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The difference between a Sales Engineer and a Solutions Engineer

One of our account managers built most of his career as a Sales Engineer at SaaS companies ranging from seed startup to post-IPO. At GrowthStack, he leverages that unique position not only to consult with our more technical partners but to help build processes around deal cycles, marketing-to-sales handoffs, and efficiencies in sales-to-implementation hand-offs.

The four most common questions he faces when consulting with leaders about adopting Sales/Solutions Engineers are:

  • Do we need a Sales/Solutions Engineer?
  • What does a Sales/Solutions Engineer do?
  • How do you measure their success?
  • What’s the difference between a Sales and Solutions Engineer?

The answer to question number one and two go hand-in-hand. Generally speaking, Sales/Solutions Engineers are technically-minded folks who can help ease objectives and lower barriers to either selling, upgrading, or implementing technical deals. So the answer to part two: if you have any barriers doing those things and you think your existing sales staff can’t be trained (or it isn’t efficient to train them) to do so, then yes, you should probably consider hiring a Sales/Solutions Engineer.

Question number three regarding measuring an SE’s success is much more complicated and we’re going to save that for another day.

The biggest thing we should highlight is the difference between a Sales Engineer and a Solutions Engineer. While your organization might hold these titles to be interchangeable, they are different and you should consider it when either building out your team or deciding which one to use.

Sales Engineer

  • Typically pre-sale
  • Should be technically-minded but the ability to manage relationships and instill trust should actually be prioritized
  • Compensation is tied to sales performance
  • Job duties often entail demoing, discussing technical objections, and building light-weight POCs (delivering value to a prospect)

Solutions Engineer

  • Typically post-sale
  • Should able to manage relationships and instill trust but being technically-minded should actually be prioritized
  • Compensation is more standardized or tied to implementation
  • Job duties are often more implementation focused (actually delivering value to customers)

It’s easy to see how these roles can be very synonymous but it’s important to know a good Sales Engineer might not equal a good Solutions Engineer and vice versa. More importantly, many folks in this role don’t want to be on the other side. The minute differences in types of prospect/customer interactions, amount of time developing code, time on the road customer-facing, etc. all contribute to the small differences that make each role vastly different.