Tech selling: The rise of the sales engineer

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C. Edward Brice, senior VP-worldwide marketing at IT security software company Lumension Inc., has seen profound changes in the way businesspeople are sourcing and buying technology. BtoB recently spoke with Brice about the evolution of IT buying and how tech marketers can meet their audience's changing needs. BtoB: What have you encountered among IT buyers that is different these days? Brice: Like a lot of companies we try to do persona work, but at the beginning of the year we added in a quantitative study around how personas work with our own customer base. It focused specifically on how they buy IT security solutions at a price point similar to ours. We identified some of these trends and felt that the changes in the buying cycle were so important that there was another mega trend at work. Customers told us that the biggest shift they have made is collecting most of their information on the Web, and spending less time at physical events. As a result, technology companies need a fundamentally new engagement model, and we came up with what we thought worked for us. BtoB: What is that model? Brice: What we saw is that there is so much information available to buyers that they expect to engage with a sales rep who has the same technical ability as they do. Our solutions aren't ultra-expensive—in the $25,000 to $50,000 range. But even there, two to four people are involved in the decision process. And going forward, more people seem to be coming in and out of the buying cycle, including influencers, tech researchers, signatories, etc. One shift that companies will have to make is doing a better job of mapping the buyer ecosystem and knowing who's involved in it. BtoB: How has this affected sales acceleration at the bottom of the sales funnel? Brice: Sales has to become more of what I call a “demand concierge.” That means making sure it's providing the right information, or added information, to help the prospect move to the next stage. Sales has an opportunity to take a greater role here, but the challenge is that selling is still based on a relationship model. Because of the technical level that the prospect is coming to you with, you'll be at a disadvantage if your contact person doesn't have the technical background to address his issues right off. Many companies have tried to train sales on [their] products, but how many companies that have said that have been successful at it? Our buyers want to speak with a sales engineer, or at least a sales engineer plus a sales rep, on first contact. If they don't speak to someone with at least an equal level of technical ability, there will be a lesser chance they'll buy. If the knowledge isn't there at that first point of contact, a company may be taken off the short list. BtoB: It sounds like the bottom of the sales funnel has to change in order to close deals, correct? Brice: Yes, because the traditional sales-marketing model has fallen apart. The marketing department is putting out all this content, white papers, trials, etc., to drive buyers to engage. Then, when sales has to increase the interpersonal dialogue, the process is ending. Now you have to bring in support services. BtoB: Explain how the “demand concierge” concept applies here. Brice: A lot of companies have sales engineers, people who have the technical background to know the products inside and out. These must come in partnership with the traditional sales person to move the sale forward at first point of contact. But we also give a choice to the buyer to speak to someone who is more technically oriented or who is more business-centric. The mental shift for sales is, how to become this demand concierge, understanding the people in the buying process and finding out how to deliver the right information to the prospect.
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