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Can an engineer make a good 

sales professional?

In my Selling for Engineers seminars I address this topic in a sneaky way - the same manner that Socrates used two and a half thousand years ago. The technique bears his name, Socratic questioning. I throw in a diagram for good measure, after all engineers are my audience face,smile,emotion,emoticon,happy.

The starting point is a simplified analysis of different personality types. It's basic, which is to say that you can find flaws in it without looking too hard, but nonetheless it delivers some valid learning points.

There are three types, each represented on the diagram as the points of a triangle. At the top is a figure who can be described with a selection of these words - dominant, charismatic, bullying, authoritarian, aggressive, self-motivated, ambitious, financially successful, flamboyant, and so on.

At the base of the triangle on the left side is a very different type; again words which fit would be - compliant, friendly, open-minded, modest, helpful, unambitious, sociable etc.

On the right side of the base line, the third type is quite unlike the other two. These individuals are thinkers, experts, detail-oriented, happy to spend much time alone, uninterested in fashions, small talk or conventional success.

Note: people come in all possible permutations of these and other traits. The diagram doesn't/can't represent this. It is simplified just to make a point and develop awareness in the seminar participants.

Next I add horizontal and vertical scales to the diagram. The one going from bottom to top being an indication of the level of assertiveness possessed by the individual, and the one from left to right, at the base, being a measure of sociability.

On top of all this I superimpose a grid so that locations on the diagram can be given a reference.

There are other refinements, but it's much easier to describe them in a talk rather than in a short article, (you can always email me a question if you have one).

At this point I ask the seminar attendees to describe an individual they know and their assessment of that person's assertiveness, sociability and to what extent they are a "detail" person. Then I get them to indicate which spot on the diagram represents this blend of characteristics.

The groups I work with are usually in the 12-15 people range so there's time to get input from most of them. Now there are plenty of dots on the diagram.

Having had this introduction to the thinking about personality types and finding a way to depict them graphically, I ask the delegates "Now tell me what traits make for a good engineer".

Again with plenty of input what emerges is some clustering on the diagram. I draw a line around the perimeter of it, the centre being about half way up the assertiveness scale and slightly right of the vertical line rising from the scale of centre sociability / expert at the base of the triangle.

The next step - brings us closer to being able to answer the question which is the title of this piece. I ask, "What characteristics would make a good sales person?". After some thinking time and discussion, together with light prompting from me, it is generally agreed that to be any good in sales a person must be at least averagely assertive, probably a bit more than that.

They must also have good people skills. And whilst they require technical knowledge, it's clearly hopeless to put a man who is happiest on his own in a research lab out to hunt for new business.

A compromise is called for here - I warned you that this personality model is basic - so the delegates, again with light cajoling from me, settle on either a central position on the sociability / expert spectrum or slightly to the left, thus favouring the people skills factor.

Now we have even more dots on the board - I use different colour markers so we can see what's what. Again I draw an outline around the "sales person" dots. And what this reveals is a pictorial answer to the question "Can an engineer make a good sales professional?"

Diagram showing the traits of engineers and sales people

Click for larger image

And in words, the answer is yes, IF that person has traits which would put him / her in the rather narrow slice of the diagram where the two outlines overlap.

With this revealed there is typically a buzz of comments, laughter and some inward chagrin. "Well that rules me out of sales" some will say.

* * *

Thanks Socrates, I owe you a pint for that one. (And I don't mean hemlock juice) face,smile,emotion,emoticon,happy.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at my book.

The Selling for Engineers manual

About the Selling for engineers manual




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