“That new sales rep is raking it in very month!” says the technical pro at his two-monitor cubicle as he watches the rep pull his new sports car into his parking spot. “But wait – I’m there through the whole process. They get pricing and quotes from me. I answer the technical questions. I’m at all of the customer meetings. I could do everything they do. I’d be a great sales person. Why don’t I just change jobs and make some easy money?”
Working in sales consulting in Vancouver, I see this situation often in many different organizations. Sales support in the form of engineers, engineers, business analysts, product managers or other technical expert thinks that they can do the job of the sales rep; their manager agrees to try them out, buoyed over by their enthusiasm and can-do spirit.
Within (less than actually) three months, that engineer is floundering in their new role. It’s not as easy as it seems. Inside of six months, there is regret on all sides as the engineer asks for his old job back, only to find that there’s no spot left for her anymore. The upside of becoming a sales professional was so tempting and it seemed on the surface that they had what it took to do the job – They engage with the customer, they design the solution, price the solution – What happened?
Technical Experts Don’t Always See What a Great Sales Person Sees
The problem is that technical folks often have a skewed understanding of what a great sales person has to do. They don’t see it the full cycle – starting with getting past an initial slate of rejections during the customer qualification period that can be absolutely crushing for anyone who hasn’t had to develop a very thick skin on the job. The emotional toil of rejection can be hard on anyone; professional sales people have learned to roll with the punches. Those who haven’t had that kind of experience can let frustration build in a way that doesn’t just turn off prospective customers who were willing to give the rep a chance if they got past initial hurdles – in a worst case scenario, your engineer-turned-sales-rep will take out their frustrations on existing customers as well.
Technical employees are problem solvers, but they’ve often had years of training so that identifying the problem seems simple – and often, there’s one clear solution to the problem. Application keeps crashing? Disable settings A, B & C. Hardware not performing up to snuff? Replace the part and carry on.
Sales people have to solve different kinds of problems: human problems, with about a million different variables. A lot of the job is about managing expectations, but also acting as a kind of liaison between the company that’s selling and the customer. It’s about listening to that customer, understanding their needs, helping them understand how your solution fits – and beyond that, managing the politics of the sale. It takes real sales training to get there. Whether someone is a natural fit or switching careers, they have to learn how to do the job before they make their first sale.