Today I am pleased to welcome Olivier Rivière, who I had the pleasure to meet a the BtoB Summit in France this summer. In the last 25 years Olivier has held positions in R&D, marketing and communications, business development, global account management, client service, and general management. In this article Olivier is sharing with us his answer to the following question: “Can Engineers Sell?”.
During a conversation focused on Marketing or Sales, have you ever heard one of these two statements, or something close, before? “Oh, he/she is an engineer, you know” or “It is a company made of engineers”. I bet you have.
In a commercial context, these statements are almost always slightly to strongly negative. The first one depicts an engineer as a sort of autistic person locked in his own world and unable to communicate with others. The second one usually refers to a company culture that neither understands nor really values Marketing and Sales. Do you recognize some people and companies? You probably do. But is this the whole story about engineers, technology companies and Marketing or Sales? Hum.
I was trained as an engineer, started my career as a scientist, got a Dr.-ing degree, and then worked in Marketing, Sales and Business Development for 25 years before becoming a consultant. I always worked for technology-driven companies. Based on my experience, do I agree with these two statements? Applied to specific persons and companies, yes. As a generic rule that describes most of the engineers and technology-focused companies, surely not! What about you?
So, why these strong binary statements on the selling skills of engineers? Are people who studied in (so-called?) Business Schools systematically better? Are people who work in corporate finance or in M&A, less autistic to the rest of the world? Developing this line of thoughts would take us rapidly to a quite polemic debate.Olivier Rivière, Founder, OR Consulting
So, let’s leave it here and take another route. Let’s explore how the elements of an engineer education and of a technology-oriented culture can influence the taste for Marketing and Sales and the associated skills of people and of companies.
How the engineer’s thinking fosters or hinders selling skills
Let’s consider first the elements of an engineer’s education that equip the person for a job in Marketing or Sales. Engineering studies require and develop analytical skills, the capacity to structure thinking and actions while taking into account all parameters. They also develop a systemic type of thinking (although usually not applied to human elements). These elements are very useful in Marketing and in Sales.
Second, what about the elements that might hinder the development of sales skills? Engineers need to be thorough and exact and leave no parameters unexplored. In addition, the subjects they work on leave little to no place to interpretations; there is no need to manage ambiguities and even less to consider emotional factors. This leads some (many?) engineers to use a “dry” form of thinking, very mechanical, with little place left to intuition and instinct, which is a handicap for a sales job. However, that type of engineer-like narrow thinking can be counterbalanced by the personality and the life experience where ambiguity is the rule and emotions the salt of life.
The above leads us to an observation that we could have used as an introduction; talent for Marketing and Sales job is strongly dependent on the personality and on how the life and career path shapes a person’s potential into skills and capabilities. With this in mind, it is no surprise that some engineers can be quite good at Marketing and Sales if they have something in their personality and in their career path that triggers and fosters this evolution.