The 3 biggest mistakes companies make when hiring sales engineers



Over the past decade, the sales engineer (SE) has arguably become one of the most important business hires alongside the sales team. They play an integral part in the sales process by helping develop and present compelling solutions to the buyers while also presenting the competitive advantages of their solution.

In Canada, there are currently 5,060 open sales engineering roles within the software space and there are only 2,738 sales engineers so we are dealing with a market with high demand and very low supply. Demand is only going to increase because of investment trends in early and growth stage companies along with news of companies like Salesforce, Microsoft and Accenture increasing their presence in this market.

In this environment it is critical for companies to be very strategic in how they go about finding, attracting, choosing and equipping their technical sales teams. Those who have gotten it right have avoided making the following 3 mistakes:  

1. Hiring the wrong fit based on the complexity of your product: 

If you are an early or growth stage company selling a not so complex solution into small and mid market accounts, then don’t hire the most technical SE available. This will end up costing you a lot because those SEs are paid extremely well and they will also get bored easily because they are used to dealing with more complex solutions (and might leave you at that point). Alternatively, if you are a company that needs a very technical SE then don’t hire an up and comer because that’s an easy way to lose the trust of your prospect during the sales cycle.

2. Going to market with a less than compelling comp plan:

With 5,060 open sales engineering roles and only 2,738 sales engineers in the market, we know that there are very high demand and low supply for such talent. This situation impacts compensation heavily and sales engineers are some of the best paid professionals in the market. Companies waste a lot of time by going to market with a compensation plan that can’t attract top talent and if they by chance do bring on board a great sales engineer they the run the risk of losing them to someone else who is paying according to what the market dictates.

3. Over selling and under delivering:

The sales engineer has a tough job – they are supporting multiple sales reps (2-6) and travelling 50%-75% of the time. Companies need to set the right expectations with sales engineers when hiring them so that they know what they are getting into and can appropriately handle that workload based on where they are in their life. Those organizations that don’t set the right expectations will see huge turnover rates in their technical sales teams because there are a lot of exciting roles out there for disheartened sales engineers to take.

Great teams build great companies and you can’t build great teams without understanding and adjusting to the labour market you are hiring within. Hire the right person for the stage you are at, pay really well and set proper expectations if you want to have a shot at building a great technical sales team.