Press J to jump to the feed. Press question mark to learn the rest of the keyboard shortcuts

How do sales engineers prepare for a discovery meeting?

How do you prepare for a discovery meeting? What tools do you use?

77% Upvoted
What are your thoughts? Log in or Sign uplog insign up
level 1

Agreed this is a bit vague, but I’ll run through what I do to prepare for a netnew customer meeting.

I’m a presales engineer for an IT security company. I would like to say that my sales counterparts have vetted the opportunity. That is to say that I’m not spinning my wheels for something that is only going to net us a few thousand dollars. My previous sales person was notorious for not doing anything to qualify these leads.

So, what I will do is research the company. What vertical are they in to better understand the industry regulations they are probably having to keep up with. Next, I’ll check to see if they have had any security incidents reported. Then I will see how many of their IT staff I can find online, or if I have the names of the meeting attendees I will pull up as much info as I can.

Once we’re onsite, my approach is to let the customer talk about their issues and what keeps them up at night from a security perspective. If I just dove into the product without first understanding what issues they are having, it’ll go no where. I really try and stay away from the “us too” argument when comparing our product to our competitors. If I can laser focus on how my products fix your problems, then there is a much greater chance of a second meeting. And I’m always pushing to get the second meeting on the calendar before I leave.

I’m a big proponent of white boarding during these sessions, as it helps me better understand the customer environment and it helps the customer see how our solution would look in their environment. I have an iPad Pro and use the Zoom meeting whiteboard functionality a lot.

level 2

This guy sales engineers. It's so important to LISTEN to the customer and have an understanding of how your product will specifically fit their issues.

There's nothing worse than talking about an amazing feature and find out after they have no need for it.

level 3
Sales Engineering3 points · 3 months ago · edited 3 months ago

I'd say this is consultative sales more so than "this is how to sales engineer".

Whether it's the Account Rep/Sales Lead, the Pre-sales Engineer, throughout the entire process we should be listening to the customer 80% of the time and us talking the remaining 20%.

Without listening, we can't ensure the solution/product we're selling will actually add value for the customer or if it will be an expensive reminder of how shitty the sales team is at their job.

If we listen, fix the problems the customer has, keep their interests and success as priority #1 throughout and after the sales process, we'll have a great relationship and most likely be one of their first calls on their next project or refresh. We don't do those things, and we've probably lost them as a customer for a while.

level 4

It’s why we have two ears and one mouth ....

level 2

Been here, and done this job. This is solid advice. Understand your playing field, try to know your customer(s), listen to their pain points, and then explore potential solutions with them that solve their problems. Talk about competitors only as it applies to directly solving their problems.

level 2

If you don’t mind my asking, how are you checking to see if they had any security breaches reported? Do you mean a simple google or asking the prospective client directly, or something else?

level 3

I’m checking news reports to see if something was reported. I’m also checking public LinkedIn profiles to see if anyone is over sharing. We use VARs to sell through, so I will reach out to them as well to see if they have any insights about issues.

We have the ability to process traffic off of a mirror port to determine what is making it through your existing edge protection.

level 4

Interesting... Now I'm trying to figure out which product (s) you sell. Security based DPI solution with packet capture functionality.. hmm ;)

level 5

My money is on Darktrace.

level 2
0 points · 3 months ago

Once we’re onsite, my approach is to let the customer talk about their issues and what keeps them up at night from a security perspective. If I just dove into the product without first understanding what issues they are having, it’ll go no where. I really try and stay away from the “us too” argument when comparing our product to our competitors. If I can laser focus on how my products fix your problems, then there is a much greater chance of a second meeting. And I’m always pushing to get the second meeting on the calendar before I leave.

This is interesting because my response to this is always that every product intro can always solve all my problems. So I essentially refuse to play this game and prefer that you walk through what you think your product does best and why you think we should even be in this room together. I've never had a presales engineer tell me that they can't fix my problems and that they're always the best product out there to do it. Once you've described what you do, now we can start with the specifics of how you fit into my organization.

level 3

Some customers are just like yourself, and that isn't a bad thing for us. My only ask for customers like yourself is to point us in the right direction about what you want to hear about. In my role, I could conceivably cover every product we sell, and it'd take a full day to go over everything.

Example - At my last company we had a customer whose lead architect was the most intelligent person I've ever met. He would basically whiteboard out what they were trying to accomplish, and then he'd say something like, "Here, here, and here are where I need a solution. Here is what I'm thinking and I'd like to hear about what products you have to offer in these specific places". I had zero problems with that approach. Where we run into issues is when we are told to give a customer a run down of our solutions with little to no guidance. If you go to the car lot and ask the sales guy to show you what he's got with no guidance, you are going to spend all day there when both of you could save a lot of time by just telling him you want a truck with an extended cab to narrow things down a bit.

level 4
2 points · 3 months ago

Definitely. If I'm coming to you I've already got an idea of what I want you to expand on and where I think you can be helpful. If you come to me saying you can solve my problems, well I'm going to ask you how you're going to do that.

level 3

I feel like there has to be a conversation between the client and the vendor. I used to be a sales engineer for a, what used to be, fairly niche product category and if I just talked AT you for a few minutes I'd definitely lose you whether there was a fit or not. And there were many customers that were not a good fit for our product and we'd say so because a small company like ours could go broke supporting customers that weren't the right kind.

level 1
10 points · 3 months ago · edited 23 days ago


level 1

Dry clean the suit and make sure your valium prescription is filled.

level 2
CCDA12 points · 3 months ago

Also, vet your sales rep. Was on a call yesterday that was a shitstorm because someone tried to sell a product we didn’t offer.

level 3

I was never presales, but I did work for a med sized ISP where I was frequently pulled into discovery calls by one of the sales reps. I quickly learned to deploy phrases like "why don't we discuss that offline first?" at the first syllables of "oh yeah we can definitely do that for you!"

level 2

I was going to say, "beat off while staring at self in mirror."

level 1
9 points · 3 months ago · edited 3 months ago

Warning, sorry for the novel. I've been a vendor SE for about 7 years now, so I feel like this is a good chance to educate the other side of the fence about how we think/operate and how you can get the best out of your vendors.

For one, I don't think I've used the term discovery meeting ever... However the first meeting with a customer is just like anything in the tech world - it depends. School districts, retail businesses, hospitals, banks, hosting providers, tier 2/3 telcos, etc - All of them have to be approached a bit differently since their industries behave pretty differently from one another (and so do their engineers/admins interestingly). That being said, there are common things among them all.

As u/ilikestationwagons mentioned, the one of the first things I'll do is look at the meeting invite and look up some of the attendees on Linkedin. I do this so I know my audience, not for any other reason. If it's a bunch of IT director types with no current certs etc, then I know this is going to be a high level business level meeting. If there are engineers/admins in attendance, then I'll prepare more for things that an engineer would be interested in talking about.

Also, as the others have pointed out, it's super important to talk about solving actual problems that the customer really needs to solve. I'll then ask them how they'd like to solve it. Sometimes they have an idea, other times they a really leaning on us for advice. Based on that outcome, we'll then go into fitting the right solution/product to what they are trying to solve. In some cases, there might not even be a need to procure as much new stuff as the customer thinks they need to.

If I could give customers one piece of advice it'd be this - Holding back info from your vendors about your requirements is dumb! I can't count how many RFPs I've been involved in where customers somehow thinks that they are doing the smart thing by not giving us specific info when we ask for it. Example, I just had an RFP where they wouldn't give us current port count for their Core and Distro, but expected us to quote them something appropriate. Also, they wouldn't even tell us why they wanted to replace their current network Core and Distro in the first place. Why?! I get not telling us which other vendors are involved and what they've quoted etc, but being too guarded about your requirements or current environment will get you a shit quotes that are meaningless and you'll probably have to do a second round of bids because they'll all be wildly different and hard to interpret.

Now, why are some customers so guarded? I think where a lot of people have poor opinions of vendor SEs or Sales Reps is in trying to push an overly costly or overly complex solution to a problem they may not even have. I would like to say this depends on which network vendor they work for, but sadly it has little do with that (although some companies attract more arrogant types than others). It really boils down to the personality type of the Sales Rep and SE. Sales in general attracts type-a personalities, who like to feel in total control of their destiny (or more simply their paycheck). In their eyes, customer choices are dictating what their paycheck looks like, so they are going to try to influence customer choice as much as possible.

I'm somewhat guilty of this at times, but I'd like to think it is less about money and more about getting the customer to buy the better solution even if it stretches their budget a bit. I'd say I try to get the customer to spend more about 25% of the time. This is because they are leaning towards a less than optimal or sometimes what I would consider a duct tape and bail wire setup where if our product is anywhere in the mix of it, I worry we'll get the blame. There have been numerous situations in my career as an SE where a customer does what we recommend they not do, things blow up, and we get blamed. That all being said, I can sympathize with some customers lack of faith in our initial recommendations because of vendor behavior I just outlined above. I'd say try to get a feel for your vendor account team. If your gut tells you they are honest reliable guys, then try to go with what they are recommending and ask them help you sell the higher ticket price to your higher ups. You'd be suprised at the ways in which Sales Reps/AMs can help you tailor your internal sales pitch to win over higher management.

Lastly, other tips I'd give to you all as customers - When appropriate, competitively bid. I might get myself in trouble for saying this, but even if you know you know you are going with your current vendor for a solution, bring in other people to bid. 99% of the time this will net you a lower price. Vendors will hate working with you as a customer, but you'll get a better price this way. I can't count how many customers always have their VARs quote Cisco, and then after years of doing this they finally get them to quote Juniper or Arista and magically the Cisco price gets adjusted. It isn't just Cisco either, it's everyone. Competition is a good thing for customers, use it!

Also, chose your VARs based on your needs. If you have a fully staffed engineering team and have zero need for VAR engineers, then go through someone who just rubber stamps POs and doesn't have a lot of professional service teams overhead. This will bring your end price down a bit since they don't have a massive engineering staff to pay for. However, if you are a smaller team that could benefit from outside help now and then, someone like CDW probably isn't a great choice as a reseller, so going with regional or professional service heavy VARs will make getting that help a lot easier.

If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ping me. Again sorry for the novel. This is one of only times I have gotten a chance to clear the air as a vendor SE in a semi-anonymous setting :)

level 1
7 points · 3 months ago

This is a pretty vague question - what industry? What do you mean by tools? Most of my discovery meetings are conversations.

level 2
9 points · 3 months ago

This. Your most important tools are your ears. Ask a question, listen and take notes, follow up based upon the customer's answers. If you are doing most of the talking, you're going to fail.

level 3
4 points · 3 months ago

Agreed 100% - was a little thrown off seeing this here in /r/networking and not /r/sales - was half expecting it to be about a technology.

level 1
Packet Whisperer5 points · 3 months ago

If the AM has been able to do any research, you get the basics down from them, what's the company, what do they do, etc. If they aren't new to buying from your company, you can look at purchase history and past designs. Otherwise you may have to do a little digging.

If you have an idea of what you're going to be talking about, you can do a little refresh on that topic, especially if it is something specific (e.g. customer has a 6500 core they are replacing with Nexus, or customer wants to do an upgrade on a 7710).

Beyond that it's mostly coming into the situation using your ears over your mouth. If the task is something straightforward and common, you can come in the door with a solution, more or less. But if it is anything complex, you need to be spending time listening and learning about their current situation, requirements, etc. Coming in thinking you know the solution when you don't even know the problem is pretty common and not a good idea.

level 2

Came to mention this more or less - if as an SE you're walking into a meeting cold then there's a sales person in the mix who needs to be retrained.

level 3
Packet Whisperer1 point · 3 months ago

Yah, we don't let our AM's off on their own for technical discussions or discovery, there is no value in it. Plenty of times it's just easier to show up with an AM and an SE and get the ball rolling on both fronts.

level 4

I draw a distinction between technical discovery and a customer's general strategic goals. If I'm going to hear something like "well we're looking at having to upgrade our WAN bandwidth due to saturation but we're wondering how much of that is due to recreational surfing", I'd really rather know about that beforehand so don't show up expecting to talk about IPS and vulnerability management. If my sales person can't extract that sentence over the course of setting up the call/meeting then (s)he needs to be retrained or fired.

level 5
Packet Whisperer1 point · 3 months ago

Without that level of detail, it would be pretty unlikely even the AM would be showing up on site.

level 6

In a perfect world I'd agree. But some sales dudes are like a dog chasing a car when it comes to getting a meeting set up. Also there's the type of sales dude who hears what the customer's concern is, but doesn't bother to relay that to the SE.

It might sound like I'm bashing AM's, but rather I'm saying this from a place of a) the importance of a mutual coaching relationship and b) the importance of appreciating the good ones when you find them.

level 1

Alcohol is a great tool IMHO.

level 2

underrated comment

level 1
JNCIA, JNCIS-SEC,JNCIS-ENT, NSE45 points · 3 months ago

It's impossible to prepare for everything. I just ask open ended questions.

level 1

Generally speaking, the meeting should be vetted with key criteria understood. The first SE meeting should be to validate that information gathered is accurate, identify gaps, and understand processes and desired improvements. You can then demo the relevant products -- showing everything within a product (at least a mature one) will overwhelm everyone.

level 1
Vintage JNCIP-SP (and loads of other expired ones)4 points · 3 months ago · edited 3 months ago

I haven't been the front-line SE in several years. But here's what I would do...

Publicly traded company? I'll read their latest SEC filing, and check the transcript or recording of their most recent analyst call(s). I'm looking for CEO imperatives, major initiatives, or anything that sticks out. I'll get on LinkedIn, and see if the people I'm meeting with are posting anything. I'll look at their profiles as well, and see if there's anything interesting. Again, for public companies, I'll put in some research on Seeking Alpha before I go as well. I'll also check to see if there's any buzz about upcoming reductions in force.

Got any contacts at the company? Yeah, I'm going to call them and see what's going on these days. I'm interested in big shifts/re-orgs, major initiatives, and if I've got a good enough relationship with the person, what's good & not good around the place these days.

Plus, if you're really going in totally cold (like the AM managed to get a meeting, but doesn't know what it's about), it never hurts to lob an email in to the contact that just says, "Hey, are there any specific areas you want me to be prepared to drill in on for you?"

level 2
CCNP / FCNSP / MCITP / CICE3 points · 3 months ago

Damn, never heard of, but I checked my current employer, the company that I came from (which was purchased by my current company) and my next employer (tomorrow is my last day here).

Holy shit did I make the right choice. Not any talk of layoffs, but there's been no need to show anybody the door...more than enough people have been finding it on their own with all the bullshit that's been going on, and it confirmed some things that I had thought but had no visibility to.

level 1

Don’t sell stuff you can’t support

level 2

Hah, I just had a vendor (who will remain nameless) send out forward replacements for $500k worth of kit because the firmware upgrades required to support their new licensing model would either brick or segfault the boxes.

Fairly sure the licence upgrade they sold us that initiated this definitely wasn't worth it for them.

level 3
Network Engineer5 points · 3 months ago

I'll do you one better. We've had our (large ISP) entire MPLS backbone ($XX,XXX,XXX) replaced by a certain shortening manufacturer due to how many labor hours we lost troubleshooting their bugs.

level 1

At the risk of sounding cheesy, the magic question we should always be asking is "what problem are you trying to solve." You should know the answer to that from the sales person who set the meeting up. If you don't and said sales rep / account manager brought you in and said "just do a demo of x" then you should coach them on how to better set you up for success. Something along the lines of:

Look, we both see more money in our pockets when the customer makes a decision to purchase from us. They're more likely to do that if they feel that we respect their time and the importance of what they do. I know hundreds of features and tweaks that our solutions can do, but chances are this customer is only interested in about three of them. So how about you figure out what their strategic goals before you bring me in, and I'll be better prepped to make you look good. Deal?

level 1

Well to me it started with obviously knowing the virtical the customer is in. Then digging through internal virtical overviews to give me a sense of what the industry is going through. It will give you a sense of various business and technical challenges they may be going through. It's a good conversation starter. At the end you want to at least understand what projects are they planning for. You should ready yourself with a high level product and services overview (again for products relevant for that virtical). That way once you start talking about future projects they're thinking about they can align where your products and services might fit.

level 1
JNCIS CCNP1 point · 3 months ago

I bring my biggest magnifying glass, a pipe and a copy of the Sunday times..

level 1
1 point · 3 months ago

With a line of coke and a couple of margaritas for lunch if my last vendor is representative of the profession.

level 1
CWNE ACDX1 point · 3 months ago

I've only been doing this for a few years and I'm still learning, but here's my take.

Honestly, if you're present at the first meeting and there's no agenda set the AE is either very green or they need some retraining on being self sufficient.

If a truly "foot-in-the-door" meeting, I try to listen. I scope out LinkedIn profiles and company sites prior to the meeting so I can tailor my messaging appropriately. I am also learning NOT to try and outline any kind of solution out of the gate unless specifically asked, because there's a high chance that I'm going to miss the mark and come across as a kool-aid spouting jerk. Instead I gather information, ask open ended questions, and find ways to set up a second meeting to come back armed with a relevant presentation and actually provide some value.

If this is a discovery meeting with a defined project, I do my homework, brush up on the technology, build a relevant presentation I can fall back upon if necessary, and get ready to whiteboard.

level 1

Like law discovery or environmental mapping and node discovery/topography?

level 1

Sales Engineer here, it's better to focus on business issues and driver's as previous people have mentioned.

Besides the standard company research, I also pull technical info from our support team such as device config backups, diagrams and historic projects.

level 1
AMA TP-Link,DrayTek and SonicWall1 point · 3 months ago

Discovery is usually a conversation or two to understand that the customer needs / to get interest in your product and a whiteboarding session to figure out the particulars. You might have the client draw out network topologies etc, show you the pain points, show you examples etc. You might also just put a product in the network in monitoring mode so it can generate sample reports etc.

Generally speaking, You might also do a presentation on a particular topic that the client might be interested. As long as you listen to their needs and tailor the discussion then you’ll do fine. But if you get too sales like to a technical audience or vice versa to mgmt then you probably won’t be received well.

Generally discovery before the SOW is signed is usually about getting the details to finalize things. The delivery guy will often do much deeper discovery.

level 1

At most of the places i do work for it must be by doing lines in the bathroom.

level 1

To begin with, I would ask our sales rep to brief me on the customer. What type of discovery meeting it is, i.e. is it the customer or sales rep who has initiated it. Typically the answer from our sales rep is that they will brief me on the way to the customer. Which of course doesn't help at all, especially since we don't always travel together.

Anyways, if it is the former then we will usually get to know what services they are interested in. I will look into any recent orders we have had with those services and similar customers to see if there is anything I can take with me to the meeting. I will also try to find out which their current provider is. I work in a relatively small country so if it is a meeting that actually warrants me coming out it will be big enough that their previous provider issued a press release when they signed them. This helps me tremendously with knowing what they currently have and what problems they might have with it.

Besides this it is the usual, read up a little on the company. If they've issued any press releases recently that could be related to the meeting. Find out what types of customers they have, what demands they might have SLA-wise, where they are located so that I can find out if we can deliver on our own fiber or would need a sub-provider. Essentially, any information that will help me follow their reasoning, questioning as well as needs during the meeting.

With all of this said, I typically don't spend an enormous amount of time on this. The best homework you can do is knowing your own services and network (in the case of an ISP).

level 1
CCNP R/S+DC1 point · 3 months ago

I typically try to refresh myself on best practices from this site

level 1

If my company is anything to go by, I don't think they prepare at all. Let alone do any actual discovery work before writing a BOM and SOW. Every project ends up being CO hell once the delivery team gets involved and someone actually looks at the customer's environment and talks to them about it.

level 1

In my experience they don't.

Community Details





###Enterprise Networking Routers, switches and firewalls. Network blogs, news and network management articles. Cisco, Juniper, Brocade and more all welcome.

Create Post
r/networking Rules
Rule #1: No Home Networking.
Rule #2: No Certification Brain Dumps / Cheating.
Rule #3: No BlogSpam / Traffic re-direction.
Rule #4: No Low Quality Posts.
Rule #5: No Early Career Advice.
Rule #6: Educational Questions must show effort.
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services or clicking I agree, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.