One of the members of this community Matt Toth asked me my thoughts on SE’s. He wanted to know if I thought Sales Engineers were valuable and when they were needed. I thought this would be a good post so here is my two cents.
Are SE’s (Sales Engineers) valuable? The good ones are worth their weight in gold. To me sales engineers have two roles. To address the technical and complex elements of a complicated technical product or service and to build and manage the technical relationships within an account. It’s that simple.
I’ve had sales engineers in almost every organization I’ve lead. I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the best. I wouldn’t be caught dead without a good team of sales engineers.
SE’s are best used with a very technical or complicated product. Their job is to be the technical subject matter expert. The best SE’s can and WILL hold their own with the most technical savvy buyers and geeks they meet. Good SE’s will not only be able to talk the technical talk but also walk the sales walk. Good SE’s turn the technical discussion into a sales discussion by translating the complexity into problem solving solutions or benefits. They understand how things work and why that’s good for the buyer. What makes this skill so important is there are real tangible benefits to a technical buyer sales people are not capable of demonstrating. Without an SE’s ability to translate technical complexity into value, the sale can be lost. Valuable SE’s are not only technical, but they know how to sell. I don’t think enough attention is paid to the “sales” aspect of sales engineers. When this happens you get too much technical and not enough sales.
The other area good SE’s shine is relationship building and demand creation. In many cases SE’s are invited to parties where sales people can’t go. They participate in trials, lab reviews, tests, and more. SE’s have access to places sales people just can’t get to. The best SE’s know they have special VIP access and know how to capitalize on it. They look for opportunities. They create demand. They are proactive. They educate and inform. They position themselves as experts to be relied on. Good SE’s make themselves indispensable to customers.
SE’s are critical to complex, technical sales. I don’t think you can be successful in that type of environment with out them. With that being said, good SE’s are difficult to find. It’s not enough to be technically sound. Understanding how to translate technical knowledge into sales opportunities is how SE’s create their value.