When things get more technical in a sales cycle, a solution engineer comes in.
As a solutions engineer, you explain how users can configure the product to their unique business needs. Simply put, you come in to simplify the technical parts of buying a piece of software and customize the buying experience for the prospect.
Overall, it's about delivering the best possible experience to your prospects. The better their experience is, the faster they will convert. However, this is just one perspective on a solution engineer’s day-to-day. To know more, dive deeper.
Who is a solution engineer?
A solution engineer, who is part of the presages team, ensures that the salespeople have all the support they need to close deals efficiently. They use their extensive technical knowledge to create sales demos, proof of concepts, and product guides and to customise solutions.
A solution engineer focuses more on what potential software buyers might need in the future, not just now. They help software buyers realize their unique vision through the software product they’re selling.
As a solution engineer, you are an integral part of the sales team. No fixed sales quota is attached to your role, but you serve salespeople to close accounts faster. Iman Maghroori, a distinguished Solution Engineer at Salesforce, says, “Our job is to make deals bigger and close faster. It’s not to train, onboard, enable, or support customers. Solutions engineers exist to help sales make their deals bigger and close faster.”
What Does a Solution Engineer Do?
A solutions engineer works with several cross-functional teams.
You don’t need to be an expert in one domain. But you need to know the lay of the land across many, including:
- Sales rep training
- Sales engagement best practices
- Sales qualification
- Demo automation and presentation
- Industry or market expertise
- Buyer education
- Buyer experience
- Product Specialist
- Product management
- IT and enterprise architect
- Delivery and implementation
This is a very high-level overview. Every SE role would have some differences based on how your role is structured and the organizational hierarchy. You’ll build solutions to enable and assist channel partners if the position is in the partnership department. Or, if it belongs to the research and development side, the role is more focused on internal research on the product.
Below are some of the typical roles and responsibilities of a solution engineer.
- Conduct targeted discovery sessions and workshops to uncover a business's unique challenges and issues. (Salesforce’s Lead Solution Engineer, 2023)
- Deliver product messaging through decks, whiteboards, product demos , proof of concept, and prototypes. (Freshworks’ Lead Solution Engineer, 2023)
- Create precise roadmaps to show how business and tech partners can adopt the solution to move from current to future business state. (Salesforce’s Lead Solution Engineer, 2023)
- Partner with sales executives to educate potential software buyers about the solution and handle their technical objections and issues. (Kaseya’s Solution Engineer, 2023)
- Work with R&D teams to ensure potential customers’ requirements are met through customized feature requests and track development. Own the relationship with potential customers. (Synopsys’ Solution Engineer, 2023)
- Be the customer’s voice to share insights and best practices. Work cross-functionally with product and engineering teams to remove blockers.
*These roles and responsibilities are taken from active solution engineer job descriptions in different organizations as of 20 September 2023.
Top Skills for a Solution Engineer
There’s no one answer to the top skills of a solution engineer if we talk about technical skills. An SE’s tech skill requirements vary depending on the product they’re selling and the target market/industry.
Below is a high-level overview of the critical skills advantageous in an SE role.
- Hands-on experience or deep understanding of web technologies and software development
- Remarkable communication, mentoring, and collaboration skills
- Experience delivering custom solutions to customers of all sizes
- Excellent presentation and demonstration skills
- Ability to analyze a business case and construct return on investment forecasts
- High-level knowledge in designing, developing, deploying, implementing, and maintaining tech solutions and products
- Analytical and problem-solving skills with high attention to detail.
David Albright, Lead Solution Engineer at Salesforce, says, “Deep knowledge of customers paired with soft skills like customer communication, knowing your business, risk mitigation, value selling, projection management, and solutions is the mix you seek to become a solution engineer.
What Makes a Superior Candidate
Some skills you can learn quickly, and some come with practice. Brian Strandtman, VP of Solution Engineering at Salesforce, highlights four key areas that make a candidate stand out among competitors.
- Demonstrated history. Being able to prove what you did and the learnings that came with it.
- Software skills. These include working through simulated discovery calls and creating customized and interactive demos, presentations, decks, and other documentation.
- Teamwork. Ability to work with different teams and give inputs when necessary. For example, giving feedback and more information about a new feature request from a potential customer.
- Storytelling. Your customer might doze off if you show them what every button or checkmark on the display does. A great SE can weave a story around how the solution makes their customers’ lives easier and better and how it solves their pain rather than simply showing functions and functionalities.
How to Become a Solution Engineer
When people look from the outside, they think solution engineers delve into coding and development like hardcore engineering roles. This is a myth. John Patton, Senior Director of Solutions Engineering at Salesforce, suggests, “It’s not as technical as the role sounds from its name.”
Below are five things you should focus on while pursuing a solution engineer’s career path.
Acquire Necessary Education
Pursue a bachelor's degree in Computer Science, Information Technology, or a related field. Technical knowledge can help you a lot. Patton says, “A person with technical knowledge and strong storytelling skills excites him the most when interviewing an SE candidate.” He likes to uncover the candidate’s intellectual curiosity and believes those naturally curious are the best fit for the role.
You can learn programming languages and go through software development courses to increase your technical proficiency.
Focus on what you communicate more. Simply saying, “This is the feature we built, and here’s what it does,” lacks essence, especially if you're talking to a potential customer. Talk more about the “Why” behind the development of the feature and communicate how it makes customers’ lives easier and better. It’s a minor tweak that can move mountains while communicating with your future product advocates.
John Patton thinks this is the most underutilized skill. He believes that improving soft skills like communication can help build a better business case, supporting your career in solution engineering.
Gain Practical Experience
You can start as a presales or business development executive and then transition into solution consulting. Work on real-time projects to develop a strong understanding of creating solutions for business needs.
You should compile case studies of the projects you've successfully handled. Add them to your portfolio to justify what you have done in the past. According to Brian Strandtman, demonstrating historical work helps you be a superior candidate.
Learn and Network
If you’re just starting, prepare a resume and apply to different organizations. Attend workshops and seminars to stay updated with the latest trends. Learn to network with people in the industry.
You can use platforms like LinkedIn to reach out to current solution engineers, explore their journey, and convey what you’re doing to get into the same role. Stay in touch. People who see you’re invested in making solution engineering a career would reach out when there is any opening in their company.
Iman Maghroori suggests, “Make your sales team love you. Do things in a way; they tell their manager that a deal was closed or got bigger because of you.” Most of the SEs push back a lot of things. Often, while trying to qualify prospective customers with numerous questions. That’s not your job as an SE, it just makes it difficult for the sales team to work with you.”
How Much Does a Solution Engineer Earn?
On average, solution engineers earn between $111,000 to $185,000 annually in the U.S.. This is an average figure based on Glassdoor data.
However, in some tech companies like Google, Meta, Amazon, LiveRamp, or VMWare, SEs can earn as high as $265,102 per annum.
Tools That Make a Solution Engineer’s Job Easier
There are several tools on the market. However, what you need solely depends on your role and responsibilities in the current organization.
A solution engineer’s job is to work cross functionally with marketing, business development, customer success and product teams, therefore you need to have a set of tools to help you out or to make the process more efficient.
Below are some tools that help solution engineers do their jobs better:
- Customer relationship management software. Helps you track customer interactions and answer why a customer started using the product and when they’re up for renewal.
- Demo creation platform. Lets prospects virtually experience a product rather than just viewing the several features and functionalities in a video.
- Business analytics software. Provides insights into how customers use your product.
- Sales intelligence tools. Help qualify leads better. Examples include BuiltWith and Bombora.
Learn more about tools that enable solution engineer to effectively do their jobs.
Adopting Solution Engineering as a Career
An SE’s job is to help the sales department close bigger deals faster. Keep your salespeople as your top priority, and when some deal is vital for them, make it equally important for you.
Remember, make your sales team love working with you. Your present account executives would become directors or sales heads of companies in the future. Keep these relationships nourished as you grow in sales engineering. It’s advantageous.
Q1. How is an SE role different from a sales role?
Unlike sales, an SE’s role doesn’t involve asking customers what they need at present, etc. It’s more about explaining what prospects might need in the future and providing them with a memorable experience. SE aims to make deals bigger and close them faster.
Q2. What skills do solutions engineers need?
SEs should have some technical proficiency, communication and networking skills, the ability to collaborate with different teams, and problem-solving abilities.
Q3. What is the highest salary for a solutions engineer?
Solution engineers can earn as much as $134,000 per annum. The entry-level salary in this role is $68,000 per annum.