Presales Professionals Titles Matter, They Mean a lot and Imply More

Ramzi Marjaba June 26, 2021

I’m sitting minding my own business, messing around with LinkedIn and I get a message, a brand new connection. The person was hiring for a Sales Engineering role, and the question was “What is the best title for sales engineers?”.

In my mind, I thought the best title for “Sales Engineers” was “Sales Engineer”. However, the manager mentioned that he did not need an engineer specifically, just for someone to do the sales engineering work, i.e. PreSales.

I semi-joked that he can name the role whatever he wants, and if someone cannot tell what the role is from the job description, then maybe they are not worthy of being in the profession.

We both had a laugh or as much of a laugh we can have over LinkedIn messenger, but the three issues that we needed to consider were:

1. How to attract the biggest number of talent,

2. What would the title imply to the customer and

3. What would this specific hire do? 

When posting for a job it is fairly important to attract as many prospects and in this case, potential PreSales professionals. It’s similar to anything else in sales. 

Big Funnel = Good Funnel

So the title has to attract as many people as possible. Sure, people can figure out what the role is from the job description, but if the title is vague, the prospect might not think to search for it and even see it.

Almost two years ago, I wrote a LinkedIn article about the Confusing Title of Sales Engineers. Since then I’ve been introduced to many more titles for our role, and I also have a different view of the benefits or non-benefits for each.

Sales Engineer

“Sales Engineer” is the most common title that I’ve heard. Although nothing describes exactly what we do on a day-to-day basis, this title is as close to it as possible. We are in sales so our job is to sell products but we’re also Engineers so we know what we’re talking about, unlike some other people in the room. 

And a LinkedIn Job search of the term sales engineer or even pre-sales engineer yields the most results. Also, LinkedIn is smart enough to show you results for some of the other titles I will be discussing today.

PreSales Engineer

I have to admit, I had never heard of the term PreSales before I started my podcast and began interacting with other Sales Engineers, or in this case “PreSales” Engineers. It initially confused me since PreSales indicated before Sales, which I thought was marketing or lead generation. 

Since then, it’s grown on me. It indicates a clear distinction between Salespeople and SEs. We can simply say we’re in PreSales and in our industry, people understand that it is different from Salespeople. So if someone is looking for a job, they can easily find it. 

Many organizations are creating PreSales departments. Vivun has its own VP of PreSales, and I’d love to see other organizations adopt that as well. Some of the older organizations have a VP of Field Engineering. Both these departments include both PreSales and Post-Sales and that includes Professional Services, Customer Success, or Solution Architecting in some cases. 

Solutions Engineer

Solutions could be anything. In our industry, we know that a Solutions Engineer is most likely a Sales Engineer, but it could also mean other roles. Being called a Solutions Engineer would imply the sale of complex products. Someone who would have to dig in and design solutions to customer problems. Not creating solutions from scratch, but using the portfolio that they are responsible for selling, or even partnering with other vendors to provide a solution to the customer. 

However, sometimes this title is used for teams selling simple software, where most customers will end up with similar solutions. That is used since some leaders want to move away from the term “sale” as some might think it has a negative connotation. 

Customer Engineer

This is a new one I’ve been hearing. Mainly Google calls their Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Sales Engineers as Customer Engineers. This title amuses me as I feel like the person is engineering a customer. If that’s the case, I want that superpower, a customer who will buy from me unconditionally. Alas, it’s not!

That being said, since Google is using that title, I’m sure others will start as well. 

During my conversation with Perri, the PreSales Evangelist Extraordinaire for Vivun, she mentioned that smaller companies like Sourcegraph make this role a hybrid PreSales and Post-Sales role.

If anyone from Google knows why that is the title of choice, please ping me. I’d love to know in more detail. A couple of theories that came up around this trend. It’s possible that customers do not keep their guard down with titles like “Customer Engineer” in ways they might if “Sales” were in the title. Another idea is the role of the CE is to be customer-first by design and truly less aligned with Sales. One is pessimistic, and one is optimistic.

Solution Consultant

If you like the term Solutions Engineer but you’re not hiring engineers, the law, in some countries, prohibits the use of the term engineer for those without an engineering degree, then Consultant is for you! I am not a lawyer but I’ve seen the series Suits or at least a few episodes. A simple change of the term engineer to consultant and voila, the problem was solved.

Solution Architect

Solution Architects can mean many things. In my previous life as a Network Design Engineer, some of my colleagues who had been in the role for a while took on the title of Solution Architect. Their role was Post-sales. 

In the new company I work for, Solution Architect is another term for Specialist Sales Engineer. They focus on one product or technology, and they know it inside out. 

If you’re looking to attract PreSales talent, this might be a vague title. 

From here on out, the titles do not make sense.

Application Engineer

An applications engineer, as far as I’m concerned, is an engineer who works on an application.  My current company calls Sales Engineers “Applications Engineers” but recently changed to Solution Engineers. Even the abbreviation for Applications Engineers is deceiving (AE = Account Executive?). Most of the people who interacted with the AEs don’t know what that means. Is the AE designing an application? Are they software engineers who are coding the applications? In the end, the AE will end up explaining that they are a Sales Engineer, and 5 minutes of every customer meeting is wasted. 

Systems Engineer

Systems Engineer is another bad title that I had the honor of carrying around in my previous job.  I never used it. It was on my business card since that was company policy, but I always introduced myself as a Sales Engineer. Even when I took my manager to meet my customers, he introduced himself as a Sales Engineer Manager.

The title “Systems Engineer” is so vague. It could mean anything, from someone who decides what components go into a satellite system to someone who is deciding how a code is written. Not many people think a Systems Engineer, oh he or she is here to help me understand my requirements and decide what to buy!

Technical Sales

Mainly means “salesperson”. Usually, if it’s a technical role, then Consultant or Engineer is added at the end of the title so people know.

However, I’ve seen mainly hybrid sales engineers being called Technical Sales, especially in the mechanical and civil engineering world. I’m sure other disciplines of engineering follow the same logic as well. 

Technical Account Manager

Don’t let this title fool you. This is a technical role that at least VMware employs. They focus more on Post-Sales and help the customer implement what they just bought from the Account Team. It’s akin to Customer Success for SaaS, or as I know it in the networking world, a Customer Advocate who is there to assist customers with the rollout of when they purchase new networking equipment. 

In the end, what you name your team matters. It can either attract or confuse potential hires. It can explain to the customers exactly what the person they are talking to does or how the person they are talking to would be able to assist. Finally, the title would tell the actual hire what they are supposed to do. There are a few titles that I would stay away from, but most of the titles would work. 

Ramzi Marjaba June 26, 2021