Why Google Sucks

googleWhen I first got started in this business you really had to know your stuff cold. That meant that you couldn’t rely on every possible answer to a technical question being just a Google search away. I was, just like our customers, forced to memorize a lot of pedantic technical data.

I recognize this has a sort of “get off my lawn” sort of overtone. But you know what, I’m really glad in a way. Today, it’s all too easy to rely on the Internet Crutch to answer our questions on demand. Temptation is everywhere, and for up-and-comers to high technology this represents a real problem.

This problem is especially pronounced for SEs. You only get a few hall passes per meeting where you can answer “I don’t know, let me get back to you on that” before your credibility is damaged. There is palpable pressure to know it all without coming across as a know-it-all. I think I can help you with the first part.

I recently found myself involved in a similar version of this conversation with a colleague for the nth time. It seems to come up A LOT. Every time I find myself making a similar recommendation, and goes something like:

“There’s a book I read a while ago–actually a gift from a family member–that had a really great impact on my ability to remember and recall all sorts of information I find important, especially names, acronyms, and technical data.”

At this point folks get pretty interested, mainly because I think it’s a very universal skill we all wish we were better at. The book is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. It recounts the author’s journey from covering the World memory Championship as a journalist through his experiences becoming a participant.

It is beyond this article to cover all of the techniques discussed, but suffice it to say it spawned my reading of several other books on memory development. The key takeaway: Memorization is skill like anything else, nothing more–the implication being that anyone can learn to have a fantastic memory. It may not help you remember where you parked your car at the airport, but if you want to learn the name of all the countries of the world or remember those OSI layers, this is the place to start.

So the next time you catch a colleague trying to justify why they didn’t memorize something (instead preferring to “Google-it” as needed), please send this link, they’ll be glad you did.

Comments here.

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

From Dud to Stud in 90 Days – Part II: Industry and Competitive

Part I  covered the best way to attain basic product knowledge as a new SE. In this article we cover the best way to increase your industry knowledge which is critical in establishing your credibility while allowing you to begin differentiating yourself for your competition.

In your first 90 days you need to have the product basics down. With at least that skill you can parrot the work of others and begin to articulate the message to customers. In of itself that’s not enough to sustain your growth and establish your greater credibility to the customer. You need to understand their language, typical buying criteria, how you compare to  the market, and be able to educate the customer on how similar companies have solved that problem.

[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…]

Enabling Your Channel – Part II

In Channel Enablement – Part I, we laid out some air cover for the territory SE to demonstrate responsibilities best owned by corporate. In Part II, I want to both recap how an SE should be contributing to corporate channel initiatives as well as show what functions an SE should manage on their own within their region.

[Read more…]

Enabling Your Channel – Part I

For most SEs, part of your responsibility includes supporting your channel partners. These partners are a direct extension of your sales coverage. In large companies there are teams of SE’s dedicated to these functions. For most, however, this responsibility falls to the local territory account team and SE. In this two-part article we’ll first explore ways to manage this organizationally and secondly how to manage this locally.

[Read more…]

Review – Great Demo!

In a departure from the pure SE-specific book reviews I decided to tackle a book I came across a while ago and wanted to get around to reading. Great Demo! is a book that provides a process for delivering highly targeted demos to your customers.

As part of the review I also had the opportunity to speak to the author—Peter Cohan—about the book. Most of that conversation has been summarized in the Q&A section.

Note: There are chapters on presentation and evaluations but I left them off the review as I feel these sections are better covered in other, more specific texts.

Great Demo!
Paperback: 308 pages
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (April 5, 2005)
ISBN-10: 059534559X

Content Review

What is Great Demo?

In a very congruent fashion Cohan begins the book with the premise that a great demo begins with the last thing first. That is to say you should begin your demo with the most compelling screen, report, data point, etc. right up front and then build out your story from there.

Once you’ve shown the best screen, circle back around and briefly show the audience how you were able to arrive at that screen

Then, end by circling back around one more time in greater detail with the entire demo not lasting more than 30 minutes. In our conversation he noted we are victims of momentum which cause demos to always grow longer. Resist this temptation.

In my experience the related concepts of getting to the point and performing brief demos are of extreme value but are unfortunately rarely practiced in software sales.

In speaking with Cohan there were two things that brought him to this idea. Because he got his start as a chemist he spent a lot of time reading research papers—many with no “executive summary”—having to skip to the end was frustrating. The other “ah ha” moment came (like me) as a customer buying software. Both of us having wasted so much time in demos both realized a highly targeted message is best.

Why Do Demos Fail?

Here is a very long list of reasons why demos fail. It includes the themes of lack of qualification, technical preparation, or “story.”

I have to apologize to my former reps because I’m pretty sure I did every single one of them over my career.

What Happens if the Demo Fails?

The key take away is that the cost of an ineffective demo costs far more than at first glance. There is the obvious set back in the current opportunity, but there are also opportunity costs, travel and other expenses, your time, your customers time and other future prospects from that company.

If you are selling anything more involved than simple utilities, it just doesn’t take much to break the 7 figure mark.

Your Customer

If beginning with the end is the first tenet of the book, I would classify this as the second. Cohan spends a great deal of time on the topic of identifying critical business issues (CBIs) and specific capabilities (your ability to solve the CBI). The real insight here is that you should be looking at specific CBIs and mapping them all the way up to the CEO (The Chain of Pain).

Example: If a sales rep isn’t making his number, it impacts the district number, region, and overall revenue. Spend time quantifying and qualifying that with others in your prospect so that the value all the way up the food chain is known. If it isn’t, you’ve got an early warning you may not have a qualified opportunity.

These relationships and prework are the foundation for what you focus on for your demo.

The Great Demo

The layout of the demo should be:

  1. Present the illustration
  2. Do it
  3. Do it again
  4. Q&A
  5. Summarize

The illustration(s) are determined by the CBI and your specific capability. Stick to the most important, qualified, business issue and do not stray.

I very much like this layout and the precision of the message. The demo is definitely the worst opportunity to conduct product training!

Sales Preparation

There is a series of 7 things a rep should be doing to adequately prepare for a successful demo. These include identifying the CBIs, creating the Chain of Pain, and determining the objective and key points to be shown during the demo.

I really like how each of these are shown with examples that you can communicate to your rep. All too often we’re expected to show up and demo on the fly which leads to far less impactful demos and results in showing the canned walkthrough.

I agree that it’s hugely important to keep your rep involved in all phases of the sale, including meetings where you are driving. Having clearly defined roles up front can provide excellent continuity.

Technical Preparation

Rather than go through each of the objectives and CBIs one by one, the SE needs to weave and tell a relevant story to the customer. There are 11 steps broken down in the chapter I would summarize as:

  1. Research – Make your demo points relevant specifically to your customer
  2. Arrange logistics – There’s a nice checklist for pre-meeting logistics
  3. Prepare your demo script – Much more detail regarding the layout
  4. Practice and refine – Practice to yourself and in front of sales team to get feedback
  5. Confirm logistics – Don’t waste your effort because you forgot to confirm a projector would be available!

Managing Time and Questions

Cohan addresses answering 3 types of questions/objections.

Great Questions
These are questions that should be answered right away. They are defined as questions that lead you naturally along your demo.

Good Questions
These questions may be insightful but are not relevant to the flow of your demo. Park them for later, time permitting. It gives you a great way to conclude your original meeting slot and continue on if specific parties need a question addressed.

Stupid Questions
For our purposes, there are no stupid questions from customers. Treat them in the same manner as good questions.

I’ve always had trouble with good questions. I have a tendency to want to answer it on the spot and move on. Through many derailed meetings I have come to the same conclusion. It takes a lot of practice to catch yourself doing it and I always recommend you have your rep help catch you in the act and note it down for your post-op.

Remote Demonstrations

The best take away from this chapter is to find a way to keep your remote demo interactive. There are many good tips including:

  • Switching between slide view and product
  • Use virtual pens or other highlighting devices
  • Ask questions (probably more than you normally would)
  • Use polling and other webinar features to collect group feedback
  • Have a audience member drive

I would caution you (as does Cohan) about having others drive. I might actually just skip that altogether. I see the benefit but I see the risk outweighing it 99% of the time.

Becoming a Demo Master

This chapter builds on the others and provides some guidance for those wishing to refine their message. There’s a lot here so I summarized some of the salient points I found valuable.

  • Know thy product – Explore every single option in the product and know what they do. This involves a lot of time with the product and manuals, but it gives you the greatest flexibility when navigating your product.
  • Complementary products – Many times complementary products are necessary to produce final deliverable the customer is after. Incorporating this into your demo provides the customer an end-to-end view of the product.
  • Competition – Know enough about your competitors to steer your demo in a way that simply highlights your competitive differences. We both agree you should not tackle them head on in most cases.
  • Know your customers – This is all about researching more about your customers’ needs than the next guy. The more preparation here the more relevant and impactful your demo will be.
  • Know your peers – Find the best and brightest SEs at your company and get together for Demo Days where you can share tactics. I highly recommend this practice.

Q&A with Peter

What was your experience like in putting together the book?

I worked hard to model the book’s structure along the lines of a Great Demo! – I was trying consciously to practice what I’m preaching.  The book is designed to introduce the most important concept right up front, and then enable the reader to “peel back the layers” in accord with his/her depth of interest. 

Have you seen any significant changes in the SE’s role of performing demos in the last 4 years?

Perhaps the greatest change I’ve seen recently is the growing use of the web to deliver demos (WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc.) – an area where many SE’s could be more effective (even if they are very strong in face-to-face situations).  I’ve focused a great deal of attention to this in my workshops.

A second change is the growing “toughness” of customers.  Customers are savvier, less forgiving, and are more careful in making decisions than before.  This has been exacerbated with the recent recession, as well.  Demos need to be more aligned and targeted than ever!

With the current recession, what are the techniques that are especially needed today?

You need to nail the process of communicating value to your customer in tangible metrics in terms of the delta. You must create a value calculator in conjunction with your customer to ensure you are using their numbers.

Although this seems unintuitive, I have seen much better results going for more targeted deals (i.e. less suites). Right now it is simply too likely that someone in your account will put a stop to the deal because of economic uncertainly and fear. The more targeted your deal, the fewer number of people need to be involved and the better chance you have of making it through the sales process. Start small, prove your value, and scale up the opportunity from there.

Recommendation

A sign of a good professional book to me is when you find yourself nodding in agreement because the recommendations are laid out in a way that simply makes it seem like common sense. I also recognized many of the follies I, myself have experienced over the years which will make it feel very relevant to any SE reading it.

I talked at length on this site about targeting your messaging—demo and otherwise. What this book gives you is a very clear, proven, step-by-step approach for accomplishing this task with your demos.

If you haven’t been practicing these techniques I can vouch that incorporating this advice will bring rapid and substantial changes in your success rates. For those already acclimated to these principles but lack (or are not aware of) a specific approach, this process can easily still bring you a 10% edge.

I also advocate SEs to study communicating, presenting, and demoing as specific domains of expertise because they are so critical to success. When you are ready to become an expert of the art of demonstrating products, this would be an excellent place to start. In short, make sure you add this to your library. I also recommend you review his website and blog for more information on the subject.

My thanks to Peter Cohan for taking the time to address our readership here at TSE.