Technical Sales Training for Engineers

Technical Sales Training- why bother?

So your are an engineer wondering why “selling” is important to me or my team? After all, you’re thinking, engineering is about architectures, designs, solving problems, building it better, and supporting your solutions. You are correct in your logic and reason, but there is one simple catch – you need to sell your plans, ideas, designs, and solutions, to management (purse strings), in order for their benefits to be reaped. Therefore, sales training for engineers is an essential enabler that allows you to achieve your engineering and personal advancement goals.

Having spent the first 13 years or so in various engineering positions, ranging from software development to systems engineering, it is easy for an engineer to neglect the business side of the job.  Why, because many times it is viewed as a waste of time and non essential to completing the task at hand.  But, in retrospect, the primary reason that most engineering projects receive approval and funding is that someone sold it internally – i.e., they justified the operational and capital budgets required to senior management.

Again, sales training for engineers should be viewed as an essential educational component to all engineering careers.  After all it will always be about generating enough profits to sustain and grow the company.

Sales Training for non Sales People

Understanding how to position your project within your organization is essential to its success.   You need to do some research and understand your internal corporate process for reviewing and approving projects.  Your manager is good place to start if you really want to start understanding your internal project approval process.  Your manager needs to believe that your proposal has the following attributes:

  1. There is a need for your project
  2. It will benefit the company
  3. It will benefit his career

Without all three aligning in your favor it will become difficult for you to succeed.  But don’t get discouraged if this is the case, it is very important to analyze why all three are not in alignment, learn from it, and then try again with greater confidence.   Sales is 75-85% rejection, but each rejection is a mini lesson of how to improve your next attempt, if addressed with a positive can-do attitude.

If all three attributes do align, then given yourself kudos for proposing a project that is well positioned within your organization.  Don’t celebrate for too long however, because now a whole new set of challenges and justifications will be required from you and your manager, but it sure beats the alternative, and, now the real fun starts so buckle up enjoy the ride!

Understanding the Sales Cycle

Just as important as being properly “positioned”  you need to understand your company’s budget cycle process.   Don’t assume that just because a project has an approved budget that funds are automatically released for the project.  Releasing funds for a project is the act of your company actually spending their money in your direction, very different than a budget approval.

Most approved budgets get partially released against completed milestones, so make sure you clearly understand the milestones and how to complete them.    Again, your manager is very helpful in this process, since it should improve his credibility, so make sure you communicate clearly with your manger.

Improving the Sales Cycle Conversion

Do you know why your wear boots through cold and slush terrain?  Think about this for a second or two.  Aside from stylish reasons, what you really want is dry and warm feet.  Warm and dry feet are direct “benefits” of wearing boots through cold and slush.

People will focus on the benefits of your project first – “the why do I need it” part of your solution.  If you take a proactive approach to effectively address your audience with “benefits” first, then you will shorten the time it takes to understand the merits of your project.

Understanding your Competition

Once the benefits of your project are understood and agreed upon, by management, your project moves out of cost accounting and into financial management analysis.  The finance folks analyze your project’s merits relative to other projects, and they will tend to make a pure financial decision on the priorities of projects.   By “pure financial” I mean that finance is agnostics to what the project does they just care about its financial benefits to the corporation.  This is much like analyzing a portfolio of stocks based solely on agreed upon value metrics, not on what the companies in the portfolio do.

Make sure you understand how well positioned your project stacks up against competing projects.  And please keep in mind that this is not a static process, it is very fluid and can change rapidly.   Therefore keep up the level of communications with your manager and finance.

Technical Sales Training – it’s a good thing

Is it important you ask?  Yes is the answer – a good idea that can’t be sold eventually becomes a bad idea.  If you review the above sequence:

  1. Product/Project Positioning within your organization
  2. Understanding the budget cycle and its funding process
  3. Articulating the benefits of your product/project
  4. Understanding your competition and how to effectively position your project

you are essentially implementing the main components of a successful sales plan.   Also notice that more your substitute “project” for “product” the more this method becomes applicable to the general sales process.

I hope this helps Engineers realize the importance of an effective sales process when securing funds and resources for their projects and ideas.