Salespeople are often internally driven and self-motivated (Srivastava and Rangarajan, 2008), and are increasingly becoming consultants who sell value-added services (Smith and Rupp, 2003). Nowadays more industrial companies employ sales engineers (SE) and therefore they represent an emerging class of knowledge workers on sales (Darr, 2002). I will first describe my experience in Festo, before briefly addressing some theories about motivation, related to it. Was there a mismatch between theory and business as I knew it? If so, I will try to identify it, and to explain why Festo's incentives failed with me. Finally, I will suggest how Festo should have motivated its SE, based on the theory previously discussed.
What is a SE?
I have mainly worked as a salesperson, although having studied engineering. Then, let me ask: what is a SE? A salesperson with a strong technical knowledge on the field he/she is selling. Furthermore, a SE could be defined as a technical-consultant salesperson or a knowledge worker (Darr, 2002). These ideas somehow extend Lidstone's definition of a technical salesperson: someone who sells industrial products, equipment or highly engineered components; put a major emphasis in his/her know-how, are often worried with technical details, and tends to forget his/her job is to sell (1995).
SE at Festo
Festo Argentina had around 20 SE (2007) nationwide (from a workforce of 120), half of them farther away than 400 miles from main office. Every SE had a different emotional background (psychological characteristics), engineering field (industrial, electronic, mechanical), and socioeconomic situation (some married, others young and single; well-off, working class, etc.). We were distributed geographically and supervised by another SE in groups of two or three. Most of us would spend only a few hours a week in the office, while the rest of the time visiting customers and home-working. Consequently, it was a lonely job, which provoked necessity to belong. Nevertheless, Festo discouraged belongingness amongst its SE, for fear of unionism. In addition, Festo had historically praised more on employing someone who can sell, than an engineer who might or might not. Nevertheless, that had changed by the time I was hired. Now almost every SE held an engineering degree, thus leading to a technically heterogeneous group. Moreover, although the company had been investing in sales training, it did not pay much attention to our technical skills. We were expected to turn to a technical department, if not confident enough in solving an issue. This department was also formed by highly technical individuals who, borrowing words of Smith and Rupp (2003), viewed SE as opportunistic and somehow lacking in-depth knowledge of the products being sold. SE were also becoming the object of increased control through documentation, while almost no feedback was ever given to us. Furthermore, managerial coaching was rare and somehow...