Technology sales success today requires a combination of business and technology expertise. For many companies this means a team approach to the sale – with a business-focused account manager partnering with a more technical ‘solution focused’ sales counterpart who can best relay the product / technology features to the customer.
Skillful team selling and especially the role of the solution architect can be considered both a science and an art.
While there are numerous sales methodologies to select from to form the ‘science’ of sales, mastering the art of the team selling can be more challenging. As a solution architect, you need to invest in developing your knowledge of the technology, business and most importantly your personal style.
Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution:
▪ You are a member of the sales team – not the Account Manager or owner of the sale
▪ You must be Business Relevant
▪ You must be Technically Knowledgeable
▪ Know your audience
Remembering these rules of thumb will help you demonstrate your artistry and style.
Rule #1: You are a member of the sales team:
There is not always love, drum circles, group hugs and special brownies between sales team members – especially customer focused Account Managers and pre-sales engineers or Solution Architects – in fact some SAs and pre-sales engineers tend to resent sales people for various reasons (and vice versa.) In reality, it’s natural for a Solution Architect to be proud of their technical skill set.
However, it’s your job to perform as a member of the sales team assisting account managers in the sale of the products and services your company provides. Without you to define, communicate and address questions about the technology solution to the customers’ needs the Account Manager can’t be successful. Similarly without the Account Manager to identify opportunities for the products / solutions you provide and bring you into the sale, you can’t achieve your targets and goals.
Now that you’ve swallowed the fact that you’re a member of the sales team it’s time to enforce the fact that you are not the leader of the sales process with the customer.
Your job is to make sure that the product, service or solution the AM sells is relevant, effective, right-fit, and complete for the particular customer.
Often today, the channel organization / company is referred to as a ‘Trusted Advisor’ to the customer but that ‘Trusted Advisor’ is typically a two-person team. Both the AM and the Solution Architect know the customer well, understand their environment, and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship – but from different perspectives.
As the technology / product side of the team, you are responsible for the IDEA. That is to:
As the Solution Architect, you need to identify customer requirements, design a product set or solution to meet those requirements, evangelize the proposed solution, and adjust the solution as necessary for the customer.
Rule #2: You must be business relevant
This is typically another tough thing to do from a product or technical standpoint.
Understanding business requirements and applying the technology to those requirements does not come naturally for most technology experts but it is vital to success. Great technology alone has no value; the data center landscape is littered with stories of great technology companies that failed because they couldn’t capitalize by making the technology business relevant. The same lesson applies to the Solution Architect.
To be a great SA, you have to understand both business and technology enough to map the technical benefits to actual business requirements. So what if your widget is faster than all other widgets before it, what does that mean to my business, and my job? A great way to begin to understand the high level business requirements and what the executives of the companies you sell into are thinking is to incorporate business books and magazines in to your reading. Next time you’re at the airport magazine rack or your iPad looking at the latest trade magazine, grab a copy of ‘The Harvard Business Review’ or Fortune magazine instead to gain a broader perspective of your customers’ issues and questions today.
Rule #3: You must be technically knowledgeable:
Maintaining an appropriate level of technical knowledge becomes harder and harder as more products are thrown at you, but you must do it anyway. If you can’t speak to the product or solutions features and benefits without using slides or data sheets as ‘cheat sheets’, you might want to rethink your presentation or product knowledge.
Staying up-to-date is a daunting task but there is a plethora of resources out there for it. Blogs and twitter can be used as a constant stream of the latest and greatest technical
information. Add to that formal training and vendor documentation and the tools to be technically relevant are there. Most importantly, the best way to stay technically knowledgeable is not being afraid to ask and or say you don’t know when asked a question. Then find someone who knows the answers or the latest information and talk to him or her.
In return, openly share your expertise with others as it creates a collaborative environment that benefits everyone.
Rule #4: Know your audience:
This may be the most critical rule to differentiate yourself, your Account Manager and company. Mastering this requires doing your homework and ensuring that your conversations, questions and solutions are relevant to each of your audiences. Before you join a call or meet with a customer, be sure you have reviewed their company information and history with your organization and learned as much as possible about their requirements and environment.
Before the call, leverage your Account Manager so you know the customers’ interests and pain points.
Based on this knowledge, you can ask good thought-provoking questions. As the customer provides more information it’s important to tailor the questions and information you provide to that customer’s interest. Any technical conversation should be a fluid entity ebbing and flowing with the customer’s feedback.
Practicing the art:
Like any other art, team sales with a Solution Architect and Account Manager must be practiced. You must study the products and services your company sells, develop your skills and constantly work on your communication.
By starting with general conversation about the customer’s company and market, and asking open-ended questions, you can most effectively identify, then drill down to discuss the needs and areas of greatest interest to the customer. Through continued use of discovery questions the Solution Architect can respond to the product/technology needs of the customer.
In the diagram, you can see the way the conversation should go with a customer. You begin at the top-level big picture and drill down into only the points that the customer shows an interest in or are applicable to their data center and job role. Don’t ever feel the need to discuss every feature of a product or solution because they are not all relevant to every customer. For instance a server admin probably doesn’t care how fast switching occurs but network and application teams probably do. Maybe your product can help save a ton of cost, great but that’s probably not very relevant to the administrators who aren’t responsible for budget. Always ensure you’re maintaining relevance to the audience and the business.
The role of the Solution Architect must be honed and practiced. It doesn’t come overnight and as with anything else, you’re never as good as you can be. Build a style and methodology that work for you and don’t be afraid to change or modify them as you find areas for improvement. The better you get at the art of your role, the more value you’re giving your customer, team, and company.
Adapted by Next Step from article by Joe Onisick of Define the Cloud, LLC