The Systems Engineer: Recruiting for Pre-Sales Professional Roles

Recruiting for Pre-Sales

As a recruiter in the tech domain, when I am tasked with recruiting for Pre-Sales person, what I’m looking for is a Systems Engineer. Systems Engineers are taking on the Pre-Sales role because their in-depth technology knowledge gives them a significant advantage. Having a Systems Engineer involved in the presentation lets the client know they are not getting another sales pitch. They’re getting someone who will come in and really be able to help them understand their needs on a technical level. It has become more than selling the box. It has become key to put it all together and make sure that the client understands exactly how it’s going to work, how it will eliminate their aches and pains, and how the contents of the box will be put in place to save them money.

A Techie with Personality: What is Today’s Systems Engineer?

Pre-Sales Engineers have always needed to have a sales personality. This personality type remains just as important for a Systems Engineer, making strong presentation skills and excellent customer communication necessary elements of a candidate. Gone are the days when engineers carried a reputation for lacking in communication, hidden behind the scenes, and never interacting with customers. These engineers are now expected to work the front line so the customer feels comfortable beyond the pitch. The client gains reassurance that they are getting a true solution because it is being delivered by the expert.

Today’s Startup Michelangelo

This recent evolution of the Pre-Sales role is particularly imperative for startups. Larger corporations established for a longer period of time can afford the luxury of having Sales, Account Manager, Pre-Sales, Post-Sales and Implementation roles on their staff. Startup companies can’t afford to hire a different person to suit each of these roles. Instead, they look for people who can wear many hats at many levels. A Systems Engineer may not have to close the deal, but they are tasked with convincing a client, on the technical level, that they’ve got their solution. Pre-Sales as we knew it has become a more demanding role as a result.

This new Michelangelo will have the customer interface with the technical knowledge of what needs to be done and how to solve problems. But not only that, they will be able to help clients understand how the box will be implemented and how it will all come together. On occasion, some companies are requesting a Systems Engineer who can handle Post-Sales tasks as well. They want someone who can do a proof of concept but also be skilled enough to assist with implementation, in the event there is a delay in getting their traditional Professional Services person on the job.

Finding a Well Rounded Systems Engineer: Qualities and Red Flags

In searching for that well rounded Systems Engineer to fill my clients’ needs, I am not using Pre-Sales as a keyword. It may be a term that shows up in resume histories and online profiles, but Technical Consultants or similar types still using the Pre-Sales term come across as dated. It says to me that they have the sales pitch down but they don’t have the technology. They can talk a good game, but are not as technical or hands-on as they should be for the needs of today’s leading startups and other innovative corporations.

Corporations sticking with their multiple role blueprint tend to look for someone with a stronger sales background because they’ have all of the other tech personnel in place to back them up. They may have three or four people coming into a customer meeting to talk about a solution whereas a startup will rely upon a Sales person and their Systems Engineer to accomplish everything. Today’s Systems Engineer won’t have much support so they have to be all-in-one, with core strength in technology.

In my Systems Engineer searches, the initial filter comes from a candidate’s knowledge of my client’s specific technology. What experience and knowledge do they have in my client’s arena? Do they have the exact skills within that domain that my client needs?

Of additional importance, especially in the startup environment is how hands-on the candidate has been with the actual product. Have they seen it? Have they touched it? Have they witnessed its implementation? Have they solved a problem with it? If instead, they can only talk about it, then for me that’s a red flag.

Equally, I am looking for the right personality fit. A strong Systems Engineer must be able to communicate well enough for the client to really grasp the concept presented. Can they do white boards? Do they know the right questions to ask and how to answer all of the others? In addition to presenting well, they have to have a strong, professional presence at very C levels. An introvert without exposure to customers isn’t going to make my cut, regardless of how perfect their hands-on technology knowledge may be.

Touch the Box

Finally, the story of how a candidate came to be a Systems Engineer is important to me. This comes from careful review of resumes, profiles and qualifying conversations. It provides me the insight I need to determine if they are the right fit for my clients’ roles. If the candidate has been there with the box from start to finish, seeing the deal all the way through by supporting their account managers and can go in and do a proof of concept, that’s what I’m looking for. So many candidates, especially those who have worked for larger companies, have never even touched the box, much less its contents. They’ve seen it on diagrams, they’ve drawn it out, but they’ve never touched it and have certainly never implemented it. These candidates fit very well into the old school Pre-Sales definition. Today’s roles will pass them by at light speed if they don’t get out and touch the box.

Suzzane Albert is a Senior Executive Recruiter for Millennium Search, serving the recruiting needs of the high tech industry since 1997.

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