I believe that Sales Engineer (a.k.a. Solutions Consultant) is the best role in all of enterprise software, provided you have the aptitude for it and interest in it. I love the job itself and am very fortunate to lead an amazing team of Sales Engineers at ActionIQ.
I’ve held multiple roles within enterprise software companies: Sales Engineer (SE), Post-Sales Consultant, Account Executive (AE), and Regional Vice President of Sales. My list of advantages and disadvantages is based on my experiences in these roles at companies like Omniture, Adobe, BlueKai, Oracle, Percolate, and ActionIQ.
Finding solutions to complex problems: Your responsibility is to help Account Executives uncover real business pain (and the personal implications of that pain) and then present solutions to address that pain using your company’s products and services. It’s an endlessly fun puzzle. You’ll also get the opportunity to present these solutions in big meetings.
Working with prospects: Developing working relationships with prospects can be great fun as you learn about their business and their challenges. If you’ve ever thought being an interviewer would be an interesting gig, SE might appeal to you.
Partnering with salespeople and sales management: You’ll develop working partnerships with salespeople and their managers which can be a lot of fun. You work on opportunities together as a team and when you win business together, it’s immensely satisfying. You’ll become better at sales as part of the process.
Learning from the market: You get to hear what the market actually wants and feed that back to your product team. SEs have an opportunity to be the best-informed people at the company on what the market is looking for simply because they have the most at bats. Great PreSales leaders facilitate this feedback. This knowledge and skill will be very important if you ever want to go into Product or found your own company one day.
Recognition: You’re helping close business and when that’s going well, the entire company loves you. You’re also recognized by prospects as the expert, the person they can trust during the sales process which is a really fun role to play.
Compensation: Great SEs are compensated well but if this is the only reason you’re interested in this role, look elsewhere.
Supporting character: You’re part of the supporting cast in every opportunity. The Account Executive ultimately runs the show which means they have the final say on sales strategy and approach. You’ll need to keep your ego in check from time to time.
Don’t fly as high but then don’t get as low: You won’t have quite the earning potential as a great Account Executive but then again you won’t have the variability of earnings either. While AEs may only earn their base pay if they have a bad quarter or during ramp as they build a pipeline, SEs rarely ever have to face this reality. AEs are also under tremendous pressure to close business at the end of a quarter and end of the year and you’ll escape much (definitely not all) of that pressure.
Unclear career path: If you want to climb up the ladder and run a major part of the company, you may eventually have to leave PreSales and move in the direction of either sales or product (in B2B SaaS at least). The reality is that PreSales is a support function for the Sales team and so PreSales leaders will in some cases report to the Sales Leader and miss out on a seat at the executive table.
To be successful as a Sales Engineer you’ll need to be technically fluent, persuasive, enjoy problem-solving and owning the room during big presentations. It's certainly not a job for everyone, but it can be one of the most rewarding careers out there. If a career in PreSales sounds intriguing to you I certainly encourage you to pursue it!
Good luck. Please DM me on LinkedIn if I can ever be of help to you.
Brian Ivanovick is currently the VP of Solutions Consulting at ActionIQ. He's PreSales Leader with nearly 15 years of marketing technology and customer data experience. Prior experience includes stints at Offermatica (now Adobe Target), Omniture, Adobe, Causata, BlueKai and Oracle. Brian has led experience optimization engagements with enterprises such as Dell, Disney, Wells Fargo and Ally Bank.