Certifications and Sales Engineering

It used to be, years back, that a certification meant that you were knowledgeable. Problem was, it really only meant that you were able to pass the kind of test given, and that you had enough short term memory to cram for the test’s material. Certifications do not now, nor have they ever, indicated wisdom or knowledge in the application of one technology into the infinite variety of prospect environments.

If anything, these days too many certifications mean that the person has no time for a real job in the real world, and is virtually useless in a Sales Engineering situation. With thousands of certifications for thousands of applications, which ones do you pick? Oh yeah, and there are more every day! Would you bring a perpetual student on the most important sales call of your career? Of course not.

I stopped getting certs around 2000, as they were really a waste of time. Let me explain. By the time I’d taken a year to be certified, the technology was irrelevant, obsolete, or not even used by my company any more. Add to this the way that a company is easily shot out from underneath a Sales Engineer in a year or so (see my resume), and that the company usually makes you pay for all the books, test, pre-tests, online prep courses, in-person training, etc, out of your own pocket, it just doesn’t make practical sense.

So the friction is in the fact that it makes no sense for a Sales Engineer to be certified in all kinds of things, yet companies with older internal cultures still think them relevant when they are seeking a Sales Engineer.

So where is the motivation? Where is the pay-off? There is none! No wonder people are faking their resumes, making up any combination of letters to make an acronym.

I actually had a colleague that would intentionally make up an acronym in sales calls, resume and interviews to test this point. You know what? Nobody asked what the made up acronym meant! You know why? Because we’re embarrassed to ask about something we’re supposed to already know! Psychology 101. Try it yourself sometime… It is an amazing tool/weapon that can serve you in certain situations.

So why not make up all kinds of petty certifications? HR is just looking to pre-qualify/screen you based on keywords, anyway! Who else bothers checking? Nobody. And why should they? Have you ever asked someone touting a cert’s acronym what the acronym actually stands for? You’d be surprised at the answers you’d get, my friends-and that is Sales Engineering 101.

Certs don’t mean anything. Seriously.

We’ve now seen so many certifications that they are watered down, or so specific as to be of no value at all in real life. A real Sales Engineer is in the field non-stop, flying all over creation, giving WebEx sessions in the lobby of Chicago O’Hare. A real Sales Engineer is in high demand, and not sitting in a cubicle making base pay, waiting for the phone to ring.

So here is the reality of certifications with regard to Sales Engineering:

1. If a Sales Engineer has time to get their degree and a long list of random certifications, they have not spent any time in the field, or worse have been paid a straight salary and had never been on a sales call.

2. If a Sales Engineer has been at it over 10 years (like me), they are at the top of their profession. The system weeds out the losers automatically (if you don’t sell, you’re gone).

3. A single solid gold reference from an account manager that a Sales Engineer has made rich is worth 1,000 certifications. This alone proves my point.

4. And the final nail in the coffin; People don’t hire Sales Engineers because they have certifications; They hire them because they want to close business. Worry about certifications with a programmer. Certifications and a commission-based comp package do not mix.

So employers: Here is what you need to do… Call on the Sales Engineer’s references (there should be plenty, and almost all Account Managers, CEOs, etc.)

I have never had a prospect tell me in a sales call “I’ll buy your software if you have ____ certification”.


  1. I can’t believe that was 7 years ago!


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