3 sales tips from an engineer turned saleswoman

The Lead

What do women in sales and engineers have in common?

An engineer who sells? I didn’t understand what one skill set had to do with the other … until I spoke to Ellen, an executive saleswoman at a semi-conductor company.

As you might imagine, Ellen is typically the only woman in the room — which gives her a unique perspective. She is off-the-charts bright, with degrees in both statistics and physics, so engineering was a natural career choice.

Once she got into the working world, she constantly looked for new challenges. Every year or two, she switched roles—from product development, to test engineering, to design. Then she moved into a business-related role, where she interfaced with the company’s foundry in Taiwan.

Ellen found the business side much more interesting. She certainly understood the product, but she also understood people and knew how to solve problems. And that’s a winning combination for women in sales.

3 “engineering” approaches to sales

Ellen eventually moved into a sales role, which isn’t as strange as it sounds. As she helped me understand, engineering and sales require some similar skill sets.

1. Engineers look for solutions to problems.

Engineers ask, “What is the most logical path that will deliver results?” So do great salespeople. For example, Ellen quickly discovered that the best way to win at business negotiations is to sell her idea so the client thinks it’s their idea. When clients get invested in the solution, there is no push back on price.

2. Engineers see patterns.

Sales is about connecting with the right people at the right time, and making those connections often requires us to make sense of complex data. When Ellen reviews business reports, it’s easy for her to see the story behind the numbers. She separates customers by category and the data falls into different groupings, so she’s able to see and interpret important patterns.

3. Engineers like structure and simplicity.

Ellen always does her research and structures her train of thought before entering a meeting. During her meeting prep, she decides what she wants to achieve and focuses on that one topic.

She only presents her point of view about the problem at hand and three key points to support her perspective. Her goal is to make communication simple. Maybe she doesn’t say everything she wants to say, but she makes her point clearly.

Ellen’s engineering background makes her better at her job. But it’s not her only advantage in the meeting room; so is her gender.

What’s so great about being an engineer and a woman in sales?

Ellen believes women look at sales and business development differently than men do. She says her male peers focus more on sales compensation and results, while women in sales look at the bigger picture and the longer-term implications of a decision. Rather than focusing on closing, we think about how to build relationships and enlarge the business scope.

It’s also natural for women to connect different ideas and people. We leverage our relationships, research, and negotiation. We’re the complete package. Of course, men can do all of these things, too, and some do them quite well. But it comes naturally for a saleswoman.

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