Engineering isn’t all about technical expertise. Sales engineering skills are just as important, for engineers to stay employed.
Because sales engineers sell physical and digital products, including services, to customers. So it’s safe to assume without sales, many engineers wouldn’t have jobs.
In this article, I’m going to go over the 10 best ways to level up your sales engineering skills. And if you’re not in sales, still pay close attention. Because every engineer can leverage these skills in the following ways:
- Get angel or VC funding
- Find engineering business partnerships
- Discuss and convince colleagues, why your engineering solution is best
- Calmly explain a heated situation to your boss
- Reassure angered customers, everything will be okay
- Convince a review agency, to speed up the review process of your submittal
#1 Public speaking & confidence
All sales work revolves around public speaking. You need to be able to stand up in front of a group of strangers and confidently speak.
I know, easier said than done. But this is what makes this skill so powerful. I’d go as far as to say, public speaking is the fast-track way to gaining superhuman confidence.
Then not surprisingly, confidence is key to winning the trust of potential new customers. Because if you’re not confident, people can sense it from a mile away. So, practice your public speaking, and then practice some more. I’ve even written 11 ways how to improve public speaking skills for engineers.
#2 Read your audience
You need to be able to gauge your audience’s interest. For example, as you present, can you also answer the following questions about your audience:
- Are they confused?
- Are they bored?
- What’s their interest level?
If you can answer these questions in real time as you speak, you’ll be golden. Because you gain the ability to pivot your talk, to keep your audience locked in.
You don’t want to lose your audience’s attention, as you’ll have a heck of a time reeling them back in. This makes every talk a dance with your audience, to keep them engaged
And the best way to gauge your audience is by reading faces. Look at your listener’s body language too. Then, just as important, get your audience involved in your talk and see how they react. If you ask a question and receive dead silence, you need to hit the panic alarm.
In short, make a boring presentation engaging!
#3 Manage pressure & conquer stress
You’ll speak with strangers who’ve heard 10 similar pitches as yours, in the past month. To be blunt, most people will give two shits about your speech.
Just think of the last time you stepped into Home Depot, and a sales rep tried to hook you to buy solar panels. You probably gave them the ‘get away from me!’ face.
Similarly, your listeners may also be in a hurry to get back to their day-to-day work. So, the last thing they want is to listen to you endlessly ramble. For this reason alone, they may come off as standoffish. This naturally then amps up the pressure for you as the presenter.
If this wasn’t enough, you may have a sales quota to reach. Maybe you need to close X number of sales a month, otherwise, you’ll lose your job. So, your stress levels will further skyrocket.
But, you can’t allow your audience to sense your stress, or you’re a goner. No one wants to close a contract with someone who is fear-stricken. Especially, since you’ll now probably describe your product in a doubtful manner. And this will make your product seem inferior and unworthy of the big bucks.
All in all, the best way to overcome pressure and stress is to practice presenting. Then practice some more. A lot of presentation stress comes from surprises. But once you’ve seen every audience type, nothing will surprise you.
Not to forget, calming your mind will greatly help as well. And I think the best way to do so, is to look at stars in the night sky for perspective.
#4 Ability to present alone and in a team environment
Some people present best alone. While others need to present with a team, to have someone to lean on.
Regardless of your preference, you need to be able to present both ways. Because you never know the situation you’ll find yourself in as a presenter. Maybe your longtime sales partner suddenly has a family emergency. So, you’re forced to present solo.
Are you up for the task? Can you still present without your crutch, a team member, by your side to save you when you slip?
On the flip side, you need to be able to present with people who are your polar opposite. For example, maybe you’re not too talkative. But, management partners you with a loud Type A personality.
Now, you need to quickly adapt to your situation. You need to present alongside your new loudmouth partner without looking like a sidepiece.
To successfully pull this off, I go back to practice. You need to endlessly practice presenting solo and with teams. Also, learn about people in the real world and how they tick. Don’t limit your human communication to blue screens only.
#5 Sharpen your technical skills
If you don’t know your product, how can you ever convince someone to buy it? You can’t!
So put in the time to learn your product inside and out. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Because your entire sales presentation revolves around your product.
It’s like in sports. How will a coach lure superstar players to his team, when he himself knows nothing about the game? He can’t!
The best way to learn about a product is to brainstorm all the questions customers can ask. Then, find answers to these questions and do your best to learn the technical details. Don’t just memorize answers either, otherwise, a curveball question will stump you.
#6 Product demonstration ability
In an engineering presentation, you may bring along some version of your product. Because humans are visual creatures.
To successfully present your product though, you need to be able to properly demo it. Again, we go back to the importance of understanding all parts of your product. Otherwise, you won’t know what you’re holding and you’ll look like a deer caught in the headlights.
Now, remember those late-night infomercials on TV we all loathe? The ones where they try to sell you the latest awesome grease drain pan? These infomercials are still around in full swing because they work amazingly well. They spell out exactly what their product will do for viewers.
So, learn from these infomercials. See how they present and demo their products to TV audiences. Even if you only learn one small tidbit, you’ll come out ahead.
#7 Don’t forget about questions and answers
Ask your audience questions to keep them engaged. Questions are also helpful to gauge your audience’s attention.
I always find it best to have a list of questions stored in my mind. You can then tap into these questions, as necessary. But at the same time, you need to learn how to improvise on the spot.
If you see an audience member with a confused look, ask questions on their behalf. This may mean coming up with a tailored question right then and there.
At the same time, learn how to properly answer questions. Don’t give quick and short answers because you think the question was simple. To you, it may be simple, but to others, your response will leave them scratching their heads. Because in most instances, your audience won’t have a technical background. So, you need to hold their hand and guide them as the expert.
#8 Research your audience
It’s important to research everything you possibly can about your potential customer. This is one time when snooping is encouraged.
In your snooping, try to answer the following questions about your customer (company):
- What’s the core business?
- How have sales been trending recently and historically?
- Is business conducted both domestically and globally?
- What’s the employee count?
- How many years has the company been in business?
- What’s the demographic of the company’s customer base?
- What type of technology does the company currently use?
- What issues currently plague the company?
These questions will help you mold an awesome presentation around your customer’s needs. And this is a surefire way to increase your chances of closing a sale.
I’ve even given presentations, where the customer thought I was one of their employees. All because I had put in the time to deeply research their company. This is why I believe this is the simplest sales engineering skill to learn.
#9 Master fundamental sales skills
This is a no-brainer. You need to know how to close out a sale. Whether you’re selling a candy bar or a $1 million panelboard, the sales’ mechanics are the same.
You need good negotiation and persuasion skills. At the same time, you don’t want to come off as too pushy. There’s a fine line to walk.
For example, a customer may think your product won’t help their bottom line. But your job is to convince them otherwise. You need to show why and how your product will benefit them.
Of course, with the caveat, you’re selling a legitimate product. A product you believe wholeheartedly in. As Henry Ford once famously said about his introduction of cars into the market,
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
#10 Bring out your personality
Make your personality shine in presentations. Yes, I know, your product does all the selling for you. But, you’re still trying to close a deal with a human. Humans innately rely on their lizard brains for decision-making. So if you come off as unfriendly or untrustworthy, you may lose a sale.
Also, let’s take it a step further and put the current sale aside. Your personality will help you build deep-found connections. Connections, which later may become priceless. For example, building a customer pipeline, where you can effectively pitch new products via email.
Mastering sales engineering skills
Sales engineering isn’t easy. Far from it!
Not only do you need to have technical chops, but you also need people skills. So this leaves this unique combination of skills, to only a few engineers.
Thankfully, you too can become a part of this elite club, and make yourself irreplaceable and high in demand. Just master sales skills. At the end of the day, everything in life is a sale, whether you believe it or not.
Which of the sales engineering skills do you find to be the most important? Do you think engineering sales is more difficult or design work?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.