What’s in a Name?

If you’ve been a part of a large sales organization-or several-you’ve probably heard your fair share: sales engineer, systems engineer, customer engineer, (pre-sales) consultant, technical account manager, etc. All of these terms describe a customer-facing member of the sales team that is primarily responsible for recommending a combination of product(s), options, configurations, and services that best address the customer’s business need. This individual often qualifies, proposes, positions, and validates the solution with the customer during the sales cycle.So is one name better than another? Actually, yes.

I have probably heard every argument made for one or the other. Do any of these sound familiar?

“We should use the term system instead of sales engineer so that customers do not associate us with the sales team so that we are seen as more trustworthy.”

“Technically we aren’t engineers at all in the exact sense of the word. We should be called consultants, or sales consultants, or pre-sales consultants. Uh oh, how do we get rid of the sales part without the customer mistaking us for a services role?” Note: In certain countries the use of the word engineer in a business title is restricted to certain fields.

“We need the term sales in the title to show the sales reps that we are truly a member of the sales team and not a glorified tech support team.”

“If we use the term sales, maybe customers will be more likely to stop calling us for support after they buy the product.”

So which one is best? The answer, in my opinion, is the one that best allows you to identify yourself and your role to your customers. Because this differs among industry norms, the best choice may be different if you are selling medical equipment or ERP software. In my field of enterprise software, the term SE is ubiquitous. If you ask customers what this stands for, most will reply Systems Engineer.

We have a winner (in my case).

But that is not to say it is the right answer for every SE in every region of your company. My recommendation is to standardize internally on the most common term to minimize confusion between departments, but always give local SE teams the freedom to put the title on their cards that best matches the expectation of their customers. Drive consistency where possible, but always remain flexible.

If you still don’t have the answer, go ask your customer. Rarely are the best answers found in your office.

If by now you are wondering why I use the term sales engineer around here, it’s pretty simple. Do a web search for systems engineer, sales engineer, etc.  I think you’ll see that using sales engineer gives my potential audience the best chance of finding this site. Case closed.

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