Sales Engineers are in great demand because have developed both technical acumen and communication skills. The more current a Sales Engineer’s technology skill sets, the greater the demand for his candidacy. Earnings potential is driven by the candidate’s sales and business acumen and business acumen, but you first must ante up with the technology and communication skills.
Sales Engineers careers had stereotypically been associated with a utility role, often only performing demonstrations and answering technical questions. Now Sales Engineer careers often include more ownership of the prospect relationship and sales cycle.
Today’s PreSales Engineers more often are considered partners to the sales force, with participation in meeting quota and defining sales strategy for a particular client. The biggest distinction from sales is not being involved in the prospecting or initial qualifying of an account, and not having to close the account. Some sales engineers want this increase in responsibility, while others prefer the more traditional role.
Smaller and newer companies often require PreSales Engineers to perform a greater breadth of responsibilities, including needs analysis, technical needs analysis, solution configuration, solution presentation, proposal preparation, proof-of-concept technical work, proof-of-concept management, and the post-sale implementation. The rewards can include more equity, visibility, and variety.
Larger and more established companies, particularly those with bigger price points, often have 2+ tiers of Sales Engineering Jobs: a) those that help with sales strategy, functional needs analysis, proposal preparation, and conceptual solution overview, and proof-of-concept management; b) and another more technical tier that performs the more detail technical analysis, detailed technical demonstrations, technical proof of concepts, and possibly the post-sale technical implementation. The rewards – depending on the tier – can include greater focus on the technology itself (technology does not talk back, change its mind, etc.) OR the business (ambiguity, change, budget, etc.).
Some employers insist on Presales Engineers having CS degrees, while others insist on real world practical experience within a particular application (i.e., marketing analytics), industry (i.e., financial services), technology (i.e., SOA, XML, virtualization etc.), or business function (i.e., risk management, on boarding, order management, provisioning, supply chain, etc.)
In general, the more sophisticated – and better paid – sales engineers are closely aligned with specific clients and sales people. They are capable of performing a well synchronized dance with sales people in asking the right questions at the right time, and deliver the right messaging without sharing too much information or providing free consultation.
Sales engineers can have the drudgery of lots of travel and demonstrations without the glory, compensation, or account control often associated with sales, but they do get to be more immersed in the solutions themselves; and have less risk, pressure and exposure associated with owning a quota. They are also absolved of having to ask the hard questions, such as closing the business.
Travel is lessening because prospects have greater tolerance for remote needs analysis, web based demonstrations, and proof of concept work. The bigger factors that drive excess Sales Engineering travel are poorly qualified deals; the complexity, cost, and risk associated with the technology being considered; the strength of the sales person, and the maturity of the company and technology category you are representing.
Sales Engineers need to find satisfaction in receiving recognition for their ability to address a wide variety of business and technical questions, and being considered the “go to” person when persuading a prospect that the technology “works” and is relevant to their needs.
Sales Engineering can lead to career opportunities in Sales Engineering Management, product management, or Sales. Often times Sales Engineers will take an interim step prior to Sales by managing and growing existing accounts, or channel sales. Both roles are less transactional and more relationship oriented – but they still own a quota and are free from being the “demo dolly” that burn out so many sales engineers.
Each Presale engineer has different preferences for which type of company and role they prefer. Experience, self-reflection, honesty with yourself, and having a good mentor (or recruiter) can help you find and evaluate the most rewarding role for you.