How to turn your engineers into sales machines

uOttawa's Professional Development Institute to finish putting their Business Communication & Influence program online this fall
A man poses for a photo leaning his elbow on a railing.
Editor's Note

Let’s face it: the sales game has changed in today’s complicated world. Companies that build complex products to solve challenging problems must change their way of working by using their engineers to do more than design and build. They need to sell — and sell by fully engaging with buyers and users.

If your company fits that description, it may be time to take a look at uOttawa’s Professional Development Institute’s Business Communication & Influence (BCI) program. BCI is a suite of professional development courses designed by engineers, for engineers. This customizable set of three 10-hour hybrid modules will be fully online this fall, equipping students with the skills they need to successfully become part of your commercial machine. 

BCI's Communication Foundation Module starts where you’d expect — at the beginning — and covers conscious speaking, active listening and rational understanding. The Needs Discovery Module uses these new skills and insights to create highly effective connections to draw out the business needs of customers and partners. The Influence Decision Module gets into the commercial nitty-gritty — with topics like proposals, pricing, pitching and presenting — to inspire both decision-making and taking action. Complete them all and you’ll receive a joint certification from the Faculty of Engineering and Professional Development Institute.

Principal at the uOttawa Engineering Sales School, Trevor Græme Wilkins, is a mechanical and IT engineering entrepreneur — an ex-Brit who has worked all over the world. It took him many quarters to crack the sales code during his 30-year engineering sales career and now he’s sharing his knowledge with other engineers.

“I'm so passionate about this portal,” said Wilkins. “Engineers, business unit managers and startups will have more time to focus on their business priorities. As far as I'm concerned, it's both a revenue generator and a real time saver.” 

Even though it's all about sales, you will still see a consistent engineering method throughout the whole of the BCI program. Students consume the self-paced content online and then get one-on-one coaching offline from tutors with expertise in specific industry verticals. “We didn't just want to make PowerPoint slides with a boring professor talking over them,” said Wilkins.

Any product manager, sales engineer or solution builder who takes BCI — whether they’re in academia, out in the field, or just looking to acquire the skills they need to get a new job or promotion — will come away knowing how to effectively engage customers, from needs elicitation, through solution creation, to closing the deal.

“There isn't a single engineer in Kanata who wouldn't benefit from doing this on an individual basis,” said Wilkins. “Even if they have no clear plan, BCI can help them work out what their strengths and weaknesses are and where they want to go. At a business level, these B2B-tailored courses focus on enabling a team's specific outcomes."

How the BCI helped Swagelok Ontario

Swagelok, a company that manufactures fluid system solutions, is one of BCI’s many success stories. 

About five years ago, the Swagelok Ontario division realized it needed a new approach to sales. “For most of our history, the sales team were not engineers,” said Ron Raaflaub, human resources manager. “We hired salespeople and then trained them on the technical aspect of our product.” 

But Raaflaub realized that they needed more technical experience in the room. “We saw that selling simple components to larger systems requires a lot more depth of knowledge on the technical side,” said Raaflaub. So they flipped their sales strategy on its head and started hiring engineers with some sales know-how. It worked, and they saw how a program like the BCI could spread this approach throughout the company. 

They saw the benefits imparted by the BCI program during their strategic planning. “We had multiple people from our engineering team writing the strategic plan,” said Raaflaub. “An engineer from alternative energy incorporated what he learned from BCI as a reminder that his department isn’t a single market, it’s several. And each of those markets will have different needs and their own value narrative.”

The key takeaway is that the sales process starts at the product development stage, not after the product has been built. For example, a couple of Swagelok’s engineers recently toured a customer’s factory with a camera strapped to one of their heads. The camera live-streamed a visual of a technical problem to their product development team so the engineers could build exactly what the customer needed. When engineers connect with engineers, trust is built quickly, shortening the sales cycle. 

An infographic of BCI facts

Wilkins says even the most sales-averse engineers get hooked by their training because it gamifies the process, turning it into a puzzle to be solved. Giving students the opportunity to find the solution themselves — rather than just be told how — is the hallmark of BCI’s tried and true approach. 

That said, there could be another reason it works so well. In the end, engineers discover through BCI that selling is still about building something. But this time, it’s a relationship.

Interested in training your team in sales? 

The BCI program has also been used in complex fields like law and accounting.


Contact PDInstitute@uOttawa.ca or twilkins@uottawa.ca to discuss a tailored B2B programme for your company and ask how BCI can help your experts crack the sales code in your industry.