The career paths for sales engineers (SEs) and solution consultants (SCs) are wide open due to the blend of business and technical skills, sales skills and positioning expertise required to succeed in this role. If you think about it, those skills, to a greater or lesser degree, are required in just about any market or customer-facing role in a high-tech company.
Are Sales Engineers and Solution Consultants the Same?
For purposes of this article, sales engineers and solution consultants are synonymous. In B2B software and technology companies, that’s usually the case whereas in other industries these titles vary in their responsibilities.
Primary Responsibilities for Sales Engineers
The list of responsibilities for the SE/SC role isn’t a long laundry list that you’d typically see in many other roles but it has a significant impact on the sales process. The product demo is usually the biggest hurdle to clear on the way to a signed contract.
The following responsibilities cover most of the bases for a typical sales engineer.
- Answer RFPs – mostly the product sections.
- Facilitate discovery meetings to uncover prospect needs.
- Create presentations to accompany product demos.
- Deliver product demos (verbal positioning) to support the sales process.
- Provide technical expertise during the sales process.
- Build custom demos when required for specific prospects.
- Build relationships with existing customers for references.
- Build relationships with (buyer) stakeholders and influencers.
- Provide routine feedback to product management on market needs.
Even though the list of responsibilities doesn’t look daunting, the execution of them requires a special blend of personality traits and skills that form a great foundation for many other roles.
5 Great Career Paths For Sales Engineers
Here are five career paths for sales engineers that don’t require a significant ramp-up due to the high degree of overlap with existing skills and experience.
1. Account Executive
If you want to evolve into an account executive role, there’s no better primer than the SE/SC role. You get full exposure to the entire sales process. You understand the politics that goes into the decision. You routinely participate in discovery meetings. You understand the competitive nature of the beast firsthand, and you fully realize the importance of building relationships with influencers and decision-makers.
The biggest differences from the SE role to the AE role are first, you’re following the account executive’s lead in an SE role versus taking the lead in the AE role. Nevertheless, it’s still not a big leap from one to the other. Second, you’ll have to expand your discovery skills beyond uncovering needs to include opportunity qualification (compelling event, budget, timeline, buying drivers, etc.). And third, you’ll need the patience and perseverance to navigate the power base and the decision-makers in the buyer organization to get deals closed.
2. Director/VP of Sales Enginerring
If you love to teach, coach and mold SEs so they experience the same level of success you’ve had, this is your next move! Honing your leadership skills and managing the nuances of all the different sales personalities are the things that change the most. Sales quotas? Blaming losses on a bad demo? Not going away anytime soon!
3. Product Marketing Manager
The #1 customer of product marketing is the salesforce! Who better than a former player to meet the needs of the sales team and do it in a way that makes their jobs easier? It was a big part of your job as an SE. Now you get to do it with a broader scope and positively impact your entire salesforce.
4. Product Manager
Of all the roles and backgrounds that go into the product management profession, the SE role is the most natural transition. Think about it. In an SE role, your primary job is to gather business requirements from a broad variety of customers with needs that run the gamut. You do it so routinely, you’re probably the first to spot emerging business trends when you hear the same things from a significant portion of buyers.
When it comes to gathering requirements, there’s little to no difference in the business practice between the SE and product manager role. The biggest difference is what you do with those business and market requirements.
In an SE role you have to deliver (demonstrate) solutions with products that already exist. In a product manager role, you’re delivering solutions that have to be built, and that’s where the roles differ the most.
SEs need to learn the ropes of everything that happens after they have a strong set of market and business requirements. In relative terms, that’s the easy part.
The most fundamental skill required to succeed in product management is strong market and customer expertise. There’s no better way to get it than talking with customers and prospects every single day on the front lines. As an SE, you’re already a pro, and it’s a huge advantage walking into a product management job. It’ll be every bit as important to your success as it was in your SE role.
5. Customer Success Manager
If you’re into customer success metrics and you want to build your arsenal of customer stories and experiences, the customer success role is a natural for sales engineers.
You know how to build relationships, uncover customer business requirements and put together a plan for (sales) success. All the above are great foundational training for a CSM role. Here’s the bonus – you know the product cold, an advantage most CSMs don’t have, and that allows you to resolve a fair number of product issues on the spot.
It certainly won’t be a big leap to learn the nuances of account management as you’re already familiar with the landscape. In the CSM role, you just get to learn it from the other side of the sales process.
The Bottom Line on Career Paths for Sales Engineers
The skills and experience you acquire in a sales engineer role are invaluable. You’re interacting with many other parts of your organization and building critical relationships internally. You’re building relationships with prospects and customers, gathering requirements, and gaining valuable product and market knowledge along the way.
If you’re a sales engineer or solution consultant, choosing the next stop on your career path comes down to doing what you enjoy most. Your experience as an SE opens a lot of doors. If and when you max out on the SE role, it’s always good to know you have a variety of options.
In the meantime, if you want to take your SE skills up a notch or two, check out our Product Demo Skills training courses for B2B software where you’ll learn the strategic aspects of customer discovery, storytelling and product demos that convince buyers you understand them better than the competition.
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by John Mansour on July 31, 2023.