Why engineers, technicians and scientists might make the best salespeople in the 21st Century

It has been a long-held belief that extroverts made the best salespeople; the gift of the gab, being charming and persuasive, telling a good story, people oriented and friendly, and all that. However, given the complexity of our world and the ever increasing need to make well-informed decisions and manage risk before we buy, our warm, chatty, convivial friends may need to learn a lesson or two from the more ambiverted/introverted types many of whom are deep thinking techies, geeks and nerds. More about the value of introversion in next week’s piece.

Let’s look at the merit of nerd-geek lead sales recovery first.

The 21st century world is getting more difficult to navigate. Gone are the days of being first to market with a new product and having a reasonable lead time to win the hearts and minds of our target markets by spruiking the obvious benefits of our offer to all and sundry and making easy sales.

Today, in a sea of overwhelming choice, discerning buyers are looking for leverage, a leading edge, better productivity and cost control, business value, surety of supply and so on. They are looking to engage with people who have a depth and breadth of knowledge in their area of expertise, people who can engage in business discussions that respect complexity and offer ideas and solutions that address the opportunities of both today and the future. This requires a higher order of thinking and a skill set that allows for effective communication and collaboration.

We have written in the past of the need to sell solutions that deliver real and tangible value beyond product and price, and the need for people in sales and client-facing roles to have a much better and deeper understanding of their and their clients’ businesses and understand how what they have to offer works in concert with the complex systems of business, markets and communities.

Many 20th century salespeople have found the move to more complex thinking and business solution selling difficult, relying on old forms of persuasion, charm, friendship and showmanship; however, many have been found wanting by their clients and are likely destined for obscurity if they don’t transition to a higher order thinking.

Step in the wide range of engineers, technicians, mathematicians and scientists who are schooled in higher-order thinking. As cited in the 30 June 2016 FINSIA article, ‘Solving the STEM Paradox’, overall, individuals with STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) backgrounds and training are able to be better problem solvers in technology-rich environments — they’re better equipped for new business models, new markets and new sources of economic growth, academics suggest.

The irony ‘Solving the STEM Paradox’ highlights is that ‘They’re supposed to be the most desirable candidates in the employment market: the saviours of services-driven economy, the diviners of economic growth. And yet individuals with education and backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, remain underemployed compared to the broader population.’

Addressing the STEM paradox and building better sales teams

I want to suggest that one way to address both the STEM paradox and crafting and generating better sales teams is to bring in more engineers, technicians, mathematicians and scientists into our sales teams. And the answer is “yes” to your question “can we train these people to sell well?”

More and more of our work at Barrett is focusing on taking technical people and teaching and equipping them in how to do solution selling and strategic/key account management with great success. In fact, when we help them get past the negative stereotypes of selling and focus on what good selling is, they actually find that they can sell well and actually enjoy the experience.

I have found with the vast majority of technical people I have met in my life (and that’s a lot) they love solving problems and being useful. However, many of them were not taught how to be ‘user friendly’. They confuse telling with helping, which often alienated people. So we have been training and coaching them in how to make effective contact with people and understand where they are coming from before they fix anything, and it’s working very well. What we have done is equip them with a whole new skill set that complements their technical assets.

Solution selling as a team sport that pays big dividends

Get these techies, geeks and nerds working with account managers and BDMs as key members of client-facing teams and then the magic really begins to unfold.

One of our key clients in the mining and construction space has ensured that all their client-facing people –sales leaders, account managers, technical managers, customer service representatives and technical site supervisors– have all been included in the rollout of their sales strategy and go-to-market action plan; instructed in their sales process map and levels of accountability; and then trained and coached over 10 months to take their value proposition to market. This has resulted in a range of positive outcomes for the team/business, including being the only division in the world that is ahead of budget and making profitable sales in a declining market and having a tight, unified team that knows how to sell real value and find and win profitable business opportunities when everyone else is dropping prices out of desperation. This team knows that harnessing its depth of technical knowledge and industry experience combined with skillful sales/key account planning and solution selling capabilities are their secret weapons in the race to win share of mind and profitable business with their customers.

So here is a whole new career path for the engineers, technicians, mathematicians and scientists – and a whole new recruitment pool for employers and sales leaders.

I would take advantage of this if I were you. With the barrier between customers and the rest of the organisation disappearing, more technical people are finding themselves engaging with customers directly. Whether in direct selling roles, technical support roles, on-site technical roles, let’s engage with more of our technical colleagues and give them the gift of good selling skills and resources.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education and resource platform www.salesessentials.com. Get to know her further on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


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