Kelechi Amadi Ahunanya is a Sales Engineer at Clarke Energy which is a Kohler company. Kelechi is based in Nigeria and has pharmaceutical, FMCG, Power generation and engineering experience. His focus now is on gas power generation products.
Path to Mechanical Engineering
Were you interested in how things worked when you were a child?
To be honest, growing up I was not really interested in how things work. I was more interested in sustaining things and taking care of people, my inspiration for this was Ben Carson.
Are there other engineers amongst family and friends who encouraged you to study engineering?
Within my family, no one inspired me to study engineering. Within my household I am the first person to study engineering.
What particularly attracted you to mechanical engineering?
The desire to study Mechanical Engineering was because of the inspiration from my mentor and tutor, Owanari Thompson Douglas. Owanari took me for personal tutorials on mechanics in my final year in secondary school.
Path to becoming a Field Sales Engineer
Could you give a description of your background and what led you to work as a Field Sales Engineer?
I obtained my BTech in Mechanical Engineering from Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
Upon passing out of the National Youth Service Corps Programme, I started my career with Hellenic Coca-Cola as a Sales Representative. Working with Coca-Cola helped equip me with the right skills and capabilities for a sales career.
Why did you decide to move into sales engineering?
I first learned of sales engineering on LinkedIn. I started researching it and found out that I basically needed to have a background in engineering with experience in sales to make a good switch. That’s what I had. So, I currently work with Clarke Energy as a Sales Engineer, overseeing our business in the southern region of Nigeria.
How has your teaching experience helped you in your current role?
My teaching experience after graduation from university helped me to build good people skills and good communication skills. These are the core skills needed by every successful sales engineer.
What attracted you to becoming more customer facing and commercial?
As a salesperson, I loved the conversations about figures and money. These conversations can only be had with the people who are the decision makers. Hence my attraction to becoming more customer facing and commercial.
What’s your typical day like?
My day begins with looking at my planned activities and visits for the week. These visits basically involve meetings with prospects and with existing customers. For the existing customers, my visits are to ensure that they are satisfied with our products and handle any objections that may arise and of course request referrals.
The bulk of my work is in finding leads that are then turned into prospects. What I have to do is to seek to understand their business operations and how my products can solve their existing problems and any potential problems they may not be aware of.
How much of your time is spent with customers and how much on other aspects of your job?
60% of my work time is spent with customers, 30% on research and training and 10% on administrative duties.
The role of a sales engineer requires constant updating and learning of new technical information of both their products and their competitors’ products.
Closing a Sale
What makes the type of field sales engineer who is tomorrow’s star or manager?
To excel as a top and successful sales engineer or manager, one needs to have a strong personality. As my ex-boss, Andrew Oluoha, at Coca-Cola would say:
“Success is intentional, motivation is personal.”
Besides building the required soft and hard skills required to excel in the job, one needs a resilient spirit especially for the gas power generation industry where I work.
How key is it to have a mentor and a good team supporting each individual field sales engineer?
I think that the need for a good mentor and a supporting team can never be overemphasised. This is because one sales engineer can never have all the information and knowledge they need to succeed in this industry.
My current mentor is Ahmad Aliyu.
Most Challenging part of the Job
What kind of technical questions do you have to answer?
Before my conversations with customers gets commercial, I need to deal with all the technical enquires. The reason for this is that my products are highly sophisticated engineering products so technical detail is critical.
The sort of questions I need to be able to answer may include – among many:
How the generators respond to different types of loads
during their operations?
How much energy do the engines produce?
What is the rate of gas consumption of the engines?
How much travel do you do? How do you create a work life balance?
The role of a sales engineer requires a lot of travelling.
Travelling should be a hobby of a Sales Engineer.
New Field Sales Engineers
What advice would you give to someone who has just started their first job as a field sales engineer, or who is thinking of switching to this area?
My best advice to anyone who has just started their first job as a field sales engineer is:
“Have an open mind to learn and be ready to go the extra mile.”
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