The Daunting Move From Technician to Salesperson
Many individuals are faced with the daunting challenge of evolving from a technical role into a sales position. It can be an ongoing thing, for example the owner of a small custom installation company who has to regularly transition from system design and programming one minute, to wearing a sales hat and negotiating with the client the next. Or it could be in a large organization such as manufacturer or service provider, where an engineer is promoted into a sales position because a certain level of technical knowledge is required. Either way, the experience can be both overwhelming and exciting for the individual. The big question is … how do you make it work?
Back in the mid 90’s, I was one of a new breed of sales executives to be employed by a major electronics manufacturer in their broadcast and professional division. Up until that time, the complexity of the products meant that the most qualified sales people were engineers. Why? Because they were selling to other engineers and therefore they spoke the same language. However as the technology became more affordable and simple, the decision makers changed from being engineers to … well … novices. And what happens when you talk too technically to the average person? They get nervous, confused, and put the barriers up. The company realized it had to evolve its sales force from old-school technical sales engineers to a new breed of hungry and competitive salespeople who would get out and knock on doors. But where did that leave the loyal and long-term guys who had built the business? Most of them either moved into technical sales support roles, or went back to being an engineer. Very few made the challenging transition. Why? Because they (a) couldn’t change their technique to suit the new customer type, or (b) couldn’t adapt to the new results-driven, high-pressure position.
There are a lot of companies who believe that it’s easier to teach a good sales person the technical knowledge they require, than it is to teach an engineer to be a good sales person. But what if you’re that person who has to make the transition, like the owner of the small custom install business. Or what if you are an engineer who has been given the opportunity for a promotion and want to try your hand at sales. Thankfully, it is possible! You just have to know the right path to get there.
1. COMMIT TO IT
If you’re going to get into sales, then don’t do it begrudgingly. Grab hold of it with both hands and commit yourself to it 100%. People gravitate toward those who are confident and self-assured, so believe in yourself, be passionate, optimistic and enthusiastic. See it for what it is … an opportunity to develop new skills while creating greater prosperity for you and your family. If you’re nervous and not fully engaged people will detect your reluctance and shy away from you. But if you project positive energy, your clients will instinctively have much greater peace of mind and feel more comfortable doing business with you. Warning: Don’t fake it … Make sure you are always sincere, genuine and never aggressive. We have all experienced the fake smile of the over-pushy used car salesman. Don’t be like that
2. RESIST THE TEMPTATION
You most likely became an engineer because you love facts, details, and specifications. And it is human nature to want to talk about the things that you are most interested in. The fact is, your clients will unlikely share your passion… and truth be told, they may actually be intimidated by it. No matter how good you think you are at articulating the details of a particular situation, you MUST resist the temptation. Remember that it is your sales skills that are putting food on your family’s plate, so don’t fall back into old engineer-speak habits … unless it is appropriate for your audience. Ask lots of questions about what their specific needs are, and only get technical when they start asking relevant questions. Tailor the complexity of your answer based on the complexity of the question … and avoid rambling on for too long or heading off on a tangent. Stay focused on the sale!
3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
If you’re selling to another engineer, then it’s absolutely OK to get technical … but how about everyone else? One thing I have learned over my 30+ years of sales and marketing experience is that if you can read the personality type of your audience, then you can refine the focus of your message to be on-point and therefore more successful. For example, if you are selling to a very right-brain creative type, then they are going to gravitate towards anything visually stimulating, such as imagery with lifestyle shots, colorful diagrams and lots of white space. They typically have a short attention span and cannot multi task … so keep everything at a high level and on point. Listen to their needs, and explain how you can fulfill them in a friendly and personable way. It’s more about gut feel and warm and fuzzy with this group … so don’t underestimate the power of simply letting them talk about themselves, and get ready to jump in with the compliments … they feed on that!
On the other hand, if you are dealing with someone who is left-brain and methodical, then they are going to be far more demanding. Frame up the discussion by talking about their objectives in detail and how you intend to achieve them. Show them facts and numbers, and then provide a concise plan of how you intend to move forward. Finish the meeting by covering off the discussion points one by one, and ensuring all the boxes have been checked and that they are in agreement. That will show them that you are taking their needs as seriously as they are and it will build their confidence in you as a salesperson. But remember there is a difference between detail and technical detail!
4. MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS
Don’t be afraid to ask your clients how you performed as a sales person. This could be in the form of a simple questionnaire that you email to them with an incentive to respond, or by picking up the phone and having a conversation with them. Ask if there is anything they felt you could improve on in either the way you handled yourself or the manner in which you conducted business. And what about the sales you didn’t close? … Why not contact the prospective clients and ask them honestly why they decided not to proceed. It may have been budgetary, or perhaps your offer didn’t fulfill their specific requirements (this is still very useful intelligence to feed back to the manufacturer or even within your own organization). However, what if you unknowingly did something that made them choose another offer. Wouldn’t you want to prevent yourself from doing it again? I absolutely love constructive criticism … it has allowed me to develop and improve both professionally and personally over the years, and I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
Ask for it. Embrace it. Apply it.
5. REWARD YOURSELF
When you are an engineer or technician, your personal reward is achieved when you use your skill and knowledge to create something great, or overcoming a technical challenge. That’s your brain fodder. When you’re a salesperson, you need to be rewarded by the hunt for the client and the closing of the sale. While this requires a paradigm shift to get your brain into thinking this way, the psychological outcome and fulfillment in the end is the same. You have used your intelligence and brainpower to achieve a positive outcome. Here’s the good part … as an engineer or technician, you were not likely paid commission, but as a salesperson you probably are. Why not reward yourself when you are successful. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or expensive … just a token of gratitude to yourself for a job well done. Set yourself personal goals as motivation to do even better next time.
I have shifted back and forth between sales and marketing many times over my career and each time I have found the transition a little overwhelming and daunting. The self-doubting and lack of confidence soon fades when that first lead comes in and I close a big sale. No one else can make you believe in yourself … that’s why it’s called self-confidence. No matter how you ended up here or how you nervous you are feeling … life has presented you with an opportunity and adventure. You don’t have to forget that you are a technical person … you just have to put it aside for a while so you can focus on the exciting new job at hand … sales. Good luck!
Thanks to friend and ex-colleague Adrian Re for the great topic suggestion for this article. If you have anything sales and marketing related that you would like me to write about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org