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.

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.

Winning sales engineer trait #6: Diplomatic

July 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

“No one ever won an argument with a customer” is a time-tested adage that is doubly true when interacting with a prospective client. In this next installment of 7 Habits of the Most Effective Sales Engineers, I depict why diplomacy is such an essential talent for the sales engineer.

To begin, it’s vital to remember that the solution that’s being pitched during the technical sales cycle will typically require alterations to the way the prospect conducts business. In some cases, the proposed new technology will displace existing solutions – often developed, supported, or sponsored by the prospect’s employees. And let’s face it: new solutions really can cost them their jobs. For example, an insurance company doesn’t need a whole team of programmers to build and maintain an internally developed ERP package when they can acquire and support a best-of-breed product for a fraction of the cost.

For these reasons – and many others – it’s very common for the prospect’s technical staff to feel threatened by new products, and to find innovative ways to monkey wrench a sales cycle. These can range from passive aggressive techniques all the way up to belligerent confrontations. Every SE faces these types of situations but only the most diplomatic SEs can gracefully cope with these intimidating circumstances with dignity and poise.

Here are some simple recommendations about how you can incorporate the fine art of diplomacy in your technical sales cycles:

  1. First and foremost: you should always maintain professionalism, even when being berated by a socially maladjusted engineer during a sales call.
  1. Maintain credibility by having a solid and relevant technical background without feeling the need to throw your PhD in engineering from MIT in your prospect’s face.
  1. Demonstrate extensive product knowledge without denigrating your competition.
  1. Don’t be too sales-y: that’s the sales rep’s job. And it’s the rep’s job to alert the prospect’s management if their technical staff are acting in bad faith to disrupt a legitimate sales cycle.
  1. Communicate clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing: stick to the point, back it up with facts, and avoid hyperbole.
  1. When you have proof that someone from the prospect is wrong on a technical matter, point it out gently: there’s no need to celebrate your victory.
  1. Finally – although passion about the job is a good thing, don’t get too emotionally involved in the sale. Win or lose, you’ll be on to the next deal soon.

Winning sales engineer trait #3: Intellectual curiosity

April 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the first two installments of this series, I described how the best SEs have a competitive nature paired with solid technical skills. The next essential characteristic that I’d like to portray is the innate curiosity possessed by these top performers.

An SE who enjoys learning new concepts and technologies will be a joy to have on your team. An inquisitive SE won’t view the necessary training on your product, service, or marketplace as a chore to be avoided. Instead, they recognize that learning increases their job effectiveness as well as their marketability. This also means that good SEs take an interest in your industry by continually reading trade publications, blogs, applicable Web sites, and by attending conferences. It’s even better if they go the extra mile and establish themselves as domain experts by writing articles, speaking, or blogging.

Training can also play a big part in bringing a new SE up to speed and keeping them current. Sadly, far too many organizations are skimping on this indispensable prerequisite, and it always shows up in the sales cycle: nothing destroys an SE’s credibility faster than being exposed as out-of-date on vital knowledge.

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