Sales Engineer 101: Back to Basics

I  was watching “How to Magically Connect with Anyone by Brian Miller | TEDxManchesterHighSchool” and was enlightened.  As a magician, he has mastered the art of understanding different perspectives in order to create illusions and connect with the audience. In the talk Brian explains how he used that skill to create magic for a blind man.

sales_engineer_with_jimmy_d_jpgAs if that wasn’t powerful enough, Brian started to talk about how you can take the lesson he learned from the blind man and use that same technique to make better, more meaningful connections with people in your life, both personally and professionally.

Ah, professional. That is where the light bulb over my head came on.  So you mean that Sales 101 stuff about relationships isn’t a bunch of mumbo jumbo? Stay with me, I’m not going to go down the Brian Tracy sales training route with you here, but this is one key point that sales people and sales engineers share. You see, because of the complexity of most products and services today, especially hi-tech products, the relationship with the potential client is actually more important than the product.

All of this reminded me, as a sales engineer, that along with technical knowledge you need the ability to connect and empower your client. Think about it. Remember in the video we learned how Brian taught the blind man the trick? If you didn’t watch the video , stop right now and do it.

Now that you have watched the video, imagine taking that idea into the sales process. Let’s just say the first person you work with is an engineer evaluating your product. Immediately, because you are both engineers,  you have something in common. Because I have a life time of geek’ness I tend to swap stories of old machines, late nights in the server room or some script that I just explored. Although, it’s just small talk for me, it helps build the relationship.

As you start listening to what your new friend’s needs are, you start to get a better picture of what that person’s day-to-day tasks are. You might ask a few questions like, what hurdles do you have during the day or what keeps you up at night. With this information, a little enthusiasm and lots of honestly, you now have the opportunity to teach him how your product will help him get through the day. Now you have associated a positive feeling to a negative experience.

In return, you have built a positive relationship. From that point on, when  your new engineer friend communicates with anyone about your product, not only is he positive but there is also a good chance they will want to show their audience how it works. Remember, their audience will, at some point, be a decision maker.

Beginning sales people take note, older sales people just shake you head up and down to agree. Through your sales engineer, you have now been able to influence the right people before you have had the chance to meet them. If the relationship is managed correctly, that relationship can last through multiple position and jobs. It is extremely valuable.

At this point I started to think of what skills a sales engineer needed to have. I mean, above the technical ones.  No matter what position you are in, it’s always good to review the core of what your job is. For us, people in technology, it is a requirement.

If there was one thing I could pass down to people just getting into the field, it is to make sure that technology is your passion. Learn and enjoy as much as you can. The only rule is that the our industry will change overnight and that is ok.

So what is a Sales Engineer?

So what are sales engineers and why are they so important for the sale? The team over at Sales Engineer Training did an excellent job of outlining the attributes of a sales engineer and I thought I would share them with you.

1) Sales Engineers Fill Gaps

A sales engineer interacts with many disparate groups and helps create a fit between the product and the customer. A Sales Engineers can act as:

A Bridge Between Customer Groups

Sales Engineers help to craft sales messages to their prospects’ management, technical end users and executives. To appeal to this broad audience requires an understanding of sales techniques, technology, and the problems faced by their customers and prospects.

The Voice of the Customer

Sales Engineers act as the eyes and ears of their companies’ technical marketing and engineering departments. Daily contact with customers allows Sales Engineers to become the “Voice of the Customer” This feedback helps their company better understand the unique needs of their clients.

An Extension of Engineering

Many highly technical products and services must be adapted to a prospects particular needs and environment. Often, Sales Engineers can modify and extend hardware and software to provide customers with as close to an ideal solution as possible.

2) Sales Engineers Understand Relevant Technology

To succeed, Sales Engineers need to understand the impact and importance of technology to their customers. The following types of technology background are essential to the Sales Engineer.

Product Technology

The core technology behind your product is the key to how you differentiate it from the competition. If you understand the benefits of your products core technology, you can easily position it as a solution to your customer.

Supporting Technology

Supporting technology can be anything from products used with your as part of a process to tools to help your customers be more efficient or effective with your product. By understanding these products, you can help your customer solve “big picture’ problems that involve your product as well as others.

Product Implementation Detail

Understanding the way a product is implemented, allows you to always understand your products at a deeper level that your customer. This deeper understanding allows you to extrapolate the capability of your product in specific situation and to make judgments about what is and is not possible with the underlying architecture.

Competitive Technology

Understanding the technology behind your competitors’ products and how your competitors products are implemented allow you to exploit weaknesses in their solution. You can creatively compare and contrast your solution against theirs and relate “what if” scenarios that show how your product is superior.

In-house Alternative Technology

In addition to understanding the technology behind your product and its’ competitors, it is also key to understand how your customer might build an in-house solution to the problems solved by your product. Armed with this knowledge you can paint an accurate picture of the real costs of “make versus buy”.

3) Sales Engineers Understand the Customers’ Business

Great Sales Engineers understand the problems faced by their customers and the goals they want to achieve. Business knowledge positions you as a resource and allows you to gain trust through competence and the value of the information you provide. You are not seen as just selling products, but as a trusted adviser who understands the real needs of the customer.

4) Sales Engineers Work Well with All Types of People

To succeed, Sales Engineers must learn to deal with different personalty types. Understanding what is important to a prospect and how they “see” the world allows you to relate to them in a way that they understand.

5) Sales Engineers Can Present and Demo Succinctly and Effectively

Sales Engineers are called upon to perform technical demonstrations and presentations. One harmful side-effect of knowing your product well is that you may find it difficult to relate it to prospects with little or no experience with your type of product. This may cause you to lose your prospect in a sea of detail. Many Sales Engineers treat a Demo or Presentation like a training session, which can make your product seam more complex than it should be. The right balance of detail is key to a successful demo or presentation.

6) Sales Engineers Can Communicate on a Technical and Personal Plane

Relationships matter. If a prospect likes you, all things being equal, they will chose you and your product over the competition. Communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship. To help build a relationship with your prospect, you need to spend some time on both technical topics and on general topics. A good Sales Engineer is comfortable at both.

7) Sales Engineers Understand the Sales Process

The sales process helps you gauge how well a sale is progressing. Good Sales Engineers understand where they are in the sales process and can identify the next steps required to move the sales forward.


Remember, you are part of a team. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to do all the jobs required to make the sale happen. Makes sure to support all the people that are part of the process, including the people evaluation your product.  Data showsthat customers are, on average, 37% of the way through a purchase process by the time they reach the solution-definition stage, and 57% of the way through the process before they engage with your team.

Controlling the sales process is critical to success. But how does one control the sales process, when the buyer has done research before engaging your sales team? One way to do this is via your Sales Engineer. We know people make emotional decisions. We know buyers respond to stories. But how does one tell the right story, for the right person, at the right time, every time? As magician Brian Miller pointed out, it’s not magic. It’s about developing the right skills, enhancing youremotional IQ and empowering your audience.

Are you a sales engineer? What are some of the tips you have found to work?


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