What do sales engineers actually do?

Every time I attend a social networking event whether it’s for my wife or a meetup, I always get ask the question “What do you do for a living?”.  Usually, I start out with my standard answer which is I work in pre-sales.  This normally leads to the following response, “Oh, how interesting”.  Knowing full well that they have no idea what presales is, I continue to elaborate with, “it's sometimes also referred to as Sales Engineer, have you heard of that before”.  Normally, the answer is “no”, which they follow with "what type of engineering is that?”.  As you can see from my many interactions, presales is a bit of a taboo in the industry and it’s very common for me to have to explain what does a sales engineer do?  For those of you that are in the field, what I really want to say is, “we make the sales team look good by making the product do extraordinary things” but instead I normally default to, “we partner with the sales team to help guide prospects and buyers in understanding all the capabilities the product has to offer”.  Pretty lame but normally does the trick to help paint the picture.

Another way to explain what Sales Engineer do is the following: “Sales Engineers are the best storytellers on the planet.  They help create value and paint a vision on what the product could be for a prospect or customer.  We are master of people’s emotion and can help guide them to get them to see how the product could be.”  Sales Engineers can make products stretch beyond what it was originally designed to do and have an acute sense of what the customer actually needs to be successful.  Sales Engineers are a cross breed between a product manager, salesperson, and software developer, always working between customer and product to find a blend between the two that can help them both meet in the middle.  

I believe that Sales Engineer is an important part of a sales motion.  Many salespeople that I have worked with have mentioned how critical my activities have been and if it weren’t for those activities, the deal would never closed.  Another way to put it, we are the heroes behind the deal that makes sure that nothing derails the deal which includes product positioning, architecting a solution, vision painting, proof of concept and many more.  I know I am biased on my belief since I am in presales however, I am curious to know what you guys think?  How would you describe presales to someone who never heard of it before?  And do you agree that pre-sales are important in a sales cycle?

Author Bio: Sam Pena is the Regional Director of Solutions Architects for Pluralsight, the online learning platform that helps technology leaders evaluate the technical abilities of their teams, align learning to key business objectives and close skills gaps in critical areas like cloud, mobile, security, and data. Responsible for the Pluralsight Solutions Architecture organization in the East and Federal/State Local, Sam leads a team that helps enterprise & Federal customers create repeatable processes and learning experiences to educate and promote personal, as well as enterprise, productivity. Prior to joining Pluralsight, Sam has thrived in various roles for key analytics vendors and customers which included:

- Solutions Architect for Interana, a big data behavioral analytics company, founded by two ex-Facebook engineers.
- Financial Services Engineering Team Lead for Qlik, a visual analytical platform.
- Business Analyst for Deutsche Bank’s Market Data Services, responsible for building and deploying analytical BI Solutions to Business Management.

Additionally, Sam is an Adjunct professor at New York University (NYU), where he teaches a curriculum of Information Management and Data Analytics for the Master’s Program for the School of Professional Studies. Sam holds a Master of Science degree in Financial Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology, with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Manhattan College.