This blog aims to help C-Suite and VP-level leaders better understand these professionals to effectively win more business, particularly in bear markets
Gartner recently estimated that $3.8T of information technology expenditures take place between sellers (vendors) and buyers (businesses). Yet the vendor’s technical sales professional -- the person in charge of proving a product’s value and technology capabilities -- is mostly overlooked by modern sales and marketing tool providers and training organizations.
Fortunately, experienced go-to-market (GTM) professionals recognize the important role these technical sales professionals play in driving the business. As one very seasoned high tech CEO recently put it to me, “Many account executives have attended the President's Club on the backs of these sales engineers, Great businesses have always known how to wisely invest in this talent pool.”
Today’s blog post will expand a bit on this evolving community, how they impact growth, and what organizations can do with this talent pool to win more business, even in bear markets.
Understanding your technical sales talent
There are more than 500,000 technical sales professionals (also known as sales engineers) and millions more who at some point in their careers held that role. The craft of engineering playing a role in sales goes back to the beginning of the technology revolution. As technology sales have evolved from on-premise hardware to software and self-serve SaaS packaging, the titles of these technical sales professionals have expanded, as depicted in the figure below, but the function is still the same. Technical sales professionals are responsible for demonstrating product value to the buyer to earn the purchase.
In today’s markets where purchases are heavily scrutinized, crowded with vast numbers of competitors, littered with technical jargon and filled with convoluted value propositions, these technical sales professionals are more critical than ever to win business. To better understand what constitutes a technical sales professional, let’s first look at the community.
Technical sales professionals are typically engineer-minded people. They are extremely intelligent, love problem solving, want to understand the technical problems buyers are looking to solve, are competitive, and are expected to be domain experts of their technology industry and products. With such a highly skilled and intelligent talent pool, it is common to see the following:
* Compensation structure. Yearly salaries can range from $125,000 to in excess of $250,000 per year. It is common for the on-target earning (OTE) compensation to have some split of fixed and variable. The common split is 70% base and 30% bonus or commission based.
* Quota objectives. You can see one technical sales professional support anywhere from a $1M to $10M annual recurring revenue (ARR) yearly quota, depending on the company and industry.
* Sales ratios. Depending on the complexity of the technology associated with the product, you can see the ratio of technical sales to account executive range from 1:1 to 1:10.
* Hard and soft skills. Technical sales professionals are expected to have hard skills, such as intimate knowledge of the technology, industry and product. But they also must have or develop soft skills like storytelling as well as the ability to qualify opportunities and empathize with prospects. These skills help them connect the technology to key business drivers, so that technical sales professionals can effectively show the product’s value.
* Trusted advisor. Very often buyers see these technical sales professionals as trusted advisors who can guide them on how a product or service will solve both functional needs and meet business objectives. As a buyer put it to me recently, “You can trust technical sales professionals, because they either show you what their products can do or they don’t. It’s a binary outcome.”
Now that we have some level of appreciation for the technical sales professionals, let’s examine the level of criticality they play in driving growth and increasing the company’s enterprise value.
The impact on growth
Technical sales plays an instrumental role both in landing new business when structured under the sales organization, which is common, and expanding business when organized within customer success that may own both pre- and post-sales. To illustrate a generic funnel, below are six pre-sales and two post-sales steps for growth that are mapped to the technical sales RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) framework.
Let’s look at these first six pre-sales steps in more detail:
* Awareness. Technical sales often informs marketing on how product messaging is impacting the quality of prospects entering the sales funnel from it's demand generation efforts.
* Qualify. Technical sales may be consulted by account executives in the sales organization to determine if a given prospect meets the criteria as a future customer for the product being sold.
* Present. Account executives and technical sales are responsible for telling a compelling story during their sales presentation in a way that is highly differentiated above the competition and clearly conveys the outcome that product features and functions enable.
* Demo. At this stage, it is common for technical sales to be accountable for managing an in-person or remote demo, where appropriate qualification is done, to show that key features and capabilities meet the prospect’s need(s).
* Evaluate. Technical sales is accountable for this sales stage commonly referred to as POC (Proof of Concept), POV (Proof of Value) and/or Guided Trial, with different levels of engagement with the prospect.
* Purchase. Winning or losing business is a shared responsibility between technical sales and the account executive(s). It is imperative that clear collaboration exists between both parties as it is often that technical sales compensation is tied to the quota retirement objective of his/her corresponding account executive(s).
Now, let’s look at the next two post-sales steps:
* Implement. It is common for the customer to consult with technical sales on initial success criteria and key product purchase considerations to ensure that the customer is satisfied with their purchase decision.
* Expand. Customer success and, in some cases, salespeople responsible for renewals and expansion, will consult with technical sales resources to build on existing technical relationships to up-sell new product capabilities.
As illustrated, technical sales professionals play a critical role in both pre- and post-sales steps that fuel growth. However, their impact not only affects top-line growth, but also organizations across various disciplines. Let's look at that more closely.
The organizational impact
It takes various disciplines to build a company, and technical sales is one of those few roles that has an impact across sales, product, marketing, support and engineering.
Let’s look at those in more detail: