Where there’s a technical side to sales, more often than not there is an individual with the title of Sales Engineer. In my experience, these professionals are some of the most important resources I have in my competitive arsenal.
When I work with sales engineers, I bring them into the equation early. We work as a team throughout the close of the sale, through implementation. The customer works with a “we” instead of just me. We create a collaborative team to explore and execute the technical complexities of the solution. I learn a lot by working with sales engineers in this manner; they, in turn, witness the wonders of what the sales cycle looks like “live” rather than “as described” in a training manual.
Is this how you feel about working with your sales engineering department?
In the majority of scenarios played out daily, the sales engineer is brought into the equation either too early or late. They are dangled in front of perspective customers like a sparkly bauble, to showcase your company’s expertise and technical resources available if – and only if – that customer chooses to do business with you and your company.
Alternatively, the sales engineer is brought in too late during the sales cycle, after the sales person has, for some reason, given your prospective customer a reason to second-guess the specifications of the proposed technical solution. In this scenario, applying your sales engineer at the end of the sales cycle, usually with little knowledge of what has precipitated the need for their expertise, results in a stalled sale or one which goes south.
Does your corporate culture permit salespeople to treat sales engineers and other technical professionals like tools in a toolbox? You take the techie out when you need them and promptly return them to their cubicle once they have fulfilled their purpose: helping you close the sale and earn commission.
The Apply-As-Needed sales engineer scenario
Let’s explore the history behind this behavior pattern in your organization. In most siloed, division-based corporate cultures, technical professionals are not given the opportunity to become familiar and comfortable with the dynamics of the sales process; they traditionally are perceived as a liability rather than an asset. Let’s look at how your own company’s habit of applying your sales engineers as-needed perpetuates your biased view of these valuable technical professionals.
1. Are your sales engineers and IT professionals talking way too much about all the cool technical features of the product being sold?
No one has educated these technical experts that what’s of interest to them may not be a priority to corporate decision-makers. Couple this trend with the nature of engineers to be more comfortable seeking peer conversations in meetings; you set yourself up for disaster time after time when bringing sales engineers into the process either too early or too late. They don’t have the facts they need to complement you. As a result, they direct the majority of their conversation to the customer’s engineers, excluding other decision-makers seated at the table.
2. Do you make it a habit to prep your favorite sales engineer for important meetings?
If not, the sales engineer becomes a stand-alone resource. In a sense, they end up working “blind.” As a result, the sales engineer may bring up issues that the salesperson has already painstakingly addressed and pre-negotiated with internal management. Have you seen or been part of this scenario? Instead of looking like a team, you two end up contradicting each other – usually in front of the customer.
3. Is your customer risk-averse?
If so, your sales engineer’s proposed solution may be perceived as controversial or disruptive. In risk-averse corporate cultures, the customer is always looking for an “out” in the buying process. By not working in tandem with your sales engineer early and throughout the sales process, you tip the scales in favor of a non-decision rather than a sale.
Lack of cross-functional communication between sales and engineering professionals causes your customers to second-guess the value of your solutions. In all of these apply-as-needed scenarios, the sales engineer is out of the loop and poorly integrated into the sales process.
What does preserving your company’s status quo end up costing you and your company in lost sales opportunities? How will you change your own habits when working with sales engineers, moving forward?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo to small and mid-sized businesses in the manufacturing and service sectors. She builds vibrant revenue-producing business strategies for startups.