How Soft Skills Can Make You a Better Sales Engineer

Alyson Schreider, Sales Engineering Manager at Salsify
This interview was edited for length and clarity

One look at Alyson Schreider’s resume is all you need to know that she is a talented woman with a wealth of experience. As a Sales Engineer at Salsify, Alyson leads a team of driven individuals dedicated to making the ecommerce experience more efficient and user friendly, for brand manufacturers and their customers. Prior to stepping into this leadership role, Alyson worked as a Sales Engineer for six years and has since developed a knack for meeting the needs of her clients, team, and leadership with courage, vulnerability, and spunk. You might be wondering – how did Alyson manage to create such a successful career in a role that is largely dominated by men, in an already male dominated industry? To answer this question, we must look back to a professional experience Alyson had that was unlike any other experience in her career.

Some of the skills that Alyson has relied on to succeed as a Sales Engineer include the ability to temper expectations, being honest about one’s limitations, and being determined enough to get better. These skills enabled her to excel at leadership and build a meaningful and impactful career. When asked how she developed these skills and her advice for other women interested in a Sales Engineer role, Alyson pointed to a life changing experience that shaped her into the professional she is today.

“I learned these skills when I worked in public safety with police officers because there were actually life and death situations – in 911 dispatch, you have to make sure all the systems are working at all times and so I got really good at providing and managing expectations in some pretty stressful situations.”

This ability to assess and manage expectations while clearly and honestly relaying information proved to be a powerful skill – not only in her job in public safety, but also throughout her entire career.

But it wasn’t just this ability that helped shape her into the dynamic professional she is today.

“I realized that the more I communicate and the more I’m honest about what I am doing or what I can or can’t do, the more people meet you where you are. Then, I’m able to find out what I need to know quickly.”

Alyson learned early on in an unexpected professional experience, what was needed to be an effective sales engineer: tempering expectations, communicating clearly, and resolving to learn that which is unknown at the moment.

This story proves two things – first, it shows that skills can be learned in any environment and used in any role. Second, it shows that having the courage and vulnerability to admit what you do and do not know while resolving to learn and grow, will make you far more successful as a Sales Engineer than you might initially think.

Alyson further corroborated these two points when asked to share her insight on how one can successfully transition into a pre-sales role and what skills are needed to do so.

 “I think the desire to dig in and work hard, be curious with customers, be empathetic, and ask questions will help you understand what you need.”

Alyson went on to encourage those that are interested in applying for a Sales Engineer role not to be discouraged by the technical side of the job as she continued to highlight the value that soft skills bring to the role.

“Being willing to build and create relationships with customers is really important. Technical aptitude depends on what we’re looking for at the time – sometimes we want someone really technical and sometimes we don’t. Other times, we want someone that’s great at building relationships, becoming the trusted advisor to a customer and willingness to learn the technical side. The key is to go for it – don’t be afraid to fail.”

While Alyson’s experience in public safety helped prepare her for her job as a Sales Engineer today, it wasn’t the only influence on her career. When asked what enabled her to effectively do her job, Alyson shared the following insight:

“All of the different work I’ve done with customers and being around and understanding different types of personalities and how to communicate with them really helped me. You have to understand that you can’t just go in with the same approach with every single person.”

Alyson managed to pull skills from various client facing professional experiences to empower her to succeed in her current role, and it’s something we can all learn to do as well.

Finding The Right Fit

Finding transferable skills to help Alyson excel in her role was paramount to her success, but it isn’t the full picture. Without the support and empowerment of her company, Alyson might not have had the opportunity to put those skills she developed over the years to good use.

“I had previously worked at a company that was very team oriented and collaborative…it was very fun and dynamic…it was really a great place to work…it was a family type environment so I was looking for something similar, and a product that I could really get behind…so when I joined, that’s exactly what Salsify ended up being. I wanted a team where everyone was helpful to each other.”

Alyson went on to share how the support at Salsify gave her the opportunity to grow and go for opportunities she might otherwise not have access to without the support of her leadership

“…I had been thinking I wanted to be a manager, and I told my leadership [about this before there was an opening] and they shared that there would be an opening within a month”

“They’re very encouraging of [helping you] try something else. There’s movement whether it’s upward or laterally based on what you want to do.”

Even without formal experience as a Sales Engineer, that shouldn’t deter women from exploring pre-sales as a career option, as there are resources available to help equip people with the knowledge they need to succeed.

“Ask for help. There’s a group called PreSales Collective. You don’t have to be a Sales Engineer to join it and you can learn from it and ask for mentorship…there are many materials and groups out there to help you hone the skills you need.”

Alyson also added how Salsify specifically helps talent make these types of career transitions and thus highlights why it’s important to be part of a company that is committed to your professional development.

“We’re constantly asking [at Salsify] ‘What do you want to do?’ and ‘Where do you want to go?’ and the leadership supports that”

Highlighting the Differences in Sales and Pre-Sales

Making a career transition into a Sales Engineering role requires certain soft and hard skills, but it’s also important to have a clear understanding of how pre-sales differentiates from sales and other client facing roles.

“The sales person is obviously, to the customer, the sales person. But in pre-sales, I am more of a trusted advisor. We’ll tell you the truth and we will not sugar coat it. When customers ask us a question, we’re going to be honest and transparent so customers know what they’re actually getting. There’s a lot of education we give to the customer.”

Alyson further explains the differences between Sales and pre-sales by highlighting why pre-sales is integral to a successful business model:

“Typically Sales representatives secure the commercial win, while Sales Engineers secure the technical win.  At Salsify, Sales Engineers work closely with Sales representatives to understand the customers goals & objectives both short and long term.  We then showcase how partnering with Salsify can help accomplish those goals & objectives.”

Making The Move

It’s tempting to look at different sales verticals and disqualify yourself based on the technical requirements, but it’s important to remember that those skills can often be taught.

Finding a company like Salsify that is committed to your professional development and is supportive of your endeavors is paramount to successfully moving into new verticals

Following the footsteps of Alyson, we can all create an impactful career by honing skills that are crucial – not only for being a sales engineer, but for long term success.

About The Interviewer:

Ashley Keimach works professionally as an Sr. Sales Specialist for Business Applications at Microsoft. She is married to her best friend, Evan and together they are raising two boys – a toddler and a newborn. When not selling software, you can find Ashley making TikTok videos, writing blogs, and educating the public about personal finance and professional development. Ashley believes in making ideas happen and is passionate about finding the right solution at work and at home. Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn.

Sistas in Sales (SIS) is the largest global community for women of color in professional sales. With more than 6,000 members, SIS members represent a broad range of diverse women in media, software, finance, IT, education, and tech sales – with a focus on sharing knowledge and resources to build community, sisterhood, and empowerment through mastering the sales craft. Learn more about Sistas In Sales membership here, or connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sponsored by Salsify. Learn more about career opportunities at Salsify.


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