The Non-Technical Skills

In a previous post, I discussed some of the skills required to be a good Sales Engineer. But in my haste, or maybe that was my mindset that day, most of the skills I listed were technical in nature. A friend gently critiqued my post and mentioned there are other non-technical skills that are just as critical to a Sales Engineer. I couldn’t agree more and in this post we’ll focus on presentation skills. 

A good Sales Engineer is bit of a unicorn, a mix of a lot of good skills. Technical skills are only one of them. The other skills we’re referring to? Well, I’d include the following:

  • Presentation skills
  • Sales skills (and objection handling)
  • Public speaking

Let’s look at each one briefly. 

Presentation Skills

Doing a demonstration of your software (or hardware) product is a key responsibility of any Sales Engineer. But, you don’t just walk in the room and start doing a demo. You may be asked to present some slides, talk about your product or do a whiteboard session. Being a good presenter is the result of practice (pets can be very attentive practice audiences), repetitions in front of customers and some presentation skills training. We’ve all experienced the presenter that just reads the bullets off the slides in a monotone voice, no additional explanation given.

There are some simple tricks you can learn to make you a better presenter and help you stay focused. Most presentations skills classes cover them in depth, but a few of my favorites are:

  • 5 second conversations – focus on different individuals for 3 to 5 seconds as you talk. Move your gaze around the room. It makes the presentation more engaging and personal. If you don’t like large crowds, it’s also a way to personalize the talk and make it less imposing.
  • Ask questions of the audience – as you present and demonstrate, ask the audience questions. How do you do this today? What are the challenges you’ve faced in the past? What doesn’t work well today? It makes the session less of a monologue and more engaging for the audience. They feel a part of the meeting.
  • Limit acronyms and technical jargon – Don’t throw around a bunch of acronyms, especially internal corporate acronyms. Your audience may have no idea what you mean and chances are they will not ask. Same with too much technical jargon. Often, my audiences are a mix of business and technical users. I can’t afford to tune out half my audience using language they don’t understand, especially when that half may be the buyer!

Sales Skills

Sales skills you say? For an Engineer? Yes! Managing the room and probing your clients needs and requirements are the responsibility of the Sales Engineer just as much as the Account Executive. Learning the proper skills for probing, asking open-ended vs closed questions and guiding a conversation can uncover a wealth of information.

If you don’t know your clients needs, how can you properly position your product and its benefits? Just as importantly, how will you handle objections? Skillfully handing an objection to a product feature, or lack thereof, can be the difference between winning and losing an opportunity. We’ve all been in meetings that were derailed due to an inability to deflect, or defer, an objection. If you know the clients requirements and needs you can propose alternatives to manage the objections, often opening their eyes to a new approach or process they may not have considered. Remember, your clients may have tunnel-vision because they haven’t seen other products or have not been exposed to alternative methods of solving a problem.

Public Speaking

An old joke: Public speaking is the number one fear of many people, even more than death. That means at a funeral, they’d rather be in the box than giving the eulogy. (Dark humor at its best). 

As a Sales Engineer, you may be asked to speak at seminars held in a hotel ballroom or at a trade show in the booth or a presentation theater. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a keynote speaker a couple of times, I’ve spoken at user conferences and I’ve been a demonstrator during large product launches. Some of the same tips we mentioned above, 5 second conversations and asking questions, work for large audiences just as well as small. If you have 100 (or 1000) people, you can’t ask individuals questions, but you can ask the audience to raise their hands in response to a question. Now they’re engaged and part of the presentation. You can also move around the stage, making eye contact with different people in the first few rows as you speak. But it’s possible to move around too much, making it hard for your audience to focus. Don’t be a wanderer.

Presentation Skills Training

A few years ago, I went through presentation skills training where we were asked to present on a topic of interest to us. We needed to really sell the audience (our other class members) on a topic we were passionate about, it didn’t have to be related to our job. During the presentations, we were videotaped. That’s when I first noticed my tendency to wander around a stage a bit too much. Since then, I’ve tried to be a bit more restrictive in my movements, stopping for periods while speaking, but not being anchored to the podium. If you’ve never recorded yourself, I’d recommend it. You’ll pick up both verbal and visual cues about your style you may have never realized and you can make adjustments to become an even better speaker. 

What are your helpful tips for presenting or managing a room? Have you taken any particularly good presentations skills classes? If so, let us know in the comments section. 

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2 thoughts on “The Non-Technical Skills”

  1. Nice post, Dean. I also think one of the most important skills for a SE is keen listening skills. In addition, assessing the key players in the audience will help the SE formulate messages that will resonate.

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