What Exactly is a Sales Engineer?

In this post, we will take a look at what a Sales Engineer (SE for short) is. We will explore the different job titles you may run across, some of the skills required to be a successful SE and what the job entails.

A Rose by any Other Name

In my career, I have had many different job titles. At different companies I have been referred to as an Applications Engineer, a Technical Sales Engineer, a a Sales Engineer, a Systems Engineer, a Pre-Sales Engineer and a Solutions Engineer. In all these roles I performed the same function, I was the technical member of the sales team, demonstrating the products we sold and answering any technical questions that arose. 

I have worked in the Enterprise Software market for the past 25 years, so my view of a Sales Engineer is from that viewpoint. But it is important to note that the role can vary significantly depending on industries, job descriptions or company structure.

What is the Role?

In industrial markets, or in hardware sales, a Sales Engineer may be more involved with the integration of hardware and software. Their role may involve detailed design and implementation of industrial or hardware systems, or a combination of hardware and software. I have seen this in embedded systems where a detailed knowledge of both hardware and software is required. This post is not targeted at this space because it is not my area of expertise. But, if you have a background in this area and would like to write a blog post about it, please reach out via our Contact Us page. I would love to have a different point of view.

As a Sales Engineer in the Enterprise Software market, I am primarily involved in Sales activities, supporting one or more Account Executives (or sales guys). There have been times I have been asked to deliver consulting services after the sale in more of a hybrid role, but this has been the exception, not the norm. This was typically training for the clients or the initial installation of the software prior to training on a billable basis. Occasionally it became more involved. But for most of my career my main responsibility was winning the technical sale, making sure we were the selected vendor. 

We will talk more about the sales cycle in a future post, but the technical sale is the mid-part of the sales cycle where the client evaluates your products versus your competition. Your job is to help them see how your products best meet their technical requirements, and more importantly how your products address the business problem they have. You are the one who can make them succesful. They are not talking to you because everything is perfect! You are often speaking to a mix of IT professionals, business users and Executives and you will need to present things in a manner each of them can relate to. 

Sales Models

Depending on the company you work for, your role can be specialized or all-purpose. If the company you work for has a broad variety of products, or products that target a specific vertical market you may become more specialized. This could be a technology specialization like security or compliance, it could be one or two specific products in the catalog, or it could be a vertical market like the Finance industry, Government, Life Sciences or another industry.

Most of my career has been in a more general role where I supported all the company’s products to some extent. I may have had more depth in some areas of the products than others, but I typically had a working demonstration level knowledge of them all. There was a point in time where I supported the company’s full product suite, but the sales territory I worked in was exclusively targeting the Manufacturing industry, so it was a vertical specialization.

Different companies also have different sales models. Sometimes it changes as a company grows or their focus changes. When it comes to Sales teams, you may also find yourself in a 1:1 model or a pooled model. In a pooled model, there will be a single Sales Engineer for 2 or more Account Executives and you are a shared resource supporting them all. Your compensation is typically tied to a collective revenue number rather than a specific sales persons acheivement. In a 1:1 model, you and the Account Executive make up a team and you focus on a specific territory. Your compensation is tied to the success of your team. I have worked under both models and there are positives and negatives to both.

The Skills You Need

We will talk in more depth about SE skills in another post. But to quickly cover it, you are obviously expected to have specific technical skills. Depending on the software platform you are working with, you may need any combination of the following:

While you don’t have to be an expert in all of these, you do need a functional knowledge of all of them as it relates to your software products. You are expected to be able to discuss these technologies with the clients IT team, or Security team, in relation to your product. Again, you can not be an expert in all of them, but you need to answer the most common questions that will arise. 

What Does an Sales Engineer do Every Day?

In summary, the job entails a broad variety of activities. It is one of the reasons I have always enjoyed it, you don’t get bored or caught in a routine. In any given week, I will be involved in some combination of the following:

  • Software demonstrations
  • Q&A sessions with prospects, clients and/or partners
  • Orchestrating Proof of Concepts (POC ́s)
  • Responding to Requests for Proposals (RFP ́s)
  • Attending a trade show
  • Delivering a webinar
  • Doing competitive research
  • Talking with Marketing, Product Development or Consulting

Conclusion

As you can see the role of an Sales Engineer is varied and crosses the lines between sales activity and technology consulting. We ́ll talk more in the future about the selling role and what makes a good Sales Engineer.

Until then, good selling!

External References:

Update

A friend kindly pointed out that most of the skills I listed above are technical in nature and there is more to being a good Sales Engineer than technical skills. There is are sales skills and people skills that come into play among other things. We’ll dig deeper into this in another blog post in the near future!

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