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Seven Attributes of a Great Sales Engineer

Great Sales Engineers can have a dramatic effect on sales success. This article describes what a Sales Engineer is, followed by 7 key FAE-Success-266x300attributes of outstanding Sales Engineers.

What are Sales Engineers?

Sales Engineers drive the technical portion of the sale. Sales Engineers typically work in concert with a Sales Person who is responsible for the overall sales success in a group of accounts.

Job Titles for the Sales Engineering Role?

A diverse list of titles are ascribed to the Sales Engineer function depending on: the organization, the product type, the market, and the focus of the sales team. Some examples include:

  • Sales Engineer (SE) – can also be an abbreviation for: System Engineer and  Support Engineer.
  • Applications Engineer (AE)
  • Field Applications Engineer (FAE)
  • Consulting Engineer (CE) – typically more focused on delivering Engineering Services, but may also responsible for SE role.

Why are Sales Engineers Valuable?

Top Sales Engineers are highly-valued for their sales savvy, technical acumen and facility with the products they sell.

What are the Duties of a Sales Engineer?

Duties of a Sales Engineer may include:

  • Product Demonstrations

  • Technical Presentations

  • Talking with prospects and customers

  • Handling Technical Product Q and A

  • Supporting Product Evaluations

  • Doing Competitive Analysis

  • Creating and Delivering Technical Sales Messages

  • Supporting Customers

  • Working in a Companies Trade Show Booth

  • Presenting at Conferences and Seminars

  • Blogging

  • Creating Articles, White Papers and Web Content

The Seven Key Attributes of Great Sales Engineers

The seven attributes that make a Sales Engineer stand out from the crowd are:

1) Sales Engineers Fill Gaps

A sales engineer interacts with many disparate groups and helps create a fit between the product and the customer. Sales Engineers can act as:

A Bridge Between Customer Groups

Sales Engineers help to craft sales messages to their prospects’ management, technical end users and executives. To appeal to this broad audience requires an understanding of sales techniques, technology, and the problems faced by their customers and prospects.

The Voice of the Customer

Sales Engineers act as the eyes and ears of their companies’ technical marketing and engineering departments. Daily contact with customers allow Sales Engineers to become the “Voice of the Customer” This feedback helps their company to better understand the unique needs of their clients.

An Extension of Engineering

Many highly technical products and services must be adapted to a prospects particular needs and environment. Often, Sales Engineers can modify and extend hardware and software to provide customers with as close to an ideal solution as possible.

2) Sales Engineers Understand Relevant Technology

To succeed, Sales Engineers need to understand the impact and importance of technology to their customers. The following types of technology background are essential to the Sales Engineer.

Product Technology

The core technology behind your product is the key to how you differentiate it from the competition. If you understand the benefits of your products core technology, you can easily position it as a solution to your customer.

Supporting Technology

Supporting technology can be anything from products used with your as part of a process to tools to help your customers be more efficient or effective with your product. By understanding these products, you can help your customer solve “big picture’ problems that involve your product as well as others.

Product Implementation Detail

Understanding the way a product is implemented, allows you to always understand your products at a deeper level that your customer. This deeper understanding allows you to extrapolate the capability of your product in specific situation and to make judgments about what is and is not possible with the underlying architecture.

Competitive Technology

Understanding the technology behind your competitors’ products and how your competitors products are implemented allow you to exploit weaknesses in their solution. You can creatively compare and contrast your solution against theirs and relate “what if” scenarios that show how your product is superior.

In-house Alternative Technology

In addition to understanding the technology behind your product and its’ competitors, it is also key to understand how your customer might build an in-house solution to the problems solved by your product. Armed with this knowledge you can paint an accurate picture of the real costs of “make versus buy”.

3) Sales Engineers Understand the Customers’ Business

Great Sales Engineers understand the problems faced by their customers and the goals they want to achieve. Business knowledge positions you as a resource and allows you to gain trust through competence and the value of the information you provide. You are not seen as just selling products, but as a trusted adviser who understands the real needs of the customer.

4) Sales Engineers Work Well with All Types of People

To succeed, Sales Engineers must learn to deal with different personalty types. Understanding what is important to a prospect and how they “see” the world allows you to relate to them in a way that they understand.

5) Sales Engineers Can Present and Demo Succinctly and Effectively

Sales Engineers are called upon to perform technical demonstrations and presentations. One harmful side-effect of knowing your product well is that you may find it difficult to relate it to prospects with little or no experience with your type of product. This may cause you to lose your prospect in a sea of detail. Many Sales Engineers treat a Demo or Presentation like a training session, which can make your product seam more complex than it should be. The right balance of detail is key to a successful demo or presentation.

6) Sales Engineers Can Communicate on a Technical and Personal Plane

Relationships matter. If a prospect likes you, all things being equal, they will chose you and your product over the competition. Communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship. To help build a relationship with your prospect, you need to spend some time on both technical topics and on general topics. A good Sales Engineer is comfortable at both.

7) Sales Engineers Understand the Sales Process

The sales process helps you gauge how well a sale is progressing. Good Sales Engineers understand where they are in the sales process and can identify the next steps required to move the sales forward.

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Top 7 Reasons Engineers are Afraid to Become Sales Engineers

Have you been approached by someone in sales about a job, or maybe you’re the one your company sends out to see customers because you have a “good personalty”. Have you ever thought–I might want to do sales, but the whole idea makes me a little nervous.

This article details the seven most common reasons that Engineers are scared to try Sales Engineering.

1) I’ll lose my technical edge, my Engineering skills will get rusty

This is usually NOT a big issue, here’s why:

As a Field Applications Engineer (FAE), you probably won’t get into as much technical detail as when you did engineering work, but you also won’t have to do the boring parts of the project like documentation and sustaining engineering. Sales Engineering will expose you to many different environments, technologies and challenges while working with customers. This diversity can be a great way to round out your technical knowledge.

As a Sales Engineer, you already have a solid background in the technology that you sell and support. If you try Sales Engineering for a year or two, you should have no problem moving back to a purely technical role; with the benefit of a broader technical perspective. One thing to think carefully about though; if you don’t like multitasking and lots of priorities, you won’t enjoy the FAE role.

 

2) Sales people are sleazy, I don’t want to be considered sleazy

Some sales people are sleazy, no question about it. Most aren’t, so you’re not likely to have to deal with sleazy sales people. That said, you do need to enter into the world of sales with your eyes wide open. Consider the following, are they examples of lying?

  • In customer demos, your competition consistently glosses over the parts of their product that are hard to learn or use. You know that your product is better, but you feel compelled to explain every negative detail because you want to be honest. The result–they win, you lose, and the customer gets an inferior product.
  • You read the competition’s data sheets and their product looks superior to yours “on paper”. Since, you don’t have any idea how the competition’s product works in the real world (unless you have used it) never concede on a feature unless you have hard evidence that your product is inferior.

NOTE: You should never lie, but you need to be aware of how the game is played. If you don’t like the game, sales is probably not for you.

 

3) Sales is easy, I won’t learn anything of value

The conventional wisdom is that sales is the “lowest paid” easy work; so don’t be fooled. Yes, you can get by on your technical knowledge, but to be effective, you need to do your part in closing the technical sale.

As for things of value, how about these for starters: presentation skills, demo skills and lots of contacts in the engineering community. These things are invaluable if you ever want to enter engineering management, start a company or find a new job.

4) I’m used to a salary, this “commission thing” scares the heck out of me

This is a big issue for many engineers looking to make the move to technical sales–here’s some food for thought.

You don’t have to be on commission to be a sales engineer. You may want to try a salary only job before you make the jump to a salary + commission plan.

If you are interested in making more money, typically the risk/reward world of salary + commission is the way to go.

Generally the more heavily weighted your plan is towards commission, the more money you can make–if you win sales! You can find jobs with varying degrees of risk built into their pay plans. Early on, you may want to opt for a 90% salary and 10% commission for stability, then later opt for a 60% base and 40% commission plan to raise you total income.

5) If I do sales, I’ll have to lie

No you don’t have to lie and you never should. See item 2.

6) I will have to give “speeches”

Yup, you will. Almost all Field Application Engineering positions require you to present your products. You may also be asked to do talks for trade shows, user groups and other similar activities. Presentations are nothing to fear, just be sure to take the time to understand your prospects needs as well as your product. Done well, a presentation or demo is a service to your prospect that will help them to make an informed decision.

7) I’m not sure if there is a worthwhile career path in sales

There are great career paths in sales, the key question is: are they great career paths for you.

If you enjoy the challenge of lots of balls in the air, learning new things, and working with people, sales engineering may be for you. Many Sales Engineers have gone on to sales and sales management and even started their own successful companies.

Do you have questions/fears about making the move to sales engineering? Let me know about it in the comments section.