Sales engineers specialize in technologically and scientifically advanced products. They possess extensive knowledge of these products, including knowledge about their components, functions, and the scientific processes that make them work. They use their technical skills to explain the benefits of their products to potential customers and to demonstrate how their products are better than the products of their competitors. Often, they modify and adjust products to meet customers’ specific needs. Some sales engineers work for the companies that design and build technical products, while others work for independent sales firms.
Many of the duties of sales engineers are similar to those of other salespersons. They must interest the client in purchasing their products, negotiate a price, and complete the sale. Some sales engineers, however, are teamed with other salespersons who concentrate on marketing and selling the product, enabling the sales engineer to concentrate on the technical aspects of the job. By working on a sales team, each member is able to focus on his or her strengths and expertise.
Sales engineers tend to employ selling techniques that are different from those used by most other sales workers. They generally use a “consultative” style; that is, they focus on the client's problem and show how it can be solved or mitigated with their product or service. This selling style differs from the “benefits and features” method, whereby the salesperson describes the product and leaves the customer to decide how it would be useful.
In addition to retaining current clients and attracting new ones, sales engineers help clients solve any problems that arise when the product is installed. Afterward, they may continue to serve as a liaison between the client and their company. Increasingly, sales engineers are asked to undertake additional tasks related to sales, such as market research, because of their familiarity with clients' purchasing needs. Drawing on this same familiarity, sales engineers may help identify and develop new products.
Sales engineers held about 63,800 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of sales engineers were as follows:
- Merchant wholesalers, durable goods - 28%
- Manufacturing - 21%
- Computer systems design and related services - 17%
- Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers - 5%
- Telecommunications - 5%
Some sales engineers have large territories and travel extensively. Because sales regions may cover several states, sales engineers may be away from home for several days or even weeks at a time. Other sales engineers cover a smaller region and spend only a few nights away from home.
Sales engineers may encounter stress because their income and job security often depend directly on their success in sales and customer service.
Most sales engineers work full time. Some may work additional and irregular hours to meet sales goals and client needs.Education & Training Required
A bachelor's degree in engineering usually is required for a person to become a sales engineer. However, workers without a degree, but with previous experience in sales and technical experience or training, sometimes hold the title of sales engineer. Also, workers who have a degree in a science, such as chemistry, or even a degree in business with little or no previous sales experience, may be called sales engineers.
University engineering programs generally require 4 years of study. They vary in content, but all contain courses in math and the physical sciences, as well as general education courses such as English and communications. In addition, most require the development of computer skills. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school. Most programs, however, require students to choose an area of specialization. The most common majors are electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering, but some programs offer additional majors, such as chemical, biomedical, and computer hardware engineering.
New graduates with engineering degrees may need sales experience and training before they can work independently as sales engineers. Training may involve teaming with a sales mentor who is familiar with the employer's business practices, customers, procedures, and company culture. After the training period has been completed, sales engineers may continue to partner with someone who lacks technical skills, yet excels in the art of sales.
It is important for sales engineers to continue their engineering and sales education throughout their careers. Much of their value to their employers depends on their knowledge of, and ability to sell, the latest technologies. Sales engineers in high-technology fields, such as information technology and advanced electronics, may find that their technical knowledge rapidly becomes obsolete, requiring frequent retraining.
Many sales engineers first work as engineers. For some, engineering experience is necessary to obtain the technical background that is needed to sell their employers' products or services effectively.
These workers must possess excellent communication skills, because interacting with customers is one of their main job functions. They also must be strong in math and have an aptitude for science as they work with complex, technical products.