Written by: Krishnakumar Ramanathan
About the author: Vice President – Sales (Transmission) at Siemens Limited.
This article is for all young engineers considering a stint or career in B2B sales functions. There are a number of misconceptions usually attributed to Sales and Marketing (ref. above image). This is probably because the impact of sales is felt across any organisation and sales professionals are more visible. These misconceptions sometimes result in engineers missing out on the great experiences and learning that sales and marketing can provide. I began as a hesitant sales engineer myself, after starting off in production and QC, with none of the attributes typically expected of a ‘sales’ guy – I was introverted, didn’t believe in networking (nor knew how to) and was a nervous presenter. It has been over 26 years since I started working in sales and related functions like marketing and business development. Now, being in a general management role, I can confidently say that a lot of my career growth and success is due to my sales and marketing background. I encourage all young engineers, therefore, to consider a stint in B2B sales functions – it will add immense value to your career. Do read on for practical tips based on my experiences – which I have listed in two sections; a “Why” (is sales experience important) and a “How” (to adapt to a sales environment).
Why is sales experience important?
Sales, unlike many other functions, is externally focussed. While in production, I knew about our product, from design to materials to manufacturing to testing. But I did not know why the customer bought our product, or why it was designed in a specific way. A few pointers from my sales experience:
- Helped me understand how design features matter during operation
- Gave me a valuable outside-in perspective
- Helped me realise the reasons why one product is preferred over others
- I learned to track changing customer expectations and competitors
- Helped me imbibe a customer-centric approach
- Was a vital stepping-stone to my career growth
In today’s fast-changing world, where rapid innovations are the order of the day, having sales experience helps in better understanding of the market, customer needs and in developing a wider perspective.
How to adapt to a sales environment
Sometimes, misconceptions prevent young engineers from gaining sales experience. Also, the reality is different, as represented in the above image. A few pointers on how to thrive in a sales function:
- Gain alternate domain experience (Engg., Mfg. etc.) before joining B2B sales and marketing
- Prepare well before a sales visit – updates of past topics, the reason for the current meeting, etc.
- Own the relationship and all issues, even those outside your area of responsibility. I have gained many a customer’s confidence and trust after resolving their issues
- Understand customer domain – the more you speak the customer’s language, the more time you get with the customer
- Brush up on communication skills and develop your emotional intelligence. These are critical skills needed for career success across functions, but especially in sales
- Avoid tall promises, and always honour your commitments. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasised. And keep the customer updated periodically about the progress
From my own personal experience, in a team meeting, it is easier for me to understand and represent customer and market insights, and speak the language of the customer. After all, business is ultimately all about the customer, and therefore this understanding – gained through sales experience – is a valuable asset indeed.
To summarise, engineers will gain a lot through sales experience. It will help them accelerate their learning curve, and in moving up their respective organisations. I can testify to its benefits from my own experiences.