North American Association of Sales Engineers

North American Association of Sales Engineers

European Association of Sales Engineers

How Project Management Insight Can Help a Sales Engineer

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– by Alan Geiss

When I worked at IBM, my manager would tell me “Never confuse Selling with Installing”.  I recognized then that these were two separate activities, but I failed to recognize their similarities and dependencies.  Later in my career I led project teams at Bayer Corporation for almost 20 years, and it was then that I came to appreciate my sales experience.

Products and Services – We sell products and/or services, and after the sale project teams must implement the same.  The sales process establishes the business case for the project team, so we owe it to the client to ensure there is a case for change (aka the Burning Platform).  Without this we all fail.

Stakeholder Identification – Identifying stakeholders is just as crucial at the beginning of the sales process as it is in the initiation phase of the project.  It is probably more important for the project team to know who the outliers are than the sales team, as these colleagues could impact the adoption of the product or service.

Communication, Communication, Communication – The three most important activities when selling or implementing products or services.  Having a communication plan is critical regardless of pre or post sale activities.  Get good at it.  Spend more time listening and less time talking.  Be curious, ask questions to understand the client’s requirements. This is where you should be spending most of your time if you want to be successful.

Building a strong team – Selling solutions at IBM involved a team of people, both from IBM and its agents as well as a group of individuals from the client’s team.  Taking the time to build strong relationships is just as important on sales teams as it is on project teams.  High Performance Teams rarely fail, so why not take the time to build one.

Overcoming Objections – Removing obstacles during the sales process is just as critical during the implementation process.  Obstacles are a risk to closing “the deal”.  By understanding the customers objections, we can address their needs.  This is “Risk Management” in project management terminology.  It requires open and honest communications with key stakeholders.  I do interviews with key stakeholders at the beginning of projects to understand what they see as the project’s biggest risk.  Why not consider doing this at the beginning of the sales cycle?

Never take it personal – Saying “Don’t take it personal”, and not reacting emotionally is easier said than done.  I am competitive by nature, so I was never happy when I lost a sale.  In my case, I was missing professional maturity.  Things do not always go as planned in projects, but I conduct “Lessons Learned” exercises so that we can capture what went well and where we can improve.  Doing the same post- mortem on a lost sale would benefit you and company, while at the same time depersonalize the experience.

In my book Managing Sh*T Storms I describe the three essential behaviors required for effective project managers.  Learning to be courageous would certainly be an asset for an effective sales professional.  The most successful sales reps I know were not afraid of anything and were top performers in the company.  Practicing boldness will allow you to get things done and get more opportunities.  The next time the boss is looking for a volunteer, raise your hand.  Trust your instincts as they are based on your life experiences.  Take the time to understand what your “gut” is telling you and trust your own advice.  If you put these three essentials to practice you will have more success in your job and in your career.


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