Fear Not the Sales Engineer

I’m a technical sales engineer at Pointwise. Now that I’ve lost half of my audience with that statement I’ve really got my work cut out for me.

So what is it about salespeople that make consumers – in particular, who are engineers – head for the hills? Is it the typical image of a used car salesman? Is it because of those incessant telemarketers peddling insurance? Or perhaps it’s due to the salespeople at those little kiosks in the mall trying to sell us an exfoliating cream from the Dead Sea?

I think the reason we fear being approached by salespeople is because they are really not trying to help you. They’re just trying to convince you to buy their product. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the No. 1 goal of any business is to make money but I think it’s possible to do so while providing a legitimately valuable product and/or service. And it’s up to the salesperson to demonstrate that value.

Back to the point of my post.

As a sales engineer, my job is to demonstrate to other engineers how our software is of value to them. In fact, I take this one step further. My job is to help engineers solve their CFD meshing problems and I use my education and experiences, both of which are technical, to do this. And of course, the tool at my disposal is our CFD meshing software, Pointwise. This may all sound a bit cheesy – a salesperson’s pitch – but it’s the truth. If I can’t help you solve your problem, why would I expect you to purchase a license of our software?

I understand this may sound somewhat altruistic to all you sales engineers and sales managers out there who have quarterly quotas and annual revenue targets to meet. However, not every salesperson can be that smoothing talk, A+ seller who could convince my grandmother that she needs to spend $10K on meshing software that he assures her will bake her crumpets just so. Nor should they have to be.

A good sales engineer also can identify and be open about when he cannot provide a solution. In the long run, it’s better to walk away from a potential customer and in turn, likely gain their respect rather than lose it. Because, at least in the industry we predominantly work, respect is everything.

Clearly, you need a good product or service to sell to go along with good sales people but I believe the recipe for success is to provide solutions and not features. Verbs not nouns.

The ideas I describe are nothing I’ve conjured up. There are many professional courses and books that describe these philosophies, each with their own spin, but there is one in particular I will point you to. It’s called Getting Naked, by Patrick Lencioni.

Patrick uses short but well written fictional stories to illustrate his point. So even if you’re not into business methodologies, the entertainment value is worth it.

So do not fear us. We are here to help.

Well, most of us are.

About Chris Sideroff

Energetic entrepreneur. Maniacal scientist. Typical engineer. Devoted husband. Frayed father. Principal Director of Applied CCM Canada
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4 Responses to Fear Not the Sales Engineer

  1. OK, I’ll take the bait. 🙂

    First, anything that is perceived negative isn’t against Gridgen, Pointwise, or anyone. It’s just a general statement. Also, I see this at a lot of places. So no big deal.

    But, well, and I’ll be honest (and I hope what I am saying is constructive!), what you wrote is kind of fluffy and well known. It is out of the trenches. And that is well, typical. Sorry. I want to talk to someone who is in the trenches. I want to talk to an engineer, someone who understands gridding, CFD, and the physics. I want to talk to a geeky nerd! Granted, a boss probably does not. But then I’m not sure a boss will be reading this site either. Anyway, the quality of my grid depends on the order of my spatial derivatives, whether I am using local or global time stepping, whether I’m using an implicit or explicit solver, whether I’m using a structured or unstructured solver, and solving methodology (multigrid, the various implicit solving methodologies, etc.). Then there is the physics and geometry. And, wow, if one has to compare to data, there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights.

    If you can show me you are a geeky nerd, at least at heart, then we are in business!

    For example, I assume you have a lab at pointwise where you have various CFD solvers. So lets see some simple CFD solutions from the various codes. Geometries such as airfoils, flow through a pipe, cylinder etc. And not just the good ones. There are plenty of those out there. However, it’s been my experience that for every good one, there are a few bad (they don’t compare well to data) ones that don’t see the light of day, except maybe at cfd-online.

    OK, there are some cool pictures at http://www.pointwise.com/apps/ so I looked for something simple. Something I could actually comment on. So that took me here http://www.pointwise.com/apps/CFD-Meshing-for-Wind-Power.shtml Then I noticed the airfoil. Wonderful, something simple! Something I can grasp onto! Then there is this statement “The section of grid in Figure 4 illustrates how Pointwise can resolve the high Reynolds number boundary layers typical of wind turbines with a minimal number of cells” Wow, that’s a FAT airfoil!! Is the grid really suitable for it? Are you going to capture the separation? How well does this compare to data? Usually people have a horrible time comparing to data for such airfoils, especially getting close to cl max. And I don’t think anyone would use that grid as the separation bubble builds. LOL, I’m not even sure what solver they would use. Unfortunately there is a good chance one would need to use LES, which would be very time consuming! And that has it’s own special grid requirements if you are using a higher order method. You see, that is what goes through my engineering mind!

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing anyone. This is just the way it is. And peoples intentions are good. But, please don’t mind me as I run for the hills. The hills are a nice peaceful place to be. 🙂 And, I’m sorry, as a skeptical engineer, I probably won’t understand “Getting Naked” It sounds very out of the trenches, unless we are taking about “Getting Naked and Muddy” LOL, um, that just doesn’t sound good!! 🙂

  2. Chris Sideroff says:

    Martin,

    Thanks for the reply and good to hear from you. I’ll be honest and agree that my post is “light” but it wasn’t intended to be “technically heavy”. I will however disagree with you on this being a well known idea. In my 4+ years as the technical sales engineer here at Pointwise, my experiences have been quite the opposite. There seems to be something about having the word “sales” in ones title. The point of my post was to both educate and assure engineers out there that good sales engineers are knowledge and helpful. I like to believe I am one of the good ones but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

    For the record, I am an engineer. Of the PhD kind as well so along with my professional experience as an engineer – which extends beyond Pointwise – I’m comfortable having as technical as a conversation is required.

    The remainder of your comments are a perfect example of what kind of conversation I want to have with an engineer who is interested in our software. While you are obviously quite open about your needs, as I mentioned above, my experiences with other engineers have often been the opposite. Outside of Pointwise, Inc, I know how to use and apply our software probably as good as or better than anyone so I tend to think it’s not a smart use of your time to investigate our meshing technologies without my involvement. And because I do have a strong technical background, it behooves you to educate me on your application and its specific pre-processing requirements so I can point you in the best direction. Hence, why I say my job is to help you solve your meshing problems.

    I’ll slip in a link to some work I did that may somewhat satisfy your interest in us peforming some benchmarking (the data in the plots): T-Rex BL meshing. For the record, when time permits, I am working on getting out some other benchmark cases.

    As a skeptical engineer, I assure you, there is nothing in “Getting Naked” that you wouldn’t understand. In short, the thesis is that sales people need to role up their sleeves and start helping the customer immediately, quit worrying about getting early purchase commitment and be honest when they don’t know something – hence the title.

    I plan to vary the content of my future posts so if there’s something in particular you would like me to opine about shoot me an email or give me a call.

  3. First, I’ll admit I live in the Silicon Valley and if a sales person isn’t knowledgeable they get their you know what handed to them. Or course they may not be told it’s been handed to them, but that’s a different story.

    OK, I’ll go along with your T-Rex story. I’m a structured grid person and yes it can be painful creating these grids. Of course the selection of unstructured vs. structured is more involved than just the ease of generating the grid. However, lets keep it to just grid generation for the boundary layer. I gather that is what T-Rex is all about. In general I feel that structured boundary layer grids are reliable, well understood, and lend themselves to grid convergence studies. Furthermore, the drag prediction workshop has shown how scattered unstructured results can be. Not sure it that is due to B.L or something else. Regardless, my opinion about structured B.L. grids can be changed. I’m not married to it.

    Unfortunately ONERA M6 wing data at 65% span isn’t exactly challenging. I’ll be honest. It is eye candy. IMO. I’m not saying it is unimportant or anything, but the physics in that area may not be sensitive to the grids, except to say that y+<1 is required to get cf in general, enough spanwise gird points to get the shock location, and enough B.L. grid points in the vicinity of the shock for the pressure to feed forward to get the thickening of the boundary layer (thus the lower cf due to feed forward). Granted, there is the Y shock on the wing surface. However, the wing tip would probably be more interesting. At least there is a lot of flow in the chordwise and spanwise direction. And then there is the separation and reattachment of wing tip vortex. Other fun, but simple, geometries would be an axisymmetric ogive cylinder at angle of attack. You'll get separation and reattachment points. Or that thick wind turbine airfoil mentioned earlier at max L/D. Or a swept wing with a leading edge vortex. The fun (!) part about separation and reattachment points is that the flow goes through a trajectory and the region of non-linearity is thick. That can be very sensitive to gridding. And my eye is towards quantitative results.

    For any sales engineer to reassure me about their knowledge, and make me feel comfortable going to them without worrying that I'm spending my time educating them more then they are educating me, I MUST see things like Reynolds number, Mach number, angle of attack, the CFD code that is being used, cases which kick the wheels (so to speak), etc. Geek stuff. These are things I did not see in the T-Rex link. After all, if we are talking boundary layers, we are talking about Reynolds number, separation points, reversed flow (i.e. negative cf), and reattachment points. Regions of negative cf has a tendency of messing up data comparisons. This is challenging and fun stuff!

    Again, I don't want to rock the boat and this is just my two cents. And I am absolutely not saying or hinting you guys and gals don't know what you are doing or the physics involved. I definitely know John does. So just show it off more! 🙂

  4. John Chawner says:

    Thought this fun post about what sales engineers really do was good for a laugh.

    http://www.salesengineerguy.com/2012/02/what-sales-engineers-really-do.html

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