Two messages became crystal clear:
- There is no defined selling role for the sales engineer (SE)
- They are engaged too late in the sales cycle to make a difference
These two findings were especially significant because both sales managers and sales reps indicated that SEs are a scarce and valuable resource. In fact, one manager said that his biggest fear was not losing deals to the competition, it was losing SEs. There are always more deals to go after, but talented pre-sales people are extraordinarily difficult to replace.
Does this sound familiar? Your organization may not use engineers as part of your selling process, but there is a good chance that your sales rep is teamed with vital pre-sales resources that are not deeply integrated into the process. Using our example of the SE, consider the impact of your underutilized support resources.
Questions to ask to determine if your presales resources are being leveraged correctly:
1. Does my sales process describe when, how, and why pre-sales resources are engaged in the deal? The purpose of a sales process is to enable and assist the customer to move through the buying process. World-class sales processes include specific actions to execute at each stage and job aids to accomplish the task. These processes are typically built for sales reps and sales managers. Pre-sales resources are often an after-thought, if thought about at all.
2. Are there specific tools and Job Aids that enable my pre-sales resources to succeed in driving the sales? SEs generally employ home-grown diagnostic tools. They have the skills to apply them effectively to comprehend a myriad of technical challenges. SEs often have powerful resources to configure a valid solution architecture that will solve the customer’s problem. The “Engineering” part of the SE title is covered. But the “Sales” part of SE is not. They need sales tools too.
3. When are your pre-sales resources engaged? In our interviews we asked, “What would increase your effectiveness in the sales process?” The SEs unanimously declared that they needed to be engaged early in the buying process. This is the time to be creative and influence the solution requirements. Innovative ideas flourish and there is opportunity to expand the deal with up-sell and cross-sell solutions.
Early in their buying process prospects are open to suggestions and are willing to consider new ideas. However, once the prospect has moved past the early stages of “Recognize Needs” and “Identify Requirements,” the opportunity for exploring and trusted advising is gone. When the buying process has advanced to the “Evaluate Solutions” stage, it is too late for the SE to do anything more than explain the product specifications and capabilities.
The experts on sales engineering at Sales Engineering.com http://www.salesengineering.com/ note that “SEs can directly impact cost of sales and revenue by improving funnel quality, solution closure time, deal sizes, and solution win rate.” Aside from improving their technical skills, how can you increase their impact on the sales process?
Improve the impact presales resources have on your sales campaigns:
Define and enrich the pre-sales role. Update your sales process to include specific actions and job aids for sales engineers. It is not enough to simply list an action “Request SE support resource” for the sales rep. Include specific tasks for the SE that advance the sales cycle. Depending upon your solution set, these could include presenting a non-technical concept framework to the decision maker. The best source for specific actions is to research past successes where the SE played a vital role in the early stages. Those are the actions to replicate.
Update or add Sales Aids. Include fields for input from the SE in the job aids your reps and managers use. Or create unique sales aids for the SE. Provide worksheets, templates and guidance to identify specific actions at each stage of the sale.
Integrate SEs in the sales process workflow. Identify the SE tasks and tools in the CRM sales process flow so that the SE has clear direction and integration into each opportunity. Better yet, incorporate their tools directly in the CRM system with embedded forms, links and mouse-over instructions. Their expected contributions are now clear to the sales rep, and they will work better as a team.
Engage early in the sales process. With clearly identified tasks and tools, the next step is to update the sales process to indicate the engagement points for the SE. Train the sales reps and SEs on the new expectations and provide the managers with insight through CRM reporting.
Hold them accountable. The sales manager and SE manager now have the ability to coach the selling team through the process. Use weekly reviews and informal touch-points to ensure that the reps and SEs follow the game plan.
Support resources are essential players on every successful selling team. But their roles and engagement are often poorly defined. If you have more ideas on the subject, please make a comment below. Act now on the suggestions above to boost the profit-generating performance of your sales process and maximize your investment in support resources.
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