In April, I guest blogged for Leanne Hoagland-Smith’s Increase Sales blog series on the topic of sales people and startup CEOs who need to escape from being stereotyped as a talking head, or a brochure on legs.
Sales Engineers and Engineers who sell have the same issue with buyer perception. You are regarded as a Talking Techie who is applied-as-needed by the sales force when it’s time to sign the contract or if there is a particularly sticky technical issue to be resolved. So you show up with the sales rep at the customer’s office – or virtually – and “do your thing.” You demo. And demo. And demo. About all the neat features and possibly a financial benefit of the solution your sales rep has proposed. And then you stop.
What does the corporate culture who put you in this position expect the customer to do after your amazing demo? Jump up and shout “Hosanna, I’ll take three in assorted colors?”
Just as buyers tend to hear those talking head sales types as a bunch of white noise, all of your technical expertise tends to come off as blah-blah-blah as well. There are a couple of phrases in sales lingo that describe that sales style as well: spraying and praying and showing up and throwing up. Either way, it’s yuck. Is your role as a demo expert demolishing you out of a sale?
I’d say there’s a bit of a problem here.
Sales engineers, as well as engineers who sell, have an important role to play in business development. Instead of serving a functional role in which you are taken off the shelf (or out of your cubicle) and paraded at the client’s for a one-way presentation, what would happen to your company’s revenue stream if you were part of the entire business development cycle?
Of course this type of strategy is collaborative and it makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Your sales people may not be confident in taking a stereotypic techie (think Dilbert®) to the customer too soon, for fear that you’ll just bore the customer to pieces with tech talk. After all, that sales person is the rock star, not you.
I don’t think so. At least not in the new business development paradigm that the digital millennium has fast forwarded into place since 2008.
How many engineers tire of dealing with underspecified, under proposed and over promised solutions at the end of a sales process they were never a part of? On the other hand, most engineers are not comfortable having customer conversations that are non-technical. And there doesn’t appear to be anything in your corporate culture to address this situation. At least not now.
One-size-fits-all status quo sales training programs won’t work. If you create custom solutions, they are hardly one-size –fits-all. So how come your higher ups try to turn you into a technical version of their sales force, which was on the receiving end of a one-size-fits-all program? Doesn’t work. Then again, I’m not telling you anything new.
It could be that the stewards of the new business development paradigm are technical professionals who are comfortable working cross-functionally. It could be that the sales leaders of the digital business millennium are sales professionals who have given themselves permission to use the left side of their brains.
Nothing happens until you: a) realize the shortfall of remaining in status quo roles in entrenched status quo mindset and b) decide to do something about it – even if you take the first step on your own. Most businesses are still evaluating the impact of the new macro economy. And it will take quite a while, and more than one or two or three leadership cycles, to grasp its full impact.
Can you afford to wait until someone else figures it out for you?
I didn’t think so. Take that first step. Liberate yourself from discipline-driven status quo mindset and business models. You’ll soon find you have a lot of partners along the way.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.