The Sales Engineer: A Hybrid Role
Sales. Engineering. In the past, these roles existed in separate organizational silos and rarely crossed paths. Sales people interacted with customers; engineers designed and worked with manufacturing to build products.
Today, technology and the need to be competitive are causing companies to look at sales and engineering differently. The result is the convergence of something called "the sales engineer."
Sales engineers, also known as systems engineers and technical sales consultants, use their technical and engineering skills and apply them to business issues and environments. They combine the best of both roles to create real-world solutions and applications to business problems.
Sales engineers are employed in a variety of industries, including technology, the sciences, architecture, engineering and manufacturing, among others. These are companies with complex products and services and an involved procurement process.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these companies need sales engineers to sell and consult on technologically and scientifically advanced systems and complete solutions, and to determine how these could be designed or modified to suit customers' needs.
"Credibility-Side of the Sale"
Salesengineering.com describes sales engineers as the "credibility-side of the sale." This is because sales engineers can validate the technical portion of the sale while having the financial acumen to relate technology to real world situations.
Sales engineers often are members of larger teams comprised of business development, relationship management, marketing and fulfillment representatives. This make-up allows sales engineers to focus on what they're best at -- engineering.
Successful sales engineers work well within teams, because they understand economics and finance, and the metrics for customer success. They have the business savvy, and they understand the drivers, trends and other factors that influence companies today.
Career Overview describes the sales engineer's approach as "different than traditional sales techniques which focus on bringing the features and benefits of a product to the surface and then leaving the customer to decide whether or not a specific product would be useful to them, sales engineers often see their product or service as a way to cure or alleviate a client's problem."
Sales engineers have responsibilities like all sales people. They must be outgoing and able to relate to customers in order to close the deal. They have strong interpersonal skills and radar that detects what's important to customers. Like most sales people, sales engineers are highly competitive, motivated, reward driven. They want to be paid for performance.
Finding and Training the Coveted Sales Engineer
An internet search for sales engineering turned up nearly 10 million matches. Many of these were job descriptions and classified advertisements offering salaries of $100K per year or more. Companies are located everywhere from Singapore to Mexico and in nearly every city in the U.S.
So where do you find these coveted employees? Many sales engineers start as traditional design engineers and make personal decisions to evolve their careers. Some are fatigued sitting behind a desk. Others want diversity and to be out in the field.
In other cases, colleges and universities have started preparing engineers for careers in technical sales. Some universities have developed sales engineering programs -- even degree minors that include studies in engineering, business, sales strategy and economics. Experiential education through lectures and internships are also a critical part of the curriculum.
The United Professional Sales Association emphasizes that "highly competent sales people, with strong technical skills, are necessary for a business to build customer satisfaction and loyalty." Isn't this what sales engineering is all about?
About the Author
John W. Conover IV is the president of Trane's commercial systems business in the Americas region. He is responsible for growing the sales and distribution of Trane's indoor comfort systems and comprehensive facility solutions. Trane offers a Graduate Training Program for recent college graduates to hone their skills as "sales engineers."