Death By Committee

committee-meetingMaybe it’s just me, but it seems like more and more product/buying decisions are being delegated to large cross functional groups or formal committee’s. Now, this is likely due to procurement changes that have been implemented post recession. But selling to groups presents a unique challenge to sales teams and SEs that require special considerations. I personally dislike this scenario, but here we are.

I dislike the scenario because I believe that relying on a committee is an overly conservative approach that, in aggregate, greatly slows innovation in all departments–but decidedly so in R&D and IT organizations. From an SE perspective, it makes the job of determining the highest priority business problems and technical drivers difficult, as opinions within the group will vary greatly.

When you have a key decision maker or technical evaluator, you can focus–laserlike–on only the important use cases. Conversely, every member of a committee will have their pet criteria, and ignoring any of them may loose you votes, even if they don’t align to the broader organizational goals.

To net this out: You always had groups involved in the buying decision, but now each of those members has a direct vote.

This makes it critical that we’re on our game in terms of our fundamental ability to navigate these political waters. In a recent discussion with some reps, here is what we came up with for some good tactics to implement. These can be used on every opp, but are especially valuable when you’re selling into a Fortune 500, Govt, or committee-based buying center:- In every meeting, especially those with many participants, take the time to get everone’s name, organizational affilitation, and role

  • If you know a meeting will be large ahead of time, schedule in 10 minutes to make sure both sides understand proper introductions are part of the agenda. If you don’t, you risk alienating participants
  • Follow up after the fact with each committee member to “make sure you had a chance to answer all of their questions and understand his/her particular criteria–given the short amount of time on the initial call”. Your goal is to treat this person with the same attention as the committee chair or reporting director. Too often, certain group members are ignored by Sales because they didn’t speak up much in the meeting to command their attention. It would be our mistake to assume these members didn’t have something unique they brought to the equation.
  • Learn who each committee member will leverage or consult in formulating their opinion. Often, it will be 1-2 folks who aren’t on the committee themselves
  • Determine the pecking order of the committee. You can’t spend equal time with everybody, so make sure you are directing your communication efforts to those in the best position to act on them. I’m not a fan of playing politics because of its propensity to backfire, but not understanding political realities is also equally detrimental
  • Arm your supporters with inside information. Use private information such as non-published technical collateral, competitive writeups, and most importantly insider industry data affecting your market. Coach your supporters on how to get the most out of this. Example, if a top notch think tank publishes insights on your market that puts you in a favorable light, that committee member should be distributing that to the whole group as though they found it. Essentially you’re helping them build credibility for their opinions they can tap later

You and your rep should each be aware of these factors and tactics and discuss the game plan to execute. As the SE, you should be focused on understanding the specific committee members who the others will likely turn to for technical validation or leadership. You should also be making the followup calls to those members as well as the confidants the members will turn to for validation. You should also be sending (or suggesting) that specific collateral and resources get sent to specific individuals as you uncover more information about the committee dynamics.

SE Managers: Consult with marketing so that the whole sales team is receiving (and can contribute to) a running list of indistry validation articles that they can send out to prospects as needed. Unless you’re at a bigger firm with depth in technical product marketing, SEs will need to pitch in and help curate this content.

Other suggestions? Comment 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

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.

Seamless Integration with your Account Team

How well you communicate with your reps is a key determinant to your worth in a sales organization. It determines how well you’re aligned, the level of mutual trust, and ultimately how effective you are in your accounts. Given its importance, I’m surprised at how little thought goes into managing this more closely. I think many SEs feel they get to take a backseat to the discussion and simply wait for their reps to call them. Now, if you’re looking for a sure-fire way to get top of mind with your account teams while demonstrating leadership to management, read on.

Being that all of us have by now established the critical practice of a weekly review, leveraging your broader account teams for input into your process will greatly ease much of your decision-making effort. If it seems obvious that you should have a weekly review with your account teams that mirror your own review schedule, you’re already functioning at a high level of self-direction.

Before going further, understand that your rep is indeed accountable for the communications of the sales team. If you have a senior rep, they will have already organized some sort of review schedule that works best for them. This is ideal and you can simply plug right in. For now, we’ll assume you’re working with a newer rep or just coming into a sales team. Here’s some things you can initiate immediately:

  • Bring together all of the technical resources working on your accounts. This includes support and consulting personnel with active engagements or escalations. Schedule this weekly or as needed
  • Create a whitespace with all of your assigned accounts. Note deployment counts, active opportunities (such as status of POCs), escalations, and services engagements for each customer
  • Solicit these team members in the creation of the document. Note that many larger firms will have ready-made templates as part of the CRM or forecasting tool

While it is certainly optimal to collaborate with your rep on this document, you can manage it yourself if required. You can slowly reel other account team members into the process over time.

  • Ask your rep to review your document and add any holes or clarify any points you might be off on
  • Then determine what the top priorities are for the quarter and for the year. While this intuitively boils down to the largest opportunities, there is some nuance here. For example, there may be a large opportunity that the rep feels able to win on reference or political advantage. A smaller opportunity might be a highly competitive technical shootout. S/he is going to want you more focused on the latter
  • The output of this exercise for you is an active project list that can now be prioritized and worked into your systems

After the document is done, I also recommend reviewing this with your manager (assuming there is a dedicated SE management role).

  • Let them know early the process you’re working. They may be able to point you to specific templates they’ve used before
  • Once completed, incorporate it as part of the agenda for your periodic meetings (or status emails) as s/he desires
  • Word of caution: the last thing you want is to create a rift between you and your rep because you’re sharing details that the rep was not (intentionally) communicating to sales management. You can set that as a group rule when you undertake this with your rep

After it’s been going (well, hopefully) for a number of months, you can offer to your manager to present your process at the next SE meeting. Your goal here is to show some leadership, and help smooth the way for other SEs who may have had a harder time getting their reps to the table for a discussion.

For SE managers, you can help the process greatly by establishing a formal periodic technical opportunity review with your team. Collaborate with the district manager to enable you’re synced up. It looks better if the message comes down from the sales side whenever possible.

Finishing Strong

As the end of the quarter and most fiscal years come to a close, SEs typically benefit from having a few extra cycles around this time of year. Notwithstanding the obvious benefits of catching up on some quality family or personal time, there are some housekeeping and nice-to-have projects that can benefit from your attention to help ensure you’re hitting the new year at full speed. [Read more…]

From Dud to Stud in 90 Days – Part III: Account Management and More

I hate to say it, but if you can’t establish yourself as a valuable technical and industry resource to your customers, you have no business speaking with them. That’s why it’s so critical to establish a minimal base of product and industry knowledge before you start engaging with your new accounts.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t listen in with your account manager or shadow your SE-mentor. Actually, that’s the fastest way to learn. Just don’t jump in and insert yourself in to the lone-SE role before you’re ready. As they say about first impressions…

[Read more…]

From Dud to Stud in 90 Days – Product Knowledge

I recently had the pleasure of joining an awesome new company after my 10+ years with my previous employer. Though I had changed roles a few times, it’s been quite a while since I got a completely fresh new set of accounts and products to sell. Having had to spend a good deal of time figuring out the best way learn the technology as well as my new customer base, I want to discuss my lessons learned in determining the key ingredients in an SE onboarding (90-day) plan. [Read more…]