If you, like me, have never heard of a career in Solutions Engineering, rest assured that you are not alone. I first learned about this term in 2017 shortly after my career transition into Computer Science and fell in love with the field.
In this article I will explain what this position entails, some relevant terminology, required skills, books and resources, and also the challenges and opportunities you might face while working in one of the coolest professions on the market, but one that few people know about.
In the industry, our profession has several names: Pre-Sales Engineer, Technical Sales Engineer, Solutions Engineer, Sales Engineer, Solutions Architect, and so on. All these titles convey the same position. Of course, with some variation from company to company.
Ultimately, this profession is meant to be the “right-hand man” for the Commercial or Sales department(Commercial Representatives, Account Executives, or whatever you prefer to call them). When you present your company’s portfolio to your clients to close a sale, the Account Executive may not technically know all the functionalities of the product they are selling, and this is exactly where the fundamental role of the Solutions Engineer comes in.
The Solutions Engineer is that person who:
1- Understands the company's portfolio; and, by being in direct conversation with clients, can identify how their products can solve the tech problems they face;
2- Guides the customer and bridges business needs with implementation queries;
3- Helps address not only technical challenges, but also financial and operational challenges faced by the client (for example: how to automate tasks in a department and reduce maintenance cost by X%, bringing profit to the company of X thousands of dollars);
4- Creates a bond of trust between the client and the company (often the Account Executives are seen as people who want to pull off the sale, and close the deal at any cost, without having the client's actual needs as a priority).
As a Solutions Engineer (or Solution Architect, Pre-Sales Engineer, Customer Engineer), I also have goals to meet, but my main concern is to ensure that the solution I promised to the customer will actually work to achieve the goals and challenges they brought to the table.
We are in essence, "trusted advisors". We understand our products, we understand different technology available in the industry, and we understand the operational issues connected to technology from our client’s point of view. We are there to analyze data brought in by the client, and put together one or multiple solutions to satisfy their needs. Thus why: solution architect.
We are also the ones responsible for educating our Account Executives (this is one of my favorite parts of the job!). Being a source of knowledge, understanding our limitations, and knowing where to look for information we don't know (yet) – these are all fundamental skills for a Solutions Engineer.
Speaking of Skills...
Required Skills (soft skills and technical skills)
Below I list some of the necessary skills that make a good Solutions Engineer, great:
1. Be a good listener
Sharpen your active listening skills, and really pay attention to your client’s concerns. I always listen to everything my client says, I write it down. As soon as they’re done, I repeat it back to them, in my own words, to make sure I understand what was said. This also shows the client that I am committed to designing a solution that has their needs top of mind.
When communicating with your client, it’s important to learn how to use storytelling in your responses - stories about the product you’re selling as the Solutions Engineer, or about another customer who has used that solution to succeed in their business. Telling a story, and making your client feel as if they’re part of it, helps them trust that the Solutions Engineer understands them and knows how to solve their problem – good storytelling is a fundamental skill for becoming an expert.
3. Sales & Negotiation
One of the top skills of a Solutions Engineer is their ability to know how to sell and how to negotiate. Understanding the guidelines of the company we work for, understanding what products we need to sell. Then, using sales and negotiation strategies to tell a compelling story to the customer that leads to a successful deal close.
4. Interpersonal and communication skills
Develop your communication skills: how to introduce yourself to a customer (virtual or face-to-face), how to articulate ideas, when to pause, when and how to listen (as mentioned above), how to clarify points, how to break the ice at the beginning of a conversation, and how to read the room, these are all essential skills for those who work in technical sales... And also for anyone working or hoping to work in Tech.
The technical skills required of a Solutions Engineer vary. If you’re interested in pursuing opportunities within the Sales Engineering field, I suggest that you create a list of tech companies you want to work for, search for jobs with the titles I mentioned above, and check which skills are required.
In this way, if there are any programming courses or certificates that you need, you can already start preparing yourself, because the skills may vary from company to company.
Below are some of the most sought-after technical skills for Solutions Engineers, from software programming to hardware requirements.
1. Programming & Computing
Most SaaS (Software as a Service) companies ask for proficiency in several technical skills and programming languages (again, this varies: a company like Salesforce might ask for a different programming language than a company like MongoDB; a company like Google Cloud Platform will probably ask you for a different certification than a position at Dell, for example).
Related Reading: Hiring Brazilian Developers
2. IT Infrastructure
Public cloud companies are very much on the rise (such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, AWS, and others). Many of them ask for technical infrastructure skills such as data center concepts, database, backup, and more.
Solutions Engineer (or Sales Engineer) Communities for you to follow.
Being part of a community has always helped me tons. Below are some communities that I follow and participate in (and love!):
- Brazil: Brazilians in Tech
- Brazil: SysAdminas
- USA: Presales Collective
- USA: National Society of Sales Engineers
These are a couple of networks in the Solutions and Pre-Sales Engineer community that I know of outside of Brazil. Although the content is mostly in English, PreSales Collective has channels focused in Brazil and other South American countries.
If you know of others, feel free to comment on the post. I'd love to hear about others in Brazil!
Books and Resources
To end, I’ll leave here some books and resources for those who want to do further research in the area of Solutions Engineering:
- Book: Mastering Technical Sales: The Sales Engineer's Handbook
- Book: The Challenger Customer
- Book: The Phoenix Project - translated into Portuguese