(by Ramzi Marjaba) I started as a sales engineer back in 2014. I was green, and I didn’t have teammates around me. My mentor left within 2 months of my start date; some blame me for that!
I soon realized that I needed to learn about Sales Engineering from both teammates, and the best in the business outside of my company, so We The SEs Podcast was born in 2018. And now, with over 150 episodes, Ken Lambert at NAASE asked me to share what I’ve learned from them. So here are 15 Lessons Learned from over 150 interviews. Some of these lessons are based on what people said, others are based on what they did.
1- Listening is important!
This was from my first interview ever. My guest was Bill McCarel, my manager for 6 months. Active Listening is not the same as listening. According to Bill, it breaks down into 5 tenants
- Be in the moment. You are here to listen, not to teach or lecture
- Keep an open mind and don’t rush to judgment. Don’t immediately jump to answering questions. We know the answer, but we have to be patient
- Rephrase the customer’s information. That way you can confirm that what you understood is correct.
- Ask open-ended questions and clarifying questions. Use “Then what” or “what else” etc
- Use Stories about similar situations.
2- Sales Engineers are in Sales! (Chris White)
This is something that Chris White, the author of 6 Habits of Highly Effective Sales Engineers says over and over. Some Sales Engineers hate that, especially in the Networking/IT/SAAS world. When I first started I thought there was a line where the SE tasks are on one side, and sales tasks are on the other. They never mix. I soon noticed that if I continue to operate that way, I will not have a very successful career. We are part of sales, and whether we like it or not, we have to do salesy stuff. Whether it’s asking the customers to meet with us, checking for other leads with our customers, or even asking if the deal will close, if we can master those, we can be better Sales Engineers
3- The Sales Engineering Community is the best community ever! (Every single SE I met)
Ok, maybe not every single one. One Sales Engineer got very upset that I don’t enjoy Apple products (blasphemy!). Mostly, the Sales Engineering community is a caring and helpful community that I’m proud to be a part of.
It did not matter if I’m asking teammates for help, or chatting with a SE I’ve never met before, I can tell that they care, and want to do the best to help whoever and whatever the situation is.
4- Salespeople are people too!
I have to admit, when I became a Sales Engineer, I did not know what it meant. Then I found out that there is such a thing as Account Managers. My first encounter with them was during onboarding. Account Managers and SEs were in the same room for training, but then it was time to split us up. The SE manager stands up and says “SEs stay here, those who have a lobotomy go to the other room”
Everyone laughed, and we moved on. However, that moment has stuck with me. There was always that us vs them mentality.
As I mentioned earlier, SEs are part of sales, and after talking to many Account Managers, they seem to have the same worries that I do. They need to make money to take care of their families. Customers yell at them (sometimes), VPs of sales yell at them, SEs and other engineers make fun of them, and yet they are still standing, still doing their jobs.
5- Not everyone is called a sales engineer
Presales, Presales Engineers, Systems Engineers, Solution Consultants, Solution Engineers, Application Engineers, Field Engineers, and so many more titles for the same thing. I wrote an entire blog just about this topic.
6- Technical wins don’t mean much (John Care)
Many SEs talk about the technical win. The problem is there is no way to simply quantify it. It’s akin to being up by 12 points in the 3rd quarter of a basketball game. Unless you keep that lead, it means nothing. So the SE’s job does not end with the technical win, especially if they are quota-based and still need their commission to see that extra dough in the bank account.
7- Technical wins mean a lot (Chris White)
SEs need to put their salespeople in a position to win. Not having the technical win means that we are down 12 points in the third quarter, and we have to depend on our salesperson to pull out a win all on their own.
8- Show What, then How (Peter Cohan)
This was not from a podcast, but from a blog that Peter Cohan wrote. The worst demos I’ve seen are those where every button is clicked and we go through every page. This does not show the customer how to solve the problem, just how to use the product. The demo is used to show the customer how we will solve their problem. So we need to focus on the problem we are showing, then how we got there if needed.
9- Learn from more than one source (Jose Espinoza)
There isn’t 1 way to learn, or one source to learn from. That’s something we discussed on the podcast recently with Jose Espinoza (Show 154).
I’m in the networking world. The defacto source of learning is the Cisco Certifications. There are others like Nokia and Juniper, but Cisco, in my eyes, is the most request certification on resumes. However, if we only learn from Cisco, we only learn what they want us to know. We can look at how customers are using it, listen to podcasts where people discuss different architectures helps us get a complete view of how the products are being used.
Also, we can learn from reading books, watching videos, practicing or we can use a combination of all different methods.
10- You are never too experienced to learn more (Brian Geery)
Brain Geery of SalesNV.com is a seasoned professional. He has been in sales for a very long time. He has his methods, opinions, and beliefs and he currently teaches SEs how to demo amongst other skills.
At the start of the pandemic, I was doing a weekly coffee break on Friday where people from all over the place would join me for a casual conversation. Brian would almost always be there. You would think someone with his experience would be there to attempt to enforce his view or show how smart he is so he can land a few more customers. Instead, he spent the time on the call asking questions, being genuinely curious about other’s opinions and what he can learn from them.
I truly appreciated talking to Brian because he elevated everybody by simply being curious.
11- You have to do more than sales engineering to be successful
Gone are the days where a Sales Engineer can be only the technical guy and be able to succeed. Now Sales Engineers have to up their game. They have to be able to do sales, some marketing, some negotiation, and other tasks.
Check out Show 158 of the We The SEs podcast to hear about the 8 Ignored Skills that SEs should have.
12- Personalities Matter (Aileen McNabb)
There isn’t one size fits all. Customers are different, SEs are different and salespeople are different. As SEs, we have to interact with many people. Most SEs can tell when their jokes are not landing, or when they are being too forceful, or too nonchalant. However actually understanding personalities, starting with your own, can help you deal with people in a more scientific approach.
13- You can control the way you are treated
I don’t like being told what to do. I hate it. I can take suggestions, but being given orders is not something I can digest easily, after all, I’m not a “go-for”. That lead to some friction between myself and the Account Managers I work with. Left unchecked, this could have lead to some ugly situations.
Then I realized that I’m in control. I’m in control of the way I acted, and how I respond to “requests”. Being proactive, I tried to understand what they were giving me such commands, and once I did, I was able to achieve what they were looking for before even being asked. It went from friction to frictionless.
14- You have room to be very creative in Sales Engineering (Patrick Pissang)
Engineers in general are not known to be creative. That’s why we’re not authors or painters. However, engineering has a lot of creativity. Engineers create stuff. Yet we don’t lean on that when we’re working as Sales Engineers.
Patrick Pissang is someone who embraces creativity. When he was on the show, he discussed how he wrote a “Press Release of the Future” that he shared with the customer about what they can do together. So we don’t have to stick to demoing user interfaces or talking about speeds and feeds. We can think outside the box and partner with customers on their endeavors.
15- Anybody can be a Sales Engineer
The term engineer is usually reserved for at least someone who graduated from an engineering school. So not everybody can be an Engineer. However, Sales Engineering is more of a role, not just a title. So if you don’t have an engineering degree but are still interested in the role, well, look out for other titles like Solution Consultant, Solution Architect, Presales, Application Consultant and so many more.
NAASE wants to thank Ramzi for this great synopsis of the “Best of” lessons from his 150+ sales engineering podcasts! Some great insight and tools here for SE’s of all ages and career levels. Ramzi can be reached at https://wethesalesengineers.com/