April 14, 2010

The Most Important Subject in an Engineering Education

One of my favorite things is to speak to students at engineering school. Typically, it is conjunction with a presentation I am making on fluid piping systems, but most presentation end with a Q&A session. It seems many of these young engineers are wondering what their professional life will be like after graduation.

I typically get the question, “What’s the most important subject in an engineering education?” I love that question because it shows they are thinking ahead and want to make sure they have all their bases covered prior to graduation.

My response is always the same “Sales 101.” That causes quite a stir, after all, they are just finishing up all the engineering classes and here someone is saying they need sales training. The puzzled student then asks why.

The response typically goes like this:
Me: “Do you want to get a job and be paid for what you do after graduation?”

Student: “Well that’s a silly question, yes of course! How else will I pay off those incredible student loans?” (aka. year abroad backpacking through Europe)

Me: “Then you need to be able to sell yourself during the interview so you get the job in this tight job market. Once you have a job you’ll probably want to get a pay increase as your experience grows.”

Student: “Well yes, how else will I afford my first Ferrari 612?”

“Then after awhile you’ll become a group leader and you’ll want to get you group the best project, so you’ll need to sell your team’s ideas to your manager.”

Student: “Hopefully. I definitely want to work on projects that I can be proud of and that I find interesting.”

Me: “Since everything about engineering has to do with money you need to sell yourself, your group, your ideas, your company’s products or services to your customers. That’s why Sales 101 is so important.”

Student: “Wait, what? Sales 101? But I thought I was going to be an Engineer...”
Now the sad thing is I have never seen any college or university offer a sales 101 class, or any other class dealing with selling. I certainly haven’t seen it offered to anyone going for their engineering degree. The only reason I can think of is:
A. Too difficult a subject is to understand
B. Too easy to warrant the effort for a lofty professor to create a class
C. Common knowledge that is understood by everyone
From my experience I would say no to all of the above. It is a skill that can be boiled down into a few easy steps that will take a lifetime to master.

After nearly 30 years in this business, here is the list I have found to be most effective.
  1. Know your customer
  2. Shut up and listen to your customer
  3. Understand what your customer really needs and wants
  4. Don’t oversell, have the discipline to sell only what the customer needs or wants, and shut up about all the cool features that they don’t see a value in
I find the best references in understanding the sales processes are the business books that are available everywhere. Go to Amazon and enter “Selling Ideas” and see how many books you can get for $10-15 containing gems of wisdom that will help you sell your ideas. Let me know which books you've found useful.

Now it’s time to hear from you. Please feel free to share your experiences, or opinions on this blog entry or any other subject that is of interest. I can be reached at blogger@eng-software.com.


  1. I am a sudent of mechatronics enginering at México So I always ask me this question but no one teacher could answer me. I can understand why is important this subject for me and my carrer.
    Thank you very much for you article and sorry because I have not dominated the english yet..

  2. Electrical engineering degrees provide individuals with careers in a number of different fields, all dealing with advanced work with electrical power, power systems, electrical equipment and power systems manufacturing, and more. You gotta see this for more details.


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