Engineering isn’t just about technical expertise. Sales engineering skills are equally important for engineers to stay employed.
That’s because sales engineers sell physical and digital products, as well as services, to customers. So, it’s safe to say that without sales, many engineers wouldn’t have jobs.
In this article, I’ll share the 10 best ways to level up your sales engineering skills. And even if you’re not in sales, pay close attention. Every engineer can leverage these skills in various ways, such as:
- Securing angel or VC funding
- Finding engineering business partnerships
- Convincing colleagues why your engineering solution is the best
- Calmly explaining a heated situation to your boss
- Reassuring upset customers that everything will be okay
- Persuading a review agency to speed up the review process of your submittal
- Acing a job or project interview
#1 Public speaking & confidence
All sales work revolves around public speaking. You need to stand up in front of a group of strangers and confidently speak.
I know, it’s easier said than done. But that’s what makes this skill so powerful. I’d even say that public speaking is the fast-track to gaining superhuman confidence.
Unsurprisingly, confidence is key to winning the trust of potential new customers. If you’re not confident, people can sense it from a mile away. So, practice your public speaking, and then practice some more. Check out my article on 12 ways to improve public speaking skills for engineers.
#2 Read your audience
You need to gauge your audience’s interest. For example, as you present, can you answer these questions about your audience?
- Are they confused?
- Are they bored?
- What’s their interest level?
If you can answer these questions in real-time while speaking, you’ll be golden. You’ll gain the ability to pivot your talk and keep your audience locked in.
You don’t want to lose your audience’s attention, as you’ll have a tough time reeling them back in. This makes every talk a dance with your audience, aiming to keep them engaged.
The best way to gauge your audience is by reading faces and observing their body language. Just as important, involve your audience 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 be speaking with strangers who’ve heard 10 similar pitches to yours in the past month. To put it bluntly, 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 persuade you to buy solar panels. You probably gave them the ‘get away from me!’ face.
Likewise, your listeners might be in a hurry to get back to their day-to-day work. So, the last thing they want is to listen to you ramble on. For this reason alone, they may come off as standoffish. This naturally amps up the pressure for you as the presenter.
If that wasn’t enough, you might have a sales quota to reach. Maybe you need to close X number of sales a month, or you’ll lose your job. So, your stress levels will skyrocket.
But, you can’t let your audience sense your stress, or you’re done for. No one wants to close a contract with someone who is fear-stricken. Especially since you’ll likely describe your product doubtfully, making it 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.
Don’t forget, calming your mind helps too. In my opinion, 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 folks thrive when presenting alone, while others need a team as backup.
No matter your preference, you’ve got to be ready to present both ways. You never know what situation you’ll find yourself in as a presenter. Maybe your longtime sales partner suddenly has a family emergency, leaving you to present solo.
Are you up for the challenge? Can you still present without your trusty team member by your side to catch you when you stumble?
On the flip side, you need to be able to present with people who are the complete opposite of you. For instance, maybe you’re more reserved, but management partners you with a boisterous Type A personality. Now, you need to adapt quickly to your new situation. You need to present alongside your chatty partner without fading into the background.
To nail this, I always go back to practice. You’ve got to endlessly practice presenting solo and with teams. Also, learn about real people and what makes them tick. Don’t limit your human interactions to screens alone.
#5 Sharpen your technical skills
If you don’t know your product, how can you ever convince someone to buy it? You simply can’t!
So, invest time in learning your product inside and out. Leave no stone unturned because your entire sales presentation revolves around your product.
It’s like in sports. How can a coach lure superstar players to his team if he knows nothing about the game? He can’t!
The best way to learn about a product is to brainstorm all the questions customers might ask. Then, find answers to these questions and dive into the technical details. Don’t just memorize answers, or else a curveball question will leave you stumped.
#6 Product demonstration ability
In an engineering presentation, you might bring along a version of your product, since humans are such visual creatures.
To successfully present your product, though, you need to be a pro at demoing it. This takes us back to the importance of understanding every aspect of your product. Otherwise, you won’t know what you’re holding, and you’ll look like a deer caught in the headlights.
Remember those late-night infomercials on TV we all love to hate? The ones that try to sell you the latest, greatest grease drain pan? These infomercials are still around because they work like a charm. They clearly explain what their product will do for viewers.
So, take a cue from these infomercials. See how they present and demo their products to TV audiences. Even if you only pick up one small trick, you’ll be ahead of the game.
#7 Don’t forget about questions and answers
Keep your audience engaged by asking them questions. Questions also help you gauge their level of attention.
I always find it best to have a mental list of questions ready to go. You can then tap into these questions as needed. 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 might mean coming up with a tailored question right there and then.
Simultaneously, master the art of answering questions properly. Don’t give quick, short answers just because you think the question was simple. To you, it may be simple, but to others, your response might leave them scratching their heads. In most instances, your audience won’t have a technical background, so you need to guide them as the expert, holding their hand every step of the way.
#8 Research your audience
It’s important to research everything you possibly can about your potential customer. This is one of those rare times when being nosy is totally cool.
While snooping, try to answer the following questions about your customer (company):
- What’s their core business?
- How have sales been trending recently and historically?
- Do they conduct business 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 are they currently facing?
Answering these questions will help you craft an outstanding presentation tailored to your customer’s needs. And that’s a surefire way to boost your chances of closing a sale.
I’ve even given presentations where the customer thought I was one of their employees, all because I put in the time to deeply research their company. That’s why I believe this is the simplest sales engineering skill to learn.
#9 Master fundamental sales skills
This one’s a no-brainer. You need to know how to seal the deal. Whether you’re selling a candy bar or a $1 million panelboard, the mechanics of sales are the same.
You need solid negotiation and persuasion skills. At the same time, you don’t want to come off as too pushy. It’s a delicate balance to strike.
For instance, a customer might think your product won’t benefit their bottom line. But it’s your job to convince them otherwise. You need to demonstrate why and how your product will be advantageous to them.
Of course, this is assuming you’re selling a legitimate product—one you wholeheartedly believe in. As Henry Ford famously said about introducing cars to the market,
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
#10 Bring out your personality
Allow your personality to shine during presentations. Sure, your product might do most of the selling, but remember, you’re closing a deal with a human. Humans instinctively rely on their gut feelings when making decisions. So, if you seem unfriendly or untrustworthy, you could lose a sale.
Taking it a step further, let’s set the current sale aside for a moment. Your personality can help you forge deep connections that may prove invaluable down the road. For example, you could build a customer pipeline, making it easy to pitch new products via email.
Mastering sales engineering skills
Sales engineering is no walk in the park!
You need not only technical prowess but also people skills. This unique combo leaves only a select few engineers truly mastering it.
Luckily, you too can join this elite club, making yourself irreplaceable and in high demand. Just hone your sales skills. At the end of the day, everything in life is a sale, whether you realize it or not.
Which sales engineering skills do you find most important? Do you think engineering sales is more challenging than 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.