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Why a sales job isn't a bad idea for engineers [Nation (Kenya)]
[February 27, 2014]

Why a sales job isn't a bad idea for engineers [Nation (Kenya)]

(Nation (Kenya) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) An employer recently asked my firm to find them a software engineer or programmer, who had broken into sales.

The employer stressed that the ideal candidate would have to be an experienced software engineer or programmer with the ability to pitch an IT solution to a client and at the same time support the sales team to close the deal.

This was not an isolated case.

Through my interactions with employers seeking to fill job positions in their organisations, I have realised that more of them are looking for employees who have at least an extra skill that can complement their major areas of expertise. A popular combination is technical competency with sales knowledge.

I have recently also dealt with a growing number of HR managers in manufacturing firms, who say they are getting frustrated looking for graduate engineers who can do business development.

The perception of sales as a stand-alone career is waning among employers.

FORE-RUNNERS To gain a competitive edge in their industries, organisations are becoming more interested in graduates who possess technical skills and can also market their products or services to customers.

So there are workers called sales engineers. They sell complex technological products or services to businesses.

People holding such jobs must have extensive knowledge of the products' parts and functions, and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Thus, a sales engineer is a salesperson who understands and can apply engineering concepts to the sale, and an engineer who knows how to sell technical products that are a result of engineering processes.

Other common job titles for sales engineers include pre-sales consultant, technical account manager, and applications engineer, among others.

For a firm whose core business is to make and supply industrial products to other manufacturing companies, they not only require production engineers, manufacturing engineers or materials engineers, but also technical sales personnel to perform detailed presentations of the product.

The technical sales person stands a better chance of convincing customers to buy the products. This is because the person can make a technical sales presentation that helps a customer to make an informed buying decision.

Many financial institutions would probably not have bought the idea of an ATM if technical sales engineers or a pre-sales consultants had not taken them through the detailed presentation and responded to all the technical queries they had with the system, including data security issues. A purely marketing and sales professional would have struggled selling the idea.

It takes a computer engineer or IT graduate with the ability to develop the same system to market software to a buyer and to ensure that the buyer is able to use the product to meet the required need.

Graduate engineers who have broken into sales are the fore-runners who pitch business ideas by explaining the technical details to potential buyers. They are able to articulate the value of the product as well as handle any technical queries on the spot.

Degree or diploma holders of engineering or computer science courses, who have good communication and presentational skills, are encouraged to explore a career in technical sales.

As a trained engineer, one could opt to work for a few years as an engineer to gain the necessary technical exposure to effectively sell the products or services.

RISING DEMAND A new graduate desiring to pursue a career as a sales engineer would need to complement the engineering qualifications with some sales and marketing courses. This should also signal institutions of higher learning to incorporate technical sales modules in their curricula for all the technical courses.

Demand for sales engineers will continue to increase as fast as the technological advancements. Additionally, the competitive pressures for increased product market share will drive companies towards more frequent improvement and updates in their product designs, consequently pushing the need to optimise manufacturing and sales processes.

When a company with technical products is seeking to get into a new market, it would make sense to hire a sales engineer as among the first batch of employees.

Besides making technical presentations to targeted customers, resulting in increased product uptake, the sales engineer may also work in other departments of their company, including production.

The same sales engineers may spend time advising customers on how to make the best use of the products or services. This enables a company to optimise on human capital.

In a rapidly changing technological era, graduate engineers who can multitask and demonstrate the ability to add value through other skills will always have an edge when organisations are recruiting.

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