As featured in ERE Daily
Do your salespeople struggle to hold their own when customer conversations take a technology deep dive? Then throw them a lifeline and recruit a technical sales support team.
However, just because a sales support candidate is “technical” doesn’t mean they will have what it takes to provide the support your salespeople need.
Over the course of assessing more than 400,000 sales professionals, our research has identified 140 success-related attributes as they apply to 14 discrete sales roles. Here are the six attributes top performing technical sales support professionals have in common.
1. Gains Customer Commitment
Successful sales support reps are much more than walking Wikipedias. They exercise leadership in helping to advance the sales process. Look for them to:
- Rally all participants around goals and priorities
- Relate to customer participants in both technical and management roles
- Keep communications focused and simple so there is little room for distractions or misunderstandings
- Bridge differences and encourage all points of view
- Value all parties in the solution seeking process
The sales support rep can do all this and not step on the account manager. The two meet before the customer visit to decide what the call objective should be and how best to orchestrate their efforts.
2. Identifies Customer Needs
Some sales support reps placidly accept customer needs surfaced by the account manager. Others barge in with a solution looking for a problem. Gifted tech support reps:
- Apply their superior technology savvy to ask insightful questions that get to the root of the problem
- Take the time to explore all options and alternatives
- Don’t get defensive when their line of reasoning is challenged
- Accommodate personalities and politics but don’t get sidetracked by them
- Focus on understanding, not shaping customer needs and priorities
3. Invests Time and Effort in Professional Development
High-performing technical support pros are constantly working to improve themselves. Look for them to:
- Push themselves to perfection in acquiring new skills and tackling difficult tasks
- Cheerfully welcome feedback and coaching suggestions
- Put career goals ahead of social and recreational pursuits
- See even red tape and bureaucracy as challenges that can be overcome
- Always be seeking new challenges — even within the confines of their current job role
4. Delivers Added Value to Customers
Talented sales support reps don’t just communicate the value of your solution. They add to it by:
- Keeping customers abreast of market trends and the state of the art
- Positioning the benefits of your offerings within the competitive landscape your customers are up against
- Providing advice and consulting on business issues that go beyond the immediate application of your proprietary solution
- Constantly building their knowledge base and staying current in their field
5. Makes Persuasive Product Presentations
Capable sales support reps can hold their own in give-and-take conversations. Superior reps are able to command the stage by:
- Leading discussions with an enthusiasm that inspires customer buy-in
- Using PowerPoint and other presentation aids as tools rather than being slaves to the advance button
- Deviating from the script where necessary to accommodate audience reaction
- Knowing when to leave solutions attributes out that customers value less
Occasionally a technical support rep has the presentation chops and personal charisma to mesmerize large audiences. These individuals make terrific industry conference speakers and user group session leaders, but be wary. Big-stage personalities can be deaf to customer needs shared intimately across a desk.
6. Complements Persuasion With Education
Senior decision makers aren’t likely to embrace a new solution if they don’t understand it. Gifted sales support reps address these misgivings with education. Look for them to:
- Structure and deliver pre-sales briefings and webinars that bridge the knowledge gap
- Build in check points to ensure that the learning has been understood
- Patiently reinforce the learning until the customer is totally comfortable making a purchase decision
- Focus on job application and business results rather than textbook theory
Many technology companies have a consulting or software services organization charged with selling education-based startup services and a customer education function responsible for educating systems administrators on how to operate and apply the solution. Generally avoid using them for pre-sales education since they may lack the sales “bones” to move the decision forward.
Wrong Sorts for Sales Support
No technical sales support resource has any value if salespeople dread bringing them into sales situations. Avoid casting any of the following misfits in sales support roles.
Mary is most comfortable holed up in her cube writing code while listening to Vivaldi on her headphones. She views salespeople as velociraptors in suits and is terrified by give and take customer interactions. While Mary probably won’t respond to your sales support job posting, you might be tempted to redeploy her to the field in between software development cycles. Not a good idea.
Phil’s the smartest person in the room — even if he has to make others feel stupid to prove it. Look for him to question your customers’ business vision and technology savvy … even their education credentials. “Purdue? Good school — it was my backup if I didn’t get into MIT.” It gets worse. Now Phil will point out the shortcomings of your solution set. “I told them we needed a quad processor. Next time maybe they’ll listen to me.”
The Party Animal
Jonas is a rabid enthusiast about all things technical and thrilled by the opportunity to hob nob with customer technical staff. Count on Jonas to go off on tangents that have absolutely nothing to do with the business issues you’ve worked so hard to develop and bore any executive-level decision makers present to tears.
The Takeover Artist
Flattered to find a rapt audience for her technical acumen, Ava forgets to follow the lead of the account manager that brought her to the dance. Intent on being personally appreciated and needed she relegates the account manager to playing “Bad Cop” in keeping customer conversations on track.
The Monument Builder
A simple opportunity calls for an elegant solution. But Boris won’t be satisfied until he piles on every capability you have to offer. Stunned by the cost and complexity, your customer escapes into the arms of a more accommodating competitor.
Questions You May Have
When is it appropriate to use technical sales support types as the principal account manager?
If the decision makers you call on are technically sophisticated, it may make sense to recruit sales generalists who fit the above technical support profile. These folks are frequently called “sales engineers.”
Is it OK to use technical sales support staff to fill in on internal development projects?
If they have the technical chops and they are not needed in the field, sure. In fact, if you are a smaller firm, you may not have any choice. A side benefit: as they bring a bit of field reality back to the lab, your next offering is a lot more likely to address real customer needs.
How do I measure the performance of sales support reps?
Survey the sales team members they are assigned to. Time in field can also be another component (salespeople are unlikely to ask for help from reps they don’t have confidence in). You may also want to evaluate support reps on achieving technical certifications, authoring blogs, and landing speaking assignments or panel participations at industry meetings. If they are assigned to a sales team, consider bonusing them based upon overall team sales performance.
How do we prevent our salespeople from becoming too dependent upon the technical sales support group?
Be sure your management reports document sales support usage by sales rep and that sales managers have to pay for sales support in arriving at their profit target. You might also consider requiring salespeople to provide a simple justification each time they request help. However, remember, there’s no benefit in having your sales support people warming the bench.
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