Building a SE discipline from the ground up
I have implemented the following Top 5 initiatives when building a new Sales Engineering function from the ground up. Depending on the current structure of the Sales Organization, timing and complexity of each of these stages may vary. A best practice is to share your growth plan with key sales leaders to get everyone aligned on the same page.
A process to share technical and product knowledge between SEs and other departments (Sales, Marketing, Product, Services and Customer Support). This facilitates group learning and keeps relevant field/prospect information out of individual inboxes. The type of communication you should expect from:
Sales Team: Product related inquiries, feature enhancements and objections from Account Executives in the field.
Marketing Team: Any new competitive intelligence discovered as well as the latest response to the most common sales objections.
Product/Development Team: Any product roadmap announcements that may impact (positively or negatively) the current sales cycles.
Services Team: Any challenges recently deployed customers may be experiencing, which may highlight any unrealistic expectations set during the sales process. This is the fastest way for Services to influence the sales cycle and influence the way in which the solution is being presented to prospects.
Customer Support Team: Any feature or services related complexities customers are experiencing that might be relevant to sales team to know for 2 reasons: 1) Those topics may be avoided during the product demonstration until the issues are resolved; 2) IF they are critical to the prospect’s success then clear expectations may need to be set. Ideally, the solution presented in the sales cycle should very closely match the reality of what customers actually experience post sales. Unfortunately, this simple, obvious scenario isn’t always true for most companies.
2) Prospect profile form
A standard template to get consistent info about each prospect. This helps SEs keep track of opportunities they are working on and gives broader visibility to executives and other involved departments (Services, Product Management, etc). This template is filled out by the AE, owner of the sales opportunity, when requesting SE resources. Once completed, this document should be attached to the opportunity record in your CRM. This process ensure everyone is fully aligned and best prepared. I recommend SEs have a print out of this document in front of them during the prospect meeting (remote or onsite)
Suggestions on what should be included in this template:
– What’s the goal of this meeting or demo? 3 things we want the prospect to walk away with?
– What business goals is the prospect trying to achieve? (And the role our solution plays)
– Who is the audience? (Name, title and influence in decision making)
– What challenges or objections are we anticipate going into the meeting?
– What key solution strengths should we emphasize the most?
– What are we replacing and who we are competing against?
– What are the compelling events driving the prospect’s decision?
Weak or incomplete answers to these questions should indicate the sales cycle is too early for an SE demo.
Prospect Profile Form – Template
3) Sales Engineering + Product bridge
This is very critical to the SE team’s success as well as a big value-add to the Product Management team. Host a regular (often bi-weekly) meeting with the SE team and each Product Manager (if multiple product lines) to ensure the SEs learn the latest and are able to present the solution with most confidence and intelligence. This also serves as the opportunity for the SE team to share the “voice of the prospects” and the knowledge from the field (good, bad and the ugly). Before developing any new feature, product managers should empower the Sales Engineering team to challenge their thinking and provide a prospect’s perspective. The strength of this bridge will promote closing better-fit deals, minimize unrealistic expectations with customers and enable the SE team to be most consultative.
4) Sales Engineering Reports & Dashboards
This may seem a bit out of order since the SE team may be very small at this point. But I am a believer in metrics driven success. SE influence on a sales cycle is challenging to quantify to begin with. Often SE leaders struggle with getting additional headcount and resources as it increases the cost of sale. If you build the tracking and documentation cadence right from the start, it will help set the stage for building a KPI driven SE team. All Sales Engineering activity should be tracked in the CRM and in a timely fashion (Get your team in the habit of doing at least a weekly update. It is much harder for an SE to remember what presentations were done last week and what specific objections came up). All email communication to prospects should also be attached to the opportunity so the AE and the Sales Manager has visibility into the SE influence. It is a best practice to schedule a weekly meeting on SE calendars to “track and clean up” all SE activities and keep the documentation up-to-date.
Additionally dashboards and reports from your CRM should be leveraged to see the impact Sales Engineering is having in reducing sales cycles and increase overall deal quality. Numbers and metrics can help strengthen your SE team growth strategy.
A dashboard may include:
– Quarterly view of SE activities by type (Remote demo, onsite demo, RFP, Technical Q&A, POC, etc)
– SE activities by AE to ensure SE resources are being leveraged fairly
– SE response times on RFPs and technical follow ups
– Demos completed by SE to help understand workload balance
– Win rates on SE involved opportunities helps identify SE alignment and an indicator for SE performance
– Top 20 active opportunities and SE involved
5) Formalize Demo Scripts
Two key aspects of successful demos are “value vs features” and “solutions vs answers”. To accomplish both, there should be a foundational template that holds enough secret sauce for an SE to present your value propositions in their own authentic and confident personal style. Contrary to the common belief that “we don’t need demo scripts because every presentation should be unique“, having demo scripts helps consistently on-board new SEs. A mature SE function should revisit these scripts to accommodate for industry changes, company’s strategic direction and competitive landscape.
To kick it off, listen to a few live demos in the field and start writing the script. This script template should include what you are showing, why you are showing, and what value does it bring to your prospect for every key element. (What/How/Why). It should be a living document that gets reviewed regularly (at least once a quarter) based on the feedback from prospects, any changes in the competitive landscape, new products or features, and the most common objections raised in the field. If needed, you could build a separate script for different personas such as IT, Marketing, Executives etc. Before publishing, ensure a buy-in and approval from the sales leadership. Once published, you can hold AEs and SEs accountable to deliver a consistent message, with of course their own personality and uniquely personalized to each prospect.
There are certainly more areas to build at an early stage of the Sales Engineering team development, but these 5 will get you off on the right track.