Sales / Marketing

Explaining technology to the customer

by Christina Tai

Kevin Lau, general manager, Joyas Manufacturing Limited

As the name implies, sales engineers combine two distinct skills

Many products on sale today are highly complex in terms of the technology used in their design and manufacture. Understanding and explaining all the technical aspects requires detailed knowledge and a more "consultative" approach to selling, which explains why a new category of employee, known as sales engineers, is coming to the fore.

"Sales engineers are equipped with technical skills and are therefore capable of explaining to customers the strengths and unique features of a product," says Kevin Lau, general manager of Joyas Manufacturing Limited. "This speeds up the sales process considerably and means there is a higher success rate in securing new business because customers feel confident about the information they receive in the initial encounter."

To facilitate this, sales engineers work closely with the company's R&D and production teams. They will be involved in the design or modification of products and are expected to provide input about customer feedback and anticipated demand. In addition, they may be asked to conduct specific market research to identify evolving trends and ascertain what types of new product would sell well.

Sales engineers working for Joyas usually have degrees in mechanical or electronic engineering. The company was established by the current chairman Peter Lau in 1991 and manufactures a wide range of products which includes games, gift sets, clocks, photo frames, computer accessories, iPod amplifiers and calculators. Sales are principally to well-known international banks, insurers and retailers. Business has been expanding steadily, which has led to the need for a larger sales team and, in particular, sales engineers able to cover Hong Kong and the mainland.

Besides technical expertise, candidates will need to have very good interpersonal skills to deal with the diverse customer base. "Handling customers in the United States or Europe requires different skills, " says Mr Lau "Buyers in the US focus on cost and efficiency and order larger quantities; those in Europe favour products that reflect style and elegance and may be prepared to pay a bit more for that." The company usually assigns sales engineers to work on a regional basis. This allows them to develop a high level of expertise plus greater business savvy and cultural awareness. "Broadly speaking, we have noticed that our US customers want to deal with people they consider meticulous and highly organised," notes Mr Lau. "European customers expect more communication and a certain kind of business courtesy, which means sales engineers must be sensitive to such subtleties.

"When hiring, we consider both experienced candidates and fresh graduates," Mr Lau adds. Those with previous experience may still need to learn new work habits and procedures. Recent graduates must be prepared to start from the bottom and apply themselves to learning everything about the business. This may include distinguishing between genuine customers and those who simply want to obtain market information or compare prices.

"Sales engineers have to be on the alert and also consider the reason for an enquiry," says Mr Lau. "They must know how to focus more on potential customers, so that business opportunities do not slip away through spending too much time on non-productive requests."

What it takes to be a sales engineer

  • Sound technical background, preferably with a degree in electronic or mechanical engineering
  • Patience, good listening skills and the ability to interpret customer requirements and accurately communicate them to relevant decision-makers
  • The ability to discern and predict customer demand for different styles
  • Well-organised and meticulous
  • A self-starter with a positive attitude
  • Goal-orientated in searching for or developing solutions
  • Willingness to learn by attending exhibitions and seminars to keep abreast of the latest technology and trends
  • Good business presentation and communication skills in English, Cantonese and Mandarin
  • Interest in making business trips to the mainland and overseas

Taken from Career Times 11 August 2006
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