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Sales Engineers. Do We Really Need Them?

Understanding Sales Engineers and their Role in the Sales Force

40 years ago, sales engineers were a rarity. Now they’re a dime a dozen. Actually, I made that up! I have no idea about 40 years ago. However, I know the last decade there are a lot more sales engineers than there used to be. As an assertive, get from A-to-Z as fast as possible, outside salesperson, that happens to be female, sales engineers at times can be the very bane of my existence. First, I don’t understand the technology of the products as well as they do. Second, because I don’t understand, at times there is a lack of respect. Lastly, it’s not a secret, women in sales and tech, are very few. Now meld the two together.

Self admittedly my biggest challenge in sales is thinking faster than those around me. That isn’t me being arrogant. It’s just how my brain works. More time than not, my fast thinking is a detriment, especially when I get excited about a concept and product in a meeting. Getting from A-to-Z has a heightened meaning when you are around me. I’ve learned to reign it in and think in smaller steps largely because I work with sales engineers. I need to make sure I speak in a step-by-step process rather than staircase sized concepts.

With the majority of my clients in Silicon Valley, I’ve conducted sales training for over three thousand sales engineers in the last seven years. I am not instructing sales engineers only sessions. There are all sorts of salespeople in these sessions. Since I am not an engineer, nor am I particularly technical, I have great respect for sales engineers. There is no way I could do their job.

Yet, some sales engineers see sales in their title and think that they’re sales experts. Smarter than everyone in the room.

As a trainer I want everyone to be successful. I talk about the importance of being flexible and sales. Instead of waiting for the sales engineers to change their opinion of my brain power and other sales executives, I change my opinion. I think of all the things technical sales engineers may need to know when they go on a sales call. I remember that the technology side of a product. It is hard to sell without someone explaining the technology.

I map out sales calls like a procedure manual. The more detailed on the sales cycle I became, the more positive sales engineers respond. Some of my clients, ask me to attend sales calls with their team members. These calls may include a sales manager, sales account executive, and a sales engineer.

I am already an outsider in this situation. Usually, I have not been on more than 3 demo calls before I head into a sales meeting with a new prospect. This puts my product knowledge much lower than the team members I am going on the call with. They are around their solution day in and day out. Adding to the fact that I’m able to take over the meeting to show the sales team I am coaching, how to run more effective sales calls. Each of these items put me in an awkward spot when I am gaining the trust of the sales engineer in my sales ability.

That brings me back to mapping out an upcoming sales call and rehearsing with everyone that will be in attendance. The more detail on the sales cycle I give a sales engineer, the more positive the response is.

I ask sales engineers for feedback. How could I’ve been clearer when I was explaining the solution? Did I speak slow enough for everyone to follow along with me? Was my technical
acumen correct?

Sales engineers gave insightful feedback. I was gaining their trust and learning at the same time. Soon the sales engineers were asking me how they can improve their sales techniques. I offered feedback. Quickly we had a win-win situation. The technical side and the sales side finally flowed well together.

Word spread that I was able to speak “engineer.” Sales engineers sign up for executive coaching because of the respect I have for those sides of the sales team. Rapidly I saw an uptick in executive coaching requests from engineers that wanted to sell their ideas. They needed help with pitch decks, summary statements and presentations to make sure their pitch meeting went well.

“Going From Engineer to Sales Engineer” discusses the skills needed to sell ideas. The book, set for a fall release, touches on ways to move from an individual contributor engineer role to a sales engineer role. To pre-order a copy of “Going From Engineer to Sale Engineer” please email cb@bhyconsulting.com. To learn more about Catherine, BHY Consulting and our scope, please visit www.bhyconsulting.com.

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