What is a Sales Engineer?

I get this search string for a web browser’s referrer more so than any other. And I’m really glad someone is asking, but way too often the wrong answer prevails. Well, at Google, this is what a Sales Engineer does:


But really, to answer what a Sales Engineer is, it might first be good to read an article I wrote a few years back about What a Sales Engineer is NOT. From there you will also see some “related Links” below the article to lead you to other defining articles.

The confusion as to what this vital role is, and even what it should be called remains …inexplicably. Companies way too often see the word “Sales” in a title, and assume that you are a sourcer, or cold caller that hunts for leads, then closes them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. True, a proper Sales Engineer is paid on base+commission, but as I’ve written before, this is due to the requirement for suggestions outside of the protective Account Rep’s to be geared toward closing the most business ($) in the shortest possible time. This is how your reps are comp’d, and if you are not, then you will not be invited to the party.

If you are like I was, and am an accomplished engineer in many diverse disciplines, then your best shot might be to ask to tag along with your sales reps on actual calls. This might be the first sales call you’ve ever been on! Say not a single word, unless asked to do so by your rep. Do not speak unless spoken to, in other words.

Do this a few times, and start to get a feel for what your company’s customers are asking for, what they actually need, and how your company’s sales reps perceive your products. The analytic in you will soon see that they do not overlap each other perfectly. In fact, there might not be any overlap at all. Your reps won’t see things like this, but your engineering mindset will, and you’ll be compelled to figure out ways to “fix” the situation. RESIST THE URGE!

Your opinion is not wanted. You have no street cred with these reps, and they don’t think there are any problems-or they affix blame to others (what I call Blame Management, but more on that another day). You need to continue on these ‘expeditions’ until you learn more about how things are in the streets, versus how they are at your HQ/office. They are far from the same.

So back to the 3 areas of understanding (which are really perception). Imagine 3 circles drawn on a piece of paper. Each circle is labeled as:

  • What problems Corporate (Mktg/Adv) thinks we solve
  • What problems Sales thinks we solve (see comp plan)
  • What problems our prospects/customers think we solve

There are other tools in my methodologies that are related and similar, but lets just focus on these for now. For the most part, you will be able to tell where each one of these circles lie after a month of going to sales calls. Things may look like:

(click on image for full size)

So the job, or objective, of a Sales Engineer is actually quite simple. Create as much overlap as possible. There is much, much more to it, but for now this should act as a good intro. Be sure to cruise through the related posts below this article to fill in more of the blanks!

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