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Selling to Technical People – How well do you work with Engineers? By Babette Ten Haken


It’s well known that engineers are conservative, risk-averse, overly cautious and extremely rational. So what’s wrong with that? Unless you both don’t have the patience to communicate with each other. Yes, communicate.

If you are in a position of selling to engineering-intensive companies, or working with a sales engineer to close a sale, it’s imperative that you take the time to understand how to communicate with technical professionals. And it’s more than rattling off a bunch of techie-sounding sales spiel.

1. Words are extremely important to engineers
If you are responsible for business development or sales, and perhaps don’t come from a technical background, then you are frustrated when engineers question the very words you are saying.

Semantics and syntax are critical to engineers. They use words sparingly and precisely, because they don’t want to engineer a solution over a mis-spoken term someone blabbered off in a sales meeting. That is why they scrutinize and question and, quite frankly, drive you crazy with their seemingly uber-analysis of what you say to them.

The next time this happens to you, ask them which term is problematic to them and why. You’ll be surprised at the collaborative dialogue your question may generate.

2. Yes, engineers feel they are smarter than everyone else. And they are.
Engineers have an incredibly taxing education in order to generate their degree(s). There’s no two ways around it. Respect this fact. That is why they were hired to do the jobs they do in the first place. Could you design the Mars Rover? I didn’t think so.

Ask yourself why their education makes you feel inadequate. Your perceptions could be a function of your own assessment of personal shortcomings, your level of confidence in yourself and your company’s sales process, and your own educational pedigree. Could it be that you really do need to finish that degree you started? If you feel this way with engineers, you’re always going to feel behind the 8-ball with somebody. So start by figuring yourself out first. Let the engineers be, well, engineers.

3. Appreciate, honor and utilize the fact that you and the engineer are coming at the same issue from different perspectives.
Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same things differently. Thank goodness for different perspectives! The world would be a boring place if everything were homogeneous.

Sales professionals are comfortable with extrapolation of not only quantitative, but subjective qualitative information which is not necessarily based on facts and figures. The sales profession doesn’t involve many theorems, formulas, or inclusion of tolerances. You just want to close the sale, right?

Engineers want to mitigate risk. Just as they scrutinize words, they will assess your information against actual formulas to determine the probability of risk. Think of your product and service offering as a nuclear reactor to the engineer. Don’t you think they want to buy-in to a stable, long-term solution? Make sure you have done your homework when collaborating on solutions with your technical colleagues. When you are proactive in anticipating their push-back, you are earning their respect as well.

4. Give yourself permission to turn on the analytical side of your brain.
The days of sales people who are a brochure on legs is over. You can learn a lot from your engineering colleagues by making the time to chat with them offline and ask them all of those questions you don’t understand. Engineers are taught to have all the solutions (which makes offering your solution frustrating, at times, I acknowledge).

But you don’t know what you could know until you ask an engineer that pressing question. And one question leads to another, which means you have broken down that barrier with your technical colleague. That’s where collaboration and learning happen.

Try these techniques out as you start your 2012 sales campaign and let me know about your experiences.
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Babette Ten Haken is Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC. Her blog, SalesAerobicsForEngineersblog.com, is a destination site for sales and engineering professionals, new graduates and entrepreneurs who want to become “unstuck” from the status quo. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? She can be reached at babette@salesaerobicsforengineers.com

-what are your thoughts on the ideas above? What have you found helpful in selling to engineers and highly technical people? Share your thoughts in the in the comments below.

  • Daniel Milstein

    That is true. As an author and business man, I can relate to how you said, ”
    If you are responsible for business development or sales, and perhaps don’t come from a technical background, then you are frustrated when engineers question the very words you are saying. “. I hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you’re talking about.  Can’t wait to read more from you!

  • Babette Ten Haken

    Thanks, Daniel. Glad you discovered my blog, as well! I’m finding that more technical professionals are warming up to the idea that, indeed, developing business acumen is an important part of everyone’s skill set. And I also am finding more sales professionals are giving themselves permission to use the left side of their brain!

  • I could not agree more!

  •  Glad you enjoyed it Florine! Thanks for participating in our community here.

  • Babette

     Glad you found my blog post helpful! Best wishes.

  • Babette, you are right on! It was my prior experience in working with engineers that led me to focus on effective communication. It has been quite the learning curve! Thanks for a great post.