lundi 14 novembre 2016

Sales Engineer, modus operandi

Recently, a friend asked me : "What qualities would you look for if you had to recruit someone in the same position as you, i.e. Sales Engineer?", and of course, to make it easier, he asked me how to evaluate these qualities. In this post I will try to answer the question, which is a very interesting one, because it pushed me to stand back a bit and think about my role with detachment.

Sales Engineer (SE) role can be quite different from a company to another and with different titles: Solutions Engineer, Presales Engineer, Solutions Architect, Consultant... In fact, SE can be more or less specialized/generic, more or less involved in delivery, in pricing, in bid management...  In a nutshell, SE, part of the sales team, is a professional who provides technical advice and support in order to meet customer business needs. It seems nowadays that companies are having difficulty finding such profile who combines business acumen and extensive technical knowledge.

The first word in SE is "Sales", but let me start by "Engineer", because technical knowledge is the solid foundation on which trust is built with customers. Indeed, SE must be ready to dive in a technical subject as deep as required by business, understand customer problems and solve them. Nonetheless, static knowledge is not sufficient in a fast-paced and changing technological landscape: This is where the curiosity of SE and his passion for learning are vital for his "survival".
Let's take the case of SE specialized in CDN. He knows very well how internet works, TCP/IP stack, DNS system and HTTP protocol.  He can explain on high level how caching works, but also can dig into HTTP RFC 2616 if needed to answer a specific question about caching. He is following latest trends in his industry such as H2, TLS, SDN, security and looking closely at what is being done at the competition.

So, back to the "Sales" in SE. First, the company counts on the alignment of SE to sales targets, as well as on his strategic thinking in order to create competitive advantage for its products. Second, SE is regularly doing presentations or demos to customers, thus he needs to have good communication skills, to excel at storytelling and to be attentive to his public in order to adapt in real time. Finally, I would say that SE must handle stress and pressure due to sales dynamics. A typical assessment of this skill set would be asking the SE to make a presentation and challenge him during it.

Now the best of SE is in the synergy between "Sales" and "Engineer". Being able to deliver a technical pitch with a variable depth, SE ties relations and build trust at different levels within customer organization. For exemple, our CDN SE brings value to customer's CTO by explaining how its product can help him to increase revenues by improving the online buyer experience, or cope with Christmas load on his infrastructure, and in the same time spend time advising customer's website admin on caching best practices for an optimal CDN setup. By discussing with customer, and asking the right questions, he is able to translate business requirements into a technical solution.

In addition, some other skills are very nice to have in this role, such as coaching partners, training sales, managing some projects... 

I am lucky I have the opportunity to be in an SE position since more than 5 years now, which is a position that sits in a special place within the organization, at the crossroad of sales, engineering, business development, product management.... This role has changed me a lot and I already feel the opportunities that are opening to me.

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