TODAY'S technology or engineering-based businesses need to look for new and unique ways to promote their products or services as the competition heats up.

Many technology-based businesses and professionals have strong technical skills, but don't know how to attract new clients. This is a common problem in the industry. Also, the business of marketing and selling is always changing.

The challenge for today's professional sales and marketing person is more than just adapting to the new technologies; it is to master them and learn how to leverage on them as powerful tools to create new sources of selling advantage.

Customer expectations are constantly changing. A salesperson's ability or inability to meet these expectations becomes as much a part of his competitive advantage as product or price.

Today's customer increasingly expects his sales representative to:

* Have instant access to accurate and up-to-date pricing and product information;

* Respond quicker to customer requests, questions, and issues;

* Produce and deliver quick and error-free proposals and/or written communications;

* Be better informed and have sound knowledge of the competition.

Customer expectations extend not only to the sales and marketing person; they include his company as well.

In the past, many companies operated as if they were a group of "smaller companies" who needed to work together but not very well. These "small companies" or departments were sales, customer service, marketing, finance, manufacturing, operations, administration and so on.

A new breed of salesmen

But in the last decade, new technologies have revolutionised selling and marketing strategies. Businesses are now heavily dependent on information technology and communications, which have improved decision-making and meet customer needs more effectively.

The investment value is clearly beneficial even though the technology costs and implementation challenges are great. The greatest challenge has been changing the way people view their jobs.

No longer can an employee be a part of just the sales department or marketing, service, engineering support, and so forth.

Many sales and marketing people do not have technical orientation and many technical and engineering people are without any sales or marketing orientation. This has to change. Technical and engineering people must sell professionally with a sales and marketing focus to be successful.

Many products and services, especially those purchased by large companies and institutions, are highly complex. Sales and marketing engineers also may be called sales executives or technical marketers or specialists.

They work with the production, engineering or research and development departments of their companies to determine how products and services can be designed or modified to suit customers' needs. They also may advise customers on how best to use the products or services provided.

For sales and marketing engineers, selling is as important as their technical skills. They have to demonstrate to potential customers how and why the products or services they are selling suit the customer better than their competitors' products.

Occasionally, the sales engineer has to demonstrate to the customer the usefulness of the product or service. He has to convince him, for example, that new production machinery would save a lot of money.

Engineers apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and commercial applications.

For example, sales engineers selling chemical products may have chemical engineering backgrounds, while those selling business software or information systems may have degrees and diplomas in computer engineering or information technology.

Many of the duties of sales and marketing engineers are similar to those of other salesmen. They must interest the client in purchasing their products, many of which are durable manufactured products.

Sales and marketing engineers tend to employ selling techniques or marketing approaches that are different from those used by most other sales and marketing executives.

They generally use a "consultative" style - they focus on the client's problem and show how it can be solved or mitigated with their product or service. This selling style differs from the traditional "benefits and features" method, where the sales and marketing person describes the product and leaves the customer to decide how it would be useful.

In addition to maintaining current clients and attracting new ones, sales and marketing engineers help clients solve any problems that arise when the product is installed. Afterwards, they may continue to serve as a liaison between the client and their company.

Training may involve teaming with a sales mentor who is familiar with the employer's business practices, customers, procedures and company culture.

After the training period has been completed, sales and marketing engineers may continue to partner someone who lacks technical skills, yet excels in sales.

It is important for sales and marketing engineers to keep up-to-date with industry knowledge because much of their value to their employers depends on their knowledge of the latest technologies and their ability to sell them.

Professional sales and marketing engineers must have a thorough knowledge of the products and services they sell, and possess customer relationship skills and as well as technical and analytical skills.