Today's blog post is by Chris White. He is the author of The Six Habits of Highly Effective Sales Engineers. Chris is also the founder of DemoDoctor.
If you’re in software sales – or sell any other complex technology solution, for that matter – chances are good that you depend on sales engineers (SEs) to close business and hit your numbers. Maybe you don’t know them as SEs; maybe you call them “presales engineers,” “solution architects,” or “solution engineers.” Regardless of what you call them, however, your technical sales counterparts – arguably the most important colleagues in your sales process – may confuse you, confound you, and even frustrate you.
Let’s be fair, though: We probably do the same to them.
I’ve spent over 15 years developing and observing the sales-SE relationship – as a sales engineer, an account executive (AE), a sales enablement leader, and now a sales trainer. If I’ve learned anything, it’s this: The AE-SE relationship is arguably the most challenging in all of sales. Challenging because, in many cases, you could not bring together two more mismatched individuals and ask them to work together – on something critically important to the survival of the business, no less: generating revenue. We all know how hard it is to close enterprise technology deals, but it can be equally challenging to develop effective lines of communication and a foundation of trust with our sales counterparts.
How do we get there? If you are struggling to communicate and collaborate with your SEs, here are three things you can start doing now to improve both the relationship and, more importantly, your results.
1. Understand what’s important to them.
The goal of sales is to close business and generate revenue. We are measured fundamentally and primarily by one thing – hitting our numbers. In the context of any given deal, what do we fear the most? Losing the deal. However, our technical sales counterparts’ goals are less clear-cut. Although they are responsible for contributing to the success of a deal – and, in many cases, their compensation is tied to the number – they are not directly responsible for the number.
While they care about winning deals just like sales reps, they care a great deal more about their own personal and professional reputation. While we fear losing the deal, they fear losing credibility. That’s why they are often reluctant to say anything that could be misleading. When working with SEs, be sure to recognize and acknowledge them for their expertise. Demonstrate to them that you value their expert opinion and recognize the importance of their professional reputation. Help them understand that a solution doesn’t have to be a 100% perfect fit to still be the right solution for the prospect or customer.
2. Respect their time.
Want to develop a trusting, collaborative relationship with your technical sales counterpart? Respect and value their time the way you would with an important client. The one thing SEs value more than their reputation is their time. In most organizations, SEs are spread across multiple account execs and BDRs. They have a constant flow of requests for discovery calls, demos, RFPs, implementation discussions, etc. While SEs enjoy being brought in as the experts to provide valuable information and insight, they abhor feeling as though their time is not being respected. Avoid asking them to sit in on meetings for which they are not needed – or to do something a rep should be doing. Value them as the experts they are. Respect their time. Demonstrate that you are bringing them into activities that require their unique knowledge and skills. You’ll be amazed at how eager they become to support you.
3. Provide them with detailed information.
As sales professionals, we survive by learning how to operate with incomplete information. When asked a question, we tend to do what I call “round up.” When making decisions, we typically don’t need every detail in order to make what we would consider an “informed decision.” Our technical sales counterparts are not necessarily the same. SEs tend to operate in a world of precision. We tend to be quick to extend the benefit of the doubt. Our presales counterparts? They tend to be skeptical at first. In fact, they make a living out of not being too quick to jump to conclusions. They typically need logic and details before they can be reasonably convinced.
When you need to bring an SE into a deal – for a demo, discovery call, implementation discussion, etc. – provide them with as much information as you can. If they seem skeptical at first, give them the opportunity to speak to the customer themselves – to do some discovery of their own. This way they can collect the information they need in order to assemble the right demo, respond to the RFP, etc. And be patient with the process. Give them the benefit of the doubt – again, just like you would a customer. At the end of the day, while we in Sales can be a pretty quick “sell,” our sales counterparts usually are not. Give them as much information as you can and don’t be put off if they’re not as immediately excited as you are.
In summary, if you work closely with sales engineers and rely on them to hit your numbers, chances are good you’ve had some great technical sales counterparts and some not-so-great. And, if you haven’t, you will. If you find yourself scratching your head wondering how to improve the relationship – and ultimately close more business – begin with the three steps outlined in this blog and see what it does to the relationship and your results.