Engineering Software Sales & Marketing in the U.S. Part 1

I often speak with international solution providers across different engineering software market segments of PLM (e.g. PDM, CAE, CM, EIM, AM, CAM, Viz, DM, etc.). Over my career I’ve also lived abroad as well as worked for foreign-based providers here in North America. A frequent question I hear is how different is marketing and selling engineering software in U.S. industrial markets compared to the rest of the world?

How the question is asked often communicates a hope that the norms of their technology space overcomes any differences in the selling and buying customs. While the world of technology sales is indeed becoming more globally homogenized there are still substantial differences due to international business cultures.

To assist clients of my PLM Alliances consulting practice I often share what I have found to be some of the most notable differences between selling engineering software in the U.S. versus other global regions. These differences also illustrate how selling here has changed in recent years for U.S.-based firms. Over the next three Alliance Alchemy posts I’ll share five a time.

  1. American technology markets are crowded, noisy, and confusing for both software sellers and industrial users alike. Because of this, getting attention and earning mindshare with a prospect at any level of an organization is often more challenging than selling a qualified opportunity once you have an engagement going. The days of having business development reps, no matter how experienced, making outbound cold sales calls by any media to search for and push prospects is long over. Instead, the most effective business development is creating an integrated multi-dimensional marketing strategy that pulls prospects into the pipeline as if by a magnet for reps to then go work.
  2. The U.S. economy offers a magical combination of imagination, motivation, innovation, and monetization opportunities. However, at times it may appear to be imperfect, chaotic, or even unfair to those from more structured and orderly business cultures. Much of this magic is due to the sheer volume and velocity of capital, both human intellectual and financial investment, which flows through the economy. As a result, our markets are full of industries, companies, and jobs that may appear to have little to do with providing the basics of life. With easy access to capital where debt is not embarrassing, whole new industries can emerge quickly to disrupt mature markets that fall victim as easy prey. The digitalization of nearly all aspects of our economy, jobs, and personal lives is a prime example.
  3. While Americans like to talk win-win and collaboration, our business culture is hyper-competitive to the point of obsession. I have never fully understood this “scarcity” attitude which feeds competition as compared to other nations I have visited the U.S. enjoys such an abundance of nearly everything. Regardless, as a result, your competitors, partners, and customers – small or large, new or old – can be very competitive, protective, tribal, and even cultish in ways they may not even recognize. There is some truth that your competitors don’t have to be perfect or offer the best products; they just have to appear better than everyone else to win. Sadly, if they can’t be better some may focus on making others look bad through old-fashioned FUD. It’s not uncommon that due to excessive compensation incentives and investor expectations some competitors will cut corners, mislead, or even cheat to win a huge deal at any cost. Don’t take the competition personally – even though it is a very personal statement about the ethics of your competitors – as they are motivated and misguided by financial markets which reward winners at extreme levels.
  4. The product you are marketing and selling to American managers is not the software code. What is being sold should be the value the software solution brings that prospects are led to believe and hold in their minds. Developing, testing, productizing, releasing and maturing the overarching sales narrative and value proposition that compels a purchase is every bit as important as developing and releasing the actual software product! That is why creating the marketing and sales “product” often takes as much time, acumen, and investment as creating the software product. Demonstrating the value product is as much if not more important than demonstrating the software product. If you do this well, prospects may not even need to see, benchmark, or use the product before buying. It’s true!
  5. It’s best to not lead the sales cycle with technology and certainly not with the product. You may be rightfully proud of how different your technology base or software products are, but customers don’t care until you have convinced them why they should listen then trust anything you say. It is as important that you understand your customer’s industry, challenges, needs, and priorities as much as understanding your own offering. If during the first call you ask an executive what type of business drivers and problems their industry is experiencing, they will throw you out of the office for being a waste of time. While all customers want you to discover their specific problems and needs, they expect you to already have intimate knowledge of their industry and business trends.

In reviewing these differences I am reminded about how solution software sales and marketing in America has evolved over the years. The above facets also reflect changes over recent decades within our own economy. There was a time when you could get easy access to both users and decision makers, give them a gee-whiz demo, provide a proposal, sell the managers, and close a deal in a matter of weeks. While we veterans may wish it was still that way, if it was many of us might not have the jobs or career satisfaction we now enjoy!

In Part 2 of this Alliances Alchemy series we will explore five more characteristics including: having the best software product rarely closes the deal, technical sales should be driven from top down and bottom up simultaneously, decision makers operate on a short time horizon for ROI, there is less continuity of employment and relationships are more transactional in nature, and deals are not done even when they are done. In the final post we’ll present the last five with emphasis on the peculiarities of selling engineering software to technical users and their managers. Receive notice of these future posts by entering your email address where prompted on the right side of this page.

Until then, what has your experience been with international software sales? Share a comment – anonymous if you like or privately by email – whether you agree or not with the differences presented so far or have others to suggest.

If you need assistance with helping your organization to better understand these differences in a workshop, or creating a regionalized go-to market and partner plan for North America engineering software markets, please contact Rich McFall at PLM Alliances at info@plmalliances.com.

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