What does Value mean?

Last week I shared a few thoughts around what it takes to be a Sales Engineer in a high tech startup. My last thought, around understanding value, begs for a full post on that subject.

I hear the word value” thrown around so often that I wonder if it has a real meaning anymore. Everyone says their new product or service provides value, but what does that mean?

When I think about what true value means, I approach it from two distinct angles: time and money. No matter who you’re selling to, value will come down to a function of their time and/or money. That’s it.

We pay lip service to providing value for our customer’s time and money but we don’t grasp it completely. If we did, then our success rate for closing deals would be a lot greater than it is. Plus, we’d have happier customers.

Dissecting Time and Money

Let’s dissect both of these two components:

  1. Time – your customer might be under some time constraint. He/she might have to deliver a model, product, or some service to their customers or end users.
  1. Money – your customer is under pressure to increase revenues or cut costs. They have to do more with less.”

I come across these two problems every single time. No one buys a piece of software or service if they didn’t have one of these problems. The hard part for you is to prove to the customer that what you have is the right fit.

How do you do that? Instead of talking generalities in a demo, prove it to them by helping them build a business case.

Let’s take a typical sales pitch I hear all the time.

Our tool you can cut your ETL time in half!”

Ok, everyone says that. What’s so different about that? Does the next vendor cut ETL time by 55%? 55.6%? It’s a fluff statement, devoid of all context and meaning.

The New Sales Pitch

Now let’s look the same sales pitch but framing it into a context for understanding value.

An entry level Data Scientist makes around $120,000/year. That translates to $57.69/hr in direct labor costs in your department. If they spend 80% of their time on ETL work (1,664 hrs/yr) and we can cut that in half, you’d save $47,998 in labor costs. Our product/service costs only X% of those savings. With the time you save, your Data Scientist can work on new projects.”

Let’s read between the lines and see what was said. I told the customer that my product has value. I used back of the napkin” calculations to quantify it. Next, I pointed out that it only costs X% of the money they’d save from its use. Plus they could redeploy 832 hours of a data scientist’s time to some other project. You can do more with less.

Understanding Value

That’s true value right there. Quantifiable, in context, and meaningful to the customer.

A day in the Life of a Sales Engineer

If you asked me 2 years ago if I’d be working in Sales at a high tech startup, I’d say you were nuts! Fast forward to today and that’s exactly what I’m doing. Today I’m a Sales Engineer at an advanced analytic startup.

What exactly is a Sales Engineer? Wikipedia defines it as a hybrid between Sales and Engineering, an interesting combination indeed. I live in a Goldilocks world of solving problems and selling the solution. This suits me just fine. Coming from the engineering world, solving problems is in my blood. Couple this with learned public speaking skills (i.e. Toastmasters), making presentations in a Sales environment makes me happy. I’m in my sweet spot.

What’s my typical day like? Hectic! Unpredictable! Cool! Most of the day I’m on discovery calls with customers discussing how our platform can help them. Next I could be making a presentation with an Account Representative to a board room. After that I could be on a WebEx with a customer helping them troubleshoot a process. This could, and has, happened all in one day.

What does it take to be a Sales Engineer? It takes a lot of skills and creative ability. I’m not just saying that to make myself sound awesome, it’s a tough job and can be stressful at times. Despite that, Sales Engineering is a rewarding career. As I said above, I’m in the Goldilocks zone! Sounds great, right? Ready to sign up at your local startup as a Sales Engineer? Not so fast, there are a few things you need to know to be successful at it. Let me share with you 6 key thoughts I’ve learned if you’re considering becoming a Sales Engineer.

Tips on being a Sales Engineer

Know thy product – Yes, you need to know you’re product inside out. You need to know what it can do and what it can’t. You need to know how to set it up in a customer’s environment, or be able to find the right resource to help in your company.

Be creative – If you have a flexible product, you will need to be able to use it in creative ways. Likewise, you need to misuse it too. Sometimes the customer has strange requirements and you need to figure out how to get it done!

Stamina – You’re going to be busy. Prepare to take calls after hours, before hours, on a train, in an airport, etc. I joke that my life would end if I lost my mobile phone.

Attitude – You must have an open and engaging attitude. This I can not stress enough. Learn from peers, learn from competitors, learn for everyone in your company. Have a can do” attitude and never shy away from hard problems.

Persevere – Sometimes after a great proof of value (POV), a customer will go dark.” You thought this was sure win and then everything becomes anticlimactic. Like a pregnant pause, you need to help your sales team push through this and reengage your customer.

Understand what Value means – Perhaps the most important item is that magical term value.” Boy do I hear this term tossed around like bowling bowl in row boat. I will dedicate a separate post to this topic but what youthink is valuable may not be valuable to your customer.