When approaching a customer as a Salesman or a Sales Engineer, there are a number of approaches. I believe that you can follow the goals of a couple of my favorite movies “Glengarry Glen Ross,” or “Tin Men” and try to sell as much as you possibly can in hopes that the sale is made, the deal is done, and you get the customer to “sign on the line which is dotted…” (a great quote from Alec Baldwin in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross). Or you could shoot for the approach of that of the trusted advocate.
In the first approach, there’s one goal, and that’s short-term gain. While it may help to make this month’s mortgage payment, it’s not really effective in terms of relationship building, and this kind of thinking really doesn’t build partnerships. The question is truly: “What is your goal?” There are many things that might motivate a salesperson. In most “Professional” businesses, the immediate dollar should be the last choice. In “Tin Men” there is no ethic whatsoever. The teams have only one goal and that’s to win. They sleep with each other’s wives, attempt to cheat from the competing siding firm, and do whatever they can to scheme business from the patsy customer.
When I was in previous companies, our goal was to make money, of course, but the idea was not always to provide optimal service. The “Trusted Advocate” position wasn’t really admired always. In consulting services, there was often a desire to increase billable hours. Certainly, in that case, the goal of ensuring that the work appeared to the customer to be as viable and consistent as possible, such that the customer would think that they were getting value for their buck, as well as being willing to come back for more business in the future, but if we could pad the bill, then management would be thrilled. I can remember finishing jobs efficiently, but fully, and getting grief from the management because I was unexpected for a period of time back at the office. This was due to “Lost Revenue.” I believed that the good faith in a job well done was going to be perceived as a positive both by my organization and by the customer. But the short-term gain was not enough.
Another example that sticks out in my mind was one in which I was selling for a storage organization, where moving the hardware was a critical element. So, the salesperson (I was an SE) was pushing me to sell the customer SSD for IO. The only reason I was given was that he wanted to make more money on the deal. I was certainly torn, as this goes against my motivations as a trusted advocate. But I did it. I felt dirty, and after making the successful sale, I made sure that the salesman knew it. I was wrong, by the way. I never should have complained to the salesperson, as I was then labeled a troublemaker. But, I do feel that I was correct in my opinions here. I would have been better off swallowing my opinion and complaining to my friends, rather than my salesperson. But ultimately, that does go against my goal in the work environment.
As an SE, or a PreSales Architect, our goal is to present to the customer the “Best Solution.” It is our responsibility to give the customer their options in this world of best practices, given their existing config and what we want them to move toward. Of course, we’d like them to use our solution, but in some case, we may even be willing to say to them that going with another company’s solution may even be a better fit. It is better for the purposes of their environment, and our relationship both individually and as an organization in the long run to do so. Am I being an idealist? Maybe, but I hope that I am not. It’s rare that “Sales,” and “Pre-Sales” agree on these points. And for my thought process, it’s rare to have an organization that allows for the “Pre-Sales” perspective to be able to take the lead on these conversations. A long time ago, I made the decision to be a part of an organization that understood the long-term goal.
Another point that makes sense is that if you follow these goals, your organization, no matter the size, will continue to maintain their customer base. The installations will go smoothly, the customers will remain happy and in the long run, they’ll return for future business. We aren’t looking for the quick hit, we’re looking for long term relationships.