Solution engineers, technical consultants, solutions consultants—whatever you choose to call the technical expert on your sales team—they play a significant role in the sales and account-development process.
In our research, Top Performance in Strategic Account Management, we analyzed data from 397 executives, strategic account managers, and sales professionals to learn what sets the companies that are best at growing their strategic accounts—Top Performers—apart from The Rest.
Overall, we assessed 32 skills comprising six roles strategic account managers play: Results Driver, Project Manager, Technical Expert, Innovator, Collaborator, and Relationship Lead.
When companies have the right team in place, they can develop ideas to drive more value at accounts, drive relationships with executives, and drive new opportunities.
Here we discuss the crucial role the Technical Expert plays.
The Technical Expert Defined
A technical expert is the 1) specialist / analyst / technician who has the relevant depth of knowledge, and 2) the ability to solve problems and facilitate deep-dive discussions. They know the company's products and services inside and out, and can apply the right ones to the right situations.
Note: Often one person on the sales or account team plays several roles and the technical expert may be combined with another role.
It's fundamental that any company that sells products and services should sell the right ones in the right solution combinations to help buyers achieve the greatest success.
4 Skills of Technical Experts
There are certain skills that your technical experts need to excel in to get the best sales growth and the best client satisfaction results:
- Identifying New Opportunities
Technical experts have a unique lens through which they view customers. Technical experts should look for ways the customer could be doing things better, then bring these ideas up with, ideally, the customer themselves, and if not, then with account relationship leads and business drivers. Technical experts can be great at prospecting in accounts. It's important, however, to position "prospecting" for technical experts properly. If you say "prospecting" they get defensive and scared.
If you say, "If you were in charge over there, what would you do differently?" they tend have a lot of valuable ideas.
Customers value these ideas. In our research we found that client satisfaction shoots up when account managers create new opportunities proactively.
Our advice: get technical experts (regardless of their official title) to think proactively about where the untapped areas of opportunity are at your accounts, and create conversations based on those ideas.
- Crafting the Best Solutions
It's interesting that nearly 4 out of 5 Top Performers "craft the best solutions" while less than half of The Rest do. As Henry Heinz put it, "To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success." In fact, this is one of our 10 essential selling skills.
People at most organizations tell us they're good at consultative selling, which typically includes concepts of understanding need and crafting the best solutions. Yet we found that Top Performers are much better at consultative selling: 65% of Top Performers have core consultative selling skills versus just 41% of The Rest.
While you might read this and think, "We're good at this," ask yourself, "Are we as good as Top Performers?"
Technical Expert Skills
- Solving Implementation Roadblocks
It also seems that Top Performers are an order of magnitude better at solving implementation roadblocks. This can be a mix of both attitude—Top Performers have more energy in making things right when they hit snags—and technical problem-solving skills.
Post-sales satisfaction correlates significantly with loyalty.1 The better you are at recognizing and solving implementation problems, the higher satisfaction will be. This will affect future sales.
- Answering Technical Questions, Providing Technical Advice
Across the board, most organizations are good at answering technical questions accurately. This is necessary for basic success and credibility, but is in no way sufficient, even as it relates to the technical expert role.
Sometimes technical evaluators on the buy-side come right out and say why something might not work, but more often it happens behind the scenes. You need your technical expert to work proactively to make sure this doesn't happen.
When it comes to growing accounts, the technical expert role is the most commonly well-played role across all companies. But technical expertise alone won't win the sale.
Think of it like this: technical experts help you get a seat at the table, they are the price of entry. If you want to drive the greatest account growth and sales, your technical expert needs to excel in these areas, and you need your account and sales team to play all 6 strategic account management roles well.
1. Mike Schultz and John Doerr, What Sales Winners Do Differently (RAIN Group, 2013).