I’ve been involved in manufacturing, design engineering, consulting and in the most current portion of my career sales and customer interaction. This has given me a perspective that not all engineers have. I’ll start with something most young engineers, and some older engineers haven’t learned yet:
It’s difficult for engineers to be rewarded for technical prowess alone. How would a non-technical executive know how difficult your task was? However, everyone in the executive team knows how hard sales is. That’s why it’s important for engineers to use their skills to assist the sales team with a vision for clients. It’s also your ticket to working on the biggest, most advanced, most exciting project of your life. After all, if it takes an engineer to create the future, it probably also takes one to sell it.
What’s in it for you, and what’s in it for them?
I already mentioned it may be your ticket to working on better projects, and the salesperson and the company stand to make more money. Some resent this, but peak profits isn’t why you’re an engineer, right? If it was, taking that knowledge and going to sales would be an option, but making good money and getting to be technical, do design work, and build prototypes is a sweet gig. It’s not like asking for a raise is out of the question either if the sales start to pile up as a result of your efforts.
With that in mind, there are many ways engineers can help sales people:
1. Educate them on your product. I can’t reiterate this enough. Most salespeople are tasked with selling multiple products or services. Inevitably, they are comfortable talking about certain items more than others. Ask them what their pitch is. Critique it in a kind manner. Explain to them anything that sounds off. If you want sales to set better expectations to customers, teaching them more is necessary.
2. Run any numbers they need. Return-on-investment calculations, estimated sizings for structural members, motors, etc, that help them make better quotes, or even the running the data for a preliminary design. The more information they are armed with in talking to the customer, the more places the conversation can go.
3. Explaining the process as a means to justify the price tag. The salesperson doesn’t always know what needs to be done in order to deliver. I’ve had experiences where I didn’t clearly communicate to the salesperson what was involved, and been on the other end to. Both times, it stank for everyone because the customer ended up with the wrong expectations.
4. Give the customer a vision of the product placement against alternatives. Why is it better? Can you put some numbers to the differences?
5. In a meeting with the customer, talk to the customer confidently. Self-doubt is likely, but keep it in check, unless they are signing on the dotted line and it’s self-evident the promises can’t be delivered, take the discussion outside the meeting. Another call to the customer is always possible to adjust expectations if nothing has been signed.
6. Present any analysis/visualization that shows product fit. If other products can’t deliver what yours does, prove it. This can land you bigger, better projects. That tends to lead towards a bigger, better career.
7. What are the edge cases of the product for this customer? Share that with sales. Without the deeper technical understanding they may not see it. It may prevent them selling to the wrong customers too.
This list isn’t comprehensive, but the overall point is, sales is a necessity to keep a company running, and a struggle. Sales often feels they are lacking support, and engineers often feel bullied or thrown under the bus by sales. Teaching each other is the only way out.