Author : Don Maher


As many of you know, I’m a former marketing and sales executive with Applied Materials and Lam Research.

What you don’t know is that I now specialize in recruiting sales and marketing people for high-tech equipment companies. I’ve done this many times and in various contexts – as a recruiter, employment manager, and sales and marketing VP.

My end goal is to find the right fit between my company client and one or more exceptional candidates. To ensure this happens, I engage in a process that has proven successful time and time again:

1. We work together to define, as specifically as possible, the ideal person for your open position. We talk about the accomplishments the ideal candidate should have, the person’s approach to new business development, leadership and management skills, motivation, problem-solving methods, and soft skills. We also discuss any constraints you’re under, such as compensation and timing, and any unique circumstances (good or bad) that would likely affect the recruiting process.

2. We write a job description that specifies the results you expect from the candidate, the experience the candidate must have to be considered, the reasons your company is a desirable “Employer of Choice,” and why your manager (maybe it’s you) is the type of manager people want to work for.

3. I identify, screen, and thoroughly interview candidates.

4. I present only candidates who fit the profile we have developed. That means they’ll have the requisite experience, can do your job and do it well, are motivated for the right reasons, will fit your organization and customers, will view your compensation as attractive, and will almost surely accept the job if offered.

The bottom line is that I have a system – a proven, tested system that consistently and reliably lands the best people in the right jobs. They excel in their work, and because of that, your company excels, landing more business at higher prices.

Best of all, I offer an iron-clad guarantee: If I don’t find you a suitable candidate within 60 days, I’ll refund your down payment in full.

I charge 15% of the first year’s target compensation, and require a $5,000 down payment prior to starting an assignment.

The bottom line is that you need good sales and marketing people, and I know how to get them onboard at your company.

If this sounds interesting, drop me a line or give me a call. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about me or my process.

You can reach me at 650-862-0688 or

Sample: A really good job description

In my last post, I talked about job descriptions and showed an example of a poor one.

This week, I’ll show you a great one—a real job description that attracted an excellent candidate.

Notice both the length (short and accessible) and the tone. It reads like it was written by a real human being rather than some kind of automated job-bot. It’s also full of compelling specifics:

[Company] is looking for a Senior Sales Engineer to increase business at one of our largest customers. You’ll be responsible for a $25M business (2017 revenue) that we plan to invest in and double over the next three years.

We’re looking for someone with:

  • A proven background selling high technology [type of equipment] to large customers. This is a requirement, not a nice to have.
  • A BS or BA degree
  • Demonstrated success in growing sales profitably. To get this job, you’ll have to show us 1) that you have already grown a business to at least $5M per year in revenue, 2) that net profit grew over time as well, and 3) how you did it

[Company] is an innovative, fast-growing manufacturer of (type of equipment), components and systems.  In fact, our business has doubled over the past four years. 

We’re also an employer of choice for people who value:

  • Promotion from within (15% of our employees earned promotions in the first quarter of 2018)
  • Expert co-workers (with products, patents and track records to prove it) willing to teach what they know
  • A rewarding career
  • Meaningful work
  • Flexible hours

Like other employers, we offer competitive salaries, annual increases, profit sharing, tuition refund, and medical, dental and vision benefits. 

Unlike other employers, you can work here and have a personal life at the same time.

If you’re qualified and interested in joining us, please click the link below to apply. We look forward to hearing from you.

Notice how this job description includes the following:

  1. Specific Challenge: A big business with plans to double it. An enticing possibility for the right person.
  2. Experience Required: You must have done it already on a smaller scale. This eliminates unqualified candidates.
  3. Growth Potential: A promote-from-within commitment with specifics to back it up.
  4. Learning Potential: Experts willing to work with you.
  5. Work/Life Balance: Sure, this term is cliché, but saying it here means it’s more likely to be the case (plus, the description has built-in credibility due to the other factors on this list).

The second-to-last sentence (work/life balance) is particularly nice, stating what the employer stands for—and will provide for the right candidate—in a believable and compelling way.

Is it more work to write a job description like this? Absolutely. But it will save you countless hours of time and hassle in the long run. Once it’s written, a strong job description does a lot of the heavy lifting for you by attracting the right candidates and discouraging the wrong ones. Your recruiting becomes more efficient, better targeted, and cheaper.

Job Descriptions: The Good, the Bad, and the Wordy

I’m in the process of recruiting several people for sales positions, so I’ve started to pay more attention to how companies describe these jobs.

After all, the job description is the first place many candidates look (and rightly so). It’s a shame that so many job descriptions are poorly written.

The way I see it, at the recruiting stage of the game, a job description should do two things:

  1. Attract the right candidates
  2. Repel the wrong candidates

To attract the right candidates, the job description must clearly show:

  1. A desirable job
  2. An appealing challenge
  3. An employer of choice
  4. Some context regarding the position

To repel the wrong candidates (and you do want to repel them, in order to save their time and yours), the job description must clearly spell out:

  1. The two or three “must have’s” in terms of prior experience or results delivered in order to be considered for the position
  2. What proof you require of the experience or results

To both attract and repel, the job description must be concise enough that it actually gets read.

Unfortunately, many job descriptions fall short (while simultaneously running much too long).

Here is an example taken directly from a company’s website. To protect the guilty, I’ve deleted all references to the company and its products.

Ask yourself…would this job description entice me to take the next step and contact this company?

Sales Director

In this Senior Management role, you will provide the required Leadership to serve customers by identifying their needs. Responsible for actively driving and managing the evaluation stage of the sales process, working in conjunction with a sales team as the key technical sales advisor and product advocate for our products.


  • Identifies current and future customer requirements by establishing personal rapport with potential and actual customers and other persons in a position to understand product requirements. Provides product or equipment technical and engineering information by answering client / potential client questions and requests.
  • Must be able to articulate technology and product positioning to both business and technical users.
  • Ability to identify technical issues of new and assigned accounts to assure complete customer satisfaction through all stages of the sales process.
  • Must be able to establish and maintain strong internal and external relationships throughout the sales cycle.
  • Manages the Application function to drive Sales growth and to increase Services revenues.
  • Manages and assigns new Agents as per the Approval Process to drive Sales growth and to increase Customer engagements.
  • Works directly with the Executive Director and the VP of Sales to generate an RFC and Business Plan that meets the ever-changing needs of the business.
  • Establishes new accounts by identifying potential customers; planning and organizing sales call schedules and regularly reporting on sales activities.
  • Prepares cost estimates by studying blueprints, plans, and related customer documents; consults with engineers and other professional and technical personnel.
  • Determines improvements by analyzing cost-benefit ratios of equipment, supplies, or service applications in customer environment; engineering or proposing changes in equipment, processes, or use of materials or services.
  • Gains customer acceptance by explaining or demonstrating cost reductions and operations improvements.
  • Submits orders by conferring with technical support staff; costing engineering changes.
  • Develops customer’s staff by providing technical information and training.
  • Complies with federal, state, and local legal requirements by studying existing and new legislation; anticipating future legislation; advising customer on product, service, or equipment adherence to requirements; advising customer on needed actions.
  • Prepares and delivers sales reports by collecting, analyzing, and summarizing sales information and engineering and application trends.
  • Maintains professional knowledge by attending educational workshops; reviewing professional publications; establishing personal networks; participating in professional societies.
  • Contributes to sales effectiveness by identifying short-term and long-range issues that must be addressed; providing information and commentary pertinent to deliberations; recommending options and courses of action; implementing directives.
  • Contributes to organizational performance by establishing sales targets and reporting on a regular basis as to sales performance relative to those targets.
  • Participates in the development and delivery of product demonstrations.
  • Effectively represents the product[s] to customers and at field events such as conferences, trade shows, etc.
  • Able to respond to functional and technical elements of RFPs
  • Able to effectively convey customer requirements to Product and Service Management teams
  • Able to travel throughout assigned sales territory.


  • Ideal candidate must be self-motivated with a proven track record in technical sales and knowledge of technology.
  • Comfortable in the dynamic atmosphere of a technical organization desiring to rapidly expand the customer base.
  • Must possess strong presentation skills and be able to communicate professionally in written responses to emails, RFPs, and when submitting reports.
  • Organized and analytical, able to eliminate sales obstacles through creative and adaptive approaches.
  • Must be prepared for extensive travel within the assigned area[s] of responsibility.
  • Sound judgement and good business sense
  • Collaboration skills and the ability to work with and in teams
  • The ability to build and sustain relationships with clients quickly
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Resilience and tenacity
  • Independence
  • 10 + years relevant experience in sales required
  • Experience and familiarity of our products and line of business a plus
  • B.S. in Engineering or a related field is required; an MBA is strongly preferred.

Did you find this job description attractive? My guess is no.

Did you read the whole thing without your eyes glazing over? Again, my bet is no.

Next time, I’ll show you a job description that did attract the right people. It looks very different than the one above.

The single biggest objection your customer has…and how to overcome it.

In our work, we don’t notice risk—the risks involved in buying our product, using it, relying on it, and so forth—because we’re so close to it. We know what we do and sell, and the (hopefully low) likelihood of something going wrong.

But to a customer, especially a new customer, risk is front and center:

  • What if making a change is worse than not making a change?
  • What if it doesn’t work as advertised (or at all)?
  • What if you can’t deliver on time (or at all)?
  • What if you go out of business?
  • What if you discontinue this product or service?
  • What if we can’t recoup the costs of investing with you?
  • What if my costs go up?
  • What if something goes so wrong with your product or service that I lose my job?

When you first introduce your products and services to new prospects, never forget that you’re introducing risk at the same time. Even a similar product means a change, and people generally don’t like change—even when it’s ultimately for the better.

What’s the best way to mitigate this risk in your customers’ minds? There are several strategies you should consider:

  • Admit that your product or service is not for everyone, while defining who your product or service is Honesty is rare, refreshing, and reassuring.
  • Don’t say things like, “What do I have to do to earn your business?” This reeks of desperation and turns most people off. We salespeople know that sales don’t close all by themselves, but no one likes feeling sold to.
  • Develop a list of frequently asked questions and answers and go through them before you’re asked. Encourage prospective customers to ask all the questions they want.
  • Offer a strong guarantee. (This reverses the risk so that it’s on you, not on your customer.)
  • Prove your case using data, customer testimonials, and repeat business.
  • Offer a small trial size. Consumer marketers have been doing this successfully for 100+ years.
  • Spell out your process so the customer knows what to expect at every stage.
  • Tell the customer he or she can say no at any time, with no hard feelings—and mean it.

All successful salespeople are actually in the business of professional reassurance. When you encounter resistance in the selling process, you can be sure that fear is at the root of it. In selling your product or service, your real job—the one that determines whether you succeed or fail—is to allay your prospect’s fears.

The single most important part of selling (that you’re probably overlooking)

You’ve probably heard—and followed—a lot of sales advice over the years. And you’ve probably learned, maybe the hard way, that some of it is better than others.

But there’s one important component to selling that’s frequently overlooked entirely. It may even be the single most important part of a successful sales process. And it all boils down to one word.


If a customer doesn’t trust you (and, in turn, the product or service you’re selling), he or she won’t buy it. It’s just that simple. Similarly, even after a sale, if trust is broken and never re-established, you have lost that customer forever.

What does this mean, exactly?

Have you ever sat through a pitch or presentation where a speaker from your company is describing one of your company’s products in a way that makes it sound just about perfect? You know the product has faults and problems, but there is no mention of these. You almost start to think, “Gee, I don’t recognize that product; I wonder which company makes it?”

If something sounds too good to be true, it generally is. And customers know this, even if they don’t tell you in so many words that they think you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes. They just won’t buy from you.

So, am I saying you should tell the customer that your product is not perfect, and the reasons why? That maybe it’s not right for them at all? That you should go so far as to actively discourage the sale in some cases?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Hear me out: Customers already know that your product isn’t perfect (because nothing is), and that it’s not for everyone (because nothing is). Why pretend otherwise?

Tell the customer up front who the product is and is not for. What problems it solves and/or results it can deliver—and what it can’t do. You’ll instantly establish credibility because few if any of your competitors will be this straightforward.

Ironically, when you’re open about what something can’t do, people are far more likely to believe your statements about what it can do. And that’s how you build trust and credibility.

When a customer asks you in an initial conversation why they should buy your product, here’s how I suggest you answer:

“I’m not sure you should. We don’t know enough yet about your business to say that our product is the best for you. In fact, if you’re looking for the lowest price or basic specs, we’re almost certainly not right for you. That’s what we’re here to find out. Having said that, we’re very good at solving etch uniformity problems [you can prove this, right?], and our cost of ownership is generally the lowest. Knowing that, how would you like to proceed?”

In almost every case, the customer will want to proceed, which means you can now have a real conversation like you’re real people working together. A true partnership, in other words, instead of a warily adversarial, possibly one-time transaction.

And even if they don’t want to proceed right now, they will always remember that you treated them with respect and candor. Which means that if they ever do need the sort of thing you provide, who do you think they’ll call first?

Transparent honesty is so rare in today’s world that it’s like gold. Once you establish a real baseline of trust with your customer, and demonstrate that you can help solve their problems, they will be in your corner for life.

And you can bank on that.

The One Question Every Job Applicant Should Ask – And Every Hiring Manager Should Answer (Honestly)

Interviews can go by quickly, and there’s a lot of ground to cover. But no applicant should get up for the final handshake before asking some version of the following:

What kinds of decisions would I be able to make on my own, and when would I need to get someone else’s approval? 

Some companies, to put it bluntly, have a culture that values micromanaging. It’s hard to get things done when you work at a company like this and executing day-to-day tasks can range from frustrating to impossible.

You spend much of the day cajoling, justifying, and defending. Most people find that it’s just not worth it, and they leave in search of workplaces that are better at delegating authority.

I’ve worked for companies where I had the authority to spend up to $100,000, hire the people I wanted to hire, and pretty much do what needed to be done without having to “sell” my ideas to a higher authority or sit around waiting for their approval. Working in an environment like this is liberating. It leads to people giving the company their best efforts.

Long time Applied Materials Chairman Jim Morgan always encouraged us to make decisions, frequently adding that no matter what we did, we were unlikely to “sink the company.”

Unfortunately, other companies will saddle you with an array of rules and constraints that make your life only slightly better than if you were in a Supermax prison.

I had one client who wouldn’t let his salespeople spend more than $500 for travel without first getting his approval. These were salespeople who had to fly to visit their customers.

If you’re used to making and implementing your own decisions, as many top performers are, you’ll find it unbelievably frustrating to have to constantly run those decisions past others before you can get anything done.

If you’re a candidate, here are the sorts of questions you should ask during interviews:

  • How much money can I spend without getting your approval?
  • Can I hire the people I need to hire?
  • Can I assign work to the people in my organization the way I want to?
  • Can I travel when I the need arises?
  • Can I approve travel and spending for the people who work for me?

And if you’re a hiring manager, it’s important to be completely honest when you answer questions like these. If your company keeps employees on a short leash, it’s better for all concerned to get that information out upfront—before you spend time and money onboarding a promising new hire who is destined for a short, mutually unsatisfactory stint at your company.

A Uniquely Effective Positioning Tactic You May Not Have Considered

My last blog post, about positioning, was titled Stand for Something. This blog is about a potentially effective way to position your product or service that you might not have thought about.

A former client of mine was struggling with how to position their flagship product, a multi-hundred thousand-dollar system used in memory manufacturing.

For all intents and purposes, the client’s system was identical to the competitor’s system. Consequently, the client found themselves in a price war for every order because they couldn’t explain why their system was better—on paper, it seemed pretty comparable.

But during the analysis, we learned about one critical component of these systems: a (mostly) hand-made part that weighs more than a ton. No one keeps this part in stock because it a) is massive and b) rarely fails.

But when it does fail, production grinds to a halt. There is no workaround, and the lead time for replacement is approximately 90 days. All that downtime means a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars.

Unfortunately (for them), the competitor’s product had experienced two such failures over ten years. My client’s product, on the other hand, had never experienced this type of failure.

As you can imagine, this little bit of knowledge was worth a great deal to my client—and my client’s customers. Once we started incorporating this fact into the sales process, my client was able to raise prices by more than 15%, all of which went directly to the client’s bottom line.

When you’re figuring out your positioning, you can and should consider all the good things your product or service does. But it’s also important to consider all the bad things it can help your customers avoid. Sometimes, plain old “peace of mind” is worth a great deal in real dollars and cents.

Next time, I’ll provide some suggestions for effectively positioning various types of analytical equipment.

Stand for Something!

What comes to mind when you hear the word “branding”? A logo? A color? A catchphrase?

What should come to mind is a specific, unique position—something the product or service represents, or stands for.

Branding is the single best way to eliminate competition because, when it’s done well, you become a category of one. (There are lots of places to buy shoes, for example, but only one Zappos.)

A brand can be built around low prices, as Walmart and Ikea have done. But most high-tech companies would be better served to focus on something else…performance, yield improvement, durability, exceptional customer service. What do you do really well?

Trying to be all things to all people—“We offer the best quality at the lowest prices!”—is foolhardy. Frankly, it defies belief. How could you legitimately be great at everything? It’s a claim that invites well-deserved skepticism.

To build a strong brand, you need to thoroughly understand—and communicate—your unique strengths. Now, I’m not going to pretend that this is easy. It’s much easier to hire someone to design a snazzy logo or write a witty catchphrase. But a meaningful, resonant brand is worth its weight in gold. And it pays dividends for as long as you’re in business.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve deeper into branding and positioning, so stay tuned.

The Medium Is Not the Message

Marshall McLuhan coined the term “the medium is the message” in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

While McLuhan was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, too many high-tech marketers seem to have taken his statement as gospel.

There is a widespread focus on how many Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn messages, and so forth are being generated, and how many “hits” or “likes” these dispatches get.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with using these media to get your message out, there is a whole lot wrong with spending valuable time generating busywork and noise rather than actual sales.

If you don’t know your actual social media ROI—how many dollars you’re earning per dollar of spend—you’re just spinning your wheels.

Rather than being just another commoditized voice trying to scream over the roar of everyone else on social media, spend some time crafting a better message:

  • Why should customers buy from you?
  • What problems (preferably big, expensive problems) do you solve?
  • What results will customers get from you that they can’t get from your competitors?
  • What proof do you offer in support of your claims?
  • How do you reduce—or eliminate—customers’ risk when they buy from you?
  • What kind of ROI can your customers expect?

Having a clear, compelling message is especially important given that the high-tech audience you’re trying to reach is well-educated, sophisticated, and skeptical. They don’t want hype. They want results.

Whether you’re speaking with a customer technologist who will use your product, or a customer executive who will sign the purchase order for it, you need a clear, differentiated message that gets attention, creates curiosity, and starts a conversation that leads to a sale.

The bottom line? Spend more time and energy on figuring out why customers should buy your products and pay your prices. If you run that message consistently through your marketing and social media posts, your voice will carry above the crowd—regardless of the medium.

Selling High Tech

Most sales training courses focus on two things:

  • Finding the Customer’s Problems
  • Providing a Solution to those Problems

That approach is fine when customers have problems.

But what about the customers who don’t have problems?

This group—and it is a vast one—doesn’t feel any need to meet with, or educate, your salespeople. They are not inclined to disclose highly confidential information to a stranger in an effort to “find solutions” to problems they don’t believe they have.

Here’s the thing: Your products and services could provide a better future for these people—a much more profitable and successful future—but they simply don’t know it. It’s your job to educate them on the results you can help them achieve.

You’re actually doing them a disservice if you don’t do this. After all, you have the ability to improve their business results…if only they knew.

If you can successfully show them the better future that awaits, you can help them out and tap into a brand-new source of profitable business.

My new course, Selling High Tech, explains how to do just this.

I’ll explain everything your high-tech salespeople need to know about selling value, to the right people, at prices that are profitable to you and worth the investment to them.

Course Content

  1. Define Value
    • Why value is not “our people” or “our quality,” but about helping customers improve their revenue and profit
    • Ways to translate product and service attributes into business results for customers, like earning and saving money
    • How to talk to customers and describe how they benefit from your products in brief, clear, and specific terms
    • How to quantify the value of what you’re offering, so that you can set prices appropriately
    • Strategies for helping a potential customer envision the “better future” your company can help them achieve
  1. Create Versions
    • Why multiple price/performance versions are so widely used and successful in a variety of industries—and why high tech is no exception
    • How to version your products and services properly, so that each version provides a fair exchange of value for price
    • Why effective versioning serves to create demand
    • How to price your versions in a way that paves the path for faster and less confrontational negotiations
  1. Write the Pitch
    • How to get and keep the attention of busy customers, especially executives
    • How to effectively explain to different groups (purchasing, end users, etc.) the results you deliver
    • Keys to building trust and reducing perceived risk so that the prospect naturally moves toward the sale
    • Why you need to explain the downside to the customer of staying with the status quo
    • How to talk about money and price early in the sales process, so that you naturally wind up in a similar place regarding price (which is especially important following a long sales process)
  1. Compete Where You Can Win
    • Why high-tech companies spend too much time chasing business that they either can’t win or can’t win at a profit
    • How to define a true win for your company
    • How to qualify the right opportunities and prospects for your business and products
    • How to find out what kind of relationship the customer ideally wants with your company and make that relationship work for you
    • How to identify price buyers, value buyers, and “poker players”
    • How to determine the customer’s willingness and ability to pay before investing time and money in a sales opportunity
    • How to move qualified opportunities along, or exit gracefully when you determine you can’t win
  1. Negotiate Better Agreements with Professional Buyers
    • The importance of using soft skills for hard conversations and negotiations
    • How professional buyers are trained, how they think, and what to expect from them during negotiations
    • Key strategies to getting customers to accept tradeoffs between price and performance
    • How to get valuable testimonials from customers who typically don’t give them
    • How to respond to difficult questions and demands, including:
      • “Don’t you want to save the relationship?”
      • “All of your competitors are cooperating!”
      • “It’s so hard to do business with your company.”
      • “We just found out we need another 25% discount right away.”
      • “If you can’t give us what we want, I’m going to call your president and complain.”
      • “This is your last chance. If you don’t give us what we want, we’ll never buy from you again and put you on our blacklist.”

Location: On-site or Virtual
Length: Half-day
Audience: Sales Reps and Managers, Marketing, Product Management
Price: $395 to $595 per person

Learn More

If this training might be right for you, or if you have any questions I can answer, please contact me at 650-862-0688 or I look forward to helping you improve your high-tech sales process and profitability.


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