What Sales Engineers Do
In traditional sales, a salesperson often relies on emotions to encourage a buyer to take action. In these cases, the salesperson may highlight a few benefits, show the buyer how the product makes his or her life better, and use persuasion and negotiation to close the deal. When technology, such as hardware or software is involved, it’s not quite that simple. Buyers cannot make decisions based on the “good feelings” a product gives them. They need to know the technical aspects, if the new product can be integrated, how it can be integrated, and more. This is where the sales engineer (SE) comes in.
The SE is not only familiar with traditional sales actions, but also the technical aspects of the product being sold, how it works, what it works with, and what solutions are best for any given problem- including the solutions competitors offer. While some companies have their product engineers, product managers, or even a basic sales team handling the interactions with potential customers, larger firms tend to have sales engineers on hand for some or all of the sales process to ensure a deal is closed.
Who would enjoy a career in Sales Engineering?
Traditional salespeople with tech backgrounds or tech workers with negotiation and persuasive skills do best in the position. It’s a good career for someone who is motivated by financial rewards, as much of a sales engineer’s pay can come from commission in certain technology companies.
Who mightn't like the career?
People who lack confidence or don’t enjoy sales won’t like being a sales engineer. Moreover, the pressure involved in the position can put people off as well. It’s possible to spend months trying to close a deal and have it fall through at the last minute, thus leaving the SE without the added pay. At certain times in the sales process, such as when a deal is about to close, the SE may put in extensive hours, even more so than their pure sales counterparts. This makes it a difficult career for those who cannot flex their schedules or manage a personal budget to accommodate the ever-changing conditions. Client requests can oftentimes be highly bespoke and SEs might have to support multiple custom integration requests concurrently which can make the day-to-day workload challenging.
Although most sales engineers have at least a bachelor’s degree, there are no true requirements for the position. There are many potential paths to becoming a sales engineer. For example, if a healthcare tech company is putting together a software program to help doctors better manage their patient databases, someone coming in from a medical profession could be a sales engineer, provided he had tech or sales experience.
Equally, someone with a marketing background, experience as an exec, or an IT background may be able to fulfill the role. However, most people do come into sales engineering with a tech background such as computer science, mechanical engineering or software development.
Many firms offer graduate schemes in which individuals can gain working experience while working on an advanced degree. Internships, particularly at large tech firms, are very competitive. This aside, each company has unique requirements for their sales engineers, so it’s worthwhile to examine job descriptions in advance and spend time picking up extra soft skills that companies are looking for in your area as graduation nears.
- Sales Engineer Interview Questions (Glassdoor)
- Sales Engineer Questions and Tips (The Sales Engineer Guy)
Moving into Sales Engineering from another career
Most people who move into sales engineering come from a traditional sales background or engineering, but just about anyone can make the transition if they have the sales expertise and technical knowledge to handle the demands of the position. For more information, see “Can You Make It as a Sales Engineer?,” “4 Steps to a Great Sales Engineer Career,” “Is Technical Sales Engineering a good career path?,” or “From Sales to Sales Engineering: A Day in the Life with Akin Edwards.”
Role: There is no standard progression or career ladder for sales engineers. Most maintain the same title for life, though a handful will continue on to some type of management role.
A sales engineer’s job is to help the customer understand how the product works, how it can integrate with their existing systems and infrastructure, and what benefits it provides. This may be done through phone calls, presentations, emails, and meetings. The sales engineer may create custom documents, spreadsheets, slideshows, and other visual representations to help the customer understand the product. Although most only work about 40 hours per week, about one-third will put in more than this, particularly during travel or at the close of a deal.
Aside from the basic sales aspects, an SE will typically work along other professionals, such as general salespeople, engineers, and product managers. Sometimes, they work with their associates to close sales, while other times they give technical team members information that will help them improve the product or collaborate to come up with solutions that will allow a customer to integrate their product.
Depending on what the sales engineer is selling and where the customers are, SEs can travel extensively. This may be in their general geographic vicinity or even internationally.
Average: According to PayScale, base salaries average USD $78,000 in the United States, ₤31,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$72,000 in Canada, and AU$81,000 in Australia.
Entry Level (0-5 years): USD$68,640, £27,280, CAD$62,640, and AU$76,950.
Mid-Career (5-10 years): USD$84,240, £37,820, CAD$84,240, and AU$82,620.
Experienced (10-20 years): USD$99,840, £38,130, CAD$91,440, and AU$95,580.
Late Career (20+ years): USD$104,520, £39,990, CAD$95,040 and AU$107,730.
Commission, bonuses, and profit sharing can double the salary of a sales engineer if a large variable component forms part of their compensation package.
Why Sales Engineers move on
Getting out of sales engineering can be difficult. For more info, see the Reddit discussion “Sales Engineer. Wrong career move?” Engineers, designers, and other technical experts sometimes have difficulty getting back into their original positions after a stint in sales engineering, but updating one’s resume with new skills and certifications can help. Those who came in from non-technical backgrounds may be able to go back into a related field or work in another type of sales, either new business sales or account / relationship management.