Sales

Getting Engineers to Sell: Part 3 – Make It Appealing

Carrots aren’t just for salespeople

In the first two articles of this series, we addressed two major stumbling blocks to getting technical staff to sell: making it acceptable and accessible to them. In other words, showing them why it’s OK to “sell”, and why it’s not some mysterious skill that is beyond their capabilities. These first two steps can be seen as removing negatives; the final piece is to make appealing, so that they have positive reasons to actively be on the lookout for sales opportunities.

The following ideas, you will notice, actually apply to any change management initiative within an organization. When the change is substantive, it’s never enough to run an event, such as training, and then expect complete and lasting change. It has to be embedded into the fabric of the business, to use an elegant term suggested by my friend Dave Brock. In fact, I owe some of the specific points below to an enlightening conversation on this topic that I had with him this morning. (It’s hard to tease out the respective credit, but the parts that sound unusually cogent are most likely his.)

Make it part of the regular conversation. It’s one thing for managers to tell their technical staff that they should be alert for opportunities within their client accounts, but it’s quite another for those managers to include the topic on the agenda of their regular project management meetings, or to ask the questions that keep engineers focused just a little bit wider than their day jobs. On occasion, technical staff may be brought in to participate in account planning workshops. You won’t want to pull them away from their day jobs for all the meetings, of course, but it helps to remind them of the larger context that they are key contributors to.

Measure the right things. Ultimately, you tend to get what you inspect and what you pay for. You can measure new projects or opportunities, or heightened profitability in existing projects through change orders and scope extensions. Unfortunately, measurements and compensation can also distort performance and lead to unintended consequences, so you have to calibrate the measurements of observable behaviors carefully. For example, one such measure could be the number of referrals to members of the formal sales organization. It has to be a solid hand-off, in which the engineer uses her access to the right people to facilitate an introduction, but then there should also be a clear understanding that the salesperson takes the ball and runs with it from there, so that their engineering objectivity and integrity are kept intact. For the same reason, I’m uncomfortable with formal quotas—but there’s nothing wrong with making sales measurements a formal component of performance appraisals.

Compensate accordingly. It may seem hard to believe, but salespeople aren’t the only people who respond to incentives. Again, without subtracting from their performance of their core duties, you want to incentivize them for new projects and for profitability. Project managers on professional services contracts can be a crucial factor in the profitability of the project, so it pays to keep them attuned to it. Also, don’t forget that there are non-monetary ways to motivate people, such as giving credit and recognition where it is earned.

Finally, if you want engineers to have your back, make sure you have theirs. To paraphrase Kennedy: “Ask not what your engineers can do for you—ask what you can do for your engineers.” What can you on the sales side do to help make their jobs easier, such as use your influence at the right levels to manage difficult clients, or to avoid making unrealistic promises that they may be blamed for not fulfilling?

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