Think Like an Engineer to Improve your B2B Sales Approach

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In my work, I train a lot of engineer “seller-doers” to think more like salespeople. By doing so, they become better at actively identifying opportunities for additional business within their existing clients, and become more businesslike in their approach with potential new clients. Most of them are initially skeptical that they can learn anything from mere salespeople, but they almost always come to accept it.

Before you begin to smirk about those clueless engineers, ask yourself if it works in reverse: can salespeople benefit from learning to think more like engineers? I think they can.

I came across an interesting article in the Farnam Street blog[1], entitled, “The Three Essential Properties of the Engineering Mindset”. It cites a thinking template for engineers created by George Heilmeier, a former director of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA):

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What’s new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you’re successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost? How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?

What struck me is how closely those questions parallel the types of questions I ask in my own opportunity planning template. Every one of these questions is valuable for a salesperson to think about when approaching a complex B2B selling opportunity. Asking and answering these questions during the sales process will cover almost everything you need to know about the customer’s need, your solution fit, and the stakeholders who will be affected. Asking and answering these questions with your customer will put real meaning into (solution, consultative, insight, challenger, etc.) selling.

How many of these questions can you answer about your top sales opportunities? How many of these topics have you actively discussed with your current customers?

Want to be a better salesperson? Think more like an engineer.

[1] If you’re not reading this every day, you are missing an excellent resource.

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