Imagine that you’re staying in a foreign country. You don’t speak the local language and you’re absolutely starving because you just got back from a long hike (let’s be real, you got back from the beach). You ask a member of the hotel concierge where to get a good bite to eat, then immediately regret asking.
You can barely understand the guy as he’s talking a mile-a-minute in a language you don’t really understand. While you might be in a different country, it is his job is to help you out and make sure you understand how to navigate the local area. He should be able to put things in your terms, so that you walk away from the meeting with the knowledge that you need.
That was us the other day — except we weren’t hungry in a foreign country, we were watching a sales engineer absolutely BOMB a meeting.
When you’re in sales engineering, the expectation is that you help the traditional sales team by backing them up with a more technical background of the product or service. However, sometimes a buyer/influencer isn’t the one getting into the technical details. When this is the case, it’s their job to explain it to me like I’m five and tailor the presentation of the product to the prospect’s needs.
I recently met with a sales team (Account Executive and Sales Engineer) from a software company to discuss how they could help us address a need we had. The AE gave a brief intro to the company, and let the sales engineer take off after that. Cue trouble.
The sales engineer got so lost in the details that he basically ruined the presentation for his AE. It steadily devolved from a sure fire thing (we were already using their product, and looking to potentially upgrade) to “let’s explore some other options.”
I can only guess the conversation that happened between the AE and the engineer after they left (they probably thought it went great). My takeaway was that salespeople should be selling, and sales engineers should be providing backup when needed. Here’s why:
They Won’t Listen to Customers Like You Can
An experienced salesperson should be able to listen to customer requirements, and talk about what we need — not what the product does. If you don’t figure out what the customer needs right off the bat, how do you frame the rest of the conversation?
In this scenario the engineer talked way too much without letting us get a word in, which made us feel very unheard during the meeting. We wanted to keep things at a high level, but the engineer was so in the weeds about how the product worked that he actually did not ask once what we were trying to do. He wanted to show all the features, wasting our time by showing us things that we were just not interested in.
If your sales engineer won’t let your customer get a word in — STOP THEM.
They Might Make Your Customers Feel Dumb
An experienced salesperson knows how to communicate on the same level as their customers and how to tailor the explanation of the product to the customer’s needs. In this case, we mentioned a way that we were using a specific feature and actually got yelled at by the engineer!
When we mentioned another product that we were using he immediately started trashing the other product, which made him look really petty. He accused us of not handling another process incorrectly. He also got extremely defensive about the product when we made a wrong assumption about another thing.
Instead of educating us, he went on the offensive. Not often a good look for winning business, and never a good look for maturity.
If your engineer is making your customers feel dumb — STOP THEM.
They Might Try to Solution Before the Problem
An experienced salesperson will understand the customer’s business inside and out and be able to listen to problems and propose solutions. But what if you just skip to the last part?
In this scenario, our all knowing sales engineer typecast us, making assumptions on what we wanted and immediately started to show us how to do it. That’s all well and good, but what about asking first? By trying to solution right off the bat, he failed to consider other aspects of our business and process. His ‘fix it now’ mentality also showed a lack of strategic thinking — it made us trust the company less as a strategic partner who wanted to understand our business.
If you’re in sales and you sense your engineer doing this in a meeting — STOP THEM.
Do Your Job!
Salespeople are the ones who should be driving sales meetings simply because they are the ones who have the skills to. There’s a time and a place for the sales engineer to join you, but if the customers aren’t ready for the full monty or the engineer doesn’t have solid sales skills it could backfire.