Great Sales Engineers can have a dramatic effect on sales success. This article describes what a Sales Engineer is, followed by 7 key attributes 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, Solutions Engineer and Support Engineer.
  • Applications Engineer (AE) and to really make things confusing... Account Executive (AKA the Sales person!!!)
  • Field Applications Engineer (FAE)
  • Consulting Engineer (CE) - typically more focused on delivering Engineering Services, but may also responsible for SE role.
  • Solutions Consultant (SC) - Also focused on Engineering Services as well as some Pre-sales duties.

Why are Sales Engineers Valuable?

Top Sales Engineers are highly-valued for their sales savvy, technical acumen and facility with the products they sell. They also need to understand the industry they operate in and the problems faced by their prospects and customers. Sales Engineers typically have deep subject matter knowledge as well. Sales Engineers can be of value to prospects and customers if they share insights and best practices that they have learned through real-world experience.

What are the Duties of a Sales Engineer?

Duties of a Sales Engineer may include:

  • Product Demonstrations - Showing a product to a prospect to help them to "see" how it would help them go from where things  are today to a much better situation with your product. 

  • Technical Presentations - these are white board or slide based talks that help the SE position the product and show product value to their prospects.

  • Talking with prospects and customers - This includes formal and informal settings, but the overall goal is to show the prospect that your are a trusted, professional adviser that can add value and insight and really help them with their challenges.

  • Handling Technical Product Q and A - This is a critical aspect of the job. Prospects need accurate and detailed answers about how your product will work in their unique environment. They will typically have already learned a lot of detail from the web so the more technical product knowledge you have the better.

  • Supporting Product Evaluations - evaluations or proof of concept (POCs) engagements are where your prospects uses your product in their environment to see how it performs and if it is a good fit for them. As an SE it is you job to help make them successful with your product. 

  • Doing Competitive Analysis - As an SE you may be asked to do detailed technical competitive analysis of other products in your marked. Your technical knowledge coupled with your understanding of the industry and players will allow you to help you and your sales person to position your product as the best alternative.

  • Creating and Delivering Technical Sales Messages - Once you fully understand your prospects needs, you will need to advocate a solution. This requires you to craft and deliver a value message that shows your prospect the clear value of using your product verses what they are currently doing and verses other offerings in your market. These messages need to be concise, relevant and compelling to be effective.

  • Supporting Customers - All customers using complex or technical products need fast, effective support. As an SE you can strongly differentiate you and your team by providing excellent support.

  • Working in a Companies Trade Show Booth - Trade show are an activity that you may be asked to participate in. You will be asked to speak with prospects about your product and perhaps do a demonstration of it. Trade shows can be a great way to quickly learn about typical questions prospects may ask and to sharpen your demo skills.

  • Presenting at Conferences and Seminars - As a technical member of the sales team you are uniquely qualified to create and deliver technical talks about  your product. This is a great way to raise your profile in the industry where you work and can help establish you and your company as experts.

  • Blogging - You may be asked to write blog articles to help customers and prospects to understand complex topics or product features. This is another way to position yourself as a expert.

  • Creating Articles, White Papers and Web Content - Similar to blogging, creating articles, videos and white papers can help drive traffic to your web and leads to your team. Articles help prospects to understand your product and how it fits into the industry.

  • Supporting Sales Channels - SEs are often required to support and sometimes manage third party channels such as Manufacturers Rep and Distributors. 
  • Working with the Sales Team - Sales and Sales Engineering work together as a cohesive team with Sales focused on the business aspects and the SE typically focused on the technical aspects of the sale. SEs will typically work with a group of Salespeople, where the SE is a shared resource or in a 1:1 or one to several Sales People role.

Learn More About Our Sales Engineer Training, Coaching and Workshops

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 appear to be  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.

Think the Sales Engineer Role is right for you? Try our Sales Engineer Quiz!

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  • Dear Sirs and Madams,

    My name is Tobias Bennewitz and I am currently studying Sales Engineering and Product Management at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.
    I am going to start writing up my Bachelor Thesis where I compare different study programs of Sales Engineering (or Engineering programs with a possibility to learn about sales) of various universities in the USA.
    Therefore, I collect information about different curricula regarding this or related programs (e.g. studies like Industrial Engineering combined with sales). Facts explaining why universities offer this study or why they dont will also be helpful.
    Since there are only a 3 Sales Engineering programs in the USA i would like ton know which major-minor combination fits the closest with a sales engineering programm and which university offer something like this.
    I would be pleased if you can provide any information regarding this topic.
    If you need any more details please feel free to contact me at any time.
    Kind regards,
    Tobias Bennewitz

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