EVER a time to use proper language, it would be from someone asking for a job contact. Recruiters/HR are paid to find reasons not to send your resume along. Don’t make it easy for them!

What we should all take from examples like this is that people perceive us by the words we use and how we use them. Take the time to scrub your presentations, or better yet have a fresh set of eyes do it. Take the time to reread that important email a few times to make sure it’s perfect. Take the time to rehearse the beginning and ending of that important presentation. And, most importantly, be extra diligent when communicating with anyone who may have a say on whether you’re hired.

Comments here.

Are you carrying your weight?

CaptureIf you really want to up your game and look good while doing it, I have an exercise for you.

I’m assuming that on a somewhat regular basis, you finish up after a hard day/week/quarter and you feel exhausted but you’re just not sure where your time went or what you got accomplished. Depending on your rep assignments and manager, you may also be fielding many questions about why you can’t take on additional work/meetings/projects/etc.

I set out to give you a hand with that.

Download the file in this post and have a look. It will, by category, give you a simple way to see where all your time is going during the day.

Here’s what I recommend you do:

  1. Download the file and put it somewhere on your system where you’ll see it several times throughout the day
  2. Put a 0-minute calendar entry at 4p every day to remind you to finish logging your time for the day
  3. Every time you come across the file in your daily activities, simply input the time usage up to that point in the day
  4. Record entries in no more that 15 minute intervals (enter a .25 in the spreadsheet). Don’t get crazy
  5. Rinse and repeat until the month is out and then tally the results

You’re going to see two things emerge right away:

  1. You’re not spending as much time with customers as you thought you were (real work)
  2. Going through the exercise gives you incentive to focus on your high-value activities

You probably won’t want to share it with anyone after the first time through. That’s cool. Try it again next month and see if you can get it more in line with something you’d be proud of. THEN share it with your manager or reps. Preface it like: “FYI, I found this tool here at this website and gave it shot, thought you might be interested in the output. I’d really like to be spending more time doing X, but a lot of my time is being taken up by Y. We should chat about that next 1:1…”

That is absolutely SE Management GOLD, and a great way to demonstrate seniority.

Some initial targets to shoot for (that I’m completely guessing at right now based on a few calendar reviews):

  • 50% customer-facing activities (first 4 columns)
  • 25% competency
  • 25% admin/other

I think all of us would LOVE to get that % to 80/10/10, I just don’t see that as realistic.

SE Managers:
As much as I know you’d like to mandate this across your team, I would refrain. Your team will be pissed off and wonder what your real motivation is. Best case you get 100% compliance but you won’t be able to trust the results. Better to find a casual way to drop it in conversation that you saw the tool, or maybe go to your top guy and ask if he alone would do it as a side project for some drinks or dinner out.

Download here:

Time Tracker for SEs

Hi, and you are…?

2d72eca66a2eaa9fb1a8f98a5cac5a32I came across this really good quote on LinkedIn the other day. Of course, while that sounds all well and good, until that time: how we are introduced (or how we introduce ourselves) is supremely more important than most realize.

Please rewind to your last joint sales call with your rep. After he (or she) introduced himself, what did he say about you? Consider two introductions during your next demo:

Option A (most typical)

“With me is Darrin, he’s my SE and will take you through the demo today.”

Option B

“With me today is Darrin. Darrin and I have worked together for the past two years. He has spent over 15 years in the widget industry. He came to us from <respectable company xyz> where he was in charge of their field implementations. He’s also got <this certification or achievement> and he is one of the top experts in this space. I had Darrin come in today specifically because I know you guys are super good at what you do and will want to go very deep to fully understand our technology.”

 

Now, before you go off thinking this is just SE-porn that couldn’t actually happen, think about this from your reps point of view if they start doing this:

  1. Establishes your credibility right off the bat which makes the audience more receptive to your message
  2. Wins them points with the customer for a) making the extra effort of bringing in an “expert” to talk with them, and b) showing genuine appreciation for technical abilities–something almost everyone in the audience has
  3. Establishes that your firm can and does employ top talent, meaning the solution must be top notch as well

In short, this should be an easy sell to your rep, most SEs just never think to have the conversation.

 

Top Ten Things That Irked Us in 2013

11315570-largeNot to be outdone by the ad nauseam attempts to create click-worthy, year-end lists, I have created a tongue-in-cheek look at the top ten things that probably gave each of us a stir in 2013. As an added constraint, each of these items had to come across my desk this year, either via friend or through a reader question. So enjoy; and my best wishes for your success in 2014!

  1. The worthless title – Implement 10 grades of an SE ranging from Associate to Master Principal Grand Pubah which are artificially used to show career growth, but that don’t actually materially change the pay or responsibilities of the SE ascending the imaginary corporate ladder.
  2. Just so we’re clear – As a rep, you are cc’d on an email to your SE from the customer. You immediately privately email your SE giving them step-by-step instructions on how to solve the problem or respond to the email. Because, you know, your SE earns a decent 6-figure income and still doesn’t know how to respond to a basic customer request.
  3. Ask, but ignore – As a PM, you solicit feedback from the SE team, then when you get feedback contrary to your plans, you justify your original intention and ignore the feedback from the field. Bonus points: You make the SE feel stupid for even bringing it up.
  4. Hoard – As an SE you get a good piece of insight from Support or PM, but you of course keep that nugget to yourself. So when your compadre runs into the same issue onsite with a customer, you can ride to the rescue rather than helping prevent that issue in the first place.
  5. Yes, Sir! – As an SE manager, you insist that your SE’s follow the sales process religiously without any exceptions or deviations. Because of course the sales process is perfect and is the correct solution in 100% of the cases. Which leads me to:
  6. Huh, What? – Assume your SE is there to follow orders and to deliver the full marketing slide presentation to the customer without modification. Extra credit for dressing them down on your weekly staff call!
  7. This is Great! But it sucks – Ask your SE to deliver a pet project for the Sales VP or CxO, then when the result is delivered, you proceed to declare it worthless (in a nice way of course) and then write a 3 page email of how it should have been done correctly the first time.
  8. Thanks for volunteering, Mr L. – At Sales QBR, ask for feedback on a particular topic. Whoever responds gets stuck with the action item to fix it. Way to encourage dialog! Aside: I was always VERY guilty of this as a manager; hopefully I’ve gotten better.
  9. RFP bomb – As a rep: “I know we don’t have a shot in hell at winning this 256 page RFP, but my VP will shit his pants if I tell him we’re not responding, so I’m gonna need you to come on in on Saturday to finish this up, mmm kay”
  10. Lone Ranger Award – A big new deal comes in for the company. Public congratulations to the rep abound from the CEO on down. Looking at the emails, you surmise the rep is a miracle worker and pulled this through single handedly. You’re totally stoked for them. Then you realize you actually spent weeks working the POC, Support and Engineering worked that weekend to provide that critical bug fix, and PM agreed to commit that stupid feature request to the roadmap even though they’re the only customer that will ever need it. You write 4-5 appreciative emails to those parties that helped you bring in your deal and pray they didn’t see the emails from sales.

Bonus points: You work at a company that won’t let you take time off in December because it’s the last month in the fiscal and you MUST be available at all costs, even though you know you won’t hear from your rep for two weeks.


Even though all of us have experienced at least a couple of these during the year, I always find this is a great time to reflect on what a great job we have overall. I’m hoping you review the list, have a good laugh at your own expense, enjoy the holidays, and position yourself to have a great 2014.

Cheers everyone.