Archive for May, 2009

7 Rules for Getting the Best out of Sales Engineers

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:

  1. Treat them like they are special.
  2. 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.

  3. Learn how to brief them before a demo
  4. 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.

  5. Tell them what outcome you want, not what they should show
  6. 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.

  7. Help them get set up for the demo or presentation
  8. 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.

  9. Handle all non-technical tasks during the demo
  10. 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.

  11. Make sure they can work the room at the breaks
  12. 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.

  13. Give them direct, honest feedback, but only after you have won them over.
  14. 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.

Demo Prep, Demo Skills, Selling , , , ,

3 Things salespeople should NEVER say during a demo

If you have worked for a while in pre-sales, supporting salespeople by showing a prospect your software applications, then you know there are times when salespeople will say the darnedest things. Here is my partial list of “never say this during a demo” for the salespeople I have worked with (and I am sure they have a list of “never do this!” for me as well):

  1. “Can you show that thing you did yesterday?”
  2. I will could do an entire post on why this one is a bad idea, but the short explanation is that your demo guy/gal may not want to show that thing because it is going to blow up today! If you want to see a demo of something, ask before the presentation.

  3. “Let me introduce Dave who is an expert in…”
  4. Most Sales Engineers I know don’t like the word expert and all that it implies. It is just setting us up for our credibility being knocked out later in the presentation. Better to talk about experience, years with the company, or just let us introduce ourselves.

  5. “I just heard from Product Management yesterday that we are going to add that feature in the next release…”
  6. For a Salesperson to be effective they have to build trust. For a Sales Engineer to be effective they need to build credibility. Undermining a Sales Engineer’s credibility during a demonstration by pointing out a mistake they made is counter-productive. It’s not an ego thing – Sales Engineers are wrong all the time and need to learn from their mistakes. A better approach is to wait until the break and discuss it directly with the Sales Engineer. Besides, you may have misunderstood what the Product Manager meant by “new feature”…

Demo Skills, Demo Tips, Selling , , , , ,

Selling During the Break

The most obvious selling opportunity for a Sales Engineer is during a demonstration. But I have consistently found that talking to individuals during the breaks of a demonstration day is the most effective time to sell your product. Although we spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for demos, we often miss this real selling opportunity.
How can you use the breaks more effectively for selling? First off make sure to plan for several breaks during a demonstration, making sure to have one especially early in the schedule. For example if you have a 3 hour demonstration, plan to take at least two breaks of 10 minutes, one after an hour and another after two hours. Always plan to have a break (even a short one) within the first hour, no matter how long or short your presentation might be (okay, if you have a 1/2 hour presentation, you might not get a break into it).
Secondly you should use that break to get feedback from audience members. Ask your sales representative or other team members to do the same. The first question I always ask once I introduce myself during a break is:

“What do you think so far?”

This typically does not elicit much of a response unless they have a really strong opinion. Next you can move on with:

“Is there anything you saw that surprised you?”

This is a fairly neutral question because you are leaving open to whether it was a positive or negative surprise. A third question for the first break can be:

“What else do you want to be sure to see before the end of the day?”

This can help the presenter understand what areas they should focus on in the rest of the presentation. This certainly is not a replacement for doing good discovery, but often audience members may want to see specific things on the day of the demo.
Before the end of the break the sales team should regroup and deliver any critical feedback to the presenter. The presenter should then use that feedback to address the concerns of the audience members.
I often start up after the break with:

“During the break I heard something interesting from X that I would like to show you now in our product”

This shows that you were engaging with the prospect and want to incorporate their concerns. You should also take into account any other comments that you heard during the break, such as “it’s going too fast”. Rather than just slowing down, you might ask the audience whether they agree:
“I heard from a couple of you during the break that things were going a little fast. Do we all agree that I should slow things down a little?”
Remember that you don’t want to take just one person’s opinion as representing the group (unless you have identified that person as the key influencer). Always validate what you heard during the break with the entire audience if at all possible.
During later breaks you can be more forward in your discussions. For example during later breaks I would often ask:

“Was there something you saw from our competitor that you really liked/did not like?”

Talking about the competition is always a little risky, so doing it during the break limits the risks.
Another important use of later breaks is to understand the divisions and politics in the prospect. For instance, you could ask a business user:

“The IT Manager seemed concerned that we did not support Unix. Do you think that is a critical factor in deciding what software to buy?”

Although the obvious answer for a business user would be “I have no idea”, but it is more likely that they will give you some insights into the politics of the company (“Unix would be nice, but IT is going to support whatever we decide will meet our business needs”).
The other major benefit of using the breaks in this way is that it “humanizes” the Sales Engineer. Because we are often focused on building credibility and being seen as an authority (rather than a salesperson) SE’s can sometimes come off as matter-of-fact or aloof. By taking the time to talk to individuals during the break you can create a one-to-one contact that will be beneficial during the demonstration.
Later breaks can be used to validate next steps and identify key players. You can also use later breaks (once you have built up some credibility) to set traps for the competition.
The next time that you are preparing for a demonstration, make sure you strategize on how to handle the breaks. I always say that it’s the time when the real selling occurs.

Demo Prep, Demo Skills, Selling , ,


Unlearing is an important concept for anyone trying to take on new tasks. Although I have not seen this name put on it specifically the concept is the challenge presented by learning a new task is really about UNLEARNING old patterns rather than learning new ones.

In his book, On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins (inventor of the PalmPilot and Treo) talks extensively about how our brain stores patterns. According to his model these patterns are stored at various levels in the neocortex. The lowest level in the hierarchy stores simple patterns while the higher levels have the capability to see the big picture. An example he gives in the book has to do with reading. When you are first learning to read you start to recognize individual letters. Eventually you can recognize whole words made of these letters (once you learn the word and you no longer need to actually read each letter, you just see the whole word). And once you are truly comfortable with reading you will start to see entire sentences. For example, you may notice that when you are reading a book to a child that you change or leave out certain words. Your brain is recognizing the meaning of the sentence and does not worry too much about each individual word (much less each letter).

These patterns are built up over time in the wiring of the brain. Each time you successfully use (or encounter) a pattern, the wiring for recognizing (or using) that pattern is further cemented in the brain. For the low level patterns that you encounter all the time (letters, words, faces, etc..) you have very strong wiring indeed. Marcus Buckingham in “Now, Discover Your Strengths” talks about how your brains build up these connections (wiring) until about the age of 16 and then we start to rapidly lose about half of those connections over the next few years. Buckingham uses this information to back up his theory that we need to focus on our strengths – the wiring that remains after we lose all that extraneous stuff.

It also follows that the highest levels of the neocortex are also the ones that most under conscious control. The lower levels in the hierarchy just happen they are firmly ingrained habits that we don’t even notice much of the time. This is a good thing because many complex tasks would be nearly impossible if we were conscious of all underlying unconscious control required. If I consider how to move each of my fingers while I am typing this, I will have a heck of a time finishing another word.

That is the challenge presented when you try to unlearn a way of doing something. You are trying to change those patterns in the brain that you have relied on for many years. Changing the wiring for these patterns that your brain so efficiently ignores is very difficult – Buckingham would say it is not worth pursuing. I agree to a certain extent, but when you do need to learn a new pattern (which may mean unlearning an old one that has been “successful” so far) there is a strategy that I have found effective.

The strategy relies on what I have learned through my Alexander Technique lessons. Alexander Technique is about gaining “conscious control” of the self. But I have experienced it as a process of “unwiring” the habitual patterns developed over time. Alexander Technique undoes deeply ingrained patterns (such as our posture) by bringing conscious attention to it, releasing the old pattern and rebuilding a new one. It is an arduous process and takes dedication to see progress. When it comes to how you “use” yourself I think it is actually worthwhile to do this unlearning. But I also agree with Buckingham that putting in this kind of effort to see marginal improvement in an area where you never will truly excel.


Dumb Things Sales Reps Say #1

As a Sales Engineer you depend on Sales Representatives for your success. Sometimes they are a great help during a demonstration, but sometimes they say some pretty dumb things. My first example is when a Sales Rep says to a Sales Engineer:

“Can you show that thing you did yesterday?”

Although your Sales Engineer may have done a spectacular demo yesterday and really wowed the customer, but that does not mean they can do the same thing again today. Your demo guy/gal may not want to show that thing because it is going to blow up today! Or, just as likely, they don’t think it will add to the demonstration (perhaps it is a feature that detracts from what the prospect is really looking for).
So what should you do if you saw a great demo yesterday that your SE seems to be forgetting? Your first choice should be talking to your SE before the demo and going over what they are going to show. Second choice would be to wait until a break to ask them or slip them a note during a lull in the presentation. And if you have to ask during the middle of the demo, then be prepared to be the cause of a disaster you will need to clean up later.

Demo Tips, Selling , ,

Tailing App Server Logs

If you are a Unix geek you probably know all about this, but since I am a Windows guy, I find this stuff valuable. My favorite Unix command the “tail” comman which allows you to see the last few lines of a text file. This may not seem very useful at first, but if you turn on a particular switch (“-f” for “follow”) it will tail the last portion of a file even it is updated. This is particularly useful for watching log files (such as the app server log or an error log). The full command might look like this:

C:appservLOGS>tail -f -10 appsrv_0614.log

This command will tail the last 10 lines of the specified log file – allowing you to view it dynamically as it is updated. This is useful when you have debugging turned up – this way you can see what is going on with the application in real time.

Applications, Learning, Software Tips

The Eclipse Web Browser

The web browser supplied in MyEclipse appears to be pretty useless at first, but it actually can be quite valuable in certain situations. The main use I have found is to open a separate session of your web application, Tomcat or other web based management tools. For example, you can get to the administrative interface of your web application from this browser and not mess up your session in your user session.  It is a convient way to have another small browser open for these little tasks without having to launch a separate browser, and it sends the message to the audience that you are still in the “administrative” tool.

Demo Skills, Gadgets

The Spoken Word

In the book “In the Bubble“, John Thackara observes:

Ivan Illich discovered that in the 1930s, nine out of ten words that a man had heard when he reached the age of twenty were words spoken to him directly – one to one, or as a member of a crowd – by somebody whom he could touch and feel and smell. By the 1970s, that proportion had been reversed: About 9 out of ten words heard in a day were spoken through a loudspeaker. “Computers are doing to communication what fences did to pastures and cars did to streets,” Illich said in 1982. For Illich, there was a huge difference between a colloquial tongue – what people say to each other in a context, with meaning and a language uttered by people into microphones.

I think this the last part of this passage is the most revealing – the nature of what people say when they are face to face vs. what they say when speaking into a microphone. The same applies to emails (particularly one to many emails) and blogs. I often hear about how blogs promote people’s “voice”, but what is the quality of that voice when it is directed at a mass audience? Keep this in mind when you are doing a remote demonstration: the medium is the message.

Learning ,

Sales Engineering Resources

I was thinking I would put together a list of good resources for Sales Engineer/Consultants, but Darrin Mourer at “The Sales Engineer” has already done a fine job! Check out his list of blogs, books and other resources at his SE Resources page. Nice work, Darrin!

Learning ,

“Re-Framing” Questions

This is something I learned a long time ago from the folks at Corporate Visions. Often we get really tough questions that can trip us up during a demo or presentation. By using a technique known as “Re-framing” (it comes from NLP) you can take the edge off of tough questions and often turn them in your favor. The core of the concept is to carefully consider the point of view of the question before you answer it. Then, during that pause, you can make sure to frame your response in a way that better addresses the question.

For example, let’s say you get the following question,”I did not see any way to extend your application using Java. Can you use Java to extend your application?”. You could answer this question with a straight technical response (“Yes, we provide several Java APIs as well as Web Services…”) or you could take it as an opportunity to reframe the question. By first pausing for a moment to think about your response and then asking a clarifying question such as,”Can you give me an example of how you might want to use Java to extend our application?”) you can make sure you are using the right frame-of-reference in your response. API’s and Integration may not be the answer they are looking for. Perhaps they are a Java junkie and just want to know their skills will be of use. Perhaps they have been told your application is Java dependent and prefer a .NET approach. But if you don’t clarify the question you won’t know their frame-of-reference.

After you ask for clarification you need to decide how you will frame your response. If the original question sounded technical (“Java?”) but really was emotional (“Java vs. .NET”) then you need to frame your response accordingly. You can turn potential pitfalls into benefits as long as you understand where the prospect is coming from. Stepping outside of your gut reaction to the question (“Oh no, not that question!”) and making sure you fully understand the prospects frame of reference can make all the difference.

Demo Skills, Selling , ,