The interface between sales and engineering is interesting. It’s where the folks who create, market, sell and maintain software solutions, ranging from programs for security, shuttle launches, your iPhone Apps – and just about anything else – reside. It’s the domain of the folks making the “stuff” of our lives: clothing, shoes, durable goods like cars and washing machines, skins for aerospace applications, CARC coatings, gas turbine packaging applications … and lots of other cool stuff.
In order to manufacture and assemble these consumables, there needs to be the sale of raw materials, machinery, software interfaces, and other elements of the supply chain, to the companies responsible for getting a product to the end-user.
Where there’s a technical side of the sales equation, more often than not, there is an individual whose title usually is “sales engineer.”
A sales engineer could probably be one of the most important individuals in the competitive arsenal of manufacturing and service companies. Yet people (especially traditionally-trained sales folks hired by manufacturing and service companies) tend to regard sales engineers as the pre-sale customer service folks who are there to close the sale and re-assure the customer that the stuff the sales guys and gals proposed is actually going to work. Hmmm…
That is not what a sales engineer is all about. However, the sales engineer does tend to enter the sales cycle a bit early, or late. What’s up with that?
It could be that your corporate culture permits salespeople to treat sales engineers and other technical professionals like tools in a toolbox. Once the technical professionals have fulfilled their functionality within the sales cycle, they are promptly returned to their cubicles.
I call this the “apply-as-needed” scenario.
There’s a history behind this behavior pattern. In most siloed, division-based infrastructures, technical professionals don’t have the opportunity to become familiar and comfortable with the dynamics of the sales process. Because they traditionally are perceived as a liability rather than an asset.
Sales engineers and other technical professionals may have gained reputations for talking way too much and too long about all the cool technical features of the product or service being sold. What’s of interest to them may not be a priority to corporate decision-makers. Since engineers are more comfortable seeking peer conversations in meetings, they may direct the majority of their conversation to the customer’s engineers, and exclude the other decision-makers seated at the table.
Then again, the salesperson may or may not have prepped the sales engineer in anticipation of this important meeting. As a result, if questions are asked of the sales engineer, they bring up issues that the salesperson has already painstakingly addressed and pre-negotiated with internal management. The sales engineer may end up telling the customer “No, we can’t do that,” when, in fact, your company has told your salesperson “Yes, we can.”
And if the sales person hasn’t done their homework identifying the context into which your product or your proposed solution is being placed, they may not understand that the customer is somewhat risk-averse. Your solution is perceived as controversial or disruptive. The customer is looking for an “out.”
Are the dynamics of your company’s typical sales and engineering interface providing your customers with the opportunity for an easy “out?”
Lack of communication between your sales and engineering functions can cause your customers to second-guess the value of your solutions. How many closes of sales have slipped away because salespeople apply technical / sales engineering colleagues “as needed” during the sales cycle, rather than throughout the business development process?
What does preserving your company’s status quo, in terms of lack of communication between sales and engineering, end up costing your company in lost sales opportunities?
I’d say it’s time to shake things up a bit.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. Download her newest White Paper at her Free Resources Page. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools. This blog features an excerpt, with this author’s permission.