What does it take to become a Sales Engineer? That’s a question I asked myself three years ago while I was stuck in a rut in my support job. I began to look into careers that matched technical skills while being customer-facing. After hours of Googling and soul searching I stumbled upon Sales Engineering (aka PreSales) as a career. At that time I didn’t have an engineering degree and the highlight of my sales experience was convincing my wife we needed a BMW. Suffice to say, if you closed your eyes and imagined a Sales Engineer you wouldn’t have seen me.
Throwing aside self-doubt and preparing myself for rejection I created a plan to transition from my customer support role into Sales Engineering. If you don’t have confidence interviewing for PreSales you’re best off controlling the controllables — which is simply preparing as much as possible. Here are some of the strategies I used and lessons I learned when preparing myself for a transition into Sales Engineering:
Persistence is key. Take for example the classic fable about the thirsty crow:
A thirsty Crow comes across a pitcher, which is filled with water. But when it puts its beak into the mouth of the pitcher, he cannot reach the water. He keeps trying but then gives up. At last, he comes up with an idea. He keeps dropping pebbles into the pitcher, soon the water rises up to the top and he is able to quench his thirst.
The clear lesson here is to be persistent. Keep in mind it’s not blind persistence. The crow didn’t simply spend hours and hours trying to fit his beak into the pitcher, he improvised and adapted once his first technique failed.
For example: if your resume isn’t getting you to the recruiter phone screen you should adjust it. The winning combination is persistence combined with a willingness to adjust and innovate based on feedback.In the same spirit of innovation through feedback, I kept track of what my individual “interviewing” funnel looked like throughout my job search. Similar to building a sales funnel and converting a sales opportunity from discovery to closed, we can map out the job application funnel:
Only 40 of my job applications converted to phone screens, and of those phone screens only 15 converted to hiring manager conversations, etc. With this kind of data, I can map out what aspects of the interviewing funnel I need to focus on. The data gives me actionable insight. Am I only getting 10% conversion from job applications to phone screens? I should work on cleaning up my resume, applying for more relevant roles and searching out to recruiters. Are my phone screens not converting to hiring manager conversations? I should work on spending more time researching the company I’m interviewing for. Each step in the funnel can provide vital information for improvement.
Immerse yourself in the language
Want to learn Spanish? Move to Spain for a year and you’ll practically soak up the language through pure immersion. You won’t need to spend hours on Duolingo practicing rolling your Rs when Barcelona is a few steps outside your flat. The same goes for PreSales. Want to learn what’s expected of a Sales Engineer? Grab a Patagonia vest, sneak into the elevator of your nearest tech startup and immerse yourself into the world of PreSales. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the resources to move to Spain or the confidence to sneak our way into a PreSales role. The question becomes — “If I can’t immerse myself in PreSales, how can I convince recruiters I can do the job?”
The answer is to immerse yourself and build connections with individuals who are already at where you want to be. Joining a Slack community like the PreSales Collective goes a long way to building your PreSales immersion. You’ll begin to see what questions actual SEs have, maybe they’ll ask what a POC is and you can both learn together. The magic of immersion is you’ll begin the learning process without even realizing it.
Ask for Feedback
Every failure is an opportunity for growth — an idea that’s easy to agree with if you’re not the one experiencing the failure. At the same time, if you’re not analyzing and learning from your failures you’re doomed to repeat them. In that spirit, while interviewing it’s easier to track areas for improvement if you are keeping notes.
Here is a snapshot of the exact notes I took when I was transitioning into PreSales:
Thanks to all the “failed” interviews I was able to ask recruiters and hiring managers what I could improve on for my next interview.
The Magic Moment
When I landed my first PreSales role at KeepTruckin I expected something spectacular to happen. I anticipated the moment I accepted the offer to sprout wings and become an entirely different person from my previous self. The sky would turn green, I would be able to walk through walls, life would be utterly different. In truth, there was no dramatic transformation, in-fact I was the same person — albeit with a different title on LinkedIn. If there was any magic, it was the moment my perception of myself as a Sales Engineer finally matched with reality. Like two disharmonious notes finally coming into tune.
I hope you experience that same feeling of harmony. I truly believe there is no skill in the PreSales arsenal that cannot be learned or taught. You may already be a Sales Engineer and you just don’t know it yet.
You’ll never know until you start turning over every rock you see and find out! If you’re unsure of how to get into PreSales that’s where PreSales Academy can help!
Michael Balzer is an experienced sales engineer with over 3 years experience across the tech industry. He holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Geography and Philosophy, and hopefully the attention of a prospect during a presentation. When he’s not working from home with two Boston Terriers at his feet, he’s practicing piano or mentoring aspiring sales engineers.
Michael is also a PreSales Academy Coach.