Becoming a Sales Engineer: Part 2
My first year as a sales engineer was interesting. During the the interviews, they told me the territory was developed, with regular clients and customers, and the products were at a competitive price point. None of that was really true. Half way through the year I realized that our commodity products were subpar and overpriced and the specialty products were a good value but had a couple of fierce competitors driving the price below anything we’d be able to make any money on (commissions paid on percentage of profit margin). Not to mention, the company had not given me any training in actual sales skills. I was on my own. I was reading books on sales and learning the ropes. Cristine had moved down and was struggling to find a job and I was figuring out how to balance remote work, creating my own sales activities, and adjusting to life in Houston with Cristine.
But I managed to get some sales under my belt and some commissions that came with them. By the end of the first year, I realized I would make 25% more than my last job being that this job was salary plus commission, so I was feeling good. There were a couple of big fish that we lost because the competitors were way low price-wise but there was nothing I could do about that. In this industry, the sales cycles were very long 1–3 years from the time I reach out to a client to the time a product delivers. So, you can’t expect much increase in the first year because you’re reacting not proacting, but I knew I was making progress and that the following years would be much better. I knew this and my manager knew this.
So, I’m driving to the Baton Rouge HQ from Houston (a 4.5 hr. Drive) and I get a call from my manger. He calls to warn me that Cary (the CEO) is not happy with the numbers and that I should expect a pretty bad reaction from him. When I walk into the conference room, all the leadership is sitting around the conference table including Cary. The lights are dim as to allow for clarity for the projector. I sit down and He/they proceed to run through the numbers and simultaneously assault my skill, my competence, my character and more. At this point Cary is outright screaming and cursing, I try to defend myself, but he responds by getting even louder. My manager, Phil was powerless because the reason he knew this was going to happen was because he was getting the same thing for a whole day ahead of me.
I realize that this isn’t a rational person and that logic would not resonate as a defense. This was an egomaniac throwing a tantrum so I really had two choices: match his volume smash my company laptop and storm out of the building or shut my mouth, nod and wait til he was done. I chose the latter against every natural instinct within me. At the end, the COO half way apologized and said, “Look, we’re not trying to beat you up, this is just what the numbers are showing.”
I responded, “ Trust me, I’ve been beat up way worse than this. And I always get back up”, smiled and walked out of the room. On my drive home, Phil called and apologized, sympathized with me, and assured me that Cary was out of line but there was nothing he could do. “Look Phil, that was bullshit and we both know it. That being said, I’m a confident person and I know what I can do. Sure that kind of treatment can piss me off but it’s not going to change how I see myself. I don’t think he’s going to fire me, otherwise he would have done it right there and then. So he’s stuck with me and I’ll show him. I know this next year and the year after are going to be much better.”
I spent the next two years kicking ass and taking names. I increased sales by 20% year over year each year. My income increased along with it. I figured out my market and the key clients and I was the leader in the sector for my specialty product (a shoreline protection system). Along the way, Phil quit and my Austin and Louisiana counterparts were fired. I proved to myself that I can be good at this but since that day Cary lost it, I knew I wasn’t going to stay for much longer.
I had a bit of a cognitive struggle because I knew that I was making Cary richer on my path to proving him wrong. But it wasn’t really about him, It was about proving something to myself, so I focused on what I would gain from this experience and it wasn’t just the pay. I was running my territory as my own business, I learned sales skills, time management, client/customer management, problem solving, and I learned that I could do it with minimal support from the company leadership and against their expectations. That being said, the third year would be my last.