Have you coached your sales engineers to improve their soft skills?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Have you coached your sales engineers to improve their soft skills? Sales managers should be asking themselves this question as sales engineers are filling a critical role during the prospect’s path down the funnel. If your engineers monopolize the sales conversation or don’t list to the prospect’s questions, you may need to provide coaching to help them improve their soft skills. In a recent Manage Smarter podcast, Chris White described how sales engineers fit into the sales process.

Sales Engineers and Credibility

Sales engineers have become an increasingly important part of the traditional sales team. More organizations are selling technology-​based solutions. While your account managers and sales reps won’t understand many of the inner workings of your organization’s solution, your sales engineers do. A properly trained sales engineer also knows how to explain the benefits of a solution to prospects who might be wondering how to integrate your software package with their existing applications.

These knowledgeable team members can also give your organization credibility. Prospects feel comforted when they hear a sales engineer talk in detail about the challenges they’ll face if they purchase your product. They’ll feel even better when the engineer can describe how they’ve helped other businesses successfully incorporate your solution into their workflow.

Many sales managers take a hands-​off approach with their sales engineers. In some organizations, engineers don’t report to the sales managers. The hands-​off approach feels like a strategy to sales managers because they don’t understand what the engineers are talking about. On one level, this works for prospects. Certainly, our research emphasizes that SMB purchasers want to deal with salespeople who know their product (60%) and provide relevant ideas to help their business (45%). Those considerations match well with the strengths of a typical sales engineer. And Chris White suggests bringing these individuals into the sales cycle early in the process. A technical expert can quickly identify key issues during the discovery calls and this information will be valuable during the negotiating and closing phases.

Developing Soft Skills

So, what’s the problem? We all know that prospects don’t behave rationally. They put off the purchase decision. These situations require sales professionals to rely on their people skills. If your sales engineer lacks optimism, sociability or social awareness, remind them that they need to pay attention to the coaching and training they receive on these topics. When managers help their sales engineers work on their sales skills, they are benefitting the organization in a couple of ways. They may be developing an individual to eventually shift into a sales rep role. And they are also improving the positive impression their staff members make on prospects.

Coaching for Sales Rep Success

If you’re considering moving a sales engineer into a sales rep position, first think about the typical clients you serve. Your sales engineer will need training or review on basic sales skills. They may also need to work on being more empathetic as they talk with prospects. In some organizations, they may be selling to other engineers. A lack of warmth or empathy may not matter so much in these situations. But in White’s experience, many outstanding sales engineers eventually have to work on their soft skills.

Hiring a Sales Engineer

When it’s time to hire your next sales engineer, use a sales competency assessment to gauge the motivations and work tendencies of your top candidates. The results of the assessment will indicate which candidates possess the necessary technical skills and knowledge. The best sales engineers also excel at giving presentations and explaining technical details to prospects who need the information explained in simple terms. Finally, sales engineers must be coachable. If they don’t already understand the need to have separate kinds of conversations with sales prospects before and after a deal is signed, someone in the sales organization will need to help them develop this skill.