Despite continued economic turbulence, worldwide information technology (IT) spending is projected to total $4.6 trillion in 2023, an increase of 5.1% from 2022, according to Gartner, Inc. As digital economy purchases extend out beyond technical buyers and companies sell hardware, software, services and applications to all parts of the enterprise, sales engineers are more and more critical to revenue growth. And the role of sales engineers keeps growing.
They need to understand a bigger slice of the stack, as well as build strong customer relationships. Especially in large, highly technical, and complex business-to-business (B2B) deals, technical sales people are counted on to be trusted advisors who customers look to for reassurance that they are making sound purchase decisions. This could be why LinkedIn calls sales engineers “the technical glue of a technical sale.”
Whether your organization calls them sales engineers, systems engineers, pre-sales engineers, sales architects, technical sales specialists or field consultants, your technical sales team members play a crucial role in today’s B2B sales process because of their deep subject matter expertise. They can:
- Answer tough technical questions about product function, interoperability, scale and security.
- Speak to and understand highly technical language and processes.
- Conduct demos and train customers and their sales teams on more advanced product or service features.
Sales engineers can also play a significant role in strengthening relationships and growing business — if they have strong soft skills that complement their tech savvy. By speaking with confidence and using good listening skills, they can build better rapport with technical and business decision makers.
Having a strong emotional intelligence quotient — or EQ — will help them catch nonverbal cues and “read the room” to uncover subtle, unspoken signals. Strong interpersonal skills can also help manage difficult conversations and set them up to calmly address potential roadblocks without getting defensive.
My Sales Engineers Have Poor Communication Skills. Now What?
Sales engineers have busy, fast-paced jobs that run the gamut from supporting their sales teams in closing deals and attending industry conferences and trade shows, to contributing to research and development (R&D) for new products and services. They are often key problem solvers, sitting on the “hot seat” with clients.
To be successful, sales engineers lean heavily on their technical expertise. And unfortunately, they face a generalization that often rings true: that people with deep technical skills have less-than-stellar communication skills, which can frustrate their sales counterparts and even hinder the sales process.
3 Essential Communication Tips for Technical Sales Professionals
Here are three ways that sales engineers can elevate their communication skills to improve their job effectiveness. These techniques may seem basic to some sales engineers, but we see many technical sales professionals shortchange these steps.
1. Ask smart questions that uncover the customer’s challenges, then truly listen and reflect back what you’ve heard to build trust.
Skilled salespeople make sure customers feel valued, heard and appreciated. This requires doing your homework to identify issues and ask informed questions. What are their priorities? What do they care about? What are they trying to achieve? What challenges or opportunities do they face?
The most common mistake we see is technical sales professionals rushing ahead to talk about their solutions before they fully understand the issues at hand. Under pressure to quickly close sales, it can be easy to forget the value of building personal connections and understanding the unique nuances of your client’s situation.
Next, show that you hear and understand them. This involves more than simply nodding and moving on. Memorable storytelling that demonstrates the value of your product or service in a compelling and entertaining way is a powerful sales tool. Acknowledge what you’ve heard and try to validate their concerns by sharing similar stories you’ve heard from others in their field. Then, ask next-level questions to open up a real dialogue. Doing this will show empathy, help establish trust and will set you apart from your competition.
Instead of slowing you down, taking these initial steps will likely make your customer more receptive to your recommended solution.
2. Prepare and practice your technical sales “presentation moments” so that you can be comfortable and natural with clients — and ready to listen to their challenges.
To be perceived as credible and worthy of a buyer’s time means remaining poised, conveying passion and demonstrating problem-solving expertise in high-stakes situations. Sales engineers should be able to deliver information clearly, confidently and succinctly to help their company win the sale.
From a product demo to an example of how a top client successfully deployed your solution, there are certain “tricks in your bag” that you will turn to time and time again. So, work on keeping these building blocks of your presentation polished and engaging.
Be clear on your key messages. Ask yourself what you want them to remember. Frame everything in the context that matters to them and how it will help solve some critical business challenge. Once you know what you want to say, it will be much easier to deliver in the moment without appearing to be overly rehearsed.
Once you are clear on what you want to say, practice how you want to say it. This requires that you invest some time in preparation.
Try recording your delivery of key portions of a presentation, story or demo. Once you’ve watched the recording, make note what you should work on. Maybe even share with a trusted colleague or friend to get honest feedback.
When presenting, eliminate filler words and phrases, like “um,” “I think,” “uh” and “maybe,” and try to speak slowly with pauses, allowing people to process what you’ve said.
It also pays to be aware of your body language. Are your arms folded, making you look unapproachable? Do you have any nervous habits or hand gestures that could be distracting? Practice can help with all of these issues.
Focus on having more confidence to be more naturally focused on the customer’s needs instead of trying to remember your talking points or worrying about your delivery.
3. Be ready to adapt to varied levels of technical knowledge and speak confidently in business as well as technical terms.
Sales engineers not only need in-depth knowledge about their companies’ products and services, but also they have to be prepared to answer specific questions about what they sell in a way that is tailored to their audience.
For instance, business executives have little patience for details. With business decision makers, it’s best to focus primarily on the why and how — the value or opportunities your product or service offers and how you can help the customer make money, save time and/or mitigate risk.
Make the effort to speak respectfully to people with less technical knowledge, translating complex concepts into easy-to-understand terms. Pay attention to body language and subtle cues to see if people are tracking with what you are saying or if they are lost.
We also advise technical professionals to use technical jargon and acronyms with caution. While it may make sense to use this shorthand with fellow technologists, it can confuse, and even alienate, others.
With the right coaching and tools, technical sales teams can refine their interpersonal soft skills through communication skills development. To assess their capabilities, encourage technical sales professionals to reach out for customer and peer feedback, evaluate the success of their client interactions, and tally up sales wins and losses. And bear in mind that even strong communicators sometimes need a refresh to go from strong to stellar!