As the B2B buying process has evolved, sales teams have had to continually adjust their strategy to best serve their clients’ needs. Today, the sales process is less linear than it used to be, and it requires a new set of dedicated sales professionals, including sales engineers, to get the job done well.
Of all the specialty sales roles, sales engineers are perhaps one of the most misunderstood. However, it’s important to utilize sales engineers fully because they often play an important part in pre- and post-sales support, delivery and installation, deployment, testing, and even Customer Success.
Let’s explore some of the most common misperceptions about sales engineers to establish a better understanding of how these sales professionals could fit into your team.
What a Sales Engineer Does
Engineers are sales professionals with technical expertise on the product or service you’re selling. These roles are especially important in technology and science fields.
Because sales engineers understand the technological principles behind a product or service, they provide a valuable level of support for the rest of the sales team, who might need more in-depth information at any point of the sales process. Also, sales engineers can delve deeper into a customer’s specific challenges, offering solutions to help them best utilize your products or services.
There are four main types of sales engineers:
- Pre-sales engineer: Works as an extension of the sales team to provide pre-sales support and helps the customer with technical input and recommendations.
- Solutions architect: Consults with partners and customers to understand site-specific constraints and create a fully architected solution for integrating your company’s hardware or software.
- Product/vertical specialist engineer: Focuses on a specific product, vertical, or segment to deliver solutions based on the needs of customers in that unique environment while supporting market compliance requirements.
- Professional services engineer: Specializes in post-sales support and works with the Customer Success team to ensure each customer successfully implements the product or service.
Misperceptions About Sales Engineers
Even as the role of sales engineer becomes increasingly common on B2B sales teams, many sales reps are unclear about how sales engineers fit into the sales process, when to utilize their skills, and what their role entails.
Here are the top four misperceptions we’ve heard about sales engineers:
- “Sales representatives can easily do the job of sales engineers.” In companies with technical or scientific products or services, this typically isn’t true—and that’s OK. You want your sales reps to be focused on honing their sales techniques, getting to know their customers and their needs, and guiding them toward a sale. In most organizations, they simply won’t have the time or capacity to learn the technical aspects of a product or service offering in as much depth as sales engineers do.
- “Sales engineers should be responsible for closing deals.” This is the flip side of the point above, and the same is true here. Sales engineers should be able to focus on in-depth technical or scientific information so they can bolster the sales rep’s information and answer even the most specific customer questions. Sales engineers shouldn’t have to worry about closing deals because their sales representative colleagues should be handling that part of the process with a high level of expertise.
- “Bringing in a sales engineer early might undermine the sales rep.” Some sales reps worry that including the sales engineer early in the sales process might result in the sales rep getting squeezed out of their own sale. Others are concerned that utilizing the sales engineer may reveal that the sales rep’s technical knowledge is limited. However, it’s important for sales reps to remember that the engineer is there to complement the sales rep and can add significant value to the sale, while the sales rep is the one who actually moves it forward.
- “All sales engineers do is deliver technical presentations.” In fact, in addition to preparing presentations that show how a product would work for a specific customer, sales engineers may also be responsible for:
- Performing demonstrations to show how the company’s products or services would meet a particular customer’s needs
- Consulting directly with customers to diagnose problems and assess solutions
- Providing customers with a product development roadmap to ensure they are aware of future releases
- Recommending additional products and services that promote Customer Success and may lead to upselling or cross-selling opportunities
Leveraging Sales Engineers
Sales engineers can play a vital role in today’s B2B sales process, particularly if your products or services are highly technical. However, they can only achieve their goals if their roles are clearly defined and sales reps know how and when to utilize their skills. It’s up to sales leadership to help clearly define the roles and expectations of each member of the team so that they can all work together to serve their customers as effectively as possible.