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How to Become a Sales Engineer

By Oluwadamilola Osisanya

Published:

Are you considering becoming a sales engineer for that competitive edge in tech? Like any pivotal role in business, this position blends technical prowess with sales intuition. Embracing the sales engineer mantle means acquiring the necessary educational background and industry-specific skills. Gear up to navigate this dynamic terrain through this article, as being a sales engineer is more than a job—it’s an art and a science, and we’ve got the blueprint for triumph in this field.

Career Summary

What is a Sales Engineer?

Sales Engineer Salary

A sales engineer is a professional who combines technical expertise with sales skills to provide advice and support on technically complex products or services to customers. They bridge the gap between the technical team and clients, ensuring that products meet the customer’s requirements and assisting in the sales process.

What does a Sales Engineer do?

A sales engineer job description typically involves working closely with the sales team, delivering technical presentations and demonstrations, addressing technical questions, and customizing solutions to meet specific client requirements. They possess in-depth product knowledge and the ability to articulate this understanding to both technical and non-technical audiences.

Sales Engineer Salary

When considering a career as a Sales Engineer, understanding the potential earnings is crucial.

Here are the essential salary figures you need to know according to data from Glassdoor:

  • Entry Salary (US$94k)
  • Median Salary (US$125k)
  • Executive Salary (US$189k)

The median salary for a Sales Engineer is considerably above the general average salary across the United States, which was reported to be $61,900 in 2022.

Sales Engineer Career Progression

  • Junior/Entry-Level Sales Engineer: You will assist senior sales engineers, participate in product training, and get acquainted with the company’s portfolio and clients. Your tasks involve supporting product demonstrations, addressing basic technical inquiries, and shadowing more experienced colleagues during client meetings.
  • Sales Engineer: With a few years of experience, you can handle more accounts and lead client interactions. You will understand customer needs, offer tailored solutions, perform product demos, and assist in the sales process’s technical aspects.
  • Senior Sales Engineer: You will handle high-value or strategic accounts, mentor junior engineers, and may lead technical discussions at industry events or conferences. Your insights often influence product development and improvements.
  • Sales Engineering Manager: You will lead a team of sales engineers, coordinating efforts, setting targets, and ensuring training and development for their team members. You might still handle the most strategic or challenging accounts directly.
  • Director of Sales Engineering: At this level, you’ll oversee multiple teams or regions and set strategies for the sales engineering function.
  • VP of Sales Engineering or Technical Sales: The highest position in the sales engineering track. They are responsible for global or company-wide strategy, integration of new technologies, and ensuring the success of the sales engineering function across the board.
Sales Engineer Career Progression

Pros:

  • Competitive compensation and incentives.
  • Exposure to various industries and technologies.
  • Opportunity for travel and networking.
  • Impactful role in driving business growth.
  • Collaborative team environment.

Cons:

  • Pressure to meet sales targets.
  • Dealing with rejection and customer objections.
  • Unpredictable and irregular work hours.
  • Strain on work-life balance.
  • Juggling multiple client demands simultaneously.

Useful Skills to Have as a Sales Engineer

  • Strong Technical Knowledge
  • Excellent Communication Skills
  • Problem-Solving Abilities
  • Time Management and Organization
  • Customer Relationship Management

Popular Sales Engineer Specialties

  • Software Sales Engineer
  • Telecommunications Sales Engineer
  • Medical Device Sales Engineer
  • Industrial Equipment Sales Engineer
  • Cybersecurity Sales Engineer

How to become a Sales Engineer

Sales Engineer 5 Steps to Career

Becoming a proficient sales engineer requires a delicate balance between education and practical experience. This dynamic combination equips individuals with the technical know-how to understand complex solutions and instills the interpersonal skills to forge strong client relationships.

Education

Education forms the cornerstone of a successful career as a sales engineer. It provides the fundamental knowledge and theoretical framework that underpins the practical skills needed in this multifaceted role.

Do I need a degree in Engineering to become a Sales Engineer?

No, you don’t necessarily need a degree to become a Sales Engineer, but it can help.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Industry Expectations: In some industries, a technical degree (like engineering or computer science) is preferred because it helps the sales engineer understand the product’s intricacies and technical aspects. This technical understanding allows them to communicate the product’s value to potential clients effectively. For instance, if you’re selling complex machinery, it might be beneficial to have an engineering background.
  • Experience over Degree: In many cases, especially in sales roles, practical experience can be as valuable, if not more so, than formal education. If you’ve worked in a technical role and have experience with customer-facing positions, you might have a good foundation for a sales engineer position even without a degree.
  • Sales Training and Certifications: While a technical degree can be beneficial, having sales training or certifications can also be an asset. Understanding and communicating with customers, identifying their needs, and presenting solutions effectively are all critical skills for sales engineers.
  • Soft Skills: Sales engineering isn’t just about understanding the product; it’s also about building relationships, understanding customer needs, and being a good communicator. Soft skills like communication, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence can be just as necessary as technical knowledge.

While a degree can be beneficial and might be required in specific industries or companies, it’s not the only path to becoming a sales engineer. Experience, soft skills, and a commitment to learning can also help you succeed in this role.

What are the benefits of getting a degree in Engineering?

Pursuing a degree in engineering can offer numerous benefits to an aspiring sales engineer:

  • Technical Expertise: Understanding the inner workings of a product, its design, and its limitations is essential for a sales engineer. An engineering degree provides the foundational knowledge needed to grasp complex products or solutions.
  • Credibility with Clients: When engaging with technically savvy customers or stakeholders, having an engineering background can instantly establish a level of trust and authority.
  • Improved Communication of Technical Concepts: Having an engineering background allows the sales engineer to effectively bridge the gap between technical teams and non-technical stakeholders. They can translate complex concepts into digestible information for customers.
  • Career Flexibility: An engineering degree doesn’t lock one into a sales engineering path. It opens doors to various roles in design, research, project management, and more. If one chooses to transition out of sales engineering, the engineering background provides versatility.
  • Higher Earning Potential: Combined with sales skills, an engineering degree can lead to higher salaries as technical sales often command premium compensation, especially when selling complex, high-value products.

How long does it take to get a degree in Engineering?

The duration to obtain an engineering degree varies based on the program. Here’s a general breakdown:

Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E. or B.Eng.):
  • Duration: 4 years of full-time study.
  • Note: This is the standard degree for most engineering disciplines and is usually the minimum requirement to begin a career as an engineer.
Master’s Degree in Engineering (M.S., M.Eng., or M.E.):
  • Duration: 1-2 years of full-time study after completing a bachelor’s degree.
  • Note: Some integrated programs combine the bachelor’s and master’s into a 5-year program.
Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering (Ph.D.):
  • Duration: Typically 3-6 years after the bachelor’s degree, but this can vary widely based on the research topic and pace.
  • Note: A master’s degree is not always required to pursue a Ph.D., though it can shorten the duration.

How much does it cost to study Engineering at University?

The cost of studying engineering at a university in the United States varies widely based on several factors.

The average cost of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering is typically between $40,000 to $90,000 per year. At the same time, a postgraduate degree can cost between $15,000 to $80,000 per year. A doctorate can cost anywhere between $18,000 to $55,000 per year.

These figures are rough estimates, and it’s essential to check specific universities for up-to-date tuition figures.

Moreover, financial aid, scholarships, and grants can significantly offset these costs for many students. Consider the net price (the cost after financial aid) when evaluating affordability.

Can I become a Sales Engineer through online education?

Yes, you can become a Sales Engineer through online education. Many universities and institutions now offer online degrees in engineering, business, or related fields, which provide the foundational knowledge needed for a sales engineer. These online programs can cover the technical aspects of products and systems and critical sales and communication skills. Coupled with virtual labs, simulations, and team projects, they equip students with practical experience in problem-solving and client interactions.

However, the key to transitioning from an online degree to a sales engineering role is gaining real-world experience. Supplementing online coursework with internships, part-time jobs, or cooperative education programs in technical sales or a related field is advisable. These experiences and networking opportunities will provide a comprehensive foundation and a competitive edge in the sales engineering domain.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Sales Engineer?

Sales engineering is a unique blend of technical and sales skills, so finding resources that cater to this intersection is essential.

Here are some web resources tailored to sales engineers:

  • S.E. Society (Sales Enablement Society): This society aims to elevate the role and profession of sales enablement. It provides resources, knowledge, and networking opportunities specific to sales enablement roles, which include sales engineers.
  • PreSales Collective: An inclusive community for pre-sales professionals, including sales engineers. It offers webinars, events, courses, and resources tailored to the pre-sales role.
  • Mastering Technical Sales: Run by John Care and Aron Bohlig, this site offers advice, training, and resources specifically for technical sales professionals. They cover sales demonstrations, proof of concept management, and improving technical sales skills.

Remember, while these resources are fantastic for learning and improving skills, the real essence of sales engineering also lies in hands-on experiences, networking, and understanding the specific industry or product you’re representing.

Practical Experience

While education lays the foundation, practical experience serves as the crucible in which aspiring sales engineers refine their skills and develop a deep understanding of the nuances within their chosen industry.

What are internship opportunities for a Sales Engineer?

Internship opportunities for aspiring sales engineers are available across various industries, given the importance of the role in bridging technical expertise with sales acumen.

Here are some ways to approach securing such internships:

  • Tech Companies: Those in the SaaS (Software as a Service) sector frequently offer sales engineer internships. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle are known for their sales engineer or solutions engineer internship programs. Interns usually get to work with the sales team, learn about the product, and engage in customer-facing roles.
  • Networking and Telecommunications: Firms like Cisco, Juniper Networks, and Ericsson offer roles where interns can get a blend of technical and sales experiences.
  • Manufacturing and Industrial Companies: Companies that produce complex technical products (e.g., GE, Siemens, Honeywell) might offer internships for roles that involve explaining the technical aspects of their products to potential buyers.
  • Startup Companies: Many startups, especially in the tech sector, seek individuals who can wear multiple hats. Interning at a startup might allow you to delve into technical support and sales roles.
  • Professional Organizations: Organizations like the North American Association of Sales Engineers (NAASE) or the Sales Enablement Society might have listings or connections for internships in the sales engineering space.

When applying, emphasize any technical training or coursework you’ve completed, any sales or customer service experiences you’ve had (even if they’re not in a technical domain), and your ability to communicate complex topics. These are all critical attributes of a successful sales engineer.

What Skills will I learn as a Sales Engineer?

You’ll acquire a unique blend of technical, business, and interpersonal skills as a sales engineer.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the critical skills you’ll develop:

  • Technical Proficiency: Understanding the intricacies of the products or services you’re selling, from software applications to mechanical systems.
  • Solution Selling: The ability to assess a client’s needs and demonstrate how your product or service can provide a solution.
  • Communication Skills: Effectively conveying technical information to non-technical audiences and vice versa.
  • Customer Relationship Management: Building and maintaining solid client relationships, meeting their needs, and fostering long-term loyalty.
  • Negotiation Skills: Working with customers to reach mutually beneficial agreements.
  • Presentation Skills: Demonstrating products effectively, one-on-one, in front of a small team, or at more significant industry events.
  • Analytical Thinking: Evaluating customers’ needs, market trends, and competition to adjust sales strategies accordingly.
  • Project Management: Overseeing product implementation or customization projects to ensure they’re completed on time and within scope.
  • Continuous Learning: Staying updated with the latest technology, industry trends, and sales techniques.
  • Team Collaboration: Working alongside product developers, marketing teams, and other stakeholders to provide feedback and improve offerings.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Sales Engineer?

Sales Engineers often face a challenging work-life balance due to their unique blend of technical and sales responsibilities. The nature of the role, which usually involves addressing immediate technical inquiries from potential clients, can lead to unpredictable hours and a demanding workload.

Typically, sales engineers might travel frequently to client sites for product demonstrations, meetings, and training. This can result in long days and occasional weekends on the road, although advancements in virtual meeting technologies have reduced travel requirements for some. The pressure to meet sales targets, particularly at the end of fiscal quarters, can intensify the workload and extend working hours.

However, the role of a sales engineer can also be immensely rewarding. Helping clients solve their challenges and being a technical expert in the sales process can provide professional satisfaction. For those who thrive in dynamic environments and enjoy the fusion of technology and sales, the benefits of the job can balance out the demanding aspects, leading to a neutral to positive work-life balance.

What’s the Career Outlook for Sales Engineers?

The career outlook for sales engineers in the United States has traditionally been positive due to the essential nature of their role in bridging technical products and solutions with customer needs. As industries evolve with technological advancements, the demand for professionals who can understand and communicate these complexities to clients is vital.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of sales engineers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As a broader range of technologically sophisticated products becomes available, more sales engineers will be needed to sell these products.

Sales Engineer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Sales Engineer?

Sales Engineers have a unique skill set combining technical know-how and sales acumen. This combination opens up various job opportunities in diverse sectors and industries.

Here’s a rundown of some of the primary job opportunities for sales engineers:

  • Technical Sales Specialist: Focuses on selling complex technical products and solutions to clients, often as the bridge between sales and engineering teams.
  • Application Engineer: Works with customers to understand their needs and then suggests or customizes products or solutions accordingly.
  • Account Manager (Technical): Manages relationships with specific clients or accounts, meeting their technical needs and facilitating sales.
  • Product Manager: While this role is broader, a background in sales engineering can be beneficial. Product managers define product strategy and features based on market demands.
  • Pre-sales Consultant: Provides technical expertise to sales teams before a deal is closed, such as product demonstrations or addressing technical queries.
  • Customer Success Engineer: Ensures the post-sales success of customers by guiding product implementation, troubleshooting, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
  • Sales Engineering Manager: Leads and manages teams of sales engineers, overseeing projects and ensuring targets are met.
  • Technical Trainer: Specializes in training clients, sales teams, or other stakeholders on a product’s technical aspects and functionalities.
  • Solutions Architect: Designs and presents comprehensive solutions to customers, addressing all their technical and business requirements.
  • Business Development Manager (Technical): Identifies business opportunities, establishes strategic partnerships, and drives the integration of technical products or services into new markets.

What Type of Companies Hire a Sales Engineer?

Sales Engineers are in demand across various industries due to the increasing complexity of products and services that require a deep understanding to sell effectively.

Here are some of the most critical and relevant sectors that hire sales engineers:

  • Technology and Software Firms: These companies need sales engineers to help potential clients understand how software solutions or tech products can solve their specific problems.
  • Telecommunications Companies: To sell advanced telecom solutions to businesses, from networking equipment to communication platforms.
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Companies: For selling complex machinery, automation systems, or other specialized equipment.
  • Medical Device Companies: These firms require sales engineers to explain and demonstrate the benefits of sophisticated medical technologies to hospitals and clinics.
  • Aerospace and Defense Contractors: For selling high-tech equipment and systems to governmental or private enterprises.
  • Renewable Energy and Utilities: As the technologies behind solar, wind, and other renewable resources become more advanced, sales engineers are needed to bridge the gap between technical specifications and customer needs.
  • Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Firms: Selling complex lab equipment or introducing new technologies to research institutions.
  • Cybersecurity Firms: Given the technical nature of cybersecurity solutions, sales engineers play a pivotal role in conveying the value and functionality of products to potential clients.

Remember, any industry that offers a technical product or service that requires an in-depth explanation or demonstration to potential buyers might have a role for a sales engineer.

Should I become a Sales Engineer?

Choosing to embark on a journey as a sales engineer is like picking a path in a vibrant, ever-evolving forest. Before stepping forward, it’s crucial to know the terrain, the challenges, and the rewards. Having gone through this article, you’ve equipped yourself with knowledge of the critical aspects of the profession. Now, it’s time for some introspection.

Are you someone who finds a thrill in merging technical know-how with persuasive skills? Do you have that innate curiosity about how things work and a desire to help others understand it too?

It is vital to reflect on these questions and align them with your interests and long-term aspirations. If the shoe seems to fit, then tighten those laces! And as you get ready to sprint forward, research typical interview scenarios and craft your answers thoughtfully. After all, diving deep today paves the way for smooth sailing tomorrow!

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Oluwadamilola Osisanya

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