Understanding Technical Sales

Recently I attended a Band Spirit night at a local restaurant.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, a local business agrees to give a portion of the proceeds from orders during a certain period from those who mention a charity or club.  In this case, we were supporting the South Forsyth High School Marching Band in which my son is a freshman Sousaphone player (no, not a Tuba).  I had a yummy turkey burger, some pretty good Brussel sprouts and my favorite item on the menu there, a Bourbon and Caramel shake (yes, an actual milkshake with actual Kentucky Bourbon).  But this post isn't about food or band, this post is about technical sales.

I was speaking to another set of parents there, some folks we have known for a number of years as we have 2 kids in the same grades.  The dad asked me what I did and I told him I am a "Software Architect for IBM."  He said that sounded interesting and that he wished he'd studied more about computers in school.  He then asked me what was involved in what I do.  I told him about my trip this week.  I went to visit a major oil and gas producer out west.  While there, I met with a pair of people on the team.  The first was the manager of their BI group and he was having some issues with an upgrade of one of our products.  When I left that meeting I called one of our partners who I know does a lot of work in this area and started asking about ways we could help them through their issues. This is essentially, post-sales support or "Technical Account Management" depending on your company or your own role, this might be anywhere from 20%-80%of. your daily job as a Technical Seller.  In my TAM phases, I have done everything from setting up simple partner calls, to going on site for a week to install some software when a Consultant was unable to do the work to spending an entire year implementing a project for a customer (this was a highly unusual case).  TAM type work is vital to ensuring that your customers are happy, healthy and continue to pay their support contracts when they renew.  For most software companies, this is a major portion of their annual revenue and ensuring that this stream continues is important to everyone.  For the most part, the responsibility for keeping this going is on the Support staff and dedicated sales reps who are responsible solely for "renewals."  But the people who built the relationship and trust with the customer initially can really provide a lot of key information and support to both sides in this role.

For most technical sales folks, the majority of their job is finding new deals.  This was the goal of my other meeting with this customer. We had a wide-ranging and exciting discussion with a woman who is an analyst in their Data Science department.  She's a deeply trained Data Scientist with awesome skills in the methods and algorithms that are being used in the Data Science world.  She's also deeply knowledgeable about the data and constraints of the oil and gas industry on the production side of the house.  We had a great discussion on the capabilities of a Linear Programming tool that we sell that allows companies to manage the huge number of constraints that are simply too complex for a human being to understand.  Based on that output this company could plan their well drillings and other numbers much more realistically and accurately.  We held a wide-ranging talk on what sort of data she had access to for her work and how that data could be mined and managed to provide inputs to the tool.  We also discussed the type of business restrictions they worked under when planning their work.  Things like, lease expirations, transport logisitics, competitors and hundreds (if not thousands) of other restrictions.  The ability to manage all of these disparate restrictions and maximize the return is the prime use case for our tool.  This sort of discussion and the underlying understanding of the financial impacts that these maximized plans could bring to the business amount to huge Return on Investment for this customer.  It's not a one week implementation, but the final goal is a huge number for them.

Understanding the capabilities of your product and the pains and goals of your customer are the bread and butter of a technical seller.  The ability to quickly understand the way your customer's business works and how they talk about the things that are causing them pain will earn you the trust and understanding of your contacts and enable you and your seller to be successful.  Over the course of this blog, I plan to discuss these items more in the context of growing those skills and in the actual technical details I work with on a daily basis.

Thanks for joining me and thanks for reading.

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