For as vital as the sales engineering (SE) role is to fill, it’s also a fairly challenging one - anyone who has ever been tasked with scouting for or hiring SEs understands this firsthand. In our personal experiences, we routinely receive inquiries for SE referrals and can count on one hand the number of candidates we know that actually fit the SE mold (ie, those who have relevant SE past performance and haven’t yet decided to vector into separate – but related – career trajectories).
Why are SEs so hard to come by? Many think it’s due to the nature of the versatile skills required; that if technical prowess or strong ‘soft’ skills are hard enough to find individually in a single person, someone who has both is either an extreme rarity or an outright unicorn. Another explanation could be that engineers typically and genuinely want to be doing what they were trained to do: engineering. Any work outside of that, such as routinely and continuously supporting sales reps on customer calls, can be viewed as a distraction.
The ‘why’ to the SE hiring conundrum aside, we wanted to share some ideas on how to expand the pool of where to look for SE candidates – a 2018 Christmas present for our readers as we prepare to enter a new year and achieve new milestones and goals. Some ideas include:
Systems engineers in need of a change-up: In previous posts, we referenced the correlation between the systems engineering and sales engineering roles, along with the relationship between information systems and technology products. For reasons described here, we think experienced systems engineers make for great sales engineering candidates. Further, given the prevalence of systems engineering roles within the government and govcon ecosystems, there should be no shortage of sales engineering potential to pull from within either area.
Military veterans: Many military specialties are highly technical – communications, intelligence, crypto, and electronic warfare are a few that come to mind. For those coming off active duty that have operated in these and similar roles, we believe that the critical skills they’ve acquired – combined with their knowledge of how to apply such skills to a larger mission – can be directly transferred to commercial sales engineering positions. Add to this the veteran’s learned ability to manage up and down a chain of command, which appears strikingly similar to the sales engineer’s responsibilities of having to work with a wide spectrum of stakeholders – everything from executive buyers to grass roots users. Finally, in echoing other significant movements and initiatives geared towards veterans, we also believe in putting them first – the least we can do after everything they have done for us (and provided the rationale we’ve described here, placing a veteran in a sales engineering role shouldn’t be too tall of an order to ask).
Recent engineering grads that can’t fathom performing engineering work all day: Over the years, we’ve met several recent college graduates who put themselves through the engineering or computer science ringer, only to conclude upon graduation that they don’t want to spend the entirety of their working hours performing engineering tasks. Oftentimes, this phenomenon has less to do with technical inaptitude and more to do with having a conflicting personality type – these are typically extroverts who thrive off of social interaction and/or looking at the larger picture. This particular class of person should make for a great sales engineer, and their fresh perspective on the world makes for someone who can be molded/shaped by (hopefully solid) corporate leadership – an added bonus.
Candidates from non-technical majors: For some, looking for SE hires outside of those coming from technical majors and disciplines might not be a consideration. Despite our personal upbringings in tech, we believe that non-technical majors – particularly those who have studied humanities – can make for great SE candidates. With the humanities come skills that are critical for the larger sales organizations that SEs are part of to thrive; skills such as reading, writing, critical thinking, and an understanding of both individual human psychology and overall group dynamics. In our personal experiences working with humanities majors in the tech industry, we’ve found they have an innate ability to ask the larger questions that no one else is even thinking – questions that significantly help both their company and their clients. And, if our argument for humanities majors isn’t compelling enough, perhaps hearing it from a Microsoft executive is, as noted in the following article published by Business Insider earlier this year that can be found here.
The next time you find yourself concluding there are not enough qualified SE candidates in the job market, we hope this post will inspire you to think again. Provided all of the categories presented above, it could be argued just the opposite – that there is a tremendous SE candidate pool, but that pool is still waiting to be effectively tapped into.
Cheers to a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.