What Is a Sales Engineer?

pre sales, demos, customers engagement, b2b buyers, digital demo, customer outreach, buyer enablement, demo automation, customer outreach, buyer enablement | goconsensus

Let’s start with the basic sales engineer definition:

A Sales Engineer is a member of the Technical Sales Team (often called “Presales”, which has nothing to do with BDR) who’s role is to provide advanced technical product expertise in order to demonstrate capabilities and architect solutions tailored to customer needs.

Alternative titles common across many industries include Solutions Consultant (SC), Presales Rep, Technical Sales Rep, Solutions Architect, and even Inside Sales Rep (ISR).

Unfortunately, this definition, while technically accurate, fails to convey the painful and intractable crunch facing Sales Engineers and presales leaders alike. That struggle can be summed up in one word: demos.

Let’s dive a little deeper.

The Sales Engineer role

As software solutions get more and more complex, sales teams are dividing responsibilities between Account Executives (AEs), who are usually closers or people people, and Sales Engineer techies, who can answer all the questions the AEs can’t.

You’ve probably encountered this yourself if you’ve ever purchased complex software such as a CRM or ERP solution. Your AE is more or less there to help you purchase, but deeper questions will be deferred to the SE. In fact, many organizations actively discourage AEs from attempting to answer technical inquiries. The Sales Engineer is the last word in product knowledge.

But that expertise comes at a price.

It is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to train a fully capable SE. They routinely undergo a full year of training before ever engaging directly with a customer. Industry experts like Peter Cohan reveal it can often take as much as two years before an SE has the powerful combination of product fluency, industry fluency, and presentation skills required to be reliable in front of the high-powered customers they are educating. That’s a tough team to scale.

Contrast this with Sales, who can often onboard a new Account Executive in a matter of months.

For this reason, a single Sales Engineer will almost always support multiple AEs. A ratio of 4 to 1 seems to be the minimum workload, with 7 to 1 being common. We’ve even encountered teams where one SE will support more than 15 AEs – many more, actually, but you wouldn’t believe us if we told you.

Which brings us to the activity which makes up the vast majority of the Sales Engineer’s workload: the standard product demo.

Demos and more demos

Research from Gartner shows that customers name demos as the number one  most sought-after resource when evaluating a solution.

No surprise there.

But remember we’re dealing with a complex sale, where buying groups usually include at least six people and sometimes as many as 14. They’ll all need a demo, and do they all hop on the first call? Never ever.

This poses a problem. An SE is trained to architect a bespoke solution, to get into the weeds, to spot the “gotcha’s”. But they spend most of their time robotically repeating the standard introductory demo for the latest stakeholder to join the discussion 11 months into an 18 month sales cycle.

On top of that, growing organizations will find that demand for demos far outstrips what SEs can accomplish in a 40 hour work week. You can ask them to work overtime, but that’s a short term solution, and you want to talk about a painful employee to turn over? In practical terms, many teams just end up delaying the demo. After finally engaging with a supplier, going through an often-obnoxious qualifying interrogation, and requesting a demo, customers must often wait three weeks or more to take what they consider the most important step in their search for a solution. Not the ideal customer experience.

But before you get all huffy with presales for holding out on getting you your demo, consider the last soul-crushing obstacle faced by technical sales teams:

Despite the best efforts of BDRs and AEs to qualify live product demos, presales teams frequently report that as much as 50% of their live demos are wasted on unqualified prospects.


So to summarize, we have a highly trained, highly paid expert who can craft solutions to some of the most complex problems in the industrial world robotically repeating a standard demo at 8:30 pm local time for a prospect who has a 50/50 chance of being real.

And it will only take two short years to get another one.

But what can sales teams do? Sales Engineer expertise is essential to a successful sale, that much has been proven by the data time and again.

Video? Maybe. But asking a prospect to comb through an hour long video for the bits that are relevant to them is a tough sell.

This is where Consensus demo automation came from.

Interactive video demos automate the most repetitive customer interactions, freeing up SEs to do what they do best: solve customer problems.

See one in action

Consensus is Intelligent Demo Automation that scales your presales function.