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The Rise of Sales Engineers: Here’s why they have Become so Coveted

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Selling complex technology requires special skills and technical expertise, but knowing how to sell the technology doesn’t mean you have to know how to build it. However, when you engage in consultative selling, the prospect is looking for sophisticated, custom solutions to complex problems. That’s why selling technical solutions requires sales engineers (SEs).

The way we sell complex technologies has been evolving. It’s no longer sufficient to point out how a product or solution is more efficient, more affordable, or more scalable. Technology buyers have already done their homework and understand the features and benefits they are shopping for. What they really want to know is if it will work with their infrastructure. That’s where the technical details can become particularly gnarly.

Rather than getting bogged down in the endless cycle of “I’ll look that up,” or “I’ll have to get back to you,” partnering with SEs can answer questions and address issues faster, making it easier to close the deal.

Growing Demand for Sales Engineers

There has been a growing demand for sales engineers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for SEs is expected to grow 6 percent over the next decade, which is faster than most occupations. Sales engineers have quickly become an essential part of technology selling.

To be a successful SE requires more than a bachelor’s degree in engineering. It requires strong interpersonal skills and the ability to solve complex technological problems. The job is challenging since the types of issues that need to be addressed differ from day to day and sale to sale. It’s also a high-stress job. The SE’s role is pivotal and their ability to visualize the right solution can make or break big contracts.

When you are looking for a talented SE, you are looking for specific capabilities, including that:

  • They are product experts who possess the technical expertise to solve a customer's specific problem.
  • They lead the charge on technical presentations.
  • They typically own product demos.
  • They support salespeople at the individual deal level.

It would be great if every sales team could have a sales engineer as part of the team, but good SEs are hard to find. That’s why it makes sense to bring outside specialists onto the team to help close the sale.

Learn how to build a stronger B2B sales team by adding specialized sales roles  to your team. Download the e-book »

Dealing with the Sales Engineer Squeeze

When you have a well-oiled sales machine, you ideally want to have one SE for every two sales reps. Some organizations even pair one engineer with each sales rep. However, assigning that kind of expertise to consultative selling may not be practical because of costs, especially when you consider that a skilled SE earns more than $100,000 per year.

In the ongoing quest to squeeze the most return on investment (ROI) out of the sales program and lower the overall cost of sale, many large enterprise technology organizations are adopting a 1:5 SE-to-rep ratio. This usually causes bandwidth issues. Sales reps can't get SEs involved in new deals because there are just too many opportunities. In turn, this leads to conflicts with reps—which subsequently leaves SEs unused since they assume there will be bandwidth conflicts.

To overcome the SE squeeze requires a more affordable, scalable alternative to hiring more sales engineers. Using remote sales engineers as needed creates ready access to technical expertise when you need it without adding overhead.

Not long ago, SEs were part of the field sales force, making the rounds to prospects and key accounts to deliver presentations and demonstrations and provide technical consulting. The pandemic has proven that remote selling using videoconferencing and other communications tools is highly effective, not to mention more cost-effective.

By making SEs readily available as a remote resource, sales engineers can support more prospects and provide more consulting services at a lower cost. Using outsourced sales engineers also makes it easier to support more sales reps and prospects. It also frees SE time for additional sales support tasks, such as supporting lead development by answering questions or lending a hand to the customer success team. Or SEs can be used to assist top partners on larger deals that come through smaller account teams. And in an area that is quickly becoming most primed for growth, SEs can be utilized to support individual sales reps at direct market resellers.

Ultimately, to make the most of SEs, it’s important to remember that they serve as more than a support element—they’re also a resource that drives revenue. While sales engineers are certainly important components at many companies because of their technical knowledge, they can be made into better resources by combining their specific product experience with mentoring responsibilities. When SEs serve as an expert on one product or line of products and provide their team with additional assistance, they augment a sales team in far-reaching areas.

If you want to learn more about outsourcing sales and sales engineering and how it can help you build revenue for your company, take a look at our infographic comparing ROI from in-house and outsourced sales.

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