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Key Questions to Ask When Hiring a Sales Engineer

The Betts Team
May 9, 2024

Hiring a Sales Engineer (SE) is crucial for tech companies that need to stand out against competitors and give customers the technical information they are looking for before buying – but first you have to get through the interview. Asking these key questions when interviewing SE candidates will help you find your right fit unicorn seller more quickly:

When to Interview and Hire a Sales Engineer

Betts Recruiting has helped thousands of technology startups scale their go-to-market (GTM) teams, and in that time we have found that the road to success – and the next round of funding – is paved with good budgeting. Measuring your Cost-per-Hire (CPH) and keeping it in-line with your annual recurring revenue (ARR) helps to ensure your talent acquisition remains profitable. When hiring a Sales Engineer, you want to look for someone that has experience not only with your products but also with your sales motion and everything that entails, from the industries and titles you work with most often to your team culture and brand positioning.

Asking the key questions below will give you a better sense of whether an SE candidate is the right fit you are looking for, including whether they have the level or type of experience you need and if they fit with your current sales motion and culture.

Questions About Past Roles and Responsibilities

The first set of interview questions in this list focus on the past roles and responsibilities in a Sales Engineer’s resume and hearing them expand upon their background. While you may be able to gain a glimpse into the candidate’s qualifications on paper via their CV, only by asking the right queries will you be able to get them to open up about their history and demonstrate their approach to GTM strategy, giving you a better sense of how well they align with your current sales motion and culture.

  1. Sales Experience: While they may stand out for their technical expertise, Sales Engineers still need to know how to sell. Delve into the candidate’s sales background and ask them to provide specific examples of to who, where and what they sold to ensure they align with your target sales motion.
  2. Technical Experience: Before you dive into the candidate’s product experience, you should gain a better understanding of their technical background and gauge their true level of expertise. Give them a chance to show off their knowledge on the engineering side by asking about their specific technical experience, including working with different programming languages, customizations, etc.
  3. Solution Experience: Ask your SE candidate directly about what solutions they have worked with, for how long, and to describe their level of expertise with each. You will want to make sure this experience lines up with your own portfolio as well as with your sales motion, to ensure they are aligned with your brand and messaging.
  4. Industry Experience: Every organization has its own unique set of pain points, but companies in the same market usually share many of the same challenges, and any Sales Engineer you hire must understand what these are to communicate effectively. Ask the candidate about their experience working with clients and prospects in different industries, and see how familiar they are with your target market(s).
  5. Average Deal Size: Your unicorn seller is going to align closely with your established sales motion and be able to jump into your sales cycle without missing a beat. That is why you must ask an SE candidate about the size of the past deals they have been a part of, on average as well as the biggest, smallest and other outliers.
  6. Titles Sold to: Prompt the candidate to go into detail about the clients and prospects they have worked with by title, how many for each and what those conversations looked like. You will want to check that they know what stakeholders in your target markets need to hear, and what they want to see before buying.
  7. Engagement Approach: Ask the candidate to go over their tactics, methodologies and anything else that demonstrates how they engage with prospects and customers, and how they approach quantifying such engagement. This will give you better insight into how they put their sales techniques into practice and help you determine if they have the level of soft skills you are looking for in this role.

Situational Questions

Situational questions are more open-ended inquiries that include scenarios and problem-solving exercises that prompt the candidate to think more carefully about their answers and demonstrate their ability to think on the spot. These can be hypothetical situations or asking them about particular events in the past and prompting them to explain in detail the lessons they took away. This also gives you the opportunity as the interviewer to explore the areas where a CV or the SE candidate’s initial elevator pitch does not give you the information you need to determine if they are a right fit for the role.

  1. Best & Worst Demos: Ask the candidate to go over some past sales demos that stand out to them, and in particular the ones they would think of as their best and worst examples. Not only will this give you a chance to see how transparent they will be about both their wins and losses, but it will grant you better insight into the story of their career and how it has been shaped by their experiences.
  2. Time Management: Create a sort of “worst case” scenario the Sales Engineer candidate may expect with your firm that will throw several tasks on their plate, a few with competing deadlines. Ask them how they would prioritize handling each of these and how they would go about solving them to see how well they manage their time when things get busy.
  3. Answering Technical Questions: Go through an exercise where you play a prospect or client looking to fully understand how your solution works, so that your SE candidate can answer all of your technical questions. Be prepared to ask follow-ups on their answers and oblige them to provide as much detail as they can, letting them demonstrate how they apply their soft skills and their expertise simultaneously.
  4. Collaboration Scenario: While experienced Sales Engineers are vital for accelerating – and ultimately closing – technical deals, the very nature of their means they need to know how to work well with others if they are going to contribute to ROI. Come up with multiple scenarios where proactive collaboration will be necessary to meet objectives and ask your candidate to walk you through examples of how they would engage and communicate with each team member.
  5. Prospect Qualification: Not every prospect will be a good fit and without a thorough qualification process executed by experienced tech sales professionals, you may lose time and resources sunk into talks that go nowhere. With this in mind, create a prospecting scenario for your SE candidate where they are receiving limited or broad info from the point of contact and ask them what steps they would take to qualify if they’re a right fit for your solution.
  6. Market Research: The technology market is continuously changing and anyone you hire for your GTM teams needs to be able to stay on top of trends enough to know what questions prospects and customers will be asking. The question you need to ask your Sales Engineer candidate during the interview is how much attention they pay to new developments in the market, with follow-ups for how they would respond to serious changes that could impact target decision-makers.
  7. Challenging Clients: To truly test a candidate for an open SE role and see if they have the type of personal skills you’re looking for, you need to see how they would handle a scenario with a particularly challenging prospect or customer. Come up with some key points of contention for this situation and ask them if they have ever dealt with clients with similar issues in the past, and based on their experience how they would respond.

Hire Your Unicorn Sales Engineer with Betts Recruiting 

Sales Engineers are in increasingly high demand in SaaS and sourcing an experienced candidate that is your type of unicorn seller will be a challenge in this current market. However, the Betts team will help you scale your recruiting search – without breaking your hiring budget – leveraging our expertise and knowledge in GTM talent acquisition for tech.

Contact Betts today to let us help you refine your search as well as your interview process to ensure you find your right fit SE fast.