By Ruby Bayan

You’re a seasoned net admin, and you love what you do, but lately you’ve been thinking a change of pace might be nice. Sure, you get to develop and implement new solutions from time to time, but it’s business as usual for the most part. So when your boss asks you to help the sales manager demo a product you helped test and deploy, you’re more than willing. “Piece o’ cake,” you say, “I know this product inside and out. In fact, this might open up a whole new career path for me.”

In reality, however, providing tech support for a sales presentation requires more than just being an expert on the product. We interviewed three tech sales specialists—a sales engineer, a sales manager, and a systems developer—to gather insight on how to be an effective tech advisor for sales presentations.

Develop a professional tech-sales team
“The best presentations are made by tech-and-sales teams that work very fluidly with each other,” said Hani Saigh, a former senior sales engineer for Grey Zone Productions. He suggested several ways to develop rapport and a smooth partnership with your sales counterpart:

  • Be genuinely interested in helping the salesperson make the sale.
  • Gauge the salesperson’s technical background. If necessary, explain technical concepts in a way the salesperson will understand.
  • Support the salesperson by being accessible and clear.

“Everyone knows that a salesperson is usually worthless in answering detailed, technical questions,” said Tim Steele, president/CEO of Addison Group. He said that the salesperson essentially takes care of the details of the relationship with the client and assures them that the technical features solve a business problem. The tech advisor is the expert in the functionality and, in some cases, the application of the technology.

Plan, prep, and practice your presentation
Integral to the development of a working partnership between the tech expert and the salesperson is how they prepare—together—for a sales presentation.

Saigh offered these points you should take up with your sales partner before curtain call:

  • Work with a presentation agenda. The salesperson prepares the sequence of events for the presentation; give your input, concur, and then follow it closely.
  • Agree on your nonverbal cues. When a question is posed to the salesperson that is technical in nature and warrants your response, agree on a cue—for example, eye contact and a nod—to indicate that the ball is in your court. Consider other cues for when one of you needs the other to force an interrupt or cut a reply short. (Some of us can get long-winded.)
  • Double-check on the extent of your participation in the presentation. Determine in advance what is required of you as the tech expert in terms of scope, duration, questions and answers, and other parameters. Of course, you’re in charge of making sure your hardware, software, and product applications work flawlessly.

Steele, who has been a sales manager in various IT-related industries for the past 20 years, shared a few teamwork tips from the sales point of view.

“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the salesperson to ensure a smooth presentation,” he said. If the tech person is in any way deviating from the agenda, the salesperson must steer the tech person back on course.

Steele added that the salesperson must brief the tech advisor thoroughly before the presentation.

“The tech person must be sure to ask enough questions of the sales rep before the presentation to make them both comfortable with the situation,” Steele said. “One can ill afford going into a strategic presentation without an understanding of the attendees and objectives. And, of course, practice, practice, practice.”

Present with your salesperson
The moment the curtain rises and you’re on center stage, you realize that all of your tech-sales collaboration efforts are on the line—to either make or break the sale.

Rommel Dizon, president and CEO of WeBuild IT Inc., was a former full-time tech support staff member and developer of handheld computer systems and document imaging. He stressed that teamwork between tech and sales is crucial and recommended spending a lot of time together to prepare and compare notes.

But even after long hours of rehearsals, snafus can happen. Here are some examples and advice on how to deal with them:

  • If the salesperson attempts to answer a technical question and ends up giving off-track, if not downright obtuse, answers, “Try to give the correct answer without making the salesperson look bad,” Dizon suggested. “Save the situation by giving additional info relevant to what the salesperson said, and gracefully sway the discussion to the right answer. Or give a more accurate description, which may help camouflage the fact that the right answer is completely different from what the salesperson said.”
  • If the salesperson makes unsubstantiated claims about the product or service you are presenting, “Try to correct the salesperson without drawing attention to the situation,” Steele recommended. “You don’t want it to look like you are not on the same page.”
  • If you have the tendency to say “no” or convey other negative impressions, “Let the salesperson take responsibility for the flow of the presentation,” advised Steele. “Being honest is okay, but how a delicate question is answered is the difference between the sale and no sale. Let the salesperson be the architect and director of the presentation.”

Present for your audience
Getting your act together with your sales rep is only half the challenge. The other half involves coming across to your customers and leading them to a favorable decision. Here are some valuable tips:

  • Be a real expert. “As the tech support, it is a given that you are a ‘technical expert’ on the product and should appear as such in front of a live audience,” Dizon said. Prospects and clients become more comfortable, and convinced of your product and your company, if the technical expert answers the tech questions—correctly, of course—and gives additional information that they appreciate.
  • Cut down on tech jargon. In fact, eliminate tech-speak as much as possible, Steele said. “Talk in terms of what the product does to solve a business problem and how it solves it.”
  • Know when your audience has had enough technical detail. “A tech support shouldn’t be 100 percent technical 100 percent of the time,” Dizon said. “Some people in the audience may get high with all the tech-speak, but some could well be bored to sleep.”
  • Frame “facts” as  “solutions.” For example, Saigh suggested that instead of saying “100 percent Web-based,” say “Web-based for high accessibility across your organization.” Rather than “XML-driven,” say “utilizes an advanced data language to eliminate redundancy and significantly reduce Web publishing costs.”

Finally, Steele said it’s important to remember your plain and simple people skills. Listen carefully with the intent to understand the customer’s needs and don’t get caught up in proving a point.

“Many technical people rush to prove their knowledge and/or prove themselves right, and they alienate the customer in the process,” he said. “They prove their point, to the detriment of the sale.”

Have you been asked to assist a sales rep?

How do you prepare to assist on a sales call? Do you strategize with the salesperson prior to the pitch? Send us an e-mail or post to the discussion below.