Explaining something very complicated to someone without a similarly technical background can be a challenge. We covered this in an earlier blog: Ten tips for talking technical to non-techies.
Field Sales Engineers know these challenges very well.
Paul Gatto has been servicing, and then selling Medical Imaging, Medical Devices, Interoperability, and Healthcare IT products for over 30 years.
He is about to start a new role with Leica Biosystems, where he will be selling systems used in Digital Pathology.
Paul has kindly shared his experience of working as a Senior Sales Engineer after working as a Field Specialist.
Background and path to being a Field Sales Engineer
Could you give a brief description of your background and what led you work as a Field Sales Engineer?
I attended ITT Technical Institute in the 1980s and studied Electronics Engineering Technology. I began my career as a field service engineer working primarily on equipment used in radiology. Over time, I developed the habit of explaining to my customers what I did to solve the problems with their equipment. This taught me how to explain very technical things to non-technical people, which is a core sales engineering skill. After being promoted to a leadership role in the field service organization, I was approached by a recruiter with an offer to take on a sales engineering role.
What attracted you to becoming more customer facing and commercial?
The sales engineering role looked like a very good fit for my skill set, and the compensation package was quite a bit more than I was making in service.
What made you feel you would be more suited to sales engineering?
I seemed to be much better with customers than my peers in field service and I had a general aptitude for sales.
Making the change
Was it difficult to make the change?
Not really, but there was a lot to learn about selling. Fortunately, the companies I worked for were constantly training their sales organization, and I was able to participate in the same sales training that the account executives received.
Has there been a particular person who suggested the change to you?
Not really. I was approached by a recruiter, so I went for it!
Most challenging part of the job
What kind of technical questions do you have to answer? Who supports you within the organisation? (for example is there a field applications engineering team?)
The technical questions are usually rather routine. Customers need to know server requirements, operating system specs, bandwidth requirements, storage requirements, etc. Every customer has the same questions for the most part. Once in a while there’s a detailed software question that I can’t answer, so I reach out to my internal technical or clinical resources.
How much travel do you do? How do you create a work life balance?
The travel has varied over the years from 0% to 100%. There’s no predicting it. Sometimes it’s busy, sometimes it’s slow. The good news is that when I’m not traveling, I usually have plenty of free time.
What are the challenges of managing large teams of sales engineers and account executives?
I’m not in management, so I’m not in charge of any sales engineers. Over the years, I’ve supported as many as 50 account executives, so sometimes I have to prioritize certain projects over others. I generally try to involve the account executives in my decision-making process. Sometimes I can get them to work with each other to come up with a compromise.
What’s your typical day like?
There really is no typical day. If I’m traveling, then I’m in front of customers, which is what I like. When I’m not traveling, then I’m catching up on emails, video calls, expense reports, etc.
How much of your time is spent with customers and how much on other aspects of your job?
It varies. I would prefer to spend 100% of my time on customer facing activities, but it’s probably more like 50:50.
How do you keep up-to-date with all the technical information you need?
Generally, I receive internal updates.
Closing a sale
What makes the type of field sales engineer who is tomorrow’s star or manager? (e.g. personal drive, training, ability to think outside the box, soft skills)
I think the key is soft skills. One has to really listen to the customer well and ask the right kind of questions in order to develop solutions that really meet their needs.
How key is it to have a mentor and a good team supporting each individual field sales engineer?
I think that would be helpful, though I’ve never had one, and at this stage of my career, I’m more likely to be one.
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?
There are four key things:
Learn how to listen and ask the right kind of open-ended questions.
Never assume that your audience knows what you’re talking about.
Stay away from technical lingo and buzzwords.
Remember that the person who is making the ultimate buying decision is probably not technical and if they don’t understand what you’re selling, then they’re not buying it.
Apart from a good technical knowledge, what are the seven most important skills to have?
Excellent communication skills.
Know how to listen and how to tailor your message to your audience.
Learn how to write with proper grammar and spelling.
Remember that you represent your company with every communication you have with your customers.
Learn when to speak up and when to be quiet.
We are resources for the account executives we support: let the account executives take the lead and use us when they need us.
Learn how to sell. There are great programs out there like Strategic Selling and The Challenger Sale.
Digital pathology is explained here: