Is It Time to Get Rid of Sales Engineers?

 

Sales Engineers help vendors sell their products. But do they help clients get the solutions they need? 

Enterprise systems should be tailored to meet the individual needs of each organization. When shopping for an enterprise system, many technical factors must be considered to make sure these needs are properly addressed. This is where the role of a Sales Engineer comes in. Sales Engineers provide detailed information on features, performance, and other technical considerations while demonstrating how their company’s offering can provide the solution the prospective client needs. But the job of a Sales Engineer is not designed to directly serve the customer’s interests; it’s designed to help close the sale.

This presents a conflict of interest. There can be significant pressure to over-promise in order to help win the sale. Once the sale is won, it’s then up to the professional services staff members of the implementation team to deliver on the promises made by the Sales Engineer. Sometimes this means it falls to them to tell the client that they won’t be getting what they were expecting, at least not within the planned budget and timeframe. This is not a customer-centric model.

For clients, the solution is to insist that members of the implementation team take on the role of the Sales Engineer. In order to reduce the chances the vendor will over-promise and under-deliver, those who describe the solution their company will deliver should be the same people who are directly responsible for implementing it.

Vendors don’t like this approach for a number of reasons. Managing the logistics of a professional services team is already inherently difficult. They need a big enough services team to make sure clients get the service they need in a timely manner, but they don’t want to pay staff to sit around if there’s not enough billable work.

And there’s a different rhythm to the implementation process when compared with sales cycles. Professional services staff might be dedicated to a project for weeks or months at a time. This stands in contrast with the start-and-stop nature of the sales process. When managing a professional services team, one of the main priorities is optimizing the team’s billable time. Involving services staff in the sales process reduces their availability for paying work.

Also, incentives for Sales Engineers are different than for those providing services. Sales Engineers typically have a significant part of their compensation based on the revenue from sales they help win. Services staff generally have a much larger part of their compensation based on a fixed salary, with perhaps some bonuses based on client satisfaction and utilization.

But in the end, the “customer is king.” The sales and delivery process should focus on the best overall experience and outcome for the customer, not the convenience of the vendor. Customers who want to be sure that expectations set during the sales process are met should require that the technical experts involved in the sale are the same people who are directly responsible for the successful implementations of the solution they’re buying.

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Adam Hunter, LMN Architects