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Hi John,

I need help! I just transferred into a new Sales Engineer group within my company. It’s a great opportunity and has been a rewarding experience so far, except that one of the reps I work with on a regular basis used to be a highly successful SE. He is driving me crazy. Everything I do has to be the way he used to do it “back when he was an SE”. He interrupts me all the time in front of customers and would probably still run the demo if he could. You should also know that he is about an average rep in terms of quota, and that some of the other junior SE’s are looking to me for guidance. My manager is no help whatsoever.

How can I restore the natural balance of things?

Anonymous

Thank You


 

Hi Anonymous,

There are a few ways to approach this problem – in sales terminology I would say that you can attack frontally or use a flanking motion. It all depends on the personalities, egos and politics involved.

My first piece of advice is to put yourself in the salesperson’s shoes. He has transitioned from being highly successful and respected SE to being a middle of the pack and inexperienced individual rep. He is relying on the traditional strengths that have served him well so far – his well-developed sales engineering capabilities. Just as you know that a great SE can compensate for a poor salesperson – he is convinced that if he worked with a SE clone of himself all would be well. We know from experience that is not the case – but that is most likely the thinking behind his behavior.

The frontal approach is to have a direct conversation during the debrief after a sales call. You should frame the conversation as making it a better way to conduct the sales call, rather than a bunch of negative behavioural comments. I’ve personally used two approaches (plus a story I’ll tell at the end of this column).

1 / Ask the rep to remember back when he was an SE and how frustrated he used to become when a salesperson exhibited the same behaviors he is now using. “When you jump in front of my answers it damages our credibility. First of all – no matter what you think – no customer believes the rep when they give a technical answer; and secondly, it makes them think I know nothing. Is that how you want the customer to feel?

2/ I use an analogy:

Who is your favorite golfer of all time?

“Jack Nicklaus”

“And who is your #2 favourite?”

“Tiger Woods”

“Both incredibly successful people. Did they have the same stance or swing the club the same way?”

“Well, no they didn’t”.

At this point you determine how hard to beat him over the head with the story (and which golf club you might use to do that!)

I now suggest that “in the future, whenever there is a technical question asked, or I am doing a demo, let me do my thing. If we don’t like the end-result we can talk about it afterwards in debrief, because I am not you, and you are not me, so we swing the club differently.” 

The flanking approach is to ask the #1 rep in the district or region to have a conversation with the new rep and offer him some advice. I would suggest the top rep, rather than the sales manager, so it comes across as advice and mentoring, rather than a managerial directive (and seeing that you have gone behind his back).

I can safely predict that within 6-9 months, the technical skills of the SE-turned-rep will start to weaken as new releases, demos, and presentations come out. (If he keeps up with them then he will fail as a rep). The success rate of SE’s going over to the dark side is about 30-40% and most of the failures result from people being unwilling to let go of something they were really good at in order to learn new skills.

 

Good luck!

My Story:  Early in my career at Oracle I made a sales call with Marc, a former SE/SE Manager turned salesperson (and he was doing pretty well). We were meeting with an IT Director and a couple of his staff. I hardly got to ask or answer a single question because Marc was constantly interrupting me.  Once the call was over, we barely made it outside. We’re standing in the customer’s parking lot, it’s a blisteringly hot and humid summer afternoon in central New Jersey. [Read this and imagine dripping English sarcasm]

Me:        “Is every sales call with you going to be like that?”

Marc:    “I thought it went pretty well.”

Me:        “We need a secret signal so I know when you’ve finished interrupting me and that I’m allowed to speak.”

I yelled at him for a few minutes and we agreed on a compromise. That was the start of an incredibly successful relationship that spanned nearly 25 years and 3 different companies.

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