“You’re a Sales What? Life as a Sales Engineer”: Melissa Andrews, Sales Engineering Manager at Splunk (Video + Transcript)

March 8, 2022

Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right. Next up, we welcome Melissa Andrews from Splunk. She is a Sales Engineering Manager and counts sales engineering as her first real job after of college.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: She had no idea what she was getting into when she got hired into Oracle’s Scholar SE training program, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions she made. Welcome, Melissa.

Melissa Andrews: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m going to need to share my screen here. So we’re going to do a quick little icebreaker.

Melissa Andrews: I’d like if everyone could, in the chat, just pop in your answers to this question, which of these is a Caribbean country? Do you think it’s Guinea? Is it Ghana, Guyana or Guatemala? And I will look at the answers as they’re coming in.

Melissa Andrews: All right. I can see Guyana coming in. Someone’s kidding. Guatemala. Well, you all are correct.

Melissa Andrews: It is actually Guyana and that’s part of my million data points here at Splunk. We use million data points to introduce ourselves to our coworkers and our customers to just make us a little bit more relatable.

Melissa Andrews: So I am, like many of the women who have spoken today, an immigrant. Was born in Guyana, which is the only English speaking country on the continent of South America. Was colonized by the British. So it’s considered part of the Caribbean.

Melissa Andrews: I am a stepmom. This is our Christmas family picture from December and the handsome young man to my left… They’re all handsome. Don’t tell anyone I picked one out, is my stepson.

Melissa Andrews: I also am a music lover. I sang in a choir that focused on singing Negro spirituals, Eight Part Harmony, that was really something fun. Then I had the privilege of learning to play the steel band, which is part of my Caribbean heritage.

Melissa Andrews: I’m a marathon finisher. Though I’m not a runner, in 2018, I had the opportunity to run with an organization called Grip that serves underrepresented youth in Chicago. One of the hardest things I ever did in my life was finish that marathon, but I’m still here. So I survived.

Melissa Andrews: And lastly, just for fun, my movie star twin is Regina King. All right. So let’s get back to the presentation.

Melissa Andrews: Who, what, why, where, what on Earth is a sales engineer?

Melissa Andrews: Well, I went to PreSales Collective, which is one of the largest sales engineering professional organizations. And this is the definition that they have on their website.

Melissa Andrews: Sales consultants are people who work alongside sales representatives and are responsible for facilitating the technical aspects of the sales process.

Melissa Andrews: So you’re probably saying, but Melissa, you told us you’re a sales engineer.

Melissa Andrews: Yes. That is one of the confused aspects of our jobs, we can be referred to as sales engineers, solutions consultants, sales consultants, solutions architects. And then you can add the word pre-sales in front of any of those.

Melissa Andrews: So whenever you hear one of those types of jobs, we’re all doing the same thing. All right.

Melissa Andrews: So what does a sales engineer do? So I’ve kind of divided this into two different groups, they’re customer facing activities, and they’re also internal activities. So when we’re dealing with our customers, this is the bulk of our job.

Melissa Andrews: We do presentations, demos, training and workshops, just to help our customers get familiar with the particular product that our company is selling. So they’ll want to go ahead and buy it.

Melissa Andrews: We also a lot of discovery and technical scoping. That’s how we understand the problems that the customers are having so that we can figure out how best to use our products to help them solve those problems.

Melissa Andrews: Every now and then we respond to requests for proposals and write white papers. We also do pre-COVID, but this is coming back, a lot of industry trade shows, so if you’re in retail or healthcare or the military, they’ll hold various trade shows and there’ll be a big exhibit hall and there’ll be lots of vendors there.

Melissa Andrews: And most of the people manning the booths or womanning the booths will be sales engineers. We provide post sales support help. So a lot of times we are the person, the people that the customers know the best and so when they run into an issue, even after they’ve purchased the product, they’ll reach out to us.

Melissa Andrews: And then we do proofs of concepts, which allow customers to really test drive our products in their environment, with their data. And the internal side, we spend a lot of time doing account planning with those sales reps that I talked about. We’ll look at the territory that’s assigned to us and figure out how we’re going to expand current customers and how we’re going to address white space or areas where our product is not yet.

Melissa Andrews: We do a lot of relationship building. We work with internal support teams. We work with the support organization. We do a lot of work with development and product management. We are the customers’ face to these internal development teams.

Melissa Andrews: We’ll come back and say this product isn’t quite doing what we said it’s doing, or customers want this enhancement. And then of course, we share that information with the customers.

Melissa Andrews: We can work with customer success teams. And we can also work with partners with other companies outside of our own.

Melissa Andrews: We spend a lot of time solutioning, which is figuring out, again, how we are going to use our products to help customers solve the pain that they are having. And then we do training.

Melissa Andrews: So this is training for us. When I started at Splunk, we had two products. We had our core Splunk enterprise product and we had enterprise security. Now we have a plethora of products and we’ve had to continue learning as we’ve released these new products, what they do so we can talk about them to our customers.

Melissa Andrews: We also can build demos and we’re going to this a little bit more, but if you’re at a larger company, there’s probably a group of people that’ll focus on building demos for you. If you’re a smaller company, you may have to do a lot more of that on your own.

Melissa Andrews: So different options there. So if you’re not familiar with the sales process, this is kind of what it can look like. Not always specifically following this route, but generally we’ll go from the beginning, the discovery to the deal closing.

Melissa Andrews: So discovery, we’ll meet with the customer. We’ll kind of hear what’s going on, understand the work that they do. And then we’ll come back and based on that information that we gathered, we’ll give a presentation and most likely a demo so they can see the product. They can hear the different features that it has.

Melissa Andrews: And then after that, we’ll do some sort of follow up, they may want to hear about other customers who are using the product. They may want us to do a competitive analysis between ourselves and maybe the other top two competitors in the field. They may want us to come in and do a workshop.

Melissa Andrews: So a demo is where I am showing them the product, showing the customer the product, but a workshop is where we actually have the customers hands-on trying the product out.

Melissa Andrews: At some point, we may do one more presentation, one more demo, maybe for higher level people in the organization and then hopefully after we’ve done all of that work, the deal is going to close. So my day can be very different.

Melissa Andrews: I’ll have a set of things that I think I’m going to get done that day, but as a sales engineer, you know that day can pivot very quickly.

Melissa Andrews: So here’s what my Monday might look like. I might give a Splunk 101 presentation to a new customer. I might sit in an account planning meeting. I might schedule a workshop at a customer location.

Melissa Andrews: Maybe a customer has a question about our architecture so I research the answer for that and email that. I have many Slack conversations about many things.

Melissa Andrews: Slack, you’re an awesome, we really love you here at Splunk. I might help my rep understand product features and why one particular product may not work for another customer.

Melissa Andrews: On Tuesday, I might do a completely different set of things. Maybe I start preparing for a presentation that’s going to happen later in the week, I might attend training on a new product that we’re about to release. Maybe I have a customer who wants to use Splunk with another vendor that they have.

Melissa Andrews: So I may need to reach out to that partner and figure out how we can work together. I’ll have more Slack conversations about other things. We might have important meetings where we bring in our CEO or our COO and they’re going to talk to the CIO of the company because this is a big deal and we really need that executive presence. And these dry runs are usually very formal.

Melissa Andrews: Everyone’s got their speaking points and everyone knows what they’re going to say. And it’s a big production because we’ve got to hit that home run. And I may complain, no, not complain.

Melissa Andrews: I may have a constructive conversation with my manager about problems that I might be having with my rep, because those things can happen.

Melissa Andrews: So now that you’ve heard all of this, what do you think? Pop in the chat what you think are the most important sales skills that sales engineers need. I’m just going to call some out as I see them coming in.

Melissa Andrews: Communication. All right. Leading with inquiry. Empathy, very nice. Observer. Good understanding of product. Good stuff. Good stuff. I think I have some sales engineers in here. All right.

Melissa Andrews: So I’ve broken these down into four different categories. I love curiosity in there, Erin. So the first one is relationship skills.

Melissa Andrews: Essentially, you got to like people and people got to like you, right? And it’s all different kinds of people. So your customers, definitely. But then the internal people that you’re going to have to work with, you’re going to have to build relationships with your rep, with the other sales operations people, with development, with support, with customer success.

Melissa Andrews: It’s all about making sure that you can connect with people so that you can share with them and they’ll be willing to share with you when you need to talk to them. Of course, communication skills. I saw a lot of that in the chat.

Melissa Andrews: So yes, being able to verbally communicate presentations and talking are a big part of your job, but then I also have here communicate high and communicate low because during the course of that sale, you’re going to talk to many different personas, we call them at Splunk or roles.

Melissa Andrews: You might start off in the it department with the sysadmin or the network engineer, but you might end up at the CIO or the Commanding General. I support the US army in my career. So had to present to Generals.

Melissa Andrews: And that’s a completely different conversation when you’re talking to the General and you’re talking to the sysadmin, though you want them both to understand what your product does and to go ahead and buy that product.

Melissa Andrews: Third, you need analytic skills. And this is where the curiosity comes in, right? Creative problem solving. Okay, customers’ having this problem, why are they having this problem? Do they just need a software solution?

Melissa Andrews: Or maybe there’s some process stuff that we might need them to fix, or the software even isn’t going to work if they bought it. How are we going to expand in this market? What are the cyber security and ransomware? How can we take those things and apply them to product and help our customers?

Melissa Andrews: And then lastly, technical skills. Now this one is interesting because the technical skills are going to depend on the company that you’re at. And so part of this, again, is the curiosity.

Melissa Andrews: And what I’ll say is being willing to learn technical skills as you figure out what those are. And what I mean by that is here at Splunk, we use SPL, so Search Processing Language to search our data.

Melissa Andrews: But if I went to a company like VMware, I wouldn’t use SPL at all because it’s not related to VMware. I’d start learning about Hypervisors and ESXI.

Melissa Andrews: And if I moved to Dell EMC, then I’m doing hardware, which is completely different, right? And now I’m concerned about CPU utilization and IOPS.

Melissa Andrews: So I do have to be technical, but there’s not necessarily a level set of skills that I can tell you, go get these technical skills.

Melissa Andrews: It’s going to depend on the company that you work at, and you just need to have a curious mind and a willingness to learn. All right.

Melissa Andrews: So if I’ve spoken really quickly here and so gave you a lot of information, but if you’ve been peaked and you’re like, “Well, suppose I wanted to be a sales engineer, that’s something I can do now? I’ve been a developer or a business analyst for years?” Yes.

Melissa Andrews: Absolutely, you can. And I’m going to give you some tips on making the switch.

Melissa Andrews: So if you already work for a tech company that has a sales ecosystem, they have a sales organization that needs sales engineers, and you have experience in another part of the company. Maybe you’re a developer or you’re a professional PS person, professional consultant.

Melissa Andrews: What I would suggest is that you start to network. Befriend some sales engineers, find out what they do, let them know you’re interested in coming over, and start to build those relationships. They can be vocal for you when you decide you want to actually start applying.

Melissa Andrews: And then talk to some SE managers, let them know that you’re interested in making the move. Have them review your current skillset, and they can provide pointers on where you might need to beef up. Regarding that skillset, you’re going to need to strengthen it, right?

Melissa Andrews: If you work in an environment where you are maybe doing a lot more coding and you don’t really give presentations, you want to take on responsibility for giving presentations, for leading problem solving teams, and starting to maybe build more relationships than you have been accustomed to.

Melissa Andrews: Start to network, and then go ahead and apply for a position. You may not get it the first time, but what that will allow you to do is to go through the interview process and kind of see what’s required. And that’s going to really set you up. I know several people at Splunk who have done that, who have come over from other parts of the organization and they went through this process.

Melissa Andrews: If you’re still in college or you’re a recent grad, there are a couple of things that you can do.

Melissa Andrews:First is you can explore internships. I started off way back when several companies, Oracle was one, IBM, Sun, had them, they actually had an SE training program where they would hire you, and then you’d spend several months learning how to be an SE, a sales engineer. Now they do mostly internships, and those are available in the summer here at Splunk.

Melissa Andrews:We’re currently interviewing for interns who will work this summer. So you want to look at the websites, again, start networking, and see when internship programs are open.

Melissa Andrews: Strengthen your non-tech skillset. So take on projects in college that require building relationships, problem solving. You’re going to want to talk about these during your interview and show that you have these skills. And then start researching companies.

Melissa Andrews:So like I said, sales engineers can work for many different types of companies. If you know you don’t like hardware, then you’re going to want to focus, excuse me, on software companies or on networking companies or on cyber security companies.

Melissa Andrews: And start playing around with the tech. Many companies have free intro classes where you can see how their technology works, organizations like Udemy also offer classes on different vendors. Sometimes it may help you to get a cert, but I wouldn’t focus fully on the certs, just kind of explore and play around.

Melissa Andrews: And then it will be very helpful for you to join a sales engineering organization, I’ve listed three of them here, because that’s going to introduce you to other sales engineers and help you start to build that network and then get some references.

Melissa Andrews: If you work for a non-sales tech company or you’re not technical, all of the things that we just said for the college interns, for the college grads, or were still in college apply, but you might have one other option open to you since you’ve already got a job.

Melissa Andrews: There are now organizations where you can take that class, it can run for six weeks to four months, and they will train you on how to be an SE. And most of them say they’ll guarantee that they will get you a job. Now, I haven’t fully researched this, but definitely an option.

Melissa Andrews: So I’m wrapping up now and I have a couple more things to share, to think about.

Melissa Andrews:Travel may be involved in this job. So that’s something that you need to consider. Your territory might be the Southeast… Universities, higher ed. So you might be going to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee. Is that something that’s okay for you? You might actually have a larger territory, if your company is smaller.

Melissa Andrews: Company size. If you’re looking to switch into the field, a larger company is going to work better for you, because they’re going to have more resources. If you’re in a smaller company, you’re going to be expected to do a lot of things very quickly, and that might not be the best position be in when you’re new in the field.

Melissa Andrews:You want to consider your rep and SE ratio. So some companies will have you supporting a lot of reps, again, not a good idea when you’re first starting out. I would strongly suggest not having more than two reps at the beginning.

Melissa Andrews: You want to look at the pay structure. We talked a little bit about pay. SE pay can be very interesting. I’m happy to chat with anyone over LinkedIn.

Melissa Andrews:And then your financial flexibility can help determine whether you can do an internship or you can take one of those classes. Sometimes if you move over, but you take a entry level job, maybe there’s some pay differential there, all things to consider.

Melissa Andrews: But to close, if you like help people solve problems, you enjoy learning, you’re good at explaining stuff, and you can pivot on a dime, sales engineering might be for you.

Melissa Andrews:Thank you so much for listening. I’m happy to chat with any of you. My LinkedIn is there. I’m also in the chat on the Zoom and look forward to sharing with you. Angie?

Angie Chang: Thank you, Melissa. That was a very exciting talk on sales engineering. I’ve always preached it as a possibility for coding bootcamp grads as a good career to get into. So thank you so much for that.

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