Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #7: Unreliability

February 28, 2019 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #7: Unreliability

At last, we’ve arrived at the final entry on the list of seven Sales Engineer (SE) behaviors that will cripple your career: unreliability. By definition, lots of things can go wrong in sales opportunities. As an SE, one of your key responsibilities is to do your part to bring a degree of predictability to what is frequently a chaotic process. The best way you can go about this is to simply show up and do your job to the best of your abilities. But in the years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen quite a few undesirable traits that I’ll lump into the ‘unreliability’ category. Here are just a few examples:

  • Arriving late – or not at all – for sales calls & meetings.  Want to raise your sales rep’s blood pressure? Here’s an easy way – just show up later than anticipated for a sales call. Even better: don’t even bother coming, and certainly don’t call or email to alert them and explain why.
  • Being unprepared for demos. When carrying out a technical demonstration, ‘winging it’ is a sure recipe for failure. After all, there are so many moving parts and potential points of failure, such as buggy technology, version mismatches, ignoring customer requirements, and so on.
  • Not following through with technical responses. It’s a rare technical meeting that doesn’t end up with some research for the SE to go carry out. But in many cases, the SE gets caught up in other activities and never gets around to answering the questions. This is understandable, given that SEs confront lots of other responsibilities. Additionally, “out of sight, out of mind” can be a factor here. Don’t forget, however, that the customer doesn’t share your workload, and may be eagerly awaiting your answers.

If any of these deficiencies hit too close to home, it’s easy to correct them: just focus on improving your follow-through, and people will soon forget your old, unreliable ways. You’ll also probably find work more enjoyable too, since you’ve eliminated a major stressor.

 

Sales engineer career path #3: Product development

December 31, 2018 Comments Off on Sales engineer career path #3: Product development

It’s time for the next installment in the ongoing series about career paths for sales engineers seeking new opportunities. This time around, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of moving into product development. Before I begin, it’s important to understand that this is one of the more challenging transitions, largely because the skills necessary to be an effective SE can be so different than those that characterize the most productive developers. With that said, here goes:

Pros

  • Sense of ownership. SEs flit between opportunities; product developers stay involved throughout the lifecycle of the technology they’re building.
  • Better base salary. In general (but not always), product developers earn a higher base salary than SEs.
  • Less travel. If you’re tired of those 6 am flights to remote client sites, product development might be a welcome relief.
  • Less variability. There are fewer subjective factors – such as client whims and sales representatives who can’t sell – that can block your achievements when you move into product development.

Cons

  • Technically demanding. If your skills aren’t up to par, you’ll really need to put in the educational effort to meet the requirements of your new job.
  • Less upside. While product developers may have a larger base salary, thanks to commission SEs can really hit the jackpot if they have a particularly good year.
  • Risk of outsourcing. Don’t kid yourself: if your employer can save one dollar a year on your salary by moving your job offshore, they’ll do it. In contrast, it’s nearly impossible to outsource SEs.
  • Less interaction with customers. Plenty of SEs really savor the opportunity to meet with prospects and clients; product developers rarely get the chance. Some SEs find being ‘chained to a desk’ to be too confining.

Making the transition

It’s a big leap to move from the sales organization to the product development team. Here are some steps that can make this migration less painful:

  1. Find one or more champions in product development
  2. Discretely meet with them to learn more about what it takes to succeed in their group
  3. When ready, approach your manager and express your desire to make the change
  4. Once you get the go-ahead, work with HR to find a position in product development
  5. Work on a mutually agreeable timeline to switch roles

If you’re interested in being notified of future editions, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter: @RD_Schneider. You can read other sales engineering-related posts here.

Five great starting points to transition into a Sales Engineering career

November 30, 2018 Comments Off on Five great starting points to transition into a Sales Engineering career

For years, I’ve been describing the numerous advantages – and minimal drawbacks – of a career as a sales engineer:

  • I’ve written about traits that one should possess to increase the likelihood of success
  • I’ve discussed follow-on career paths
  • I’ve even told you about bad behaviors that will curtail (or abruptly end) your sales engineering career

What I haven’t yet talked about are some of the jobs that lend themselves to transitioning into a sales engineering role, so that’s what this series is going to be all about. Here, in no particular order, are five of the most logical starting points to becoming a sales engineer:

  1. Technical support. You’re charged with answering customer questions and/or resolving product issues
  2. Marketing. You design, own, and/or promote the product or service
  3. Customer success. You ensure that clients have a positive experience when deploying the product or service
  4. Product implementation. You’re responsible for moving the product or service from concept into production for the customer
  5. Development. You build and/or maintain the product or service

I’ll be writing about each of these roles in more detail. If you’re interested in being notified of future editions, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter: @RD_Schneider. You can read other sales engineering-related posts here.

Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #6: Stagnation

June 30, 2018 Comments Off on Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #6: Stagnation

Ageism is absolutely real in technology companies. However, in my experience it’s much more predominant for developers. Companies want to squeeze as much code as possible from people for as little money as possible. Younger people are more likely to tolerate this, while older workers are far less idealistic and can see right through the scam.

On the sales side of the organization, ageism is less prevalent because all that matters is hitting quota. In fact, older professionals bring some unbeatable skills and experience to the table, and a 60 year old sales rep that consistently exceeds her revenue quota will continue to hold her job; the 30 year old who only closes on excuses will be shown the door.

It’s important to note that for older sales engineers, the ability to land and keep a job only holds true if the individual takes the initiative to remain current with the latest relevant technologies. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve personally encountered far too many sales engineers whose technical education stalled sometime during the Clinton administration. Unsurprisingly, prospects and customers pick up on stagnation, which diminishes the likelihood that the sales engineer will be able to make a compelling case about the technical merits of their solution. Managers notice it too.

There’s no excuse for this: there are ample resources online – both software and tutorials – for any kind of new technology that you can imagine. We’re not talking about a major investment here – a few hours should be all that’s necessary to at least speak intelligently about a new trend, particularly one that is a major factor in the product or service that’s being sold. As an added bonus, this will help not only when talking with potential customers, but will be invaluable when changing jobs.

 

Sales engineer career path #2: Marketing

March 31, 2018 Comments Off on Sales engineer career path #2: Marketing

While many Sales Engineers (SEs) gladly elect to spend their entire careers in this interesting, challenging, and potentially lucrative job, others choose to explore different roles. I’m writing a whole series about prospective post-SE career paths, and it’s now time to examine what a move to marketing might look like.

Marketing in a technology company offers numerous potential responsibilities, and a sales engineering background provides a great foundation to be an effective marketer. Of course, there are always positives and negatives to any career change, so here are a few of the most notable examples:

Advantages

  • Executive potential. It can be difficult to directly advance from sales engineering into an executive (VP or higher) position. In contrast, in marketing there’s a clear career path from an individual contributor to an executive.
  • Defining product strategy. Marketers often have more input into the company’s strategic vision and positioning than individual sales engineers.
  • Travel. Marketers generally spend less time on the road than sales teams, and when they are asked to travel, it’s often to trade shows held in places where people want to go.

Drawbacks

  • Compensation. While this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule everywhere, SEs tend to have higher overall incomes than their marketing counterparts. Why? Although the marketing base salary may be higher, SEs have the potential upside of commission.
  • Competitive knowledge. Sales teams in the field will look to their marketing counterparts to have an up-to-date and accurate understanding of what competitors may be doing. This requires never-ending research since the market landscape is always shifting.
  • Customer interaction. Well-run technology companies encourage their marketers to work with customers. However, a sales engineer will always have more detailed exchanges with clients – it’s the nature of the job.

If you’re interested in being notified of future editions, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter: @RD_Schneider. You can read other sales engineering-related posts here.

Overcoming a Technical Sales Ambush Best Practice #3: Request a Prospect Business Executive to Observe

December 31, 2017 § 1 Comment

The next installment of this ongoing series about thwarting technical sales ambushes highlights the value of having a line-of-business executive from the prospect participate.

Recall that a technical sales ambush is an ad-hoc, often last-minute meeting meant to derail a highly complex technology sale. Of course, I’m not referring to legitimate questions that may arise at any point in the cycle, but am instead warning about bad-faith efforts to stop a sale that is progressing towards a successful conclusion. I’ve seen my share of technical sales ambushes, and very often they’re initiated by relatively low-level staff that are threatened by the progress that you represent.

In the absence of more senior staff – particularly business executives, the technical staffers will go back to their management and report that the vendor (that’s you!) can’t or won’t meet one or more important requirements. Unsurprisingly, this bulletin delays – or torpedoes – the sales cycle.

A good way to head off these unfortunate situations is to request – and even insist – on a representative from the business side of the prospect’s organization. They’re much more capable of seeing the big picture, and often are the ones who will benefit from the product or service that you’re selling. To keep things simpler – and give you the appearance of innocence – your sales partner should make this request. The executive is much more likely to keep things moving, and avoid the dreaded technical “fishing expedition” that can demolish even the most well-planned sales opportunity. As an added perk, the low-level technical staffer is likely to be on much better behavior, since they’ll wonder (and rightly so) if their business colleague will see through their plan!

 

Bad Sales Engineer Behavior #5: Tactlessness

November 30, 2017 § 1 Comment

Most Sales Engineers (SEs) have rare skill combinations that are only present in a fraction of the workforce. They’re technically skilled, yet they understand business requirements while also generally possessing strong interpersonal intuition. But this isn’t always the case: a not-insignificant number of SEs are surprisingly brusque in their dealings with others.

As someone who’s hired lots of SEs, I was often under pressure to get the job filled ASAP, which routinely meant lowering standards. One of the first requirements to go out the window was the candidate’s perceived ability to conduct interpersonal situations. We often felt that we could leave the relationship management to the sales rep, but the upshot was that we ended up with team members that demonstrated behaviors that weren’t as tactful as the circumstances demanded.

This shortfall manifested itself in a number of ways, including tense relationships with co-workers (especially in product development) and other peers such as SEs or salespeople. But the worst outcome was how they handled the inevitable provocations that came their way from prospective customers, particularly technically-minded people. The old adage that no one ever won an argument with a customer is doubly true when the client is still a prospect!

While it’s quite common for tactless SEs to stay in their jobs, it does hurt their ability to get promoted. I can also state this with confidence: if I had to choose between two equally technically talented SEs to let go during layoffs or other downsizing, I’d always select the one who was more abrasive. So if you’re an SE worried about your own vulnerabilities here, take some time to think about your interactions – written or verbal – with others, and correct where necessary. I’m not suggesting that you sit silently by when you’re being unfairly challenged, but there are proven polite, respectful, yet firm ways to disagree or otherwise make a point. Learning how to master this skill will help advance your career, and make the daily grind that much more bearable.

You can learn more about the overall topic of sales engineering here.

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