Winning sales engineer trait #7: Self-directed

August 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

We’ve finally reached the end of my series on the seven characteristics that define the most successful sales engineers. I saved this one for last, because all the traits I described earlier don’t really matter if you’re not self-sufficient.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking for day-to-day guidance on what you should be doing, sales engineering is not for you. I’ve seen many people that possess each of the six traits I described earlier, yet still flail when it comes to day-to-day SE work.

Here are just a few of the realities of being an SE today, each of which demands self-reliance:

  • You work from home. You may not see a manager or peer for days on end.
  • You’re on the road – a lot! Sometimes these trips last one day; sometimes they seem to go on forever.
  • You’re dealing with flattened management. In fact, many companies have abolished dedicated sales engineering leadership altogether. Instead, these outfits have their SEs report to sales management. One byproduct of this approach is that many SEs have managers who fundamentally don’t understand what an SE is supposed to do.
  • You serve several sales reps. Naturally each rep has his/her own idea about how you should prioritize your work.
  • You’re responsible for multiple sales opportunities. These deals are almost never in sync, which means you must juggle different timelines.
  • You represent multiple products. Sometimes your firm built these offerings, and sometimes they’ve been assembled piece-by-piece through acquisitions.
  • You’re the first line of technical support for your prospects. Don’t believe me? Ask a sales rep about their thoughts on letting your standard technical support organization care for potential clients that haven’t signed on the dotted line yet.

Taking the initiative is the best way to prosper in this challenging environment. Here are three core ways to make this happen:

  1. Be an active participant that drives the sales process forward. Since prospects will reveal things to an SE that they never would to a sales rep, the SE serves as the eyes and ears of the entire company. Of course, you need to coordinate your efforts with your sales rep: when done right, this teamwork is beautiful to behold.
  1. Build – and nurture – relationships. It’s my contention that the SE must cultivate a wider range of relationships than anyone else in the entire company – except the CEO. Think of all the people that the SE must work with in addition to prospective customers:
    • Salespeople
    • Other SEs
    • Post-sales professional services
    • Technical support
    • Marketing
    • Engineering
    • Partners
  1. Stay current on technology. Obviously, you must keep up with your portfolio: driven by competition and innovation, your products are always in flux. This means that there’s never a time where things are static. And since far too many companies have slashed training budgets, it’s up to you to do the necessary research. But you must also stay current on the larger technology landscape outside of your firm. After all, continual evolution demands continual self-driven study. As an SE, clients will look to you for credible knowledge, and appearing out-of-date or blissfully ignorant is a sure-fire way to torpedo a sale.

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