vendredi 6 janvier 2017

Make the best out of your Sales Engineer

In a previous blog post, I've written about my vision of Sales Engineering (SE) role within companies. SEs work closely with Account Managers/Sales reps in the sales team to create value for their organization as well as for their customers. In this post, I'd like to share some guidelines the sales rep can follow in order to bring out the best of synergies with his SE. I am building on my personal experience as an SE who worked in several companies, and with many sales having different working styles, in order to give the recipe of those whose approaches were the most successful ones with me and with my colleagues.

SE is rare company ressource which is very valuable in sales workflow. Yet, the most common error I've seen sales doing, is considering their SE as a mere resource, not a partner in the sales team. Indeed, sales must somehow act like a cross function project manager with his SE in order to motivate him, empower him, and align him to his targets. These are clearly leadership skills that are also needed with other key roles in the organization, such as service delivery, service management..

For every new project, sales must explain the project's context, what it means before making any request to his SE. It's about selling the project internally to him! What is the meaning/importance of the project? new industry, new product, new large revenues, important customer, important deal to close this month... Then explain the context of the project: key people, expectations, constraints, threats, opportunities...  I can't but think of Saint-Exupéry's words: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea".

During the project, sales must show necessary engagement as it will be somehow a reference for the engagement of SE. In other words, from SE perspective, if sales just disappears after making his request, or doesn't have the necessary time to discuss it, it means that the project is not that important finally, and wouldn't spend much time on it.

In sales-SE partnership, sharing knowledge mutually is a true competitive advantage! The worst sales were those who systematically hid information in order to keep control in their hands! also add those who didn't care about the SE point of view. It's not that difficult to know that the more data you have, the better decisions you take. Here are some exemples:
  • Sales provides all customer's history to SE before a meeting: existing architecture designs , past problems..
  • Sales asks SE for his opinion on the adopted project strategy, maybe he has information that the sales didn't see!
  • Sales asks SE to mentor him technically on a product
  • Sales train SE in in certain domains, for example on a specific industry vertical.

In terms of customer relationship, SE is the right hand of sales. He helps diversifying contacts at different levels within the customer organization, thus producing a better quality of information about customers needs and context. Sales must create the right communication channels between SE and the customer, coach him if needed and trust him. We all knew the customer-relation-nazi type of sales with his everything-must-go-through-me motto.

Each project is a great opportunity for learning and improving. Those who know it, understand the value of continuous feedback. For exemple, after a customer meeting, Sales tells his SE: on subject A your explantation was great and easy to understand, but on subject B, your speech was more focusing on our weaknesses rather than on our strengths. In his turn, SE tells the sales: on subject C, your information wasn't accurate, but on subject D your pitch was very convincing, I saw it on the customer's face.

Finally, sales and SE must act as one team. When a deal is won, it's important that sales gives credit to his SE as a recognition to his engagement and a motivation vehicle for next projects. On the opposite, when a project faces challenges, it's very important not to blame the SE and take the responsibility as a whole team. Otherwise, SE will protect himself in future by avoiding risk taking and hiding behind processes, which can be disastrous for business.

dimanche 25 décembre 2016

Data driven communication

I've noticed that in our communication, we often tend to pass judgment, which is processed information, instead of passing raw information. That is unfair to the ones that we are speaking to, because we do not give them the chance to have their own judgement. Not only it's unfair, but it is also source of misunderstandings and conflicts:
  • Upset customer about service: "Your network's quality is not good enough, we are receiving complaints from our users"
  • Excited business developer about a new opportunity: "Management should support me, this project will generate around 1M€ of revenues, huge one!"
  • Angry work colleague: "You did not reply to my emails several times this week"
In all of the above examples, sent information is not objective. I will give in the following some tips for achieving healthier communication.

The first golden tip would be: "A little less adverbs, a little more data!". Adverbs (too much, extremely, slightly, highly, nearly, very, quite, sometimes, seldom, often) without supporting data are pure judgment. Consider the upset customer again rather telling you, his network provider: "In the last week, the latency on your network was 150ms on average between our offices in Dubai and Paris, causing up to 10 user complaints regarding calls quality". In the first case, you are probably opening a ticket with your technical services in order to correct the issue, but in the second case, you are probably going to compare noted performance to contracted SLAs, might find it compliant, and thus propose a new feature (VoIP QoS) in order to improve the customer experience. In the first case, you are loosing time, whereas in the second you are generating new revenues.

The second tip is backing absolute values with references for better appreciation. For example, compare sales growth rate of this quarter to the same quarter of last year and compare churn rate of your customer base to your industry average. Consider our excited business developer again: 1M€ is indeed a lot of revenues, but his company has limited resources and got in its pipe some other projects generating 10M€ each. It wouldn't be surprising that the 1M€ project will not get priority (a small confession: it's a true personal story!).

The third tip is providing information about samples as well as about the population that we are sampling. Consider the angry colleague again. It's true that this week you didn't answer 5 of his emails, but he globally sent you over 100 mails, which means that you had around 95% responsiveness rate! the sample here is unanswered emails, but the population is sent emails. That would completely calm your colleague :)

Using data in our communication is not about inhibiting the expression of our thoughts and emotions. On the contrary, you are free to add your own subjective judgement, as long as you provide the full picture backed with data. Not only you will give your interlocutor the chance to have his own judgement, but sometimes, by using objective data, your own perception and judgement can change. This is typically the case when your judgement is biased by temporary emotions.

In this post, I gave mostly work related examples, but it's applicable to everyday communications: Better say "I love you like the ocean" than "I love you a lot" hein? :D

jeudi 8 décembre 2016

Linkedin Influencers & Silent Evidence

This post will be a short one!

Many of us follow influencers on Linkedin, like CEOs of big companies such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. We follow their advice, read their "5 rules to change your life", and share their posts with our community. These people inspire us, and make us want to follow their path to replicate their success pattern in our careers. For example, I personally follow Laszlo Bock, Google's VP of Humain Resources, as I found interest in his advice around resume and job application. 

Nevertheless, following influencers to understand success is biased and can probably lead to wrong conclusions. It is the survivorship bias, or also silent evidence as called by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Black Swan. He illustrated it by the following story:

Diagoras, a nonbeliever in the gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, then survived a subsequent shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. 
Diagoras asked, “Where are the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?”

Do we know how much people applied the "5 rules to change your life" but failed and never made it to be Linkedin influencers? Until we do, we should stay skeptical, and do not take whatever a top influencer gives us as truth, but rather try to validate it.

jeudi 17 novembre 2016

CDN benchmarking

Today, when you want to compare the performance of different CDN providers in a specific region, your first reflex is to check public Real User Monitoring (RUM) data, with Cedexis being one of the most known RUM provider. This data is very useful, and some CDN providers buy it in order to benchmark with other competitors and work on improving performance when there are gaps.

I will highlight in the following what exactly RUM measures, so you do not jump quickly to some unprecise conclusions. Let's focus on the latency performance KPI and list the different components that contribute to it:
  • Last mile network latency to CDN Edge on the ISP network, which reflects how near is it to the user.
  • Caching latency, which is mainly due to CDN Edge not having the content and must go back to the origin to fill it.
  • Connectivity latency from CDN edge to Origin.

In general, RUM measurements are based on calculating the time (RTD) it takes to serve the user a predefined object from CDN Edge. Since the object is the same and doesn't change, it's always cached on edges, thus measurements reflect solely the first mile network latency. But that's not all of the picture, because in real life CDN edges needs to fill content from the origin:
  • According to the cache purge policy and the disk space available, the request will be a cache miss. The less TB capacity is present on the Edge, the more will be the caching latency of the CDN.
  • According to CDN backbone, the more hops you need to cross to reach the origin, the more will be the connectivity latency. On this aspect for example, tier 1 IP networks who provide CDN services are very optimized.
For highly cachable content, the comparaison based only on the first mile latency makes sense, but it has limits when it's not the case, such as for long tail video streaming or dynamic content.

lundi 14 novembre 2016

Sales Engineer, modus operandi

Recently, a friend asked me : "What qualities would you look for if you had to recruit someone in the same position as you, i.e. Sales Engineer?", and of course, to make it easier, he asked me how to evaluate these qualities. In this post I will try to answer the question, which is a very interesting one, because it pushed me to stand back a bit and think about my role with detachment.

Sales Engineer (SE) role can be quite different from a company to another and with different titles: Solutions Engineer, Presales Engineer, Solutions Architect, Consultant... In fact, SE can be more or less specialized/generic, more or less involved in delivery, in pricing, in bid management...  In a nutshell, SE, part of the sales team, is a professional who provides technical advice and support in order to meet customer business needs. It seems nowadays that companies are having difficulty finding such profile who combines business acumen and extensive technical knowledge.

The first word in SE is "Sales", but let me start by "Engineer", because technical knowledge is the solid foundation on which trust is built with customers. Indeed, SE must be ready to dive in a technical subject as deep as required by business, understand customer problems and solve them. Nonetheless, static knowledge is not sufficient in a fast-paced and changing technological landscape: This is where the curiosity of SE and his passion for learning are vital for his "survival".
Let's take the case of SE specialized in CDN. He knows very well how internet works, TCP/IP stack, DNS system and HTTP protocol.  He can explain on high level how caching works, but also can dig into HTTP RFC 2616 if needed to answer a specific question about caching. He is following latest trends in his industry such as H2, TLS, SDN, security and looking closely at what is being done at the competition.

So, back to the "Sales" in SE. First, the company counts on the alignment of SE to sales targets, as well as on his strategic thinking in order to create competitive advantage for its products. Second, SE is regularly doing presentations or demos to customers, thus he needs to have good communication skills, to excel at storytelling and to be attentive to his public in order to adapt in real time. Finally, I would say that SE must handle stress and pressure due to sales dynamics. A typical assessment of this skill set would be asking the SE to make a presentation and challenge him during it.

Now the best of SE is in the synergy between "Sales" and "Engineer". Being able to deliver a technical pitch with a variable depth, SE ties relations and build trust at different levels within customer organization. For exemple, our CDN SE brings value to customer's CTO by explaining how its product can help him to increase revenues by improving the online buyer experience, or cope with Christmas load on his infrastructure, and in the same time spend time advising customer's website admin on caching best practices for an optimal CDN setup. By discussing with customer, and asking the right questions, he is able to translate business requirements into a technical solution.

In addition, some other skills are very nice to have in this role, such as coaching partners, training sales, managing some projects... 

I am lucky I have the opportunity to be in an SE position since more than 5 years now, which is a position that sits in a special place within the organization, at the crossroad of sales, engineering, business development, product management.... This role has changed me a lot and I already feel the opportunities that are opening to me.