Part 2 of my series about life as a Sales Engineer – Read part 1 here
Now you know what we do day to day, maybe you’re thinking you might be interested in it as a future role? Then this post is for you!
In order to give you a rounded view, rather than just my own experience, I decided to interview a number of my colleagues and leaders. The process was simple, I asked each person two questions, and the resulting post is a summary of what I learned from them all.
The role no one knew existed
One common thread I found across everyone I interviewed was that the role of SE was not one that any of us knew existed prior to undertaking the job search or interview process.
I had no idea this job existed going through university and school. You’re always told of jobs like Accountants, Doctors, IT and Developers but never had I heard of Sales Engineering. I met someone who was in the role and when he spoke to me about it I knew it was what I wanted to do. It was the intersection between problem solving and communication/people facing roles that sold the role for me.Ali Jebeile
One of the things about the role of Sales Engineering, is that there is no uni course as such, career planners don’t talk about it, most don’t know it exists….Jim Katsos
I had never pictured myself in sales, so never looked for roles in vendor-land. But I hit a crossroads where I knew I wanted to do something new. A friend mentioned pre-sales as a role he thought I might be good at. So I took the plunge and applied – and here I am nowApril George
Pathway to entry
Since this tends to be a role people don’t know about, many seem to stumble into it through a related skillset. This can vary from person to person depending on their career to date.
I was in consulting for many years doing Microsoft Active Directory designs and migrations. There was a tool we were using called Aelita. We used it on several projects and I advocated for many of the customers to purchase it. The SE from Aelita knew that I had great experience and had been asking me to interview with the company for quite some time, before I said yes. When I got on board I took an architect and field pre sales role.Adrianne Ward
I was a developer and I happened to be presenting at a user group and then a sales engineer post event came up and said “Hey that was a great presso, would you like to do presales”? To be honest, I didn’t like the sales word in that sentence, but I was curious and asked some questions, the rest is historyJim Katsos
As i become proficient with technology as a side hustle started to support the Sales Team with customer technical questions and slowly that side hustle became the main hustle, helping the sales team with presentations, solutions especially as we branched into new security solutionsDragan Vladicic
To summarise the stories shared above, we found that we tend to fall into the role of an SE from having the right conversation at the right time or that we demonstrated the skills in a related role. For some, it happens earlier in our careers, and for others it was later. The key takeaway is your existing skill is not a wasted effort; Sales Engineering is a redefinition of the traditional IT role.
Advice to someone wanting to break into the role
The advice I received varied wildly from person to person. I could write a whole separate article on just this segment, but I will try to distil the insights I found.
I highly recommend that if this is a role you’d be passionate about, take that time to develop your communication skills and also familiarise yourself with the tech of the companies you’ll apply for.Ali Jebeile
I would suggest leveraging resources like the PreSales Collective which is a community of Presales Professionals to learn more about the role, getting insights and lessons from others and connecting with people in the industries that you have an interest in.Dragan Vladicic
Business acumen is just as important as technical acumen.
I have found that in any role, those that have the ability to understand the value of both perspectives and have the awareness to adjust (in near real time) based on the context and audience are generally so much more effective in their roles. In presales though this particular skill is highly sought after and rewarded!Jim Katsos
In my short time in this role, I have come to realise that very few actively seek out a presales roles in the same way you might head towards a software engineering role. For many it seems to be a combination of being in the right place at the right time or having the right conversation and encouragement with the right person. But when it comes to potential, it is one of the most rewarding jobs out there.
This is one of the best jobs that most people have never heard of. It is that fantastic blend of sales and technical to allow people to leverage their technical know-how while engaging in dynamic conversations with customers all the time. I have always explained it as consulting on steroids.Adrianne Ward
But be realistic in your expectations if you are actively trying to break into the industry
It took me about 3 years and a few failed job interviews to finally get a job in the role. It takes persistence and at least a little luck. I’d stay close to anyone you know in the role as well as making friends with any hiring managers or HR who are looking for people in the role, it’s sometimes a matter of bad timing or just you needing more time to get your skills right.Ali Jebeile
So keep plugging away. It is unlikely that the skills you have cultivated so far will go to waste if or when the transition occurs. With persistence and the right conditions, it’s likely just a matter of time till you land your first role.