Not all sales jobs are created equal. Just as there are a plethora of products in different industries, the techniques used to sell these products are also very different. Thanks to modern technology, some of these products are incredibly complex and require advanced knowledge of the product.
The salesperson needs to know the product inside out—down to its technical aspects—to be at the forefront of selling these products. While a general sales rep might make some sales, there’s someone on hand who has a deeper technical understanding of the product to help close the deal. This is the job of a sales engineer.
What Does a Sales Engineer Do?
A sales engineer’s job is to market their products to a client, negotiate a price and close a sale. However, a sales engineer does a little more than just sales. Today’s sales engineers act more like consultants—they help customers make sense of highly technical products and choose a product that best solves their problems. Sometimes, a sales engineer will also do some market research as well as some R&D to help make better products that suit customers’ specific needs.
What Is a Sales Engineer?
A sales engineer is a type of business-to-business sales rep who specializes in selling complex technical products and services. They typically need to have in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects of the products they sell.
They must know how a product or service works and the technology behind them that makes the advanced products or services tick. It is this technical expertise that helps them accurately explain the benefits of their products and help close the deal.
Just like every other salesperson, though, they often rely on commissions from successful sales and have to work just as hard to meet both sales goals and client expectations.
Sales Engineer Job Description
A sales engineer’s main responsibility is to always have extensive knowledge of the product or service they are selling. They also offer technical assistance to fit customer requirements and help close the sale. Most sales engineers work full time, with some adding additional or irregular hours to cater to client needs and meet targets.
Some of the daily duties of sales engineers include:
- Preparing, developing, and presenting technical presentations about a product to the client team
- Working with other sales and customer care teams to provide support during all stages of the purchasing cycle
- Generating new leads that may purchase the product and conducting follow-ups after making initial contact until they close the sale
- Setting and achieving the company’s sales goals
- Acquiring and analyzing client feedback to identify marketing trends and identifying new strategies to make better sales
Sales Engineer Responsibilities
Just like a general sales representative, a sales engineer’s primary responsibility is to drive sales. They have to seek out prospective customers, market the company’s products to them, and close sales.
Sales engineers also have to help in market research and assist product design teams to incorporate user feedback. This generates data used to create products that sell better.
Sales Engineer Salary
The annual salaries a sales engineer gets depends greatly on the type of product they sell and the firm they work with. According to ZipRecruiter, the average sales engineer makes $80,786 per year in the U.S or $6,732 per month.
Employers often offer a mix of a monthly salary and a commission for sales made among other bonuses. Some, however, operate fully on a commission basis. Commissions may be based on the volume of sales per sales engineer or the overall performance of the team or the company.
The economy greatly influences the commissions and bonuses they get as the demand and sales of the product or services vary from season to season. Since the job involves a significant amount of traveling, sales engineers get compensation for on-the-road expenses like transport, accommodation, entertainment, and meals.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the employment of sales engineers is expected to grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030.
What It’s Like Working as a Sales Engineer
A sales engineer’s job often starts with taking some time to learn the product and stay informed about all its updates and bug fixes. This is important because a sales engineer has to adequately demonstrate how a product works and that it can solve the customer’s problem. They also have to follow up on prospects and communicate until the deal is closed.
On top of making sales, the engineer will often have to participate in marketing the product or service. Attending trade shows, conferences, and other similar events may present the opportunity to network and promote the product or service, ultimately driving more sales.
Sales engineers also have to do some data analytics and prepare reports for senior management to evaluate. They may also have to join sales support to help other sales teams.
A sales engineer’s job can also be quite stressful because their income depends on successful sales to a large degree. To become a sales engineer, you would also need to be willing to sacrifice being on the production end of the product. A sales engineer is an engineer first before they branch into sales, and sometimes the feeling of looking back on product development can be overwhelming.
What It Takes To Become a Sales Engineer
Most sales engineers have a degree in computer science, engineering, or other technical fields. Sometimes, however, sales representatives will hold the title of a sales engineer without a degree. This occurs as long as they have sales knowledge and sufficient technical knowledge of the service or product.
Others may also have degrees in science-related fields with no prior sales experience and still function as sales engineers. There are also several skills and certifications required to become a sales engineer as detailed below.
Obtaining a college degree almost always requires four years of study, mostly in high-technology fields. The most common majors that sales engineers hold include computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or civil engineering.
Upon graduation, most sales engineers often undergo a period of sales education. This helps to bridge the gap between sales and engineering. Only when they have learned the sales process, can they transition to become a full-fledged sales engineer.
The sales training period may be supervised by a seasoned sales mentor who is already familiar with the company’s products, customers, and the employer’s business practices. In the beginning, sales engineers team up with general sales reps who lack the technical skills but can supplement their sales capabilities.
Education for sales engineers doesn’t end with a degree, however. As the world of technology advances every year, it is important for a sales engineer’s knowledge to keep up with the technology for selling purposes. Sales engineers often have to undergo frequent retraining to stay up to speed with upcoming technology as their technical knowledge can be rendered obsolete quickly.
Just like any other salesperson, a sales engineer needs strong interpersonal skills. Good interpersonal skills help the sales engineer to relate well with clients and work well with other members of sales and product teams.
They should have excellent communication and persuasion skills to confidently make sales presentations and convince clients to purchase the product or service. Self-confidence is important, just like in general sales.
Sales engineers also need to have deep technical knowledge of the products they are selling in the market. These technological skills will help them to recommend a tailored solution to specific customer problems such as a product they offer.
Project management, computer skills, customer service, and technical presentation skills are also features of a sales engineer’s resume.
To begin work as a sales engineer, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering is almost always a must. Most employers do not require a lot of prior sales knowledge but it is a preferred skill.
New graduates entering the market require sales training to gain some experience before they can work independently. Sales training is often done in-house alongside lessons on the product or service that the company offers.
Some sales engineers do not start with a high-technology degree. These are often experienced sales agents who have acquired sufficient technical knowledge of the product offered and can therefore reinvent their careers as sales engineers.
In the U.S, there is currently no certification specifically for sales engineers. However, since the sales part of the job is uniform across industries, it is common to see sales engineers with general sales certifications.
Some of the sales certifications include Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) offered by the National Association of Sales Professionals. Another includes the Certified Professional Salesperson (SCPS) certification, offered by Sales and Marketing Executives International, Inc.
Both of these are earned by registering and completing the programs with the respective organizations.
4. Languages and Technologies To Know
Every sales engineer has a lot of skills and technologies to learn in their lifetime. The specific technologies a sales engineer has to know greatly depend on the industry of choice.
For example, sales engineers in the computer industry need to know how to use the cloud, have automation skills and design knowledge, and use databases well. A healthcare sales engineer will be focused on different technology compared to manufacturing, networking, or chemical sales engineers.
All sales engineers, however, typically need to have general computer skills. This is valuable knowledge used to operate software like CRMs and project management tools. It is also used to create technical presentations.
Sales engineers in international companies may also need to learn foreign languages to help them make sales in other countries. Some languages that bi- or multi-lingual sales engineers know include Mandarin, French, Spanish, and German.
How To Become a Sales Engineer
Take a Course
Getting an education is usually the first step to becoming a sales engineer. Because of the technical knowledge required, you will often need to choose a course within a science-related or engineering field depending on the industry you would like to join.
Most sales engineers have a background in computer science, computer hardware engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, or electrical engineering.
Pick a Specialty
After getting your degree, you would need to specialize in the industry you want to work in. Some industries you may consider include:
- Architectural design
- Automated machinery (e.g for automobile manufacturing, etc.)
- Computer hardware equipment
- Computer systems design
Additionally, you might need to undergo post-graduate programs or courses to match your skills with the market and gain the required know-how to be successful.
Start From the Bottom
Many sales engineers have to begin with sales training, especially when they are newly graduated. This is done to equip them with the necessary skills to complement their technical knowledge.
Only when you have these sales skills can you become a sales engineer that can work on their own. You’ll often be under a seasoned sales engineer or a general sales professional to learn how to make sales. They will also mentor you on the company’s products or services, sales standard operating procedures, and company culture.
You might also have to team up with a general salesperson or be part of a sales team in your early stages to learn as much as possible.
Get Relevant Experience
You’ll have a lot of work to do to prove your worth. Some of the projects you may be involved in include:
- Using marketing automation solutions to nurture more leads and integrating your marketing data in one place
- Researching customer pain points to identify what drives market demand and looking for ways to stand out from the competition
- Leveraging reviews, testimonials, and case studies from existing customers to build credible proof that might help prospective clients buy the product you’re selling
The more sales you’re able to drive, the more valuable you’ll be to the company and the more you’ll learn as a sales engineer.
Network Like Crazy
As you continue in your journey as a sales engineer, your network will be extremely valuable to your career. For starters, networking is an essential skill that will enable you to find new clients. The more connected you are, the more influential a sales engineer you become and attract more referral business.
Networking is also a good strategy to find the best opportunities to grow your career and open new doors for you. It also helps you to build powerful relationships and a support structure around your sales engineer job. You’ll also discover the latest technologies, gain insights into different fields, and get advice on how to improve professionally.
Sales Engineer FAQs
1. How Long Does It Take To Become a Sales Engineer?
Since most sales engineers acquire university degrees, it normally takes more than four years to fully become a sales engineer. After completing the general engineering curriculum, a sales engineer will need to work under another sales engineer or sales professional to learn the art of sales.
2. Is Sales Engineering a Good Career?
If you’re looking to join the sales world but enjoy the technical side of a product or service, then sales engineering is a good career for you.
Sales engineers enjoy high earning potential because the skill is hard to hire and is very competitive. A successful sales engineer also has multiple ways to progress their careers. They can either be a consultant, transition into a senior sales role at a company or build independent sales firms.
3. What Certifications Do You Need To Be a Sales Engineer?
There is no specific certification to become a sales engineer. However, having certifications in general sales practice is valuable to get into the industry and quickly upscale your career.
Some of the sales certifications you may need as a sales engineer include Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) and Certified Professional Salesperson (SCPS). To become a successful sales engineer, you will also need to be computer literate to operate sales and technical presentation software.
4. Can You Become a Sales Engineer With No Experience?
You can become a sales engineer without any technical sales experience. However, you would need to be trained in general sales techniques to catch up. If you have no sales experience, however, you would need to have technical experience in an engineering or science field.
On the other hand, you can also become a sales engineer without an engineering or science degree. However, you would need to have previous sales experience and you would have to grow your technical skills to match the technical aspects of the job. Sales representatives with extensive knowledge of the products can also transition into becoming sales engineers.
Springboard’s upcoming sales engineering course aims to equip sales representatives with the necessary skills needed to successfully sell technical products—with or without a science-related background.