Why engineers can (and should) sell
It's far too easy and lazy to think that engineers can't sell.
On the flip side, I feel it's almost as lazy for an engineer like me (who's proud that he learned a sensible and comfortable way to sell despite it not coming naturally), to make a case with the fact that every engineer in employment had someone, usually multiple people, buy into their value. They successfully sold.
And that every successful engineering business in existence started with an engineer or two who made a series of sales. Which then created further employment. Engineers can sell. And they can build, grow, even engineer businesses. I don't want that to be my main argument! (Although it's pretty good..go on, go and pour yourself a cup of tea and stand tall..)
I want to create a more stimulating and convincing case than this. So, let's think this through...
I propose to tackle this in three parts.
First, we should consider just how good at sales an engineer needs to be.
Second, we should acknowledge the typical limitations and roadblocks holding engineers back from becoming strong sales professionals, and consider how we could work around these (or even turn them into advantages!)
Third, we should look at the strengths of your typical engineer, and consider how these can be leveraged as a successful engineering/sales professional.
Good plan? Let's do it then...
How good at sales should your engineers become?
First, let's consider how good at selling an engineer needs to be in order to confirm that they can indeed sell.
How good? Good enough. Just enough to make the sale.
Or more specifically, just enough to be the preferred option over the buyer's alternative options.
A horse wins a race by the length of its nose. The engineer in the jungle being taunted by his cocky lawyer companion for not being able to outrun the lion charging towards them smiles when he realises that he only has to run faster than the lawyer.
Engineers don't need to become exceptional high-performing salespeople. They just need to be good enough to contribute to and enable the client's buying decision.
Well that's an easier task ahead then!
10 common behaviours that limit engineers from becoming good enough at selling
Let's be realistic. There are common patterns of behaviour typical to engineers that may present challenges to how effectively they engage clients, explore value, and create opportunities. These can short-circuit the sales process and put a constraint on potential business success. But each has workarounds.
I'll list 10 below, without too much discussion. My intent is to have you identifying with some, and being surprised by others:
- talking at the detailed level of solution when the client is thinking at the high commercial level
- discomfort talking with senior clients and fear of looking foolish, not knowing, or saying the wrong thing
- not wanting to feel or appear like a 'salesperson'
- wanting to preserve their self-image of being 'smart' and so leaning towards educating, pitching, telling and solving rather than listening, exploring, diagnosing and understanding what's driving a buying decision
- acting to seek out the client's personal approval rather than respectfully drawing attention to value and challenging the buyer appropriately to think again
- not understanding what value really is to the buyer (commercially, to their career, and personally)
- not conducting themselves in a way that instantly creates enough trust, respect, empathy, care and understanding
- failing to understand and navigate the emotional component of buying decisions
- believing that being introverted is a limitation to selling (when in fact it's a valuable asset to help people buy)
- not realising that small daily contributions within their reach lead to the sale
There are more challenges, but these are the most common to engineers. And engineers, if supported, can 'engineer' their own work arounds, or eliminate them. Awareness helps. But proven tools and frameworks can work wonders too.
10 common behaviours that enable engineers to sell naturally
So let's look at some typical traits that they can leverage to feel good about selling and to add value to clients:
- they want to help
- great problem solvers
- intelligent, can break things down and join the dots
- they love to make things work and work more efficiently (including their own process to sell successfully)
- good learners
- good at exploring and diagnosing (once they realise that this is what selling is very much about)
- often good planners (more than half the battle won!)
- behind the client-interface is exceptional value
- often they're introverted enough to become exceptional listeners and highly-trusted professionals
- they usually have 'belief in cause' - they believe in the work they do and are proud of it
Most individuals can create a plan of attack using these strengths alone. They can put their best foot forward and contribute to the sales process. But couple this with some refinement of the limiting behaviours, and the results can be surprising and rewarding.
And finally, a quick look at why they should sell and when they should start building these capabilities:
Why should engineers improve how they sell?
Engineers should improve how they sell because:
- they can
- when they do, they enjoy it
- an engineering solution without a buyer is an incomplete solution - the buyer should be engineered into the solution
- opportunities are out there and opportunity + ability + motivation = potential value
- clients need and want them and their expertise
- they are the right person and right team for certain jobs/projects/opportunities
- they need to sell themselves and their ideas every day
- the internal sale is often one of their biggest challenges
- it's a vital business, career and life skill
When should they start learning how to improve how they sell?
Now. Because some of the capabilities take time to develop into habits. So start them young.
And now, because everyone at every level can contribute to the sales process, helping and influencing a client's buying decision further down the line. It's what you do to someone before you need to influence them that really matters!