Being a solopreneur can be tough - you're wearing multiple hats, you're running (and tracking!) several projects at the same time, and you're doing it all, alone. Luckily, solopreneur-ship isn't a marathon, it's a relay.
One of the first places where we can hand the baton is to sales roles. Particularly in SaaS, the sales team usually starts with a founder who sells. Then, you add a salesperson or two, then maybe an SDR, and some more reps. You structure it some and add a director or a VP. At some point, you begin wondering, "Do I need a sales engineer?"
How do you know when it's the right time?
There are a few telltale indicators:
1. Your sales team is struggling with pre-sales:
Your product is technical, and your team is struggling to understand the product, how it works, and how beneficial it can be. If they can't understand it, they definitely can't market it.
As someone who understands the product, its history and its development, your sales engineer can help articulate winning solutions in ways that translate to layman audiences, while still making sense to technical ones.
2. Your customers are struggling with implementation:
Your customers need help implementing your product, and you don't want them seeking technical support (and future partnerships!) elsewhere. This is where a sales engineer really comes in handy. They can walk the customer through the set-up process and help ensure that they get everything up and running smoothly.
3. Following up with existing customers and upselling your products is falling to you:
As your product evolves and grows, you'll need someone who can not only translate how these new features and functionalities are added to the solution but also work with you on packaging the solution itself. Moreover, customers need to stop coming to you with technical questions/suggestions/wishlist items.
What is a sales engineer, exactly?
A sales engineer is more than someone who translates technical concepts to a layman or speaks tech to a technical buyer. A sales engineer translates use cases into reality, business needs into functional examples, and custom requirements into feasible outcomes. They become the representative of your product and what it’s capable of.
Here is a list of things sales engineers can be responsible for in a SaaS selling environment:
Custom product demos that are specific to the prospect’s needs, goals, and unique scenario.
Functioning as a subject matter expert, responsible for answering all product-related questions during the sales cycle - from RFPs to pricing to implementation.
Working closely with prospects to understand their business needs and help determine if the product is the right fit.
Working with sales teams to help them understand the competitive landscape, competitor differentiation, and the positioning of your product.
Liaising with internal product teams on new features needed to close deals.
Liaising with technical resources (internal and client) to assess technical feasibility and fit.
Creating a library of demos, scripts, checklists and other resources needed in demos.
Training sales teams on demos, scripts, checklists and demo resources.
Why You Should Consider Hiring One
I've been on every side of sales by now - I've been a sales rep, an SE, a Sales Lead and now a Solopreneur. And I can tell you, it's really, really hard to let go. Particularly when I've gotten so accustomed to doing it all myself. I have all these niggling doubts about whether 'someone new' would be able to cope.
But, if I have to be honest, it's probably just me trying to hold on to this early startup energy for just a minute longer! :)
In my SE days, I've been the 'someone new. And you know what? I've always managed to deliver significant value to the organization, from the get-go. This is, of course, more to do with the SE role, than me personally. The moment an SE joins the team, the first thing that happens is a clearing of the founder's calendar. They don't need to attend demos, because I'm there.
The second thing that happens is that an SE is able to help the sales reps gain more confidence. As approachable as founders try to be, the sales team is never going to be as comfortable making mistakes in front of the founder, as they will be in front of an SE! He then has the ability to correct them, without also creating other fears. SEs run mock demos with them, train them, talk to product teams about the intelligence they've been gathering in demos… It just works.
The third thing that happens is that SEs make customers super comfortable - an SE is SO much more available than any founder has any hope to be, and it is strangely reassuring for clients when they don't have to come to the founder for everything - there's a dedicated SE available to answer all their itty bitty (and not so itty bitty!) questions and also has time to dedicate to detailed technical discussions, solutions and implementation discussions.
Best of all, once the founder removes themselves from the day-to-day running of the sales process, they can focus on so much more. Yes, several founders still sit in on demos from time to time, but it isn't with the intention of selling. Having an SE in the room means that the founder gets to be a spectator, and gets to watch someone else hero their product, and wow their customers.
It's a bit like that moment when something you brought into the world walks on its own two feet. You know they still need you, but you also know they've got what it takes now, and can function even if you aren't there 100% of the time. To a solopreneur like me, who's still hesitating, that sounds like freedom. (I should take my own advice!)