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Engineering the Sale


Author: Kanat Iliasov

As a Corporate Systems Engineer, I work with the Sales team in our EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Asia) region to drive sales of our products. But whereas a lot of Systems Engineers are customer-facing and actually go out on sales calls, I’m primarily working from inside the company to communicate with customers by phone or email and support those sales efforts. I work on a team of six that’s based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and we represent a mix of cultures and languages from across EMEA.

I was born and raised in Kyrgyzstan, a country that most people in the world haven’t heard of, and I speak both Russian and English. I lived in that country until I was about 24, after I earned my master’s degree in information systems. I never planned to get into sales at all. I set out to be a software developer, but I couldn’t code to save my life, so I went into systems administration, which basically meant I was in charge of everything that plugged into a socket and related to information technology.

I did that for about two years, and then I applied for what I thought was a job with Cisco but actually ended up being a graduate program: the Cisco Sales Associate Program. I was part of a group of about 120 people from nearly 50 countries — some more technical, some more into sales — and when I finished the program a year later, I found myself in a corporate IT career.

I’ve done this kind of work for about 10 years now, and the job gets more fulfilling and easier when you work with a company that has an excellent product. That’s why it has brand recognition and a lot of accolades. Working for Palo Alto Networks is kind of like selling a Tesla — all you have to decide is whether you want it in red or black. The shit just works.

I also think the company has done a nice job of hiring people who are not only good at their work but are also good people. Everyone’s helpful, and it doesn’t matter if they’re senior or junior employees — there isn’t a class system here. There aren’t a lot of big egos. I’ve seen plenty of that at my previous jobs, people being moved forward for visibility rather than capability. But at Palo Alto Networks, that kind of behavior isn’t rewarded. I think this company is both big and small enough to have a good balance, and on the technology side, they’re making the right choices as well.

But I think a lot of people start out in systems engineering with false expectations that it’s mostly about technology. That’s only half true. The other half is being comfortable working with people. That was an acquired taste in my case. I was closer to a textbook geek than a salesperson. My first meetings were clumsy, to say the least (some were a straight-up dumpster fire), and I felt like a total fraud. My advice is just to do it. Fail, and fail quickly, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Learning is a big part of the work we do, and it never stops, so be prepared for that. If you’re professional and understand the industry, the technology, and how its application can help customers, you can do well.

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