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Top 5 Tips for Sales Engineers & Seeking Wisdom

Joshua Stenhouse 2

I’ve recently been listening to a fantastic podcast called “Seeking Wisdom” by David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt from the movement that is Drift, after being introduced to it by my wife. I feel like I’m kind of giving away my secret weapon in even mentioning them, let alone sharing the contents of this post, but if you haven’t checked it out yet then go here immediately.


Seeking Wisdom inspired me to think about what are the key traits you need to be a great Sales Engineer (SE)? Since switching from being a customer to a vendor back in 2012 what have I had to learn and improve?

The leap from supporting 1 IT infrastructure, to a Sales Engineer, speaking to hundreds or thousands of customers can seem daunting and isn’t always for everyone. So, what I wanted to do in this post is share with you the top 5 things I had to learn/improve accompanied with some cheesy stock photos. Whether you’re interested in switching, or if you just want to be better, if this sounds interesting then read on.

1. Always be learning
The only benchmark you need is yourself. If you can’t say that you 6 months ago was an idiot in comparison to you today, then you’re not in constant learn mode. Identify your areas of weakness, areas where you don’t feel confident in giving sufficiently detailed answers, and fix them by reading, watching videos, asking colleagues or by getting your hands dirty and testing it out yourself. This also means that you need to be using the product which you are selling. Whether it’s a test version of your SaaS product or software/hardware in a lab, you need to use it till its second nature to you. If you can find the answer by simply using your own product, then do it.

LearningWith each new version you should dedicate quality lab time to testing out new features and evaluating whether to include them in your standard demo, but also be ready to explain how they work and their benefits. As an example; a recent prospect asked how we would protect Solaris. I had a general answer, but having never touched it in my life I couldn’t fully flesh out or demo my solution. So, what did I do? I downloaded Solaris, installed it in a VM and I built a working demo of protecting it then demonstrated it to my prospect to show how it would work.

2. Don’t make people feel stupid, it gets you nowhere
There is no such thing as a dumb question when you are demonstrating or explaining how a product works. Just because you know the technology inside out doesn’t mean that the person asking the question should have the same baseline knowledge or deserve any disrespect if they simply don’t know.
NoDumbQuestionThe best SEs that I look up to all have 1 thing in common, and that’s they can answer any question to a person with any level of technical knowledge without being condescending. Talking down to people is a one-way ticket to losing any opportunity as you’ll never get the customer on your side!

3. Integrity is key
As the technical lead in opportunities, your most valuable assets is integrity. You don’t have to know all the answers, but you do have to know where you can get them. Answering questions untruthfully, skirting around questions or making up answers is the quickest way to losing integrity and all effectiveness in that account.Don’t be afraid to draw a line in the sand if the questioning or subject matter goes down a path that you know nothing about.

People can hear it in your tone of voice when you are unsure, and they’ll dig to expose your weakness, as they should. It is much better to say this isn’t my area of expertise and arrange a follow-up call with someone who does than it is to risk your integrity, potentially give incorrect information and ultimately risk losing the deal. Even better, when you have to bring someone in to help that’s a perfect opportunity for you to learn too. Take notes, what are the key terms they use to explain the solution? Listen, learn and repeat.

4. Always be selling!
This is probably the number 1 complaint I hear from salespeople about SEs. It might be hard for some people to admit, but it’s all too easy for SEs to forget that you are there to sell! The tendency I see is for SEs to often over-explain an answer which simply leads to more questions or to under-explain and give an answer with no positioning, none of which progresses the deal, and ultimately wastes time and creates potential blockers.

SellingThis doesn’t mean I advocate lying or not telling the whole truth, I simply mean that there is a time and a place for in-depth answers and the 1st call with a prospect usually isn’t the right time to go down that route. Similarly, sometimes you need to take care in how you answer a delicate question so as not to create technical blockers in your deal.

My simple tip here is to pause before answering any question. You should quickly pull 2 answers from memory. Answer 1 is the cold hard detailed truth, the 2nd is the simplest answer but with a positioning statement as to why it’s a good thing or doesn’t have any impact, and this is what you go with. Each time you give that answer you should make a mental note of its effectiveness and keep tweaking it until you have a near 100% success rate. What if you don’t have an answer? I say great! I’d like to know that too. Just say you’re not sure and that you’ll come back to them with the right answer, and now you’ve also expanded your knowledge base.

5. There is always someone better than you at something, but your mix is unique
This is a lesson I first took from playing tennis. Obviously, I’m no Roger Federer, so I can safely say there is always somebody better than me at every individual thing I love to do both personally and professionally. All you can do is learn everything possible from the people better than you, continuously improve yourself, and be the best you with your unique mix.
TennisShow me a tennis playing Yorkshireman who can write PowerShell and demo a product, all better than me, while drinking me under the table, and 1. I’d be very impressed and 2. Sounds like someone who I’d like to hang around.

Apply this same methodology to your job as an SE and you can see where I’m going. Anytime I hear that an SE is amazing do you know what I do? I jump on one of their calls or I find a recording of their work and I watch it, take notes and I integrate their best bits into my work. If you see me demonstrating a product then a good portion of my demo contains elements of things I liked from other demos that I’ve seen. I constantly tweak it to be better, to fit the use case of the prospect, and evaluate the effectiveness of the content and flow.

The best 2 ways to evaluate your demos are to note the questions you get and watch back a recording of yourself. If you already answered the question from a prospect in your demo, then maybe you weren’t clear enough in explaining how it worked. Maybe you should’ve stopped and asked a question to emphasize the benefit to the customer. Finally, watching a recording of yourself is the ultimate tool in evaluating yourself. I know it can be painful, but often there is no worse critic of yourself than you!

I hope you found these tips useful. If so, please this post and feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments box and thanks for reading.


  1. Oliver Oliver

    Really good article, thanks for sharing!

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