This post was originally published on July 7, 2018 and updated Feb 4, 2020.
As a wider range of technologically sophisticated products comes on the market, the demand for sales engineers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Sales engineers, with their combination of strong technical and interpersonal skills, play a critical role in the sales process, directly impacting company revenues. With the growing importance of sales engineering teams, CloudShare recently interviewed some pioneers and leaders in the field to equip our readers with the best advice for how to implement technical sales engineer training and grow a sales engineering team at their organization. In this blog, we take a deeper dive into the importance of training your sales engineers (SEs).
Successful sales engineers require a unique combination of technical knowledge and business acumen. “Sales engineers don’t just mimic sales reps. They’re in a unique position to forge different kinds of relationships. SEs can help cultivate relationships with people who are technical champions in the buyer company,” explains Jon Michaels, senior vice president of operations at Volta, a network of electric vehicle charging stations. Michaels built a sales engineering organization from scratch in his previous position as head of global sales engineering at EnerNoc, a leading provider of cloud-based energy intelligence software. Babette N. Ten Haken, a STEM-trained scientist, corporate strategist, and founder of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, agrees, stating that sales engineers’ ability to combine technical and non-technical perspectives can make them a relevant and valuable partner to both buyers and sellers.
With the need for multidisciplinary skills, what types of training do you need to provide to your SEs?
The Importance of Developing Your Sales Engineers
According to Gregory Hanson, director of global sales engineering at SmartBear Software, a company that creates automation, development and monitoring tools for QA and development teams, “one of the key ways to ensure your SEs work that magic that drives business results is to consistently develop them professionally.” Hanson, built and managed sales engineering teams on 4 continents and wrote a book about it called “Modern Software Sales Engineering.”
“If we work to create better, more well-rounded professionals, the entire company benefits. It benefits from sales engineers who are highly skilled and really move the needle on deals, SEs that stick around for many years assisting you in ramping up your sales force, SEs who grow to become product owners, development managers, and even future sales engineering leaders,” Hanson adds.
Michaels agrees, saying that at EnerNOC, he “had two weekly meetings with our SEs. One was focused on team business and administrative stuff, and the second – every week – focused on training. SE managers need to put a lot of focus on that.”
7 Top Topics for Your Technical Sales Engineer Training
Since sales engineers are valued for their multidisciplinary skills, different types of trainings are required to assure top performance. Michaels recommends developing trainings on every possible topic that can help your SEs succeed, including:
- Core product training
Companies often update products and release new ones, so Michaels “brought the product team to explain the nuts and bolts of the product. We did internal trainings on demos, and how to weave in new features,” he said.
- Technical industry training
As your sales engineers’ responsibility grows in the presales process, Hanson said they need “to be the experts on not just your product stack, but the entire industry,” and encouraged SE managers to give their team “access to any technical certificate and course training available.”
- Presentation skills
Teach your SEs how to “engage an audience, hold attention, read a room (physical or virtual), listen and pivot, etc. Great speakers are remembered, whereas a monotone delivery of 100 features is quickly relegated to the pile of ‘will not continue evaluation’ products,” Hanson explains.
- How to ask discovery questions and truly listen
“It’s a crucial skill for SEs to have – know what questions to ask and what to listen for and what follow up questions to ask,” Michaels said.
- How to figure out the customer’s pain points and tell a good product story
“What is the biggest problem we’re solving for this customer? What is their pain and how are we solving it? You’ve got to ask these tough questions. It’s a powerful moment when the customer realizes they don’t have a solution to their problem, and their boss probably expects a solution,” Michaels adds.
- How do identify and connect with key people at the buyer company
Michaels made sure his SEs know how and have the ability to identify and connect with anyone, from their champion at the prospect’s company to the economic buyer with the final decision power.
- Sales skills
According to Hanson, “your sales engineers should be just as confident in your sales methodologies as your account reps. Your SEs need to understand that anytime they are engaging with a prospect, the goal should be to move the deal forward.”
How to Ensure Your Technical Sales Engineer Trainings Will Make a Long-Term Impact
Michaels pointed out that “not everyone was able to make it to every training, so we recorded them to make sure everyone received them.”
But then they took another step.
“We followed up after the trainings. You can’t present it one time and expect everyone will master it. We sent printed materials. We had two SEs team up to practice, giving demos to each other and practicing back and forth,” he said.
In this on-demand webinar, John explains the skills next generation sales engineers need to help you better understand and advance your career.
Certainly, CloudShare’s virtual training labs can help provide that important long-term impact for product knowledge retention. When your sales engineers receive hands-on training on exact replicas of your solution, the immersive experience makes learning more engaging, effective and sticky. And if your sales engineers can give a software sales demo on an exact replica of your actual product, showing off its full value, regardless of how complex your solution is, they not only gain credibility with prospects but also increase their own knowledge and retention by the very act of demonstrating it.
Develop Multiple Career Paths for Your Team
While the technical sales engineer training topics mentioned earlier will enable you to get the maximum results from your SEs in the short term. You also want to retain the talent in which you have invested in developing over the long run.
To get your sales engineers excited about helping you get results, let them know you’ve got their best interest at heart and develop multiple career paths that enable different type of SEs to grow professionally.
“Some people want to manage teams, others want to be individual contributors, subject matter experts – and they both need to see how they can advance, get promoted, take on more responsibilities. Make sure there’s a career path, so they can be a senior principal or become a manager or director or senior director,” Michaels said.
With the growing numbers and importance of sales engineering teams, it’s more important than ever that each SE is trained to provide your organization with maximum value. Training for technical sales engineers not only increases their performance but also correlates with job satisfaction. The better trained your sales engineers, the better your business results will be.