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

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.

Review – The Evolving Sales Engineer

In my third book review I turn my attention to The Evolving Sales Engineer by Edward Levine.

The Evolving Sales Engineer
Hardcover: 252 pages
ISBN-10: 1598584146
2 Reviews on Amazon.com
5 star:    (2)
4 star:     (0)
3 star:     (0)
2 star:     (0)
1 star:     (0)

Managing the Evolving SE

The book is broken down into three sections. Section 1 focuses on strategies for SE managers to coach SEs into “evolved” status.

Assessing Current Talent

The first step involves ranking and counting your SEs based on how high up the food chain they interact. The four categories move from technical users to their managers to non-technical managers and finally VPs and above. The result is a broad pattern you can further investigate.

Charting Competencies

In suggesting the creation of a competency matrix, a rather detailed approach is illustrated. This begins with the list and grouping of critical SE skills. Compare each of these needs against their applicability to each of the four groups from the previous chapter. For each group, a separate list of each applicable skill is listed with meets/doesn’t meet checkbox.

Depending on which group you think the SE should be achieving at is the assessment level you use. For any lacking skills, then next assessment is an able/willing analysis. This forms the basis of the manager’s corrective approach.

What I like about this method is that it breaks up the typical 1-5 skill rating into multiple dimensions. When starting out I was pretty good at technical presentations but had much to learn about presenting to CXOs.

The down side is that some people may have the opposite problem. Comparison against the highest group only will cause you to miss blind spots lower on the chain. If you use this approach I recommend you make the comparison for each level to ensure nothing is missed.

Choosing and Developing Talent

After a brief look at the considerations to be made before searching for talent, interviewing styles are introduced. For SEs, situational questions are ideal. There is also a nice tie in to using the skills identified in the previous chapter is the basis for creating your situational questions.

For example if “Dealing with difficult meeting participants” is a required skill, your situational question would go something like this: “Tell me about a time you had a difficult meeting participant. What happened and how did you respond to the situation.”

Next, various types of training are explored. The big take away is the importance behind reinforcing your development programs. The need to continually emphasize and promote the program is the real way to affect long-term change.

I’m not a huge fan of situational questions; I rely almost exclusively on a combination of heavy screening based on references and in-person presentations. Then again, not everyone may have this luxury and may find it useful. I did like the idea of mapping these questions to your desired competency levels. I also couldn’t agree more about reinforcing development goals. I covered it in some detail here.

Coaching

The author makes the distinction that feedback is an event while coaching is a program. The important lesson is that this program needs to have defined goals and an action plan. He then outlines a recommended process of setting the climate, confirming understanding, being specific, co-creating an action plan, summarizing with benefits, and finally committing to follow up sessions.

One tip that I thought important was the need to craft your coaching around the personality of the coachee. I personally thrive on critical feedback and appreciate prescriptive recommendations. Others prefer a facilitative style. To be most effective you need to work within this mindset.

Coaching in general is something I’m a huge fan of, but honestly not good at following up on. I probably need to do some research on the subject. Though the word “SE” was used throughout, unfortunately I didn’t find much information specific to coaching the SE archetype which would have been infinitely more valuable.

Strategic Thinking

The second section focuses on critical thinking, creativity in the sales process, and understanding and dealing with complexities. To me this section is about understanding the motions rather than just going through them.

Being Perceived as Strategic

To condense the chapter, the basic messages are to be able to understand the business, the big picture, and to become trusted. The underlying idea is not to lead with technology, but with an understanding of the customer and being able to solve business problems with technology. Once you demonstrate competency with more than your own technology, you are perceived as being able to add a higher level of value. Assuming you demonstrate tact with confidential data, you then can also become a trusted advisor.

Mapping Client Organizations

Levine provides a three-part criteria model for mapping players in your opportunities. This includes the degree of decision authority they have, how much of a supporter they are, and whether they are threatened by the sale in any way. Using a combination of rating on each, you get a clearer idea about the map of the client

He emphasizes the need for simplicity in the model, which I agree with 100%. If you are without a sales methodology this may be useful. If your company has one, I would stick with that. Rather than doing this yourself, I would always use encourage the AE to manage the document with you providing input.

Reacting to Competition

Competition is a tricky subject. The chapter covers some of the basics including not bashing the competition, being able to position using competitive pitfalls, and not over asserting your knowledge of others’ products.

Of particular importance is the caution provided around contrasting features with the competition. Because you do not work for them you are surely not privy to specific roadmap elements and their own competitive positioning. In my experience this is has been a huge source of lost credibility for SEs that state something that contradicts what a prospect believes about the product, even if the SE is technically correct.

Understanding Office Politics

If there is one thing trickier than dealing with competitors it is dealing with politics. The author devotes significant time to this topic—more than I can cover here. Much of the advice would be found in books such as Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The key piece of advice is that when you meet customers you cannot be sure of their motivations. Because of this you need to be observant of their corporate culture and personal actions. There are some good example walkthroughs in the text.

In my experience, often when you see someone acting irrationally, it is only because you don’t know enough about the person or their situation. Many times the source is political. I personally detest “playing” politics, but not being aware of reality will make you far less effective.

Keeping Account Managers Happy

This is all about communication. Pre-call planning, not making concessions without prior discussion, and coordinated presentations are the cornerstones mentioned. The first part of the chapter also addressed the “rep envy” comments that arise from time to time. Understanding the ups and downs and additional pressures on an AE demonstrate the counterbalance to the (sometimes) higher pay and higher visibility.

In my experience, if you do most of things outlined in this book well, add good communication and a joint planning process, you will have a fantastic relationship with your AE. This is true even in lean times and even when personalities don’t mesh well.

Tactical Essentials

The third section covers specific elements of “evolved” SEs. Although you could probably just rename this chapter to “Miscellaneous.”  I will briefly highlight the main point of each.

Maintain a Proper Airtime Ratio

Don’t make the mistake of talking when you should be listening. While the correct ratio depends on the situation, a good rule of thumb is 50/50.

If you have a rep with you I would divide your 50 between the two of you.

Tee-Up the Conversation

Define process up front to your meetings. Establish a win/win reason for the conversation, define the steps to follow, and implement timelines.

Ask Thought-Provoking Questions

Ask open-ended questions, but not the same typical questions. Ask questions that generally require thought before answering such as “how do you see your systems evolving over time.”

I know what the author is getting at, but use these techniques very sparingly or you risk sounding contrived.

Look Expensive

You should look expensive because your products are expensive and you want to those perceptions aligned. You can overdue it but you should generally position yourself in the upper end of the spectrum.

Optimize Email Use

Be very careful with the words you use in email because nonverbal queues are not available. Understand the receiver may not interpret sarcasm or emotion in the text the way you meant them. Despite the ease of use, it is not a replacement for most types of conversations.

Plan What Not to Share

Rather than withholding information, this is more about focusing your communication down to the essential. When situations arise where you feel unethical about not sharing specific information, if you cannot work it out with your AE you should involve your manager.

See a Problem, Probe It

Instead of trying to resolve or provide a quick fix to a problem, engage the client and fully probe and understand the problem before jumping to a solution. Not only does this show a greater appreciation of the situation, it also provides more color so that can better target your reply.

Create a Gap

Think of a movie, it wouldn’t be much fun if you just cut to the ending. When presenting solutions, also demonstrate the process of how you arrived at the solution. Not only does it show a more thorough approach, but it builds anticipation for the unveiling.

Keep You, Not your Slides, the Star of the Show

This is a lengthy chapter on presentation techniques. As I mentioned in previous reviews, you’re much better off studying presenting as a standalone art form.

Satisfy Personal Needs

Similar to the chapter on politics, the SE should be aware of the personal goals and needs of clients. When it is mutually advantageous you should seek opportunities to meet these needs.

My Recommendation

At about a $30 price point and 200 pages of content, I’d rate this as a nice to have for SEs, but not essential. I’d rate it slightly more important for SE managers or those senior SEs that feel they have topped out and are looking for new angles to explore.

Pros

I feel Levine did a good job of capturing his experiences as a development consultant working with SEs and SE organizations. Almost all of the chapters have relevant examples and sample conversations which help illustrate the topics. Rather than rehash many of the fundamentals he was able to keep the book more concise by focusing more on the standard deltas he sees between junior and senior SEs.

The first section of the book on development, as well as the chapter on dealing with politics, was covered in greater detail here than in any of the other books I’ve read.

Levine definitely comes across as an experienced and knowledgeable individual regarding the role of the SE. Even senior SEs and managers should be able to find numerous useful bites of information.

Cons

I think Levine’s sweet spot is the coaching and development aspect of his work. I got the sense that other parts of the book were a compendium of miscellaneous hot button tips picked up over a long period of time. A few of the other topics were simply highlights from other disciplines and not related specifically back to the role of the SE which would have been more helpful. I struggle with this myself in my writing.

I think if he expanded on the coaching and development as a book unto itself it could have made an A grade. I don’t think the unique challenges of developing SEs have been fully explored.

He worked in a few subtle plugs for his consulting practice, but I didn’t ding him too much for that since I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same 😉

Review – Mastering Technical Sales

For my second review in this series, I now turn to Mastering Technical Sales by John Care and Aron Bohlig. This is a great book that provides some excellent insight and I was lucky enough to be able to speak with coauthor John Care. It was first published in 2002 with the 2nd edition having been released just several weeks ago.

Mastering Technical Sales
Hardcover: 340 pages
Publisher: Artech House Publishers; 2 edition (August 31, 2008); 1st edition (August 15, 2002)
ISBN-10: 1596933399

Background and Purpose

Both John and Aron got their start publishing the book back when no other texts or classes covered the specific role of Sales Engineering and saw a need in the space to provide some structure to the role. After collecting case studies and conducting dozens of interviews they were able to bring the book to market about a year after inception.

The 2nd edition includes a rewrite of most of the book and the addition of several topics and chapters. The main reason for the 2nd edition was a change in the underlying technology available to SEs and an expansion to audiences working at today’s large, multi-product organizations including enterprise software and hardware.

I will be focusing on the 2nd edition for the purposes of this review.

Content

Note that because of amount of information in the book (28 chapters) I am going to be focusing on chapters and ideas that I felt were unique or especially insightful among resources currently available. You can browse the full table of contents online here.

Lead Qualification

After hitting on most of the basics including the sales process and description of SE activities, the authors hit on a very good recommendation on making sure the SEs understand what qualification criteria are being used by the telesales organization. Those criteria should be aligned with the content of your presentations and discussions with the customer. As the SE becomes more senior in understanding the market and product set, they will be able to provide invaluable information back to sales and marketing that can be used to further refine the methodology.

Another great tip mentioned was the Rule of 200, that your personal quota can be divided by 200 to give you amount of revenue your activities are expected to generate every day. This rule of thumb can help guide you as to what value of opportunities you’ll need to focus on to be successful.

RFP

SEs, typically being more analytical in nature, will really enjoy their take on RFPs. The authors talk a lot about specific criteria that should be used to dictate your response. Of particular value is a scoring system (new to the 2nd edition) used to provide a more independent assessment of how to proceed.

In our talk, John added an excellent follow on to that saying that it is especially important in industries where a lot of business comes from RFPs as it gives you a quantitative way to evaluate and compare different them. It may not be as useful a comparison if they both score in the 70s, but if you have one that scores a 40 while another 90, you know where to focus. Organizations can then add upper and lower bands to establish best practices on when to respond and when to walk away.

For me, having worked in the public sector (RFP heavy) in the past, I really wish I had a tool like this. If nothing else it would be something I could use with my rep to define a process for filtering all of our RFP requests. As I have mentioned in my posts and is in this book as well, having defined process and consistent terminology goes a long way toward maximizing your effectiveness.

Needs Analysis and Discovery

In the chapter they provide a very valuable 7-step process for taking you through this phase in the sales cycle. As part of this process they provide templates to help you collect and work through the information collected.

John made note of the fact that it is very important to customize and adapt the framework to the company and individual over time.

I would even go one step farther and recommend that these templates be codified in your company’s CRM system so that this information can be systematically captured over time.

The Perfect Pitch

I was glad to see that John and Aron had gone back through this chapter to capture some of the more recent modern theory on presenting with PowerPoint. This includes making use of images to deliver meaning, staying away from death by bullet point, and stepping away from the computer to storyboard the presentation.

One other great insight was the use of proof points inside the presentation. All too often I have witnessed slide 1 of a technical presentation consist of a dizzying array of well known company logos designed to show the prospect that they would be in good company; but, that usually is the extent of the references. They make the point in the book that you should not always be relying on your demo to show proof points. Include your supporting facts, figures, and references inside your presentation itself (though not necessarily on the slide). So if you mention you have a scalable architecture, don’t just mention you can support x number of agents, mention you have a large customer in their industry managing 75,000 agents across the globe. John added: If any SE ever says “scalable architecture” they should be shot. Which software/hardware company ever says “we have a totally limited, non-scalable, closed, and proprietary architecture”? Just get right to the 75,000 agents figure.

Dash to Demo, Snap Demos, and Remote Demos

The most important take away from the Dash to Demo chapter is not to take shortcuts in the sales cycle by offering to proof out all objections during the product demonstration. Reps and SEs have a great degree of control over how they position the demo (a fact I often see overlooked). As they mention, the demo should be used as a proof point rather than a keystone of your sales methodology.

A new chapter this time around is on the snap (impromptu) demo. There is definitely some applicability to trade shows and certain “elevator pitch” scenarios. Though they basically advocate something similar, I personally have never had an issue talking my way out of providing a demo on the spot. I’ve found that customers are very understanding of the need to prepare when showing enterprise solutions. The broader message of the chapter which I agree with is to make sure you know your product/market well enough to be able to adapt to changing customer scenarios so you can generate interest in a short amount of time.

Another new chapter is that on performing remote demos over the web. I’ve seen increasing industry pressure to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary which means most SEs end up doing far more remote demos now than ever before. There is definitely a learned skill and art to navigating this medium so I highly recommend reading through this a few times. Some excellent points include reworking slides for lower color/resolution, anticipating a lack of whiteboarding capability, and moving slowly through demos to allow for screen refresh. My favorite tip was to have a 2nd computer available and logged into your session so that you can see what your audience is seeing.

Evaluation Strategies

Similar to the Needs Analysis chapter they provide a very good procedural task list and templates. Again, these provide excellent support for managing the sales cycle and should be incorporated into your CRM and SOP.

Getting Started

The authors put a lot of work into this onboarding section. It’s also an area where a lot of organizations overlook from an SE standpoint—just grouping them with sales in general. In a time with large and ever consolidating vendors, the ramp up process is extremely important. The detailed look and examples for the SE 30-60-180 day plan should be especially helpful to new SEs. I am a big believer in mentorship programs and John and Aron cover this and many other ramping areas.

The U in Technical Sales

I really enjoyed this chapter on what can be called personal branding. The chapter begins with the importance of goal setting for SEs. Once you know where you want to go you can work back and create milestones and metrics for progress. One of the best ways to progress is using what they call the PVP—the personal value proposition. It is basically a brand for yourself that differentiates you from other SEs and is a vehicle to increase your personal stock price within the company. To me it boils down: what specific service can you be best in your company or industry at.

I think a lot senior SEs stumble onto this idea or do it themselves subconsciously. I think the authors did a great job of articulating the concept and applicability for SEs. On a more general sense, one of my favorite writers—Seth Godin—covers personal branding more in depth at his blog. I highly recommend both the chapter contents and reading Seth’s blog.

Using a CRM System

As John said to me, the CRM has to be the SE’s best friend. Access to this corporate memory needs to underpin most of the SEs daily activities. Because most SEs and SE organizations don’t have direct management contribution into the system, most of the discussions I’ve had are around implementation and getting reps (let alone SEs) to use it.

I spoke with John at length on the topic. In his experience the only way to drive utilization was from the top down. A few specific examples include:

  • Not paying senior management unless deals are in the system
  • Management reviewing the opportunity record before going onsite and being transparent about it being reviewed
  • Driving participation of services and support so that each department sees value in the system

In both of our opinions it provides tremendous value to the SE, and good SEs shouldn’t wait for the top to push it down. It provides you proof of your contribution, drives common terminology, and ensures you cover your bases. Though not all SEs are subjected to this, you can inform your rep about how much smoother forecasting calls go when accurate and up-to-date CRM/forecast data is available. Point them to this book or my blog if needed 😉

Hybrid Sales Positions

This chapter notes that as company portfolios and sales organizations become larger, the trend is toward specialization at the account team level. They define 4 roles including the Account Director (or owner), the Account SE, the specialist “overlay” rep and the specialist SE. It is not uncommon these days to require 4 or more people from a vendor to attend a customer meeting. Striking the right balance is key and the chapter illustrates the complexity well and provides many solid recommendations. I think the most important take away is the extreme importance of clearly defined roles of each team member to ensure alignment. The follow on for SE management is to ensure that compensation is clearly aligned and roles up accordingly for each overlay position.

Organizational Structure and Building the Infrastructure

These are must reads for SE managers. John and Aron do a good job of providing specific examples of SE reporting structures for companies of different sizes. They also delve into the supporting roles of an SE organization including demo/collateral creation and SE trainers, something I have not really seen covered anywhere else—though they have existed for a while now.

John and I spoke about this topic in some depth as well. John’s observation is that the SE organization often becomes the organization of last resort. If demo tools, presentations, competitive information, etc. aren’t up to par or aren’t being created, SEs often are required to step up because they are necessary to close sales and posses the raw knowledge necessary to create them. His focus on enablement was an effort to bring some formalization to the sub-specialty which can take some work off of the field. He stressed that he has seen wonderful results rotating SEs into enablement roles for 1-2 years.

I’ve had similar experiences with SEs needing to step up to fill gaps in other organizations—especially in the post sales areas with support and consulting and even the training organization. I suppose we in the SE ranks should feel proud that we collectively have the ability to fulfill multiple roles but these activities do take us away from revenue generation which is our primary function. This is really the key take away from the chapter for SE managers. If they aren’t managing the expectations of surrounding departments and ensuring that infrastructure positions are established, it can and does have a significant impact on the ability to generate revenue.

Hiring Winners

Interviewing SEs definitely requires a specific strategy and they provide some good detail in the chapter about format and types of qualities SE managers should be looking for. I agree with them that having SEs perform presentations is important. I even go so far as to require potential hires to present about one of my products which also allows me to evaluate their research skills.  The other great point is that of involving the rep counterpart in the interview to so that you have the buy in that will make the onboarding process easier. As mentioned, having the rep and other SEs interview candidates and attend the presentation are also important to provide you with additional data points and allows them to see how the SE will respond under pressure when being asked questions during the presentation.

Managing by the Metrics

A subject near and dear to my heart, the section goes into the importance of constructing and managing by a balanced set of metrics. I have personally seen so many SE managers and organizations only measure SEs based on quota attainment that it drives me crazy; so I was very happy to see it covered here. They provide some good examples of MBOs and other objectives such as customer satisfaction, attending training, win rates for various activities, and number of new reference accounts. This is the only way to ensure the long-term viability of the organization. Focus only on quota leads to better short-term results at the expense of long-term growth. Speaking with John on the subject, this is an area of passion for him because of its importance to the long-term health of the organization and individual SEs. He has posted an example balanced scorecard on his website.

My Recommendation

I’m sure it’s clear by reading the write-up that I am big fan of this book. This is definitely the most comprehensive source of information about SEs and SE organizations I have come across. I particularly like how John and Aron cover all of the aspects of an SE organization including how to set them up and ensure they run smoothly. Anyone managing or running an SE organization should consider this a must read.

The 2nd edition went a long way toward rounding out the content and bringing certain sections up-to-date. While I still consider presenting and demoing so central to being an SE that I recommend SEs pursue them as their own specialized discipline with specialized resources, I think the revisions incorporate most of the basic points of modern theory in these areas. I’m glad they took the time to make the updates.

My bottom line: It’s a bit on the pricey side at over $60, but for SEs the first bump in your commission check will more than make up for it. Any new SEs of mine will certainly be getting their own copy.


I’d like to thank John Care for taking the time to speak with me regarding the book. It is apparent that John has a ton of great insight about the role of the SE—so much so that he now consults with SE organizations full time. He provides many resources including a very informative newsletter on his website. I’d enthusiastically recommend and encourage any SE organization to engage John, even if it’s just for a check-up.

Making the Technical Sale

I’m going to be spending the next few weeks reviewing books that explore the role of the SE. Where possible I’m also going to be speaking with the authors to add some additional detail in the reviews.

I decided to begin at the beginning—that is to say I’m choosing to review the eldest of the set first based solely on the merits of that period of time. I will then progress through until we get to the most recent.

Without further ado, let’s begin with Making the Technical Sale by Rick Greenwald and James Milbery. I had the chance to connect with both authors and will be adding some of their comments throughout.

Making the Technical Sale
Paperback: 385 pages
Publisher: Muska & Lipman Publishing; 1 edition (March 1, 2001)
ISBN-10: 0966288998

Background

Back when this book was released in 2001, it was the first to focus specifically on the role of the sales engineer (or sales consultant as they refer to it).In the industry of enterprise software sales, the SE had already formally been around for several years prior (in other industries much longer). Very few SEs that were being hired were existing SEs. The vast majority were domain experts on the IT side brought over to sell the products they used to support. This is to say that you were extremely lucky to be able to shadow an SE that had been around more than 2-3 years.

It was very clear that SEs provided value to the sales process (especially to reps), but most outside of sales would be very hard pressed to explain what it was that SEs did. Despite the obscurity of purpose, SE organizations were expanding en masse leading to a great opportunity for many. This rapid growth created an environment that could benefit significantly from some degree of formalization.

More from James (Jim):
At the time of the writing there was some rumblings in the market (this was during the go-go internet years) that traditional enterprise-software sales reps and sales engineers would no longer be needed.  Customers would just “buy software over the Internet”.  I believe that we can all agree that this largely turned out to be untrue.

DM: Having come in after spending time at a dot.com myself, I think a lot of folks got ahead of themselves. Sales in general has turned out to very reliable and has a strong, natural roadblock against outsourcing.

Purpose of the Book

Both Rick and Jim had worked their way up through different SE ranks. Through discussions they realized a need existed for some industry structure around the role. The purpose behind the book was to provide a comprehensive training manual for SEs. It focuses on best practice around the main job responsibilities of the SE and benefits from the varied experiences of the authors.

Contents

Your World

The first question the book addresses is what an SE does. They make an important statement that I came to on my own terms which emphasizes that “sales” comes before “consultant”. Though a tough lesson for me at first, I am a firm believer in a sales-first mentality. The other important maxim from the chapter is the role of the SE on the sales team. It is an important concept that your sales exec (rep) needs to have final say in opportunity decisions. They are the ones ultimately accountable to the quota. Finally, they cover the basic notions of control of the sales cycle and use of limited resources.

The Sales Process

Here, a good primer on the sales process is provided and is great for those entering or new to the field. I have found, more recently, that most companies of significant size have their own sales methodology and terminology in use, even down to the technical aspects of the sales cycle. I have found most companies to be good enough in the general sales process training arena which includes SE specifics. It’s very important you leverage what is in use at your company.

Technology Life Cycle

Applying a bit of psychology and marketing to the SE role, they hit on a very important concept of linking your company’s dynamics to your own style. Recognizing that each SE has a particular set of strengths, it is important for SEs to match that talent to organizations that can benefit the most. This is better for the company and far better for maximizing the happiness and satisfaction of the SE.

Understanding the Buyer

The concepts of the buying scenarios and roles are explored here. It is important to understand the fundamentals in a generic sense though even if your company uses other terminology. The understanding that different prospects and individuals make purchasing decisions differently needs to underpin all your interactions with your customer.

Working with People

As an SE you spend most of your time working with people. Though there are many books on the general subjects of building trust and creating rapport, Rick and Jim do a nice job of picking out specific attributes that are essential to an SEs nature. The most important takeaways are the benefits of being yourself, never misleading your customer to close a sale, and being up front when you’ve made a mistake.

These aren’t new ideas, but many times I guarantee you will feel enormous pressure to compromise your ethics. Recognizing that values are more important than any short-term reward you may gain is something you always need to remain grounded in.

Feature Benefit Selling

The authors stress the importance of translating your product into tangible benefits for the customer which is so important to your role. And it is also an area I see SEs often come up short. SEs are necessarily passionate about the capabilities of the product and it’s easy to get hung up on what it does versus how the customer can derive benefit from it. The process of Feature, Benefit, Acceptance (FBA) is really a cornerstone of the value an SE can provide and they do an excellent job of walking the reader through the process step by step. I recommend reading this chapter a few times to completely absorb the message.

Mastering the Demo / Effective Demos

The key to their demo message is moving up the pyramid from reciting script to being able to tie together associated customer information to craft a solution-oriented narrative using your product. Because demos are one of the most important duties of the SE, it is critical you master the information in these chapters.

Qualification

There is a lot that goes into qualification, especially since it is usually a complicated dance that happens alongside your rep. The key takeaway from the chapter is that you not eliminate yourself from the sale before your sales team has made the choice to do so. The qualification process is really about your information gathering and not the customers. Though the content is spot on, this is an area where I feel you  really learn the nuances of the dance through practice and experience.

Making Effective Sales Presentations

The surprising real benefit from this chapter was on leveraging chalk talks (whiteboard sessions). My best meetings were always these sessions. The ability to be more informal, flexible, and involve the customer provide a setting fare more productive than formal presentation. The housekeeping components are good on both fronts, though presentation has come a long way in the past few years to the point where I would recommend other resources to update the concepts/examples.

Rick stressed the point that some SEs rely too heavily on PowerPoint. And that when you truly understand your product and customer needs you’ll usually be far more effective utilizing more informal presentation methods such as chalk talks. I concur.

Product Evaluations

The key finding is the importance of a formal process agreed upon at the onset of the evaluation. Getting all the requirements on paper from all stakeholders is key to later being able to get sign off on meeting requirements and move the sales cycle forward. Adding this to my SOP was one of the biggest time savers I’ve found.

Handling Objections

This chapter demonstrates another difficult but value-adding opportunity for the SE. Done correctly, minute for minute, this activity can add do more to move a sale forward than any other activity. A real insight by the authors was exploring the different types of objections and recognizing that each needs to handled uniquely. Rick added that he personally views objections as good things; he was more worried when a customer just listened and at the end thanked him for his time.

Responding to RFIs

The biggest take away from the chapter is that it is not always necessary to respond. Reps in my experience are overly eager to respond so it’s a delicate line to walk. To this day it is still one of the biggest time wasters for the sales team given the % return. I have seen industry estimates below a 20% deal close rate.

Working the Competition

Dealing with competitors is an increasing fact of life (rarely did I ever close a significant deal without encountering a competitive situation). The most important part of the chapter which they hit on is to stay focused on the customer. I would take that one step further and say to be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in focus on the customer. In the end, s/he who can best articulate how the product solves the customer’s pain will usually win. To add to this arsenal there are some great tips and common pitfalls to avoid such as never stooping to speak ill of a competitor and to avoid at all costs positioning against a potential weakness that you later come to find is addressed.

Challenging Prospects / Seven Deadly Sins

In speaking with Rick, he put it very succinctly when asked about most common mistakes when he said: “Sales reps want to get the deal. SEs want to be right.” I personally have been guilty of this and it is a great reminder to check our egos at the door when working with a customer.

My Recommendation

For ~$35 dollars on Amazon, this is still a must add to the library for a current or aspiring SE. As I’ve seen, each of the books I’ll cover talk about a lot of the same topics but each has a different writing style, unique insights, and examples which may be more applicable to the reader. Though it’s hard for me at this juncture to say exactly how much I’ve incorporated into my own views because of this book, rereading it for this review I found myself agreeing with all of the fundamental conclusions. It is a mark of good writing that it stays relevant over time. Pick it up, read it a few times, and make a commitment to incorporating what you learn. I can vouch for the success it will bring.

Additional commentary from the authors

On what’s changed in the industry since writing the book:
There are two fundamental differences that have become important in the past 7 years.  First, most companies emphasize the “Webex” demo as opposed to on-site demos (and there are a lot more “group” demos via WebEx).  It is certainly a cheaper alternative than traveling to a customer site – but you lose so many of the benefits that it is almost a different job altogether.  Second, most prospects expect to be able to download a usable copy of the software very early in the sales cycle (with the exception of some large ERP products).  It makes it much harder for SEs to control the sales cycle – in fact they are often left out of the sales cycle under this model.    (Prospects download a copy of the product, try it, hate it, and “leave” the sales cycle without ever being engaged by an SE).  SAAS is only going to exacerbate this problem.

They also mentioned that if the got a chance to do a follow up edition this would become a large focus of the book because of its high degree of importance to SEs today.

On what advice they would have for SEs wanting to enter the field today:
JimPick the right product area (for you) and learn your product (and the competition) very well.  Too many SEs ignore the “product lifecycle” roadmap.  Demo dollies should not take early-stage technology jobs and vice versa. 

RickPut a lot of thought into the company you work for and the work that you do. As I’ve been in the business a long time, for me it has become a lot more about learning, growth, and fulfillment than about money and position. Find out what makes you happy and find ways to do more of it.

On the career path of an SE:
The SE job is a GREAT career-enhancing job.  Most of my SE friends from the old days have gone on to big jobs elsewhere – CEO, CTO, VP of Marketing, etc.

I agree. I’m continually amazed at how many successful people I meet that had a career take off after being an SE.


I’d like to thank both Rick and Jim for taking the time to speak with me and for providing some additional insights for our readers.

If you’ve found this review helpful or have suggestions for additional aspects to cover in the future, please drop me a line.