What the &#@% is a Sales Engineer?

In the last month I spent a couple of days at Colorado School of Mines and most recently a day at CU Boulder during attending their career fairs and in the case of Colorado School of Mines an additional day interviewing candidates from the career fair. I attended both of these events to recruit new candidates into a Citrix Leadership Development Program where at the conclusion of the training graduating students can apply into other areas of Citrix, most frequently Consulting Services or Sales Engineering. Besides explaining who Citrix was and what the program was all about one of the other frequent questions was, “what the %#$@ is a Sales Engineer?”

Sales Engineering isn’t a class in college and it’s not a career path your high school guidance counselor is likely to talk to you about. Unsurprisingly out of probably ~200 people I talked to at both colleges only 1 person had ever heard of the role of a Sales Engineer before. In my own life when I describe my role as a manager of Sales Engineers the next question I get is, “what is a Sales Engineer?”

In the last few weeks our team has been working on updating our job descriptions and position summaries, below is an excerpt of a Sales Engineer summary from that effort

As part of a quota-carrying sales team, the Sales Engineer plays a key role in our customers decision making process by understanding their needs, explaining how our solutions address those needs, assisting them with technical validation and acting as a trusted advisor.

Translated another way, Sales Engineers are responsible for mapping the technical solutions they sell to customer pain points they uncover, and when required, helping the customer through the validation process of the vendor’s solution.

By the end of the day at the career fairs I had boiled it down to this, “are you nerdy and do you like being around people?” I might have oversimplified it a bit but it got the point across. Some people wanted to work in cubicles on a computer all day, some wanted to work directly in their field of study (Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, etc), and others didn’t know what they wanted to do/be but they were smart and knew they wanted interactions with people.

So what skills are needed to make a good Sales Engineer? Here is what I look for.

  • Intelligence – are you a fast learner, are you committed to continuous learning, how do you learn new things, what is your knowledge potential
  • Accountable – do you have the ability to set priorities, are you organized, do you take  responsibility for your actions
  • Motivation – do you have a technology passion, are you enthusiastic about the work you are given, do you have a positive attitude, do you positively influence the people around you, do you have “grit”
  • Cultural fit – are you a match with the company values, will you work well independently as well as in a team, will your diversity and background add value to our team

So what the &#@% is a Sales Engineer? I think I’ve covered the basics, at least for the software industry, if you have other thoughts leave them in the comments below. Oh, and being a Sales Engineer is the best job you’ll probably ever have, don’t trust me on this, ask someone who has been one and then decided to take their career another direction, you know who you are.

One thought on “What the &#@% is a Sales Engineer?

  1. Great blog topic. As the world changes a SA must also adopt to the customers requirements. You might have a huge reason to sell a certain solution. By not selling the status quo you can gain a customers trust as a disruptive technologist.

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