Roughly ten months into the embrace of the “Dark Side” and it’s time for a bit of a brain dump. I’m heading into my first Sales Kick Off in a few days where I will get to sit through countless hours of marketing presentations, some technical deep dives (if I’m lucky), and very long days (7am to 1am looks like I will be mainlining RedBull) . It’s been a bit of a challenge and I’ve faced some things that I feel are kind of unique for a newbie. For some of the situations I’ve faced, I have tried to seek answers online and have come up short. Resources and blog postings for Sales Engineers are kind of few and far between. There are a few good books out there, but it’s been my experience that reading and research alone are no substitutes for the experience you will gain on the job first hand. I believe this is why many jobs in the sales engineering role require experience before they will hire you.
So, what do I do?
I work for a small IO devices manufacturer that works with most of the top OEMs in the server and storage connectivity space. Alas HBA’s and CNA’s are not at the forefront of purchasing decisions, but I like the fact that we engage with the end users and channel partners to assist the customer base. If I had to breakdown what I do on a daily basis it would round out to this:
- Understand end user business requirements and how our technology can best serve them
- Provide answers to technical questions that involve our product line and how they interact with the components of the OEM manufacturers that rebrand our technology
- Demonstrate the value of our product line and why it is a better choice than that of our competitors (but don’t be a dick and FUD up the place in the process, though this doesn’t mean that you can’t shut down FUD when confronted with it)
- Evaluate the competitive landscape and identify trends within the industry
- Evangelize on behalf of our products and the vendors and groups we partner with
- Present product information from a high to low level taking into account my audience and their skill level
- Support the sales team from inside, channel and account managers as much as possible
Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Sometimes I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. It’s one thing to know about your own product line, it’s another to know how it best benefits and compliments your partner’s technologies. For a good portion of my career in IT, I worked with Dell and IBM servers and storage products. Now I find that I have to be up to date on the server and storage lines from nearly every tier 1 and 2 manufacturer, as well as their own special flavor of network Virtualization and storage platform specifics. For the most part, each of the major big groups are doing something similar with the technology we provide them, they simply package it a little differently and utilize either other OEM components they are re-branding or components from acquisitions. The workflows and how they want to configure, deploy, and what functionality they want to keep or discard is where it can get a little more complicated. Throw in also that each wants to have their own delivery method for firmware, drivers, updates, etc and it’s enough to drive one a little mad.
This leads to my first difficulty, you can end up being miles wide and inches deep. How do you cope and deal with that? Well that’s where the other part of my job comes in:
- Network with your peers and associates to build technical relationships
- Serve as a resource for those same peers and encourage them to rely on you for expert advice
- Discover new opportunities that are mutually beneficial to you and your partner groups business goals
- Cross train with other sales and system engineers within your own group and outside
- Be the customers advocate in the sales cycle and champion their needs
I’ve got people skills:
That last one is important, because I’ve always been a people person for the most part and I like to build relationships with the people I work with. This also counts for the people I sell solutions to. I firmly believe that people will buy from people they like. I did it myself, and I think it’s a part of human nature to want to do business with people you can trust and rely on. In my previous career I was burned by a few VAR’s, in fact I have to call on those same groups today, and I really have to check myself at the door before I go into situations where I have to work with those same people. I guess you might call that “being professional”. One thing about this business is that it is a small world, and everyone knows everyone else. One day you can be competing with someone across the aisle the next day you are working with them hand in hand.
In the end what it boils down to is treat others as you wish them to treat you. I think this is where my history on the other side of the aisle is beneficial; it’s that whole put yourself in the other persons shoes form of personal interaction.
This leads me to some of the great advice I was given. I wish I could say I wrote this myself but I didn’t my boss sent me this:
- When I am on a sales call my customer expects me to have expertise in my chosen field. When they want to draw on that expertise my customer will ask me questions
- When I answer I will be clear, concise and I shall not bloviate
- My sales rep no matter how junior or senior is fighting for this business. They have called on me to be their teammate
- I will never interrupt my sales rep or my customer. If I do they will never forgive me because they don’t have to.
- If I don’t know the answer I shall answer “I don’t know”. Then I will make a commitment to take the question as a follow up action
- I will follow up on every action I commit to.
I think that list is pretty succinct, and it can apply to a lot of things outside of simply interacting with customers. I naturally like to talk so I have to constantly remind myself to settle and slow down when interacting with customers. I also have found that there is a special science of knowing when to inject your thoughts into a conversation, and how best to word responses. I do find myself re-reading customer correspondence emails several times before I send them and I like to keep things short and simple. I also have made it a rule to attempt to respond to email or calls in a quick manner, usually no less than 20 minutes if possible.
There are some major changes coming up that I honestly have no idea how they will effect my current role; if it changes, stays the same, mutates into something else. I just don’t know. I will say this though, that I really enjoy what I’m doing, I enjoy the customer interaction, the learning about new environments, new technologies, and the general style of camaraderie that you get within the sales side of things. I equate it partly to my past military life, but with far less major conflict in foreign nations and all that jazz.