A popular title for inside and outside sales people for equipment OEM’s is Sales Engineer. One who is good at it or just happens to have been around awhile may be called a Sr. Sales Engineer. This title is not only descriptive of the function, but should be a source of pride and impetus to always try to learn new things. To be good at this job, you really need to be able to run in many circles including traditional selling, product application(s) and the processes in which they were used. The first two can be called the easier of the two as it is what you should know by default to warrant your title.  The latter is a bit trickier. You may know every product you sell and have all the fundamental selling training, but what you cannot ever know is every way in which the product will be applied.  The nature of being a Sales Engineer defines this as a fact. If it was known, you could just be in Sales and not Sales Engineering.

Say you work for a company that makes industrial painting and coating equipment and systems. You would need to know a number of broad categories including:

  1. Knowledge of paint and pigments
  2. Knowledge (in-depth) about applying the paint or coating
  3. Knowledge of materials to be to be painted.
  4. Knowledge of differences in a process such as industrial latex paint vs. powder coating and how they would be applied.
  5. You need to know the painting process for each use. Surface preparation? Is primer required? How many coats are needed? Is there quality or objective standards that need to be met? Do you know the implications of applying different standards?
  6. What are the environmental issues? How do you size and specify the ventilation of painting area? What about waste paint removal from overspray collection or leftover product?
  7. What are other conditions of the paint area? How is it sized?
  8. Now add customer issues such as budget, location, the level of automation, plant standards, personnel training, etc.
  9. What about your company capabilities? How about the competition?

Ad infinitum. The breadth of permutations is too vast to know them all, so you need to be selective about what is truly important to grow and nurture a position of respect with your customer. What are the important aspects of the overall project? Learn them and pass on the minutiae of required details to the application or design engineers. Usually knowing a little about a lot is not as beneficial as knowing a lot about what are key areas to your customer. You cannot consult the Engineering Handbook or Google to know this, you have to put on your sales hat to get inside the customer’s head and find what is most important.

As for another part of the job, add planes of knowledge about the marketplace, trends, innovations as well as the dynamics of an ever-changing market. All these to help predict (forecast) business for a given location or industry sector by the “expert – you.” It will help you sell and help your superiors be superiors.

A large key to sales success in situations like this is your own learned knowledge or your ability to find out what you can. It is imperative to be able to handle yourself in a technical discussion without coming across as a know-it-all (because you aren’t). If your prospect is not comfortable speaking his or her own language in front of them, then send in someone who can or at least bring a translator. A near certainty in any sales situation is that customers do not (or begrudgingly do) buy from someone they don’t like. This can be extended in the case of a sales engineer to someone who doesn’t know anything to add to the discussion. YOU MUST BE AN EXPERT ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT, CAPABILITIES, STENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES AND BE CONVERSANT IN ANY APPLICATION YOU CHOOSE TO PURSUE (you’re the one who has to figure out if it is a desirable opportunity or not).

As a career Sales Engineer myself, I may be a bit slanted, but I honestly believe it is one of the hardest jobs to have because it encompasses everything related to a business. Financial success, customer satisfaction, continuous improvement, leadership and organization to mention some of the biggies. No disrespect to the Accounts Payable department, but they really do not need to know anything about your company’s products or customers. They just need to be good at ensuring good cash flow and managing well-timed payments to suppliers. Hell, they don’t even need to know that you make industrial coating systems, let alone be an expert.

Be proud to be called a sales engineer, but also be aware you need to earn that title by expanding your knowledge to beyond the confines of your company walls. Be the expert. The position demands it.

The old tried and true adage is “Knowledge is Power.” In Sales Engineering “Knowledge is Success” is a more apropos way of putting it.