There are only three things that matter when hiring a sales engineer. Culture fit, ability to understand your product & sales process, and their ability to demo. Everything comes down to these essentials. Here is how I screen for all three.
I’ll keep this one brief. You need to make sure your candidate can thrive in your environment and deliver great value to your sales organization. Have they worked in companies similar to yours in terms of scale, sales process, industry, etc? It matters.
For example, someone who has been a sales engineer in an environment that has a very well-established, formal sales process is not likely to succeed in a nascent sales team where processes and norms are still evolving. And vice versa. Look for strong culture fits, both with your organization as a whole as well as within the sub-culture of the sales team.
Understanding your market and product
I don’t expect a sales engineer candidate to be an expert in my industry, my market or my product category. But I expect them to “get it”. I expect them to assimilate quickly. I expect them to be naturally curious. And I expect them to teach themselves.
How will you know if your candidate fits the bill? You’ll just know. They will ask smart questions about your buyer, your sales process, your industry
Ability to demo
A big part of a sales engineer’s day is providing compelling demos to your prospects & customers. If a sales engineer candidate is perfect in every way, but can’t give you a flawless demo, you need to move on. Don’t debate this, don’t wonder if you can coach them up. This is so fundamental to the role of a sales engineer it has to be a pass/fail. They either nail it or they don’t.
During the sales engineer interview process (see below) ask your candidate(s) to prepare a 5-minute presentation and a 10-minute demo on a topic of their choice (conducted online, not in person). Why a topic of their choice versus your product? First, because that is fair—they aren’t the experts on your product yet, so why put them in a position where it will be tough to meet your high standards. And second, because it’s a blank slate. They pick the topic. They prepare a 5-minute slide deck presentation on that topic and then provide you a 10-minute demo of it.
Most sales engineers don’t have to do presentations, but I include this as a step because I like to see how they explain concepts and introduce topics. It shows me how they formulate a communication approach or story arch around a topic.
You will know if someone nails this step in the interview process or not. It will either be great, or it won’t be. If it’s not great, move on.
A simple sales engineer interview process
This is how I always interview a sales engineer.
- Phone screen 1: This step is just about weeding out the crazies. Have your HR person or recruiter conduct a basic 20-minute phone screen to understand their background, communication style, experience, potential culture fit, etc.
- Phone screen 2: This is the core of the interview, and I like to conduct it on the phone because that’s how your prospects will be interacting with your sales engineer. My standard interview questions are below.
- Mock online presentation & demo: If the phone screen goes well, move on to the mock presentation and demo, conducted online via a web-based meeting tool.
- In-person interview(s): If, and only if, the demo goes well, bring your candidate in for an in-person interview. Include other team members (salespeople, sales operations, etc) in the interview to gauge social skills, chemistry, and culture fit and to ensure everyone is aligned.
Makesure the candidate asks you great questions too.
Sample sales engineer interview questions
Here are my go to sales engineer interview questions. I may mix in others, depending on the candidate and their background, but I always make sure these questions get asked.
- Describe in your own words what a sales engineer is responsible for.
- Based on your experience, describe in detail the day-to-day of a sales engineer—what’s a typical day look like?
- What do you think the characteristics of a great sales engineer are? What makes a great sales engineer?
- What makes a good demo?
- What makes a bad demo?
- If you had to teach a beginner an advanced concept, how would you approach that?
- What do you do on a demo when a customer states a requirement that your product/company can’t fulfill?
- What do you do on a demo if you are discussing a feature and the customer doesn’t understand what you are saying?
- What kind of environment do you thrive in?
- Describe a situation where you displayed coachability.
- How do you handle it if /when something breaks during the demo?
- What does a sales engineer need to know before conducting a prospect demo (what information should the account executive be providing)?
- Describe your ideal role and your ideal company culture.
- What do you do if you need to know something/get an answer, and you don’t know who/where to go to?
- In your opinion, how should a sales engineer be measured?
- What types of salesperson personalities do you work well with? Which type of salesperson personalities
arechallenging for you? How do you approach working with a variety of types of salespeople?
- How do you handle it when a salesperson isn’t following processes that help you do your job well?
How does a sales engineer get up to speed?
You’ve hired your sales engineer! Now what? How does a sales engineer get up to speed on your product, competitive landscape and market?
The best sales engineers get themselves up to speed. If you point them in the right direction, introduce them to the right people in your company, and give them a few resources, they will go make themselves a product expert on their own. They will teach themselves, figure out their demo talk track and spread their wings before you can bat an eyelash.
Do I have high expectations for my sales engineers and what they can teach themselves? Absolutely. But that is the type of person who excels in a sales engineer role, so that’s what is required.