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Hiring Sales Engineers - a detailed guide

Sales engineering is the process of combining technical knowledge and sales skills to provide technical solutions to customers. It involves understanding customer needs, presenting technical solutions, and collaborating with sales and technical teams to close deals.

Sales engineers work closely with potential customers to understand their needs and requirements, and then provide technical solutions that meet those needs. They are involved in the sales process from the beginning to the end, and often collaborate with other sales and technical professionals to deliver a comprehensive solution to the customer.

Sales engineers must have a strong technical background, excellent communication skills, and the ability to explain complex technical concepts in a clear and understandable way. They play a critical role in bridging the gap between technical solutions and customer needs, ultimately helping to close deals and drive business success. Hence, it is vital for organizations to have a dedicated sales engineering team who understand the technical aspect of their software products and can successfully sell them to potential customers.

What is the difference between traditional sales and sales engineering?

Traditional sales and sales engineering are two distinct approaches to selling products or services.

Traditional sales refers to the process of identifying and persuading potential customers to buy a product or service. This typically involves sales representatives and account executives engaging with prospects through phone calls, emails, or face-to-face meetings. The focus of traditional sales is on building relationships, understanding customer needs and pain points, and offering solutions that meet those needs.

Sales engineering, on the other hand, is a more technical approach to selling. Sales engineers work closely with customers to understand their technical requirements and offer customized solutions that meet those needs. They are typically highly trained in the technical aspects of the product or service they are selling, and may be involved in product development, testing, and implementation.

In essence, traditional sales focuses on building relationships and selling based on the value of the product or service, while sales engineering focuses on understanding and meeting the technical needs of the customer. Both approaches are important for successful sales, and often work in tandem to provide the best possible solution to the customer.

What does a sales engineer do?

First of all, as we have seen above, sales engineering is a hybrid of sales and engineering, which exists in commercial and industrial markets. Purchasing decisions in these markets are made differently from those in other consumer contexts; they’re based more on technical information and rational analysis and less on fashion, style, or impulse.

A sales engineer, therefore, is both a salesperson that understands and can apply engineering knowledge and an engineer that understands how to sell technical systems. Sometimes they’re called “systems engineers,” “field consultants,” or “pre-sales support.” They not only sell but also provide advice and support.

In simple terms Sales engineers are resourceful talent who can sell customer success. A sales engineer must have a deep technical understanding of the SaaS platform to ensure a seamless integration into the customer’s system. 

What are the roles and responsibilities of Sales Engineers?

The role of a sales engineer encompasses the technical sales aspects of a company's products and services. The sales engineer collaborates with clients to comprehend their requirements and devices solutions to meet them. Additionally, they liaise with various departments within the company to ensure that the products and services they are responsible for are designed and manufactured according to client specifications.

A proficient sales engineer must have a bachelor's degree in engineering, although many employers prefer candidates with advanced degrees. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as well as experience in customer-facing roles, are also essential. Here is a breakdown of the duties and responsibilities expected from a sales engineer:

  • Identify potential customers and develop relationships with them.
  • Addressing initial technical objections or questions a potential user may have.
  • Assisting external developers with initial technical integrations.
  • Researching and implementing required third party integrations.
  • Explaining and communicating technical documentation.
  • Providing front-line technical feedback to your internal development team.
  • Understand clients' technical needs and requirements.
  • Provide clients with solutions that meet their needs.
  • Keep abreast of new products and technologies and effectively communicate their benefits to potential customers.
  • Work closely with other sales team members, such as account managers and sales executives, to identify and pursue new business opportunities.
  • Communicate the features and benefits of your company's products or services to potential customers.
  • Troubleshoot technical problems that may arise during the sales process.
  • Scripting and presenting demos.

What skills do Sales Engineers have?

A sales engineer's competencies overlap with those of a traditional salesperson in many ways, such as being organized, persuasive, and having the ability to close sales. However, because of the technical nature of their job, a sales engineer requires advanced skills.

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are critical, as building relationships with clients and understanding their needs is key to success. Negotiating contracts and closing deals is also essential, as is having a solid technical background to comprehend complex products and systems.

Companies expect a bachelor's degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited program. Strong communication and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to work independently and be self-motivated, are also important. Being knowledgeable about the sales process and the products being sold, and having relevant certifications and qualifications to demonstrate credibility to clients, is also crucial.

What is Sales Onboarding? Why is it important?

In order to effectively sell your product, sales engineers must possess a deep understanding of how it works and be able to apply it to specific use cases and solutions. Furthermore, they must be capable of communicating this information to customers in a way that persuades them to purchase your product. To expedite their proficiency in these areas, your onboarding process should include:

  • Product Use : Sales engineers play a crucial role in understanding every aspect of your product. This goes beyond just knowing its features; they must also comprehend how users utilize the product and have the ability to showcase it. To do this, they need to be capable of testing and applying what they have learned.
  • Product Roadmap : Sales engineers must have a comprehensive understanding of your product roadmap and how it impacts your industry and competitive positioning. This knowledge enables them to customize discussions and solutions for clients. During the onboarding process, it's essential to involve engineering and product development teams to provide sales engineers with a complete view of the current workings of the product and the future product roadmap.
  • Certified Demo : During a product demo, customers often meet engineers for the first time. Therefore, it's crucial that engineers understand the client's pain points and needs before the demo, allowing them to customize the presentation. A well-executed demo can make or break a deal. As part of the onboarding process, sales engineers should have access to recorded or live demonstrations of different use cases and be given the opportunity to practice various scenarios. They should also receive certification in performing tailored demos before meeting with clients. Ideally, this process should include receiving constructive feedback from both peers and managers to enable continuous improvement and refinement of their technique.
  • Objection Handling : As experts in their field, technical sales engineers often encounter the most challenging objections. They must not only know what to say but also how to say it in a way that maintains the sale's momentum. This is a learned skill as it can be easy to become entangled in technical details that are unnecessary for the client to know. Role plays and scenario-based training can help technical sales engineers master the art of handling objections.
  • Competitor Products : For sales engineers to effectively communicate why your product is superior to competitors, they must have a thorough understanding of the features and limitations of the competition's products. Simply listing features won't suffice. Depending on the complexity of your product, your sales engineer's onboarding should include a detailed explanation of your key product differentiators compared to your competitors. For more complex products, providing access to your competitor's products and allowing time for exploration can be beneficial.
  • Customer-based solutions : For sales engineers to provide practical solutions to customer problems, they must understand how your product operates within a business environment. Spending time with the customer success team can provide insight into use cases in action and enable gathering feedback from customers. This allows engineers to learn what works and what doesn't, enhancing their understanding of the product's business context. 
  • Relations with Sales reps : Sales engineers must establish relationships with sales reps to collaborate on deals and promote overall sales effectiveness. Building these relationships is critical, and you can kickstart the process by onboarding them together, where their coursework overlaps. Enabling engineers to shadow sales onboarding and vice versa, sharing technical sales engineer onboarding with the reps – including the checkpoints and certifications they must complete – can help build these relationships.

While it may be tempting to put your engineers through the same onboarding program as your sales reps, it’s important to remember that this may impact their ability to ramp up quickly and start helping your reps sell. Investing in onboarding your sales engineers is one of the best ways to make sure your new hires – reps and engineers – achieve their quota quicker.

What are some of the Related Job titles for Sales Engineers?

Sales engineer job titles are just as varied as the companies that employ them. Sales engineers may take on the following roles:

  • Pre-sales engineer: As a pre-sales manager, you'll research and identify potential customers, provide them with information about the product and service offered, and help them determine whether it meets their needs.
  • Post-sales engineer: As a post-sales manager, you'll build on the work done by pre-sales managers and be responsible for ensuring customers use your product or service successfully. You'll work closely with other departments, such as customer success, marketing, and support teams, to ensure your customers continue to receive value after purchasing something from your company.
  • Sales application engineer: As an application engineer, you're responsible for managing the entire life cycle of a software solution for customers, from development to implementation, integration, and maintenance.
  • Solutions engineer: As a solutions engineer, you'll support customers with technical issues related to their product implementation. You might also design custom solutions for customers who want something more customized than commercially available.
  • Technical account manager: In technical account management (TAM), you'll manage the relationship between your IT vendor company and the customer, ensuring both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This may include providing product installation, maintenance, training, and technical support.
  • Solution architect: As a solution architect, you're a particular sales engineer who works with companies that need more complex technology solutions. The architecture of these systems can be complicated, so it takes someone with advanced knowledge to come up with the correct solution, to explain systems, specifications, and processes to non-technical people, and to sell to them.
  • Customer engineer: As a customer engineer, you'll help clients understand and resolve their product's issues at the beginning of their business development process. 
  • Solutions consultant: As a solutions consultant, you're not just an expert in your product or service but also have the experience to help customers solve problems. In this role, you'll be heavily client-centric in your approach.

Which companies are really well known for Sales Engineering?

There are several companies that are well-known for their sales engineering teams, including:

  1. Salesforce: As a leading provider of cloud-based CRM software, Salesforce relies heavily on sales engineers to demonstrate the value of their products to potential customers.
  2. IBM: With a broad range of software and hardware solutions, IBM has a large team of sales engineers who specialize in different areas and work closely with sales reps to close deals.
  3. Oracle: As a provider of enterprise software and hardware solutions, Oracle has a strong sales engineering team that helps customers understand how their products can meet their specific business needs.
  4. Cisco: With a focus on networking and communications technology, Cisco relies heavily on sales engineers to design and implement complex solutions for their enterprise customers.
  5. Microsoft: With a broad range of software products and services, Microsoft has a large team of sales engineers who help customers understand how their products can help them achieve their business goals.
  6. Amazon Web Services (AWS): As a leading provider of cloud computing services, AWS has a team of sales engineers who help customers understand how their cloud-based solutions can help them achieve their business goals.
  7. Google Cloud Platform (GCP): With a focus on cloud-based computing and machine learning, GCP has a team of sales engineers who help customers design and implement solutions that meet their specific needs.

Overall, sales engineering is an important function for many technology companies, and these are just a few examples of companies that are well-known for their sales engineering teams. They are a safe bet for recruiting sales engineers as each of them have a dedicated team working on a suite of products. 

What is the compensation range for Sales Engineers?

According to Glassdoor, sales engineers can earn an average annual salary of more than $110,000 in the United States.

Is there a good Boolean search for finding Sales Engineers?

A generic boolean search string around terms looks like:

  • -job -jobs -sample -examples, to exclude irrelevant results
  • (intitle:resume OR intitle:cv) to discover candidates’ online resumes or CVs
  • (“sales engineers” OR “sales architects”) to cover variations of the same job title

Here’s an example of a simple string to find resumes:

(intitle:resume OR intitle:cv) (“sales engineers” OR “sales application engineers”) -job -jobs -sample -templates

With this search string, the words “resume” or “CV” have to appear in the page title. Adding variations of sales engineering job roles provides a larger number of relevant results. And, excluding more terms will reduce false positives.

Let’s look at what a final Boolean search looks like using the following fields:

  • Job title: (“Sales Engineer” OR “Solution Consultant” OR “Post-Sales Engineer” OR “Solution Architect”) AND (“Senior” OR “Lead” OR “Team Lead”)
  • Sector: (“Finance” OR “Social Media”)
  • Tech Stack: CPSP, SCPS, Anima, Calendly

The Boolean search string that can be created using the the knowledge we have gained and the aforementioned fields, applicable to any job board, would resemble the following:

(“Sales Engineer” OR “Solution Consultant” OR “Post-Sales Engineer” OR “Solution Architect”) AND (“Senior” OR “Lead” OR “Team Lead”) AND (“Finance” OR “Social Media”) AND (“CPSP” OR “ SCPS” AND “Anima” AND “Calendly”) 

Similarly, some of the complete boolean strings to find Computer Vision Engineers in a particular location, with specific skills etc. are:

  • Location  -  ("Sales Engineer" OR "Sales Application Engineer" OR "Customer Engineer") AND ("CPSP" OR “SCPS”) AND ( San Francisco OR New York OR Seattle) NOT (“Pre-sales”)
  • Titles - (“Account Achievement Visionary” OR “Account Associate” OR “Account Consultant” OR “Account Executive” OR “Account Growth Manager” OR “Account Manager” OR “Account Representative” OR “Account Specialist” OR “Business Developer” OR “Business Development Specialist” OR “Client Advisor” OR “Client Engagement Specialist” OR “Client Growth Specialist” OR “Client Success Consultant”) 
  • B2B Services - (("sales representative" OR "sales associate" OR “outside sales representative” OR “outside sales associate” OR “sales professional” OR “outside sales professional”) AND ((“lending” OR “mortgage lending” OR “financial service”) AND (“B2B” OR “business-to-business” OR “enterprise”)))) AND (“Lake Mary” OR “Florida”)

By using Boolean search as shown above in combination with other research methods, you can greatly increase your chances of finding the right person for your project.

What are some sample Interview Questions for Sales Engineers?

Hard Skills

  1. A client is very upset because their product isn’t working. How do you proceed?
  2. Is there anything you think could be challenging in this role, based on your previous work experience?
  3. What resources, strategies or tools have you used throughout your career to succeed as a sales engineer?
  4. What’s a typical sales call like for a Sales Engineer?
  5. What do you know about our products? Who do you think are our customers?
  6. What software have you found useful for your job? Why, and how?
  7. What experience do you have with remote access software?
  8. Think of a product that does not work well. Which aspects of it would you alter?
  9. How would you go about expanding a sales territory?

Behavioral / Soft Skills

  1. Describe an experience collating data to use in a brainstorming session. How did you ensure your ideas were founded on the latest industry trends, competitor innovations and offerings, as well as all relevant information on prospects or clients?
  2. Tell me about a time when your various duties, including preparing and delivering technical presentations, conferring with clients and prospects, collaborating with sales teams, etc., threatened to spiral out of control. How did you manage this and what did you learn?
  3. Describe an experience working with relevant teams to process and respond to, for example, RFPs. How did you approach other teams as a team member, and how did you ensure a positive dynamic to secure optimal outcomes?
  4. Tell me about a time you developed, built and delivered a customized, B2B sales demo for a key prospect. How did you decide what type and length of demo was required, how did you organize its creation across teams, how did you arrange presentation and present? What happened?
  5. Tell me about a time you presented alternative solutions to meet, for example, component or installation criteria. How did you deal with the existing proposed solutions and demonstrate that yours would result in optimal outcomes? What happened?
  6. Describe an experience in which a client’s continued objections appeared to be based on a lack of understanding of either the core problem, the identified solution, or both. How did you choose to deal with this client in order to turn things around? What was the result?
  7. Tell me about a time a client was truculent about your recommendations to invest in better materials or machinery. How did you demonstrate the long-term lower costs, increased production or other benefits without embarrassing your client? What was the result?

About Rocket

Rocket pairs talented recruiters with advanced AI to help companies hit their hiring goals and knows technology recruiting inside out. Rocket is headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley but has recruiters all over the US & Canada serving the needs of our growing client base across engineering, product management, data science and more through a variety of offerings and solutions.

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