"The Three Wise Men and the Sales Engineer" by John Care

A High Level Technique to Link Technology To Business Drivers

Sales Engineers love technical features. We love to speak about them, we enjoy explaining them and then demonstrating those features. If you are presenting to a highly technical audience then sometimes that’s OK. Once you get in front of someone with “Director”, “Vice’ or “Chief” in their title, the focus of the conversation needs to change. And that’s where the Three Wise Men (3WM) can come to your aid.

Almost every single major technology purchase in the commercial world[1] is driven by at least one of three business drivers. They are.

1. REVENUE. How can your product/service increase your customer’s revenue?

2. COST. How can your product / service decrease you customer’s costs?

3. RISK. How can your product / service mitigate your customer’s business (and personal) risk?

If you are not linking your presentation to at least one of the three wise men you are in one of the following situations.

a. Making a high level corporate marketing presentation that no one really care about.

b. Making a highly technical presentation to a roomful of fellow techies. That’s sometimes part of the job.

c. Making a very poorly targeted technical presentation to someone who care more about business impact.

Let’s dive down on the 3WM a little more. As an exercise, try linking the technology you are speaking about to Revenue, Risk or Cost. To define our variables, revenue is money coming into your customer. So causing an increase in market share, decreasing time to market, improving sales effectiveness are all revenue enhancers. Cost is money leaving your customer. So causing a decrease in expenditures, increasing productivity are cost reducers. Risk is little more “fuzzy” and can be linked to items such as legal, compliance, business reputation, intellectual property etc.

For example you may sell analytics software to access massive amounts of big data. You might speak about a “hyper-converged statistical customer algorithm (as a service) which predicts customer satisfaction issues based upon prior history”. Sounds really cool. The techies want to learn more. The director shakes her head with a puzzled look on her face. Then you say “We helped Acme Rocket Skates Reduce Their Customer Churn by 5% over the past 12 months, resulting in a 20% increase in customer satisfaction and 11% increase in repeat business.” That’s at least Revenue and Risk.

Want proof of the effectiveness of the 3WM? Here is what Rick Roy, former SVP and CIO of CUNA Mutual Group had to say about the subject.

“We use three macro-level business metrics to prioritize IT investment decisions and set strategy: revenue growth, cost reduction and risk management and compliance. For line of business spending, it’s rare for someone to introduce a major initiative without a strong connection to one of those. But at the enterprise level it’s more challenging. How does that Windows 7 upgrade really help the business? Whoever presents that case has to make the connection.

Risk mitigation and compliance are the hardest to quantify. We must distinguish between the need-to-have and the nice-to-have. We can’t just say we need to invest in something because the risk is high. What does that mean? Will we lose money? How much? Will we lose customers? How many? We take advantage of our in-house actuarial and risk-modeling expertise to quantify risk.

We look at IT spending in business terms, reporting our costs as an expense ratio. It changes the conversation from “IT costs too much” to a conversation about priorities. It requires more rigor, but it benefits IT to have a clear focus on our top priorities.”

As a call to action, as part of your preparation process, specifically link your pitch to at least one of the 3WM. If you cannot do that, there’s probably way more you need to learn about the customer’s business problems.

[1] There are special cases for government/state agencies and non profit organizations.

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