We work with many companies that employ technical or market experts in roles such as Systems Engineer (SE), Application Engineer (AE), and Product or Solution/Industry Specialist. To leverage the ValueSelling Framework®, we encourage the inclusion of these specialists in the sales training process so they can best support the sales organization with deep subject matter expertise and augment the sales representatives’ skills when needed. When brought into the sales cycle, these roles also have very specific responsibilities, such as providing demos, bolstering credibility for a particular buying center, and adding value to the prospect during the sales cycle.
Specialists come in all shapes and sizes. One client I work with that sells to healthcare, has a former nurse in the pre-sales role to aid sales reps when engaging the Nursing Officer at a hospital. Another client, whose market is higher education, has former school administrators on staff to help reps prepare for School Board meetings. Another example is a software company that has sales engineers who tailor product demonstrations to prospect use cases.
Regardless of the industry or role, there are typically far fewer specialized resources than direct sales professionals. These individuals and their valuable resources of time and knowledge are in high demand to the sales team. Because of this reality, our clients often ask for best practices on how the specialists can make the greatest impact in advancing an opportunity.
Rather than have the specialist pair up with the rep whom they have the best relationship with or the rep that screams the loudest, consider these best practices to effectively engage this important resource in the sales effort:
- Adopt a common language and methodology. If your company has adopted a sales methodology for the sales organization, then it’s imperative that the specialists are skilled in the same approach. Communication among people who use the same language is extremely effective, and it’s critical that each team member demonstrate strong communication skills.
Be sure your specialist resources possess strong questioning, listening, persuading, and educating skills. While they may not be leading the strategy for an opportunity, with a common language, framework and approach, all the people involved in working on an opportunity will be prepared to execute and engage.
- Engage once the opportunity is qualified. Most organizations cannot afford to have specialist resources on a first sales call or on standby for opportunities that are merely a hope and a dream. Instead, many high-performing sales teams that we work with have a rigorous and consistent qualification model, which must be satisfied before the specialist gets involved.
Here are some example questions that should be answered before seeking specialist involvement in an opportunity:
- “What’s the key business issue and corresponding problem that the prospect has shared?”
- “How can I help position our solution in the context of what the prospect thinks they need?”
- “Do we know the value they expect of a solution from our product or service and is that value quantified?”
- “Is the meeting with the right people? Is the purpose to advance the sale?”
If a sales rep cannot answer these questions, then it may be premature to bring in a specialist. Sending a specialist out to help qualify a suspect rather than engage a prospect is a very expensive proposition.
- Use a specialist to speed the learning curve. Every time a specialist is engaged with a sales rep on an opportunity is a teachable moment. A best practice is to set expectations on how knowledge and skills can be passed from the specialist to the sales rep. While the sales rep may never have the specialist’s depth of expertise, they can learn from them, and use that knowledge and insight to improve their credibility in the future.
Bottom line: Imagine asking your boss to write a check equal to the cost of your company’s pre-sales resource. Now consider whether that resource is engaged in a dead-end sales opportunity at the expense of a meeting with a truly qualified prospect. Would you send them to that meeting? Pre-sales subject matter experts are a scarce resource, and therefore, must be utilized wisely. Avoid spending their time on unqualified opportunities—situations where key information, such as determining the underlying business issue and the prospect’s view of the solution, with the right person, have not yet been uncovered. Implement these best practices to ensure you can maximize the return on pre-sales investments!
Good luck and good selling!