Today we’re going to meet Charles, a Solutions Architect and one of our teachers. Charles has over 15 years of experience working in the tech field, and he wants to tell us about his job, and to explain a little more about what it’s like working in sales.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what companies you’ve worked for?
Yeah, so when I got my first position as a sales engineer, I didn’t really know what the role was about at the time. I saw the role as something in the tech industry, and sort of like a tech support position.
One of the companies I worked for was called Keyfile Corporation. I was a sales manager for them. In this role, me and other members of the team used to install and update pieces of software for customers. The pieces of software that we were updating usually didn’t have all the functionalities that the customer needed, so we would help them out.
After the success of this project the company offered me a Sales Engineer position. That allowed me to move from Dallas to California. This is where my sales career began.
To be a good Sales Engineer do you have to be an excellent problem solver?
Yes, you do need great problem solving skills.
Basically, a customer comes up to you when they have an issue, and they want you to find a solution for them. Of course, you can tell the customer about a potential solution. But ultimately you have to be able to show, and demonstrate to them that what you’re trying to accomplish can be done using a certain software or product. That’s the hardest part.
The main reason companies value Sales Engineers is because these individuals make important connections with customers.
For example, the first thing you do when you meet a new customer is discover why they’re there with you and what they need from you.
You have to make sure that you’re asking the right questions, and active listening is crucial. You must be able to ask questions and probe for more detail. You can, and must, get so much information out of these meetings.
You must not interrupt the customer, or stop them from answering a question in full. Quite often you find a lot of customers will talk at length about the various challenges they’re facing, and they'll also provide you with a much bigger picture to work with.
When I’m training my students I often use the ‘faucet’ (tap) example to explain this better.
Imagine you’re turning a faucet on, but you’ve got to turn the lever this way and that way to adjust the water temperature. Sometimes you only have to move the lever slightly and you find the perfect heat! Well asking questions is similar. You’ve got to ask one question and then another, but maybe you don’t have to deviate too far from your original question to find the answer you're looking for.
Talking about your teaching career, why did you decide to start teaching and do you enjoy it?
I’ve always loved teaching for a couple of reasons.
First, I get a lot of satisfaction out of telling people something that they didn’t know before.
Second, teaching is something you can do at any age. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s a fun career and something I’ve always wanted to do. When Careerist reached out to me and told me about the opportunity, I was intrigued by the idea of being a Sales Engineering trainer.
I had trained people before coming to Careerist. But when I was told that I’d be working alongside people who genuinely would love to change their careers, I thought it would be something new and different for me to try.
Third, I like hearing feedback from my students. Students often leave a comment or two on LinkedIn.
Finally, people are also very thankful for the opportunity they’ve been given to change their lives. It brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction to me and it’s a blessing to see students succeed.
You’ve been a specialist in the tech field for many years, and you’ve also taught people before, do you still enjoy working in the area?
It’s funny because I often hear my colleagues answering the very same question. You sort of think you’re unique, but then you hear somebody else answering the same question.
Occasionally, it feels like I’m working for many different companies at once, because my job involves working with lots of different customers.
I also work with certain products and technologies, so I must understand the products I’m selling through and through. There is always something new to learn.
On a daily basis customers ask me things like “Is this something that can help us?” I then have to start thinking up ideas to sort their issues out. I literally sit down and think. It’s very interesting.
Other times I can relate a problem to a similar issue from the past, so I can find solutions far quicker. And sometimes I’ve never come across an issue before, and that’s when my job becomes really interesting.
No two days are the same, and surprisingly I learn something new every single day and I gain loads of experience.
Honestly, I have never been bored when working on a project.
Do you have to be quite flexible in your job?
Yes I certainly do.
I have to keep my skill set in tip-top form to remain at the top of the industry. I constantly look for news and updates about new softwares, products and technologies. That’s where your deep understanding and value comes from.
A lot of consultants say that experience is invaluable. Of course, it’s an incredible feeling working on a project and seeing the vast opportunities, and being able to paint a picture of all the possibilities for a customer. It’s terribly exciting and I really like that.
But you don’t just need experience in this field, you also need to be flexible, confident and imaginative. The job can be stressful, but it can also be very fun and rewarding.
So, would you say that someone who’s looking at working in Sales Engineering must be a good listener, needs to be able to ask the right questions, be good at selling and have a great imagination?
What’s a day at work like for you?
So, basically I’m the person that the sales reps in my company come to if they need help.
A good rep doesn’t always have to have a technical background because they might be super good at selling. On a daily basis, I have sales reps reaching out to me to discuss various topics, for example, the possibility of a customer moving to a different tech or something like that.
In the company I'm currently working at I’ve been paired with a whole region, not to a group of salespeople as usual. I still have no idea how many people I am associated with. But I’m learning something new all the time.
I work with Microsoft SQL products in the US.
The Solutions Architects in the company often come in to see me and my team. When they come over to me, I make recommendations and I explain what work has been done. The engineers explain what they’re working on and we go through the licence configurations together.
I like to think of technical salespeople, as people who are not just technically minded but are very good at making sales too - they’re like the unicorns of the tech world. These types of individuals are really hard to find, and if you do find someone, they’re usually very expensive to hire. I always try to remind my students that they will bring incredible value to the company they work in.
Can we take a walk down memory lane for a minute… Do you remember starting out as a Sales Engineer - what was it like?
Well, it’s funny really.
My first interview isn’t really like a normal interview because the company came to talk to me personally about hiring me. I remember it was a new job, and I did it for a while, and then another company bought out the company and all of us were laid off.
In short, I didn’t know what to do after that, it was 20 years ago after all. And to be honest, I didn’t really know what job I was looking for because the role of a Sales Engineer was something new back then. I remember thinking that it would be a good career for me and I really wanted to stay in the role I had. I had to do a lot of looking around to find the right job back then.
Over the years I’ve worked with so many people, some of them really liked me and I, them, others not so much. Some people just hired me to do what they wanted me to do, and that was that. I have always liked the role of a Sales Engineer though.
You should definitely keep looking out for the job you really want in life.
What’s your advice to graduates who are about to attend their first interview for a tech salesperson role?
During my first interview, they asked me ‘Why do you want to be a part of this company?’ I told them straight ‘Because you have Sales Engineering positions available and I want to be a Sales Engineer’.
They said that my answer was great, but then they wanted to know what I knew about their company. Needless to say I learnt a lot from this interview.
Nowadays graduates are told to research companies online before they go to interviews, they’re advised to ask their mentors for help and are given plenty of practice questions to run through. My advice is to prepare for interviews beforehand.
Back when I had my first interview I had nobody to mentor me - I had to do it alone.
My advice would also be… try to find your value proposition and tell the interviewers about it. That’s what really matters. Think about yourself. Consider what you’re able to bring to the table. Interviewers want to know what value you’re going to deliver when they hire you.
What advice would you give to someone who’s not sure if a career in tech sales is for them?
Well first of all, I think that anybody can be a salesperson.
I remember when I got my first job and the first question I asked myself was ‘Can I do this?’ The second question I asked myself was ‘Is this possible?’. If you can’t answer these questions, figure out why and move forwards from there. Just try.
Secondly, you’ve got to like talking to people. At the end of the day, you have to tell a customer exactly how you’re going to help them. It’s very engaging, trust me. But you’ve got to ask yourself if this is really ‘you’.
Third, a lot of engineers are introverts and they enjoy being in front of a computer for long periods of time. They like getting lost in busy work and they’re not bothered about being around other people at all. And that’s the main reason they have Sales Engineers. These are the people who can and want to talk and share problems and solutions with customers. You’ve got to be sure that this is what you’d enjoy doing.
At one of my other jobs, they used to have a light system whereby people could switch their light to red, which meant ‘I don’t wanna talk to anybody’ or to green which meant ‘I’m happy to talk’. The lights were always red. Consider if you’d like working in this environment.
Finally, there are a vast amount of opportunities available in the tech field right now. Companies are constantly expanding. A simple Google search will show you that every year thousands of positions are opened up in big and small companies alike. I constantly tell my students about these amazing opportunities and they’re usually completely taken aback by this information.
You will be able to find a job in tech as long as you put the hard work in. And once you do get into the field you’ll be in it for years!
Thanks Charles for answering all of our questions today. It’s been wonderful learning about your job and your background. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, we appreciate it a lot.