Sales Engineering is Customer Success Engineering

Alok Agrawal of Rubrik says that Sales Engineering of today has few opportunities to leverage information trade and needs to adopt a customer success mindset.

Alok Shukla

By Alok Shukla

Jan 31, 2023 6 min read

Alok A. Pod

TL/DR - Sales Engineer of today has very few opportunities of leveraging information trade to extract insights from technical buyers. To win technical sales, the sales engineer has to deliver previously unknown “apriori” value that moves a customer from a negative to a positive value state, adopting customer success values and mindset. Automating the mundane, up-leveling of skills, and being a great educator are critical to a superior sales engineering experience.

Alok Shukla, in a conversation with Alok Agrawal, VP of Global Sales Engineering at Rubrik, on why Sales Engineering and Customer Success Engineering should be in the same role.👉 Listen now on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, and BuzzSprout.Or, you can watch the video podcast. 👀

In this episode, we cover

0:00.  Introduction

6:20.  Intuition of Sales Engineers?

8:00.   Do Sales Engineers still have Information Leverage?

11:56   From Negative Value to Positive Value

14:50.  Sales Engineer is the Future!

19:26   Customer Success and Sales Engineering are the same roles!

23:51  How do we automate the mundane in presales?

26:30  A great sales engineer is also a great educator/trainer

30:13  Product Managers with Revenue Incentives?

Transcript below


I am currently VP of Sales Engineering at Rubrik. I did my undergrad in Mumbai, India, and then moved to the US for my post-graduation from the University of Southern California in the early 2000s. Then, I started my career at Cisco, quickly realizing that I enjoyed working with customers.Post that, I ventured into my own startup Tegile. The four of us started Tegile in 2009-2010, and after selling Tegile to Western Digital, I moved to Rubrik, where I currently lead Global Sales engineering.

How did you make your journey in sales engineering?

When four of us at Cisco decided to start our startup Tegile, I focused on all customer-facing activities - product management, sales engineering, customer success, etc.While I led Product Management for a while, I started taking care of all customer interaction, starting with sales engineering. I grew into that job and was responsible for Tegile for system engineering before and after its acquisition into Western Digital.So this was my natural interest in working with customers taking me into a role I grew up in. Post western digital, I chanced upon this role at Rubrik to lead sales engineering for Rubrik, which considering my background in handling data, is something that I have enjoyed immensely during my tenure so far.In general, my theory is that a customer is always looking to replace the negative value they are experiencing with positive benefits. Sales engineers' job is to help customers understand how a particular offering will do that.

How much do you believe in the intuition of sales engineers? Are they good predictors of sales trials?

SEs (Sales Engineers) always know about a deal.

A good sales engineer will have established the problem statement and would have developed an incredible feeling of the negative value the customer is currently experiencing.They would, during the course of the trial, will develop a great sense of whether they have been able to demonstrate the intended positive benefit to the customer with the use of their product.

You made a provocative observation last time we met "Sales engineering and customer success engineering should be the same role."  Why do you think so?

I intended to make this provocative statement. Sales Engineers and Customer success engineers are essentially the same roles, and I expect them to converge in most modern organizations.It is the job of sales engineers in modern times to take care of their customers. As I always say, your customer is in the prospect list of your competitors. If you do not care for them, your competition will make them their customers.At Rubrik, we currently have a minor customer success team. However, our approach is to have sales engineers take care of their customers, which is also the mandate of the customer success team. As we grow, we expect our customer success and sales engineering team to be fully interchangeable in the role, mission, and skill set.

How will you describe the role of a future sales engineer?

Sales Engineers are the future. Compared to 10 years ago, the role of a sales engineer has advanced in three specific ways.

First, Automation (specifically product automation) is helping eliminate mundane activities, aka the activities that the sales engineer was doing that could have been achieved by automation - like providing them with educational materials. This frees up sales engineers to engage with customers in areas where they deliver high value while resolving their challenges.

Second, Uplevelling of Skills. In the past, ten years back, most sales were top-down, so a sales engineer's job was to demonstrate if the product worked for a couple of use cases to the buyers. Now, the purchase process is mostly bottoms up. So if you want to convince an engineer on the other side (especially in a field like ours), you will have to demonstrate a higher-order technical skill set just to have your new-age buyer take you meaningfully.

Third, Becoming an effective educator. At Rubrik, a great sales engineer is also the one who is a great trainer/educator. We rotate our sales engineers between training and active field.

The ability to educate is a great skill for a sales engineer in engaging with customers.

What is the impact of product-led growth on sales engineers? Is the advent of Product Led Growth a challenge for sales engineers?

The future of selling will be somewhere between product led with the assistance of sales engineering. For most enterprise products, there is a limit to which you can apply apriori knowledge to specific situations of an enterprise. If you have a product that can be completed product operated, then ideally, you are not in an enterprise complex selling scenario. AFAIK there are few enterprise settings where that is usually possible.Also, as I have said earlier, mundane must be automated to deliver standard common knowledge to customers through automation. The role of a sales engineer is to understand customers’ specific knowledge, where no prior art is available as a solution, and create a custom solution to their customer's problems. This is also how we approach our customers at Rubrik.

Should product managers have revenue incentives to develop products that have easier GTM?

Product managers should have revenue incentives to develop products with easier GTM.In fact, at Rubrik, we make it a point to give product manager exposure to field activities and sales engineers exposure to how products are built. It develops appreciation and skill sets for building the product and the GTM for the same product.Gone are the days when you could simply develop the product and throw it over the fence to the field team to figure out the GTM.

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