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 personality". Have you ever thought--I might want to do sales, but the whole idea makes me a little nervous. Fear not, this article on the duties of a Sales Engineer will put you mind at ease.
This article details the seven most common reasons that Engineers are scared to try the role of Sales Engineer.
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 Sales Engineer (SE), 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 salespeople 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: Sales Engineers 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.
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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 or Sales Engineer 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.