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Sales Engineers deserve sales coaching too

By: Rebecca Herson
May 25, 2021
6 min. read
sales coaching engineers

In any enterprise tech company, sales cycles are long and complex. There’s never just a single sales employee involved; it always takes a number of different individuals from both your marketing and sales departments at numerous touchpoints across the funnel. 

Sales engineers play a key role in driving every sale, but they often get left out of sales coaching because they’re seen as belonging to the “tech” division of the company. It’s an understandable oversight, but it’s still a mistake. 

If you want to drive sales effectively, you need alignment across your entire organization, including marketing, sales enablement, sales employees, and sales engineers too. 

What is the role of sales engineers?

Sometimes it can feel like nobody is quite sure where sales engineers slot in. On the one hand, they’re part of the technical side of the company, with a deep product knowledge. They’re engineers, often subject matter experts, with a tech and/or scientific background. 

But on the other hand, they work together with account managers and sales executives, and are the lynchpin of any complex tech sale. Sales engineers are immersed in a sales environment, even though they come from a technical stable, and they need to be able to connect with their sales partners. 

Your sales engineers are a crucial resource in establishing a trust relationship with leads, conducting competitive analysis, leading demos, troubleshooting for proofs of concept, and responding to in-depth technical questions both before and sometimes even after the sale. All of this requires a combination of technical knowhow and expertise, soft relationship-building skills, and sales acumen. 

Why do sales engineers need sales training?

COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation across the business ecosystem, pushing many companies to quickly acquire new digital tools and platforms. It’s fertile soil that grew a crowded tech market with a lot of competition. 

But at the same time, the pandemic-induced economic downturn means that budgets are still tight. Business buyers are expected to prove ROI on any purchases they make, so they’ll only shell out for tools if they feel confident that they address their pain points and deliver value. 

That’s exactly where your sales engineers come in, but only if you provide the right training that covers all the skills they need.

What should be included in sales engineer training?

Since sales engineers are multi-disciplinary, they need training that crosses all their fields, in both sales and tech capabilities. 

1. Deep product knowledge

The basis of every successful sales engineer is their complete and thorough knowledge about your solution. They need to be able to explain the features and answer detailed questions about how your tool functions in the prospect’s specific environment, as well as assisting with post-sales technical support and setup troubleshooting. 

Competitive analysis depends on their ability to identify differences between your solution and the competition, and that goes beyond a dry knowledge of the specifications to include a full grasp of the user experience. 

2. Full mastery of the value proposition 

Sales engineers need to be able to talk sales talk as well as engineering talk, and that means moving beyond the dry technical summary to the value proposition. You want your sales engineers to describe the ways that your solution can deliver value for the prospect, whether it’s through product demos, technical Q&A sessions, or at any other point in the sales cycle. 

3. Familiarity with the broader industry 

Customers are never going to use your solution in a vacuum, so sales engineers need to understand the context within which it will be operating. If a sales engineer is trying to convince a lead that your solution is better than their existing tools, they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. 

At the same time, prospects want to know that your solution will integrate well with their existing workflows and tech stacks, which means sales engineers have to be familiar with the full ecosystem.

4. Public speaking and presentation skills

Your sales engineers might be the most knowledgeable out there, but if they put people to sleep every time they open their mouths, you won’t close many deals. They need public speaking skills so that they can run a demo, transmit a presentation, and complete a sales pitch in a compelling and effective way. 

Make sure sales engineers get plenty of practice with pitches, presentations, and demos so they can speak fluently and with confidence before an audience. You want sales engineers who can read the room (even when the room is Zoom) and engage their listeners, but that requires sales coaching programs that are accessible, patient, and deliver timely, personalized feedback about what to improve. Many choose to use AI-based coaching programs since these are available to SE’s whenever they are ready to practice and give them judgment-free feedback to help them improve. Also engineers typically find AI-based solutions cool, which can help keep them engaged in whatever coaching program you roll out 

5. Asking and answering sales questions

Public speaking skills are one thing, but listening skills are quite another. Sales engineers often get involved in the discovery process, even if it’s sometimes by accident when they find out that it hasn’t been completed properly for this opportunity. 

They need to be able to ask the sales questions that encourage your target customers to rethink their current solutions, but also to listen to the answers. Sales engineers have to pick up on pain points so they can anticipate and address customer needs. A compelling value proposition requires a full understanding of the prospect’s needs and pain points, as well as detailed technical knowledge. 

6. Relationship-building abilities

Soft skills like building relationships are crucial so that sales engineers can build trust and connection with leads. They need to be able to nurture leads forward through the sales cycle and connect with key stakeholders and decision-makers. 

Sales engineers are also always part of a broader sales team. Without soft skills like teamwork and communication, they won’t be able to work well together with sales employees and account executives, and important information may fall through the cracks. 

Leading sales engineers are excellent sales people too

By definition, sales engineers span two main fields; the sales side of things, and the engineering aspect. If you focus only on their technical knowhow without supporting their sales capabilities, it handicaps them from doing the best job possible. AI-based sales training is a valuable tool for sales engineers, just like for sales representatives, to give them all the skills they need to help drive revenue for your organization.

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Rebecca Herson

Rebecca leads marketing at Second Nature