Annual planning is nearly over and the Cranky Sales Engineer almost has his quota for the year. In a tequila inspired fit of account-planning ecstasy, he has decided to share how he and his brethren actually sell products and what product managers can actually do to help.
The Cranky Sales Engineer and the rest of the sales force look for a mystical confluence of three features to make any deal happen:
- A Technical Problem—Nobody buys anything because its “cool” or “neat” unless they are penniless early adopters. The rest of the market needs a problem to solve or they aren’t interested. We need to find a real problem. Not a “my back bothers me sometimes” problem but a “I’m going to knock my own septic molar out with an ice skate” kind of problem.
- A Relationship—The Cranky Sales Engineers spends an inordinate amount of time at sporting events, dinners, lunches, and, yes, pub crawls, with customers. Why? Because customers will only buy if there is a relationship. Without it, they don’t trust us to actually solve the problem.
- A Business Proposition—There needs to be a business deal on the table that makes economic sense. Without it, the problem remains unsolved, and the relationship is just another excuse to go to the ball game. The business numbers must add up.
The Cranky Sales Engineer is constantly astounded by product managers who manage to be completely irrelvent to this process. These managers talk about features with no problems. In fact, that’s all they talk about. Features they have, features they will have, features they don’t have, and the Cranky SE’s favorite: features that don’t work.
What can you do to help your SE’s sell your product?
- Tie features to technical problems—You should know what gawd-awful problem you’re solving before you invest in new features. It’s true, that sometimes the problem being solved is that the customer is tired of five mouse-clicks when there could be three. But that’s a problem if you have to do it 100 times a day. Show us a technical problem to solve.
- Make sure the features work—Trust is one of the keys to a sale, and the Cranky Sales Engineer loses trust and credibility every time a feature isn’t fully tested. Here is a clue to when your sales engineers have lost the customer’s trust: the customer asks, “Don’t you guys test your programs? Why do I have to do it?”
- Ask the sales team about pricing—You can screw up pricing two ways. If you make it too high, we can’t sell the product. But worse, if you make it too low, we can’t make any money selling the product. Here’s a thought. Ask us. Ask the good account managers and good sales engineers. The good ones don’t want to sell cheap products, and they especially don’t sell on price. Make it worth our while.
It’s hard to make all three parts of a deal line up. Customers have no money. They are retrenching. Help us find toothaches and give your sales team the tools to pull the the deals together.