Why is it that Sales Engineers do a great job for some Salespeople and not for others? What can a Salesperson do to get the best possible performance out of their Sales Engineers. Although the talent of the Sales Engineers you work with will vary (I will do another post on how to get the best Sales Engineers assigned to your deals) you can follow these tips to get the most out of what you have:
- Treat them like they are special.
- Learn how to brief them before a demo
- Tell them what outcome you want, not what they should show
- Help them get set up for the demo or presentation
- Handle all non-technical tasks during the demo
- Make sure they can work the room at the breaks
- Give them direct, honest feedback, but only after you have won them over.
There are times when you may need a stellar performance in the demo to seal the deal. Or you may need a Sales Engineer to complete a long (but important) RFP. But even when the Sales Engineer is not critical to the deal (e.g. a deal where political connections are more important than product functionality) you still need to treat them as if they are special. Most Sales Engineers see themselves as the “talent” with a special set of skills and a role that requires ability to sell AND deep technical/product knowledge. They are typically well-connected in the company they work for (because they deal with so many different departments) and since they are on display at customers on a regular basis they are sensitive to their reputation. It may be annoying to ask them politely to take on work that you feel is just part of their job, but it will pay back dividends when you really need their help on a difficult deal.
I have only encountered a handful of Salespeople who have mastered this skill; you will be among the very best if you can do it consistently. Briefing a Sales Engineer (or any team member) before a demonstration or presentation is a critical role for the Salesperson. You are the quarterback as well as the coach on the deal, and the team members will be looking to you to call the plays. A great briefing outlines the roles for every individual, what you need the Sales Engineer to accomplish, and what topics should be avoided during the demo or presentation. A briefing should also determine who takes on what questions and identify any key individuals that will be present from the prospect side.
Although, as a Salesperson, you may think you know what the Sales Engineer should show in their demo, you should focus more on what you want to impress on the prospect and pass that advice on to the Sales Engineer (as part of your briefing). For example, rather than saying, “Let’s make sure to show them the scheduling administration screens” you could say, “There will be a couple of managers in the room that are going to want to know how easy it is to manage staff schedules. Let’s make sure they come away convinced it is easy and powerful”. This gives the Sales Engineer the information they need without boxing them in too much. This is part of the trust mentioned earlier: tell them the desired outcome and let them figure out how to get there.
When a Sales Engineer arrives at a prospect site they often have a lot to deal with: setting up projectors, getting their demonstration equipment prepared, teleconference setup and arranging the room all require focus from the Sales Engineer. The more of these tasks you can handle, the better. Even if you can’t help with the task at hand, you can assist by keeping the prospect off of the Sales Engineer until they are completely set up. Getting them water, snacks or just asking what they need during this often stressful time will score you points for Rule #1.
Whether it is documenting the list of follow-up items, keeping track of time or writing down the names of attendees, if there is something you can do as a Salesperson that does not require the skills of the Sales Engineer, then you should do it. Although they may be menial tasks, they will free up the Sales Engineer to focus more on the thing that they do best: impressing the prospect with the value of your solutions.
A good Sales Engineer will want to get feedback and inside information from the prospect during the breaks. As soon as there is a break you should ask the Sales Engineer if there is anything they need. Short of going to the bathroom for them, you should handle calls, water, taking notes, etc.. so that they can focus on interacting with the prospect. A good Sales Engineer can quickly build credibility with the prospect and they will want to talk honestly with them 1:1. Don’t let this great selling opportunity go by just because the Sales Engineer had to make a call that you could have handled for them.
My favorite Salespeople were those that gave me clear and direct feedback on how things went after a demonstration. They did not pull punches and gave me their perspective on what they saw in the presentation. But to accept that feedback I first had to have a sense of trust with the Salesperson, and understanding that the feedback was meant to be constructive and was about winning more deals. If the Salesperson was new (or new to me) and hammered me after a demo, I was unlikely to want to work with them in the future. So building that trust (by following rule #1) first allows you to give criticisms that will be heeded.