Engineering Software Sales & Marketing in the U.S. Part 2

In the last Alliance Alchemy post on how engineering software sales and marketing differs around the world, I mentioned that I often speak with international providers across different solution software market segments of PLM (e.g. PDM, CAE, CM, EIM, AM, CAM, Viz, DM, etc.). A frequent discussion topic is how different is selling technical software applications into U.S. industrial markets and how has it changed over the years.

In Part 1 of this multi-part series I shared the first five differences observed from my work, travel, and time living abroad:

• American technology markets are crowded, noisy, and confusing for both software sellers and industrial users alike.

• The U.S. economy offers a magical combination of imagination, motivation, innovation, and monetization opportunities.

• While Americans like to talk win-win and collaboration, our business culture is hyper-competitive to the point of obsession.

• The product you are marketing and selling to American managers is not the software code.

• It’s best not to lead the sales cycle with technology and certainly not with the product.

Here are the next five differences, some of which I have learned the hard way over my business development career.

  1. Having the better technology or best product from the most qualified provider or at the lowest cost rarely closes the deal. It is all too common that a weaker product wins because that solution provider understood customer requirements, influenced relationships, preempted obstacles, crafted investment triggers, and out-flanked their competitors. The good news is that if you have a new product that is not yet fully developed, or work for a new small unknown ISV, do not despair! There are many ways to turn perceived weaknesses into competitive strengths. Don’t apologize for your small size, meager origins, or limited focus, but use them to your advantage. (Contact us for examples.) American capitalism worships entrepreneurial spirit and celebrates tenacious underdogs who can be successful “small giants” against all odds.
  2. Most sales cycles should be driven from top down and bottom up simultaneously, whether an enterprise solution or departmental software. In the U.S. business culture it is much easier for users to resist mandates, drag their feet, or sabotage a corporate deal sold at the top but never desired at the bottom. You must not only sell the chiefs on benefits to the business, but also individuals on why it is in their best professional interest and ultimately how it fulfills a personal need. In B2B sales as in B2C, people still buy – or support the procurement choices of others – based on emotional reasons and then rationalize or justify their decision afterwards. Yet, no one at any level wants to feel like they are being “sold” to, except perhaps other sales pros! As a result, you must balance between the prospect creating their own pull through their buying cycle as well as business development reps leading them across the finish line. And do so all while appearing to be supporting prospects from behind; not pushing, dragging, or haranguing them from above. You will know this is being done well when your business developers make the sales process look so easy – with little drama, delay, conflict or problems – that purchase orders appear to happen by themselves. That’s how you know the sales cycle was orchestrated with great skill and effort behind the scene!
  3. Decision makers operate on a shorter time horizon for ROI. They are often driven by the short-term problem on their desk more so than the long-term ROI to the larger business. Many executives may appear to give weight to long-term benefits and will ask for the most rigorous ROI calculations to be performed. However, lying under the surface are short-term business fears, pains, and crises that ultimately drive big decisions which become bigger purchases because they are made for their reasons, not yours. Understanding and selling into their “map of motivators” is as important as selling the benefits of your product. And at the end if they tell you they don’t have any budget left, it does not mean they don’t have money, it just means your proposal has not proven to be more urgent than all the others seeking funds. These financial alternatives are your final competitors that can kill as many deals as your direct software competitors. In my many years of sales I have rarely encountered an executive who could not find budget for something they truly wanted to make happen.
  4. There is less continuity of professional employment and personal relationships are more transactional in nature. The velocity of organizational changes within U.S. employers including project assignments, job roles, and responsibilities is maddening. Don’t be shocked that LinkedIn profiles of successful professionals show a multitude of employers and jobs over their careers. Unlike other business cultures, this is often a sign of professional growth and accomplishment. However, it also means that change is constant. You must build your own organization, processes, culture and customer relationships so that they are not dependent on any one person staying in any one position for very long, either before or after a sale. It is likely that you will have to continually resell a customer with each new change in their organization, or risk being eclipsed if not displaced by interest in the next shiny new thing.
  5. Because of this continuous change of personnel, deals are not done even when they are done. Do not relax just because you have a purchase order or even after you have delivered the product or service. Purchase orders of any size can become unwound for a myriad of reasons, good and bad. If you lose one, stay engaged with the customer. If you win one, keep looking over your shoulder. If you threaten an existing enterprise relationship with a narrow beachhead deployment inside a department, you can bet someone is thinking how to move you off the beach back into the water. Your users, champions, buyers, opponents, and cynics will change ever so quickly. If they are good they will move on up. If they are bad they will move on out. As this happens, your technical support staff needs to understand that they too are in sales or at least the ears of sales – regardless of what the titles are on their business cards – and have a role in helping you continue to sell, albeit more subtly, after the sale is closed.

In Part 3 of this Alliance Alchemy post series we will identify and discuss five more characteristics including:

• Establishing your presence and building momentum in a new market will take longer than you think.

• You cannot rely on a partner or reseller to do all that needs to be done to penetrate a new geographic market.

• Great employees, contractors, consultants, and partners are abundant in America.

• Don’t let a common spoken language deceive you into thinking that there are not big differences in business cultures.

• In the U.S. there is less business shame in trial and error, experiencing failure, having to pivot, reinventing yourself or even in seeking redemption for a mistake.

What has your experience been with the differences in international software sales? Leave a comment below –anonymous if you like – or here to let us know whether you agree with the differences presented so far or have others to suggest.

For assistance with helping your organization to understand these differences, or creating a go-to-market plan for entering North America engineering software markets, contact Rich McFall at PLM Alliances at

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