Winning sales engineer trait #5: Articulate

June 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the fifth episode of the 7 Habits of the Most Effective SEs, it’s time to turn our attention to the considerable role that communication plays in the technical sales process. As a key participant in the sales organization, SEs naturally have major customer-facing responsibilities. In general, it should come as no surprise that an articulate SE will outperform one that can’t communicate. After all, think of all the situations where an SE must disseminate information:

  • Conducting a needs analysis
  • Delivering a technical presentation
  • Responding to an RFP
  • Performing a demo
  • Replying to questions
  • Presenting results of a proof-of-concept
  • Helping transition a prospective client to a paying customer

As you can see from this abbreviated list, these exchanges are verbal as well as written, so a top-level SE will excel at both types of communication. In terms of SE writing talents, poor spelling and grammar can cause a prospect to question your organization’s standards. Frankly, modern spell checkers and grammar tools mean that there’s no excuse for this kind of sloppiness. For those SEs that are uncomfortable in speaking situations, there are some very helpful courses that can help improve their presentation skills: I’ve seen quite a number of shy, unassuming SEs blossom when given proper training.

When it’s time to hire an SE, I recommend setting up a phone interview first. Some people aren’t comfortable on the phone, but if this type of interaction is part of your sales cycle then it’s a must for your candidates. After that, set up a face-to-face interview and ask the candidate to deliver a presentation about their current product or service. If they can’t (or won’t), then I suggest moving on: I’ve personally witnessed candidates that had been working for the same company for 5+ years yet were unable to pitch their product!

Assuming the candidate makes it past the initial phone and in-person screen, ask for writing samples. RFPs and other detailed customer-oriented documents are ideal. And don’t buy the ‘confidentiality’ excuse: these missives can be sanitized or excerpted yet still demonstrate if your candidate is likely to be a ‘Great Communicator’.

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