–by Raja Tamilarasan
A few years ago, I decided to take a leap of faith into what at that time looked like a very challenging and drastic career move to take on a #SalesEngineering opportunity. I knew very little about sales back then and I ventured in with plenty of questions.
What will my compensation be, and how much based on commission?
Will I need to travel more?
Will I need to give many long and technical presentations to large groups of people?
Will I maybe lose my technical/engineering “edge” and knowledge?
How much “sales” will I really be doing?
Four years in, Sales Engineering has been the most challenging yet rewarding role that I have had thus far. The ride has definitely been bumpy, full of experiences and learnings.
Are you an engineer thinking about a career in sales and wondering “Should I transition from engineering to sales ?”
Let’s first decipher the sales world nomenclatures.
Products – The totality of goods or services that your company develops and makes available for your customers to buy and use.
Account Team – The account team is a team of resources that is assigned to a particular account (customer). It is common for the same account team to support more than one account. The account team consists of the following roles who are working together to drive the success of the account.
- Account Executive – has the primary day-to-day responsibility of managing the business relationship with the customer.
- Sales Engineer – the technical counterpart of the account executive required to build and maintain parallel expertise in technical and soft skills. The Sales Engineer applies their engineering background and thorough understanding of the targeted industry to recommend solutions (products) to serve the customers requirements.
- Inside Sales Representative – the inside counterpart of the account executive that manages the ongoing relationship with the customer, processes orders and negotiates sales terms.
- Technical Sales Representative – the inside counterpart of the sales engineer that handles building the solutions as per the specs that are agreed upon by the customer.**
A Design (or) Solution is a combination of products and services that deliver the desired business outcome for the customer. The design process could involve various steps such as product demonstrations, proof-of-concepts, product trials, setup, service and on-site residency.
**NAASE note: In our experience, sometimes a “technical sales representative” is essentially a combination of an account executive and a sales engineer; they do the bulk of both positions. The bottom line is that title and terms vary from company to company.
Now that we have deciphered the high-level sales nomenclature, below are my top of mind thoughts on the Sales Engineering role to help you decide whether it is something that you should consider as a future career.
- As the Sales Engineer, you can do everything right, present the best possible product and still lose an opportunity for reasons totally unrelated to the product or the price or the market. Failure is the best teacher in Sales, fail fast, learn fast and rise fast.
- The Sales Engineer is the point person for the customer, from the most complicated technical issue to a missing box label, it is you, the sales engineer that the customer is relying on to solve their problem.
- As the Sales Engineer, you could be pulled into a meeting without any context and yet be expected to keep an active dialogue with the customer and find nuggets of information that can result in future business opportunities.
- Your CEO could walk into your presentation unannounced and yet you are expected to continue the presentation without skipping a beat. Be ready to handle any situation, have an open mind to pivot your presentation based on your audiences reaction.
- Immaterial of the brand or technology or product, Sales is a people business and customers buy only from people they trust and can rely on. No matter how bad the situation is, always be open, honest and straight forward with your customer. Never take short cuts to make a quick sale.
- As the Sales Engineer, you are just a facilitator for the slew of amazing resources within your company. You need to learn to leverage them skillfully and resourcefully to be able to do what is right for your customer.
- As the Sales Engineer, it is not only about selling what is on the truck but more about driving decisions that influences future products that goes on the truck.
- Compensation, being on commission is a totally different ball game when compared to having a set base and bonus. Your target (quota) is set based on little bit of science and a little bit of magic. Trust your team and your management to do the right thing and when there are issues, have the patience for them to figure out a way to fix it. Quota attainment is cyclical, you win some you lose some and it all levels out in the long run. Have patience, trust your team.
- Learning, You can continue to be as technical and hands-on as you desire, Sales Engineering is a continuous learning environment and you get to pick and choose what your learn and how much you learn. The Technical Sales realm is constantly changing and evolving with the industry and as a Sales Engineer you should never stop learning to be able to have a sensible conversation with your customer.
Drawing this to a close, Sales Engineering continues to teach me a lot and mainly to trust my instincts. A business opportunity that looks impossible one day will turn into recurring revenue the next (and in some cases a year and a half later). Thanks to my mentors and colleagues that guided me thru this transition to sales (or the dark side as they like to call it).
Be humble, be curious, be creative, ask why not, fail fast, embrace failure, trust your instincts, trust your team, keep learning, invest in yourself and above all prioritize family and friends over work.