So… what do you do?

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

–Albert Einstein

Eventually you will find yourself at a cocktail party where someone asks you:

“So… what do you do?”

“I’m a sales engineer” is the obvious answer. This usually leads to a confused stare.

“So… you’re a sales person?”


“Oh, so you’re an engineer!”


At this point the other person looks over your shoulder for an escape route because you seem to be mildly crazy.

The problem, of course, is that most people are not familiar with the process of selling complex technical products so they don’t understand the sales engineer role and why we are critical to success.

Here’s how I handle these interactions…

“So… what do you do?”

“I work in software sales… I’m on the technical side of the sales team.”

This is mildly better, but for some folks it still invokes a vision of a store clerk at Babbages circa 1988:

Babbages software store

Explaining what we do can be challenging because sales engineers wear many hats. That being said, I explain my role to customers as this:

I am your technical resource on the sale team. I am here to:

      • Understand your business requirements
      • Determine if our products will meet your business requirements
      • Demonstrate how our products meet your business requirements
      • Help you evaluate our products
      • Answer all of your technical questions about our products

Of course, my job also includes:

      • Understanding the competitive landscape in any deal
      • Helping to build the business justification for buying our product
      • Positioning my product and company as the best option for the customer (assuming, of course, that this true)
      • Gathering as much intel as I can about the political landscape to help my sales rep navigate past potential issues
      • Doing everything possible to support the sales reps in their efforts to drive revenue

Additionally, a sales engineer is also expected to drive customer feedback –good and bad– back into the product development team so that they can improve the product.

Of course, that’s a long answer, one that’s probably too long for a cocktail party. One alternative is to just make up another answer to the question. When I first met my wife I told her “I’m a dog dentist.”

She eventually married me so I think it worked out well.


So… if you are a sales engineer, how do you answer the question “What do you do?”


3 Responses to So… what do you do?

  1. John Care says:

    Matt – for years I preferred to leave it as a mystery so my friends thought I worked for the CIA. I am convinced my grown children still don’t really know what I do. To people outside the business I explain it this way (at say a cocktail party) – “So when a company needs to buy some software/hardware solution to help it fix some business problem – thats where I get to work. The salesguy makes the introduction, shakes hands, buys lunch, and my job is to figure out what the customer really needs/wants, why my stuff is unique and how I can help the salesguy make the customer buy it. ” At this point their eyes may be glazing over – if not – I continue with “so think of your day at work, apart from email – what other computer systems do you commonly use?” I pick pne of their answers and briefly explain how it was probably sold to them and where the SE is involved. That works pretty well. Then I say “how about them Cowboys..” and move onto something way more fun.

  2. Mike says:

    The simple answer. I help the sales people sell. The product is technical and they don’t understand it, so I handle the technical part of it.

  3. Sofandre says:

    Nice, I just got into sales engineer career for last 8 month. I also told everybody that I help my sales team in technical side of the product.

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