What is a sales engineer?
A sales engineer is a professional who combines technical knowledge with sales skills to provide advice and support. As a vital link between businesses and their clients, sales engineers articulate complex scientific and technological products or services to potential customers. They strive to understand the client’s specifications and goals and tailor the offerings to suit those requirements.
The role is invaluable to businesses with complex technical offerings. These professionals ensure that potential clients fully understand how a product or service can solve their problems or improve their operations.
Duties and responsibilities
A sales engineer is responsible for presenting technical products or services to potential clients in an easily understandable manner. They assist the sales team by providing technical expertise, product demonstrations, and tailored solutions based on a client’s unique needs. Their role often involves answering technical questions, customizing solutions, and even prototyping to show a product’s utility.
Additionally, they work closely with other departments, such as R&D and customer support, to relay feedback from the market, which can influence product enhancements or the development of new solutions. They might also play a role in post-sale support, ensuring that the product or service integrates well with the client’s existing systems.
Sales engineers typically work in multiple environments. Their job often requires them to work in office settings, collaborating closely with marketing, research, design, and production departments to understand and promote the product’s technical aspects. They often participate in team meetings, study product catalogs, and engage in strategy planning sessions.
Most of their tasks are client-focused, meaning they also spend a significant portion of the job out in the field, meeting with clients, attending trade shows, or conducting product demos. They often travel to meet with clients or to industry events, making this career a good fit for those who enjoy variety in their work environment and schedule.
Typical work hours
Sales engineers typically work full time during standard business hours. However, their schedule often depends on clients’ availability and the nature of the projects they’re working on.
Their working hours can often extend beyond the traditional 9-to-5 workday and may include evenings and weekends. They might also need to travel to meet clients or attend industry events, which could impact their schedule and require overnight stays or longer trips.
How to become a sales engineer
This career guide section outlines how to become a sales engineer. It starts with education requirements and progresses through relevant experience, certifications, and valuable skills cultivated to perform in this role.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree
Most employers require a bachelor’s degree in engineering as a baseline qualification. This degree provides fundamental technical skills indispensable to a sales engineer. Choose an engineering specialty aligned with your career goals, such as mechanical, electrical, or computer engineering.
Step 2: Gain experience in sales or customer service
While in school, consider part-time jobs or internships in sales or customer service. This early exposure will help hone your communication and interpersonal skills, which are crucial in convincing prospective clients to buy your product or use your service. Learning to handle customers effectively can boost your sales abilities.
Step 3: Build proficiency in financial and business principles
As a sales engineer, you’re not just presenting the technical aspects of a product, but also the fiscal and business benefits it can provide to potential customers. Understanding financial concepts and business practices will allow you to speak confidently. This knowledge can come from additional coursework, self-study, or on-the-job experience.
Step 4: Gain relevant engineering experience
After graduation, working as an engineer can offer profound insights into the day-to-day challenges and solutions in your field, making you more capable of identifying with potential clients’ needs. This experience will enable you to offer more nuanced and valid solutions as a sales engineer.
Step 5: Obtain sales training
Ideally, after gaining some engineering experience, transitioning to a technical sales role would be beneficial. Many companies have training programs designed for this transition. These programs can provide a solid understanding of sales principles and strategies.
Step 6: Continue education and seek certification
Furthering your education or earning certification can keep you competitive in the job market. For instance, a master’s in business administration (MBA) would help you better understand the business angle of the sales engineer job. Respectable institutions like the Manufacturers’ Representatives Educational Research Foundation and the National Association of Sales Professionals offer certification programs in sales. Staying up-to-date with technological advancements in your field is also beneficial.
Step 7: Apply for jobs
With technical skill, an understanding of sales principles, and relevant experience, you’re ready to apply for sales engineer roles. Tailor your resume to align with the job’s requirements. Networking events and job search websites can help you find open positions in a variety of fields, such as information technology, manufacturing, or telecommunications.
Step 8: Prepare for the interview
Once you’re invited for an interview, preparation is vital. Be ready to demonstrate both your technical knowledge and your ability to sell. Familiarize yourself with the company’s products or services, understand your potential clients’ needs, and prepare to demonstrate how you would use your engineering skills to solve their problems effectively.
How much do sales engineers make?
Sales engineer salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Specific certifications and knowledge can significantly impact a sales engineer’s total compensation.
Highest paying industries
- Information Services and Data Processing – $132,540
- Manufacturing and Reproduction of Magnetic and Optical Media – $126,300
- Oil and Gas Extraction – $125,920
- Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing – $123,430
- Securities and Commodity Contracts – $120,650
Highest paying states
- California – $134,730
- Virginia – $133,210
- Washington – $128,600
- Texas – $125,690
- Massachusetts – $124,740
Types of sales engineers
This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for sales engineers. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.
Technical sales engineer
These sales engineers apply their immense technical knowledge and expertise in explaining the intricate details of complex and technical products like software, hardware, and machinery to prospective clients, ensuring they understand the product’s benefits before making a purchase decision.
Software sales engineer
Software sales engineers specialize in promoting software solutions. They offer technical demonstrations, answer technical inquiries, and often assist with integration or customization questions specific to the client’s needs.
Industrial sales engineer
This role involves presenting and selling technical solutions to manufacturing or production issues. Industrial sales engineers often work closely with other engineers and plant managers to understand their needs and propose effective solutions.
Pre-sales engineers work with sales teams to qualify, educate, and guide customers throughout the pre-sales process. Their work is critical in shaping the customer’s understanding of a product or solution’s technical aspects, significantly influencing purchasing decisions.
In contrast to pre-sales engineers, individuals working as post-sales engineers support clients after a successful sale. Their job involves assisting with product implementation, troubleshooting technical issues, and providing training or guidance to ensure optimal product or service usage.
Top skills for sales engineers
This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a sales engineer.
A grasp of the technical aspects of the products or services being sold is a compulsory trait for sales engineers. They need to understand the inner workings of the products, their applications, and how they meet the needs of potential customers. This knowledge aids in demonstrating the value of a product and addressing any questions or concerns customers may have.
Strong written and verbal communication skills are essential, given the need to explain complex technical concepts to clients with diverse backgrounds. The ability to simplify complex concepts and speak clearly and persuasively can make or break a deal.
Aside from technical acumen, sales engineers are, at their core, salespeople. They need to initiate and close deals, identify potential new clients, and negotiate contracts. Proficiency in these areas calls for a good understanding of sales methodologies and principles, market research, competitor analysis, and customer needs assessment.
Customer service orientation
Client satisfaction is a top priority in this role. This involves responding promptly and effectively to customer queries and complaints, building strong customer relationships, and going the extra mile to meet customer needs. This orientation toward customer service helps maintain long-term business relations and contributes to repeat business.
In the event of technical difficulties or customer issues, a sales engineer needs to analyze the situation promptly and provide effective solutions. Problem-solving skills also come into play when customizing product solutions to meet unique customer requirements.
Sales engineer career path
As a sales engineer, various opportunities to progress and diversify are available. By gaining experience, building relationships, and deepening technical expertise, you can take your career to new heights.
An initial step can be to move to the role of senior sales engineer. This position is typically responsible for larger, more complex sales. You may also take on supervisory roles, leading a team of sales engineers, introducing you to management responsibilities.
With time and proven experience, you can progress to more senior roles, such as sales engineering manager or director of sales. These positions involve overseeing larger sales engineering teams, setting sales goals, and developing sales strategies. It would introduce you to higher-level decision-making and strategic planning, adding valuable layers to your professional advancement.
Many sales engineers diversify their careers outside of the sales department. For example, with your knowledge of the complex technical attributes of products or services, you can transition into product management roles. These positions involve collaborating with different departments to guide product development from initial concept to market launch.
Alternatively, some engineers leverage their technical knowledge to move into consultative roles. Consulting frequently leads to a freelance or entrepreneurial direction, with the opportunity to offer specialized services.
Remember, your journey doesn’t have to be linear. You can carve a path based on your interests, skills, and ambitions. Grow your network, sharpen your expertise, and create your individual story of success.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for sales engineers
A pivotal trend in this profession is the increased blending of sales and engineering roles, mainly due to product development becoming faster and more agile. As a result, customers now expect quick solutions to product-related challenges. Sales engineers who are technically proficient can better comprehend and address these challenges.
Another significant trend is the sophisticated use of data throughout the sales process. Empowered by analytics, sales engineers can gain insights into market trends, customer preferences, and product performance. These insights help develop effective and customized sales strategies to specific customer needs. The ability to harness data has become an invaluable skill for sales engineers.
Industries seeing a surge of technological innovation also display a high demand for sales engineers. These sectors include information technology, robotics, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing. Experience in these areas is a competitive advantage for sales engineers in the evolving job market.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for sales engineers is expected to grow 6 percent through 2031 – a rate close to the average for all occupations. The BLS cites the increased demand for more complex technology and manufacturing products as the primary reason for this growth.
Sales engineer career tips
Understand your products
As a sales engineer, you are the technical expert on your product offering. You must have a comprehensive understanding of the products or services you’re representing, which includes the technological aspects, the engineering complexity, how the products operate, the problems they solve for clients, and what sets them apart in the marketplace. Regular study sessions and interaction with the engineering and production teams would foster an in-depth understanding of the products.
Learn about customer industries
Kick your knowledge up a notch and gain insight into your clients’ industries. Learning about their business models, challenges, needs, and overall industry trends will position you as an ally in their business. It’s not only about understanding your product but relaying its applicability and benefits in a language the client understands. This tip involves research and active listening during client meetings.
Technology and industry landscapes ever-evolving necessitate constant learning. As a sales engineer, keeping up with the trends in your field and acquiring pertinent professional certifications will give you an advantage in your career:
- Certified Sales Professional (CSP)
- Certified Technical Sales Professional (CTSP)
- New technological and software certifications related to your products
Build a professional network
Networking remains a powerful tool in advancing your career in sales engineering. It opens opportunities for partnerships, ideas exchange, mentorship, and even job opportunities. Developing a robust network can be achieved through active participation in professional associations:
- Sales & Marketing Executives International (SMEI)
- American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
- National Society of Sales Engineers (NSSE)
Communication in the context of sales engineering is a must-have soft skill. You’ll need to articulate often complex or technical information in a manner that clients, who may need a technical background, can easily understand.
Where the sales engineer jobs are
- New York
Top job sites
What specialized knowledge does a sales engineer need?
As a strategic middleman between technical teams and clients, sales engineers require a deep understanding of the products or services they sell. A strong background in engineering, technical, and scientific principles is typically expected. Along with this, they need to have a sound grasp of market conditions and competitor offerings. Knowledge of sales strategies and customer psychology would also be beneficial.
How does a sales engineer interact with clients?
Sales engineers interact with clients by demonstrating products, explaining technical details, and responding to prospects’ questions. They maintain constant communication to understand client needs, negotiate deals, and close sales. Client interactions are characterized by professionalism and focused, goal-oriented communication.
What are the typical tasks a sales engineer performs each day?
A sales engineer can expect to spend their days conducting product demonstrations, crafting sales proposals, collaborating with colleagues on technical specifications, and continuously interacting with prospects and customers. Maintaining records, keeping up-to-date with industry trends, and preparing technical presentations are also everyday tasks.
Is teamwork important for a sales engineer?
Yes, teamwork is critical in the role of a sales engineer. Collaboration with various departments, such as research, development, and marketing, is often required to understand product specifications and develop effective sales campaigns. A sales engineer often works with clients and internal teams, integrating various perspectives and skills to provide solutions that meet client needs and the company’s objectives.
What are the top skills a sales engineer should possess?
A good sales engineer should have an excellent understanding of technical and engineering principles. Strong sales, communication, and relationship-building skills are also essential. Being able to synthesize technical information and explain it in simple, clear language to non-technical clients is a critical skill. Additionally, problem-solving, negotiation, and project management abilities are highly valued in this role.
How can a sales engineer manage the stress of meeting sales targets?
Meeting sales targets can indeed be stressful. Effective time management and organization can help cope with the pressure. It’s important for a sales engineer to maintain a balanced perspective, understanding that while reaching targets is essential, not all opportunities convert into a sale. Self-care, including regular breaks, exercise, and adequate sleep, can significantly alleviate stress.
What’s the role of a sales engineer in product development?
The sales engineer plays a vital role in product development by providing feedback to the product development team, helping them tailor products or solutions to meet customer needs. Sales engineers can communicate the practical constraints or needs in the marketplace and help streamline the product to be user-friendly and practical. Essentially, they act as the voice of the customer within the organization, influencing product design and functionality.
How does a sales engineer contribute to a company’s growth?
A sales engineer contributes to a company’s growth by crafting and implementing effective sales strategies to drive revenue. By engaging clients, identifying their needs, and positioning products or services in a way that resonates with the client’s needs, they help secure profitable contracts. Furthermore, their technical expertise and ability to develop customized solutions can lead to the creation of new products or services, opening up new markets and opportunities for growth.
What makes a sales engineer successful?
A successful sales engineer has a mix of technical knowledge, sales acumen, and interpersonal skills. They have the ability to comprehend complex information and translate it into easily digestible language for clients. They must be self-motivated, goal-oriented, and have exceptional problem-solving skills. Persistence, resilience in the face of obstacles, and the ability to handle pressure are also hallmark traits.