To be an effective Sales Engineer or Pre-Sales Engineer, you need to master a number of key "soft skills" to compliment your engineering skills or subject matter expertise. If you are able to learn these critical skills you will be much more valuable to your company and sales team. In addition, some skills are key to getting the job of your dreams and advancing your career.
Here's a typical list of "soft skills":
- Public Speaking and Presentation Skills
- Perception Skills
- Demonstration Skills
- Q&A Skills
- Technical Discovery Skills
- Competitive Analysis Skills
- People Skills
- Sales Skills
- Teamwork Skills
- Networking Skills
- Interview Skills
Let's take each in turn and describe why they are important to your success.
Public Speaking and Presentation Skills
As a Sales Engineer you will need to make compelling sales presentations for your product and services.
You will often be required to present at Trade shows and Seminars as well as in Web and on-site sales calls. In the end, your ability to understand your prospects needs and to articulate the value of your solution is what makes the difference between winning the sale or losing.
A crucial soft skill is the ability to "read the room" which means you can assess what people are feeling about their interaction with you and can adjust to keep them engaged and satisfied. This skill is only possible if you know your product cold. This way you will be able to focus on watching people's body language and listening to their to to guide your approach.
Like presentations, product demos are a regular part of pre-sales activity. If the product is complex and expensive, demonstrations are mandatory.
A demo is basically a specialized presentation where you attempt to show your prospect the aspects of your product that can help them with their work.
Demos also require a degree of facility with your product and an understanding of related engineering and business processes to be effective. If you just show features without explaining their value, you will not persuade your prospect to buy.
Q and A Skills
Asking and answering questions are the cornerstone of good selling. Asking informed questions will help you understand the technical needs of your prospect.
Once you fully understand your prospect's needs, focus on helping them with the things they care about, avoid the things they don't care about and most importantly--help them to see the issues they should care about but don't.
Answering questions is an often neglected, yet vital skill. Prospects may ask difficult questions, competitive questions, or even hostile questions and you need to be able to answer them well or you could lose the sale.
Technical Discovery Skills
You may think that sales is responsible for Discovery and in many instances this is how things work. There are times, however, where is is vital for you to be able to do some discovery:
- If you are on the call, as a subject matter expert, to help with deeper, complex issue discovery.
- If you begin the demo but have incomplete or even no Discovery information at all. Here you need to do in-call discovery and find out what is important and how you should message around it for best results.
- If you have good discovery but you product is complex and you need to drill down to fully understand the prospects' use case.
Discovery skills help you to fully understand what is happening with your prospect so that you can craft a value message that shows why your solution is the best fit. To do discovery well you need to understand what the current situation is, how things are happening today and how it is affecting your prospects world. You also want to understand what an "ideal" solution to their issue might look like so that you can message around it.
You learn these things by asking a series of questions and working with your sales person. For Sales Engineers, being able to understand the technical issues and to tie them to critical business issues is key!
Competitive Analysis Skills
Competitive technical sales situations require a unique set of skills to prevail. If you only understand your product, you are partially blind to attacks from the competition. If you don't have a solid understanding of the business and market issues faced by your prospect, you can never hope to present your offering in the best light.
Finally, if you don't know the specifics of your prospects situation, any attempt to be competitive is highly risky.
When doing competitive analysis be sure not to give the competition too much credit and also not to give them too little. Reading specs don't tell the full story, the competitions' product may check every box but be hard to understand and use or be buggy. Conversely, internal marketing reviews are often slanted towards you product and may not give you an unbiased view of where you stand. Be sure to learn as much as you can by asking questions of customers and prospects when you can.
People skills are perhaps the number one skill that you will need as a Sales Engineer. On every phone call, web meeting or face-to-face encounter you will need to put prospects at ease and to lead the sales conversation. In the end, people respect knowledge and appreciate good follow up, but all things being equal they will always buy from the person they like the best. Your goal is to be perceived as "insanely helpful" by your peers, leadership, customers and prospects.
A good understanding of the sales process is essential to succeeding as a Sales Engineer. Sales Engineers are also expected to be able to qualify the viability of a sales opportunity from a technical perspective.
As a Sales Engineer you will often be part of a sales team. Your ability to work in harmony with different personality types can make you truly stand out. You goal should be to be seen as the easiest SE to work with. Here are some areas to be mindful of:
Stay in your lane - Understand your role in the sales process and the role of your sales person. Be sure to take the time to ask each sales person you work with what they need and expect from you. Once you begin working with a new sales person be sure to adjust and improve based on your experience.
Try to be helpful - You want to make things as easy as possible for your sales person. This can be difficult but it will make the sales person eager to sing your praises to others at your company and this matters a lot when review time comes around.
Work out a communication system - There are often situations where you need to deal with a technical issue and need your sales person to cover for you. Be sure to establish a back channel like text messaging to be able to let them know.
Keeping up your professional network is critical to career and job success. Employers want to know that your are connected to others in your industry an that you are in tune with relevant issues about the SE rule.
LinkedIn is a great resource for learning about the Zeitgeist of the Sales Engineering world but is is important to go beyond just linking to others. You want to focus on joining and participation in groups to help you get known as a subject matter expert.
Going beyond LinkedIn, AKA the real world is an important next step to get to know people you can help and that can help you. You should try to find a mentor to help you on your journey, people generally want to help if you are sincere and seek to understand them.
The ability to interview is important because without this skill, you will not be able to get the jobs you want even if you are otherwise qualified. The main areas to focus on are:
Showing what you accomplished in previous roles, not just what you did.
Doing a demonstration during the interview that shows you can learn new things quickly and present and demonstrate these concepts in the most concise, relevant and compelling way possible.
Show that you did your research and that you know what their company is focused on. Prepare informed questions that show you spent time researching them.