World class sales engineers all have a few things in common. I thought it might be interesting to break down what I think the three most important characteristics are when bringing an SE onto any team I am on.
#3 - technical excellence in multiple technologies
While I'm sure there are some super-specialists out there that are actually excellent, I have never hired a great SE that didn't have experience with multiple technologies. In a lot of ways, great sales engineers are mini-CTO's that can still do the hands on keyboard work. That means that not only do they need to be great in their specific area of tech, but they also need to have perspective and understand how different technologies work together.
For an SE that's been around for a while, this shows up as someone who's been up or down stack from their "strength" and found success. It's pretty easy to spot on a resume. But if you're hiring someone who's more junior, figure out a way to determine if a candidate is a "technical athlete". This is part of the reason I am a fan of some sort of technical exercise for candidates. I want to see what they'll do with it.
Also, I want them to get a feel for what it's like to work with a product.
Let me be clear though, this is not them "doing free work" - the goal is to determine what someone is bringing to the table, not get them to do something for me for free.
#2 - perspective, persuasion, and gravitas
Presales engineers have to be ready to handle the "soft" side of the sale on a moment's notice. While they largely aren't the person closing the deal, or finding the initial customers, SEs are the conduit through which the prospect trusts that your product can solve a problem.
So they have to be great in a room. Great can mean a lot of things, and I've known some goofy SEs in my day that were total rockstars. But they always projected confidence in what they were saying and at the end of the day, people believed them when they spoke.
When I'm talking to an SE about joining a team, I want to feel like I can trust them. And usually, I'll ask them to do some sort of presentation for me. I don't really care what. Famously, a friend of mine did a presentation about his recommendations for BBQ grills and landed his first SE job. The point was everyone walked out of the room 1) thinking they needed a new bbq and 2) wanting smoked meats for lunch. Clearly, the man missed his calling.
#1 - attitude makes (or breaks) all deals
I'll forgive a lot, but I am not very forgiving about attitude.
I'm not talking about a positive or negative attitude (famously, I'm in the glass half empty camp more often than not). I'm talking about the "get it done" kind of attitude - I refuse to work with people who won't persevere through adversity.
Sales is hard, and sales reps need to rely on us to get work done that largely they don't really understand. If an SE has an "I can't" default attitude, you simply can't count on them.
Giving up is not an option. So how do I figure out if someone has what it takes? I like to ask them why they leave opportunities for new ones, and I dig in deep around "the worst tech eval of their careers". You'd be surprised at what people will tell you when you ask.
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