The worlds of sales and engineering seem almost totally separate. One deals exclusively in the technical, the other exclusively in the human. But there is a role that bridges this gap.
Today I’d like to share my journey – one that starts in the purely technical world of engineering, but that slowly turns toward the world of sales. I’d also love to hear from you: how has the course of your career path changed?
I’ve always found engineering fascinating. It was an obvious path to follow in my studies, and I eventually graduated from university with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in electrical engineering.
My first steps in the world of work were heavily technical roles. I spent time as an electrical design engineer and a site electrical engineer, but quickly moved up the ranks, and soon found myself in a Head of Electrical Engineering role.
I’d always been aware of the Siemens brand – who isn’t? – and I had considered joining some of the company’s direct competitors in the past. My focus shifted to Siemens itself when I saw an opportunity that piqued my interest, mainly because it was so different from the highly technical roles I’d had before.
The job was in the Siemens sales team. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for someone like me, with a purely technical background, to explore the business and sales side of engineering. I went for it, and despite my lack of sales experience, I was offered the job. I’ve since contributed my technical engineering knowledge to the sales team, while being guided through the customer-facing side of the business.
Over these last four years it’s become clear to me that I’ve found my ideal role.
What is a sales engineer?
‘Sales engineer’ might seem like a contradiction in terms. Salespeople are at the front-end of the business shaking hands, and engineers are at the back working on the technical stuff. These are usually two very distinct roles that have little to do with each other.
The truth is that there’s not that much difference between a sales engineer and a normal electrical engineer as far as knowledge and skills goes. The difference is in the work: a sales engineer promotes a product to the customer, using their technical knowledge to explain how it works and to overcome any objections. An electrical engineer – as I was in my previous roles – designs, works on and uses the products that we recommend.
As a sales engineer, you therefore need a more complete set of skills. You need to have a deep knowledge of the products you’re selling and how they work, but you also need to have the soft skills and sales techniques that guide customers toward a purchase.
Here at Siemens Philippines our team works closely with technical engineers and consultants to understand the needs of a client, then find an appropriate solution. As a sales engineer you act as the go-between – the consulting team is on one side, and the client is on the other. You also provide feedback from the client to the technical engineers.
The perks and challenges, and what it takes to succeed
There are plenty of perks to having this more generalist and consultative position. I’m in constant contact with our technical team, learning about what’s happening with technology and the latest and greatest things to arrive. I can then pass this knowledge onto the client, helping them to plan an exciting future.
I also quite like the challenge of sales. Sure, there were some basic targets to aim for as an electrical engineer, but taking on a sales role demands a real shift in mindset. Hitting targets every quarter is perhaps the hardest thing to adjust to as a technically-minded person. Understanding the technical aspects and promoting these to customers comes naturally. The challenge lies in approaching these conversations from a sales point of view, but it’s made far easier when you’re passionate about helping your clients to succeed.
What does it take to be a sales engineer? The role demands a strong technical base – without this knowledge it’s all but impossible, as most of your interactions are about technical issues and subjects. The second thing you need is the ability to explain technical aspects in layman’s terms – the non-technical customer won’t be as knowledgeable as you, so you need to word solutions and benefits in ways that they can understand. Finally, you need to have the interpersonal skills to be able to build relationships with your customers. You want to develop into the go-to person for these solutions.
Why I’m glad I’m at Siemens
I got lucky in joining Siemens, as it’s a fantastic place for sales engineers to ply their trade, first and foremost because it’s a fantastic environment for a technically minded person. This is a company that has stayed on the leading edge of tech for decades, after all. At Siemens we encourage team members to share ideas, whether they’re improvements to products and processes, or something entirely new. It’s a super collaborative environment.
I’ve felt this firsthand. I’m always encouraged to share my thoughts on a project. Siemens understands the benefits of a diverse set of perspectives – where other companies only let upper management offer input, I know that my voice will be heard, my opinions will be taken seriously and that I can make a real difference in product development, even from a sales role.
Siemens also provides generous benefits to its team members. Some are financial, sure, but for me, the main benefit is professional development. We grow our technical knowledge through training in our factories, and we’re equipped with a deep understanding of all the functions of our products. This helps us to understand the importance of a product before we endorse it to a customer.
In some ways, I’m a student, but in others I’m a teacher, passing on what I know to clients that are eager to hear it. It’s a fulfilling role and one that I’m very glad I found. If you’re interested in finding out more about the careers like mine that we have available at Siemens, have a look at the digital career opportunities here.