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Sales Engineers - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Promotion may include a higher commission rate, a larger sales territory, or elevation to the position of supervisor or marketing manager. Alternatively, sales engineers may move into different occupations, such as consulting.

Sales engineers held about 78,000 jobs in 2008. About 34 percent were employed in wholesale trade establishments, and another 24 percent were employed in manufacturing establishments. Smaller numbers of sales engineers worked in computer systems design and related services organizations, as well as telecommunications firms. Unlike workers in many other sales occupations, very few sales engineers are self-employed.

Job Outlook
Job growth for sales engineers is projected to be about as fast as average, and competition for jobs is expected.

Job Growth
Employment of sales engineers is expected to grow by 9 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job growth will stem from the increasing variety and technical nature of the goods and services to be sold. Competitive pressures and advancing technology will force companies to improve and update product designs more frequently and to optimize their manufacturing, sales processes, and general business processes, thus requiring the services of sales engineers.

Growth will be fastest in technology companies, such as software publishers and computer systems design firms. Increasing demand for the latest, most sophisticated technological products will spur demand for sales engineers with expertise in the field. Conversely, as manufacturing organizations continue to outsource their sales functions to independent companies, employment in the manufacturing industry will fall.

Competition for jobs is expected because the relatively high earnings potential of this occupation creates significant interest in sales engineer positions. Prospects will be best for those with the personal traits necessary for successful sales work. In addition to new positions created as companies expand their sales forces, some openings will arise each year from the need to replace sales engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Median annual wages, including commissions, of sales engineers were $83,100 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $63,340 and $108,470 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $136,770 a year. Median annual wages of sales engineers employed by the computer systems design and related services industry were $95,580.

Compensation varies significantly by the type of firm and the product sold. Most employers offer a combination of salary and commission payments or a salary plus a bonus. Those working in independent sales companies may just earn commissions. Commissions usually are based on the value of sales, whereas bonuses may depend on individual performance, on the performance of all workers in the group or district, or on the company's performance. Earnings from commissions and bonuses may vary greatly from year to year, depending on sales ability, the demand for the company's products or services, and the overall economy.

In addition to receiving their earnings, sales engineers who work for manufacturers usually are reimbursed for expenses such as transportation, meals, hotels, and customer entertainment. Besides receiving typical benefits, sales engineers may get personal use of a company car and frequent-flyer mileage. Some companies offer incentives such as free vacation trips or gifts for outstanding performance. Sales engineers who work in independent firms may have higher, but less stable, earnings and, often, relatively few benefits. For example, most independent sales engineers do not get paid vacations, a common benefit for many other workers.

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