A common conversation among golfers is “What’s in the bag” meaning what clubs do they have in their golf bag. I thought I’d take that concept and expand it to the Sales Engineering world. What’s in your demonstration bag or sales kit?
It’s happened to all of us at one point or another. You show up at the client site for a demonstration and something doesn’t work properly. You don’t have internet access or you can’t get on the corporate VPN. The projector won’t display, the really nice big screen monitor won’t recognize your device. What do you do?
When these situations occur, and they will, I reach into my bag to see if I have a solution handy (kind of like Felix’s Magic Bag of Tricks). Here are some of the items I always travel with to work around those unexpected problems that come up.
An Internet Hotspot
My IT team provides me with a portable internet hotspot I can use anywhere I’m at. More than once I’ve arrived at a client site to discover they don’t have wifi access for non-employees. If they do, the public wifi is very low bandwidth or unstable. Sometimes you have to register for access to the wifi or download an app and no one in the room knows the process.
On these occasions I’ll pull out the wifi hotspot and fire it up. It’s password protected and provides the bandwidth I need to do an effective demonstration. If we’re deep inside a building or in a remote location I may be down to 1 or 2 bars on the signal but it usually gets us by. Rarely have I not had a signal. A secondary fall back is to have a mobile phone plan that also allows for hotspot usage. Since my personal phone and my hotspot are on different cellular networks, one of them will normally gets me by in a pinch.
What you need will vary depending on the ports available on your laptop. Most newer laptops have an HDMI port so you can get by with just an HDMI cable and an HDMI/VGA adapter. If the client’s HDMI cable doesn’t work, or if it’s routed through their computers and switch boxes it’s sometimes easier to plug your cable into your laptop and into their monitor. This way you can bypass all their switch boxes and computers. I’ve also had occasions where the clients HDMI cable was too short to reach my laptop at the conference room table. It would only reach their computer, no further. If you have your own cable that’s at least 15’ or so in length, you have some flexibility in where you set up.
Once in a while you get a surprise and the only available connection is a VGA cable for an older projector. For those occasions I carry an HDMI/VGA adapter. It lets me plug the VGA cable into the adapter and I’m good to go.
Normally I carry a variety of plugs and USB cables with me. With the advent of USB C I have a couple of USB C cables in my bag, 2 or 3 micro-USB cables and 1 or 2 micro-USB to USB C adapters. I also carry a couple of USB wall chargers plus a plug adapter for the car. While newer cars all have USB plugs in them, if there are 2 or 3 people in the car the plugs can fill up quickly!
I carry my own wireless USB mouse with me, but I don’t carry batteries. I don’t buy expensive mice because I’ve left more than one behind at a client site. I wouldn’t be very happy if I left a $50 mouse somewhere. Only one time have I gone to do a demo and had a dead mouse, so I don’t carry spare batteries. On that one occasion I got by using the touchpad on the laptop without too many issues. I do know Sales Engineers that carry batteries with them however. A better solution in my opinion is to pick up a cheap, rechargeable bluetooth mouse. That is what I’ll do when I lose my current mouse (notice I didn’t say if I said when.)
Portable Storage and Power Banks
Sneaker-net is still effective! I carry multiple USB sticks with me of varying sizes. Like all storage they have continued to increase in capacity and go down in price. Most of the ones I have I picked up at various trade shows or events. It’s often easier to transfer a presentation between laptops with a USB stick when you’re short on time.
A Power Bank is another essential tool, especially if you’re on the road a lot. If you find yourself sitting in a coffee shop or on a plane with a dying phone or tablet these can be a lifesaver. Especially if you use your phone and tablet as entertainment on long flights. This is another item that continues to get more powerful, smaller and cheaper as time goes on. Plus, more and more trade shows are providing them as giveaways when you register.
Other Tools of the Trade
Finally, there are always small bottles of Tylenol and Ibuprofen in my bag and a bottle of water by my side. After a long day of planes, or standing on a concrete floor at a trade show, Ibuprofen is a lifesaver!
What’s in my bag changes over time. It’s completely dependent on the equipment I’m using, how the industry is changing and what I’m running into at client sites. We work in a rapidly changing environment and one of the keys for any successful Sales Engineer is to be adaptable, resourceful and ready for whatever is thrown your way!