Sales Engineer

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Interest Area: 
Persuading
Average Yearly Pay: 
$83100
Education Needed: 
Bachelor's Degree
Job Prospects: 
Competitive
Job Growth: 
9%

Is this career the right one for you?

Are you a Builder, a Thinker, a Creator, a Helper? Take the Career Surveyor test online and discover which careers are right for you!

Take the Test!

Job Duties: 

Sales engineers typically do the following:

  • Prepare and deliver technical presentations explaining products or services to customers and prospective customers
  • Confer with customers and engineers to assess equipment needs and to determine system requirements
  • Collaborate with sales teams to understand customer requirements and provide sales support
  • Secure and renew orders and arrange delivery
  • Plan and modify products to meet customer needs
  • Help clients solve problems with installed equipment
  • Recommend improved materials or machinery to customers, showing how changes will lower costs or increase production
  • Help in researching and developing new products
  • Career Overview: 

    Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

    Duties

    Sales engineers typically do the following:

    • Prepare and deliver technical presentations explaining products or services to customers and prospective customers
    • Confer with customers and engineers to assess equipment needs and to determine system requirements
    • Collaborate with sales teams to understand customer requirements and provide sales support
    • Secure and renew orders and arrange delivery
    • Plan and modify products to meet customer needs
    • Help clients solve problems with installed equipment
    • Recommend improved materials or machinery to customers, showing how changes will lower costs or increase production
    • Help in researching and developing new products

    Sales engineers specialize in technologically and scientifically advanced products. They use their technical skills to explain the benefits of their products or services to potential customers and to show how their products or services are better than their competitors' products. Some sales engineers work for the companies that design and build technical products. 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 buying their products or services, negotiate a price, and complete the sale. To do this, sales engineers give technical presentations during which they explain the technical aspects of the product and how it will solve a specific customer problem.

    Some sales engineers, however, team with salespersons who concentrate on marketing and selling the product, which lets the sales engineer concentrate on the technical aspects of the job. By working as part of a sales team, each member is able to focus on his or her strengths and expertise. For more information on other sales occupations, see the profile on wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives.

    In addition to giving technical presentations, sales engineers are increasingly doing other tasks related to sales, such as market research. They also may ask for technical requirements from customers and modify and adjust products to meet customers’ specific needs. Some sales engineers work with research and development (R&D) departments to help identify and develop new products.

    Work Environment: 

    Sales engineers held about 66,000 jobs in 2012. Sales engineers encounter stress because their income and job security often depend directly on their success in sales and customer service. 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. International travel to secure contracts with foreign clients is becoming more common.

    The industries that employed the most sales engineers in 2012 were as follows:

    Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 24%
    Manufacturing 23
    Computer systems design and related services 17
    Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 11
    Telecommunications 9

    Work Schedules

    Most sales engineers work full time, and about 6 in 10 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Some may work long and irregular hours to meet sales goals and client needs. However, many sales engineers can decide their own schedules.

    Education and Training: 

    A bachelor’s degree is typically required to become a sales engineer. Successful sales engineers combine technical knowledge of the products or services they are selling with strong interpersonal skills.

    Education

    Sales engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field. However, a worker without a degree, but with previous sales experience as well as technical experience or training, sometimes holds the title of sales engineer. Workers who have a degree in a science, such as chemistry, or in business with little or no previous sales experience, also may be called sales engineers.

    University engineering programs generally require 4 years of study. They vary in content, but all programs include courses in math and the physical sciences. In addition, most programs require developing strong 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, or civil engineering, but some programs offer additional majors, such as chemical, biomedical, or computer hardware engineering.

    Training

    New graduates with engineering degrees typically need sales experience and training before they can work independently as sales engineers. Training covers general sales techniques and 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, 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.

    Advancement

    Promotions may include a higher commission rate, a larger sales territory, or elevation to the position of supervisor or marketing manager.

    Important Qualities

    Interpersonal skills. Strong interpersonal skills are a valuable characteristic for sales engineers, both for building relationships with clients and effectively communicating with other members of the sales team.

    Problem-solving skills. Sales engineers must be able to listen to the customer’s desires and concerns, and then recommend solutions, possibly including customizing a product.

    Self-confidence. Sales engineers should be confident and persuasive when making sales presentations. 

    Technological skills. Sales engineers must have extensive knowledge of the technologically sophisticated products they sell in order to explain their advantages and answer questions.

    Pay: 

    The median annual wage for sales engineers was $91,830 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,660 and the top 10 percent earned more than $150,970.

    In May 2012, the median annual wages for sales engineers in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

    Computer systems design and related services $106,440
    Telecommunications 97,130
    Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 95,500
    Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 85,020
    Manufacturing 82,240

    How much a sales engineer earns varies significantly by the type of firm and the product sold. Most employers offer a combination of salary and commission payments or salary plus a bonus. Some sales engineers who work for independent sales companies earn only commissions. Commissions are usually based on the value of sales. 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 from year to year depending on sales ability, the demand for the company's products or services, and the overall economy. In addition to their earnings, sales engineers who work for manufacturers usually are reimbursed for expenses such as transportation, meals, hotels, and customer entertainment.

    Most sales engineers work full time, and about 6 in 10 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Some may work long and irregular hours to meet sales goals and client needs. However, many sales engineers can decide their own schedules.           

    Job Outlook: 

    Employment of sales engineers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As a wider range of technologically sophisticated products comes on the market, sales engineers will be in demand to help sell products or services related to these products.

    Employment growth is expected to be strong in independent sales agencies (companies that sell on behalf of manufacturers without taking title to the goods being sold). As manufacturing companies outsource their sales staff as a way to control costs, employment in these independent agencies is expected to increase. Growth is also likely to be strong for sales engineers selling computer software and hardware. Employment of sales engineers in computer systems design and related services is projected to grow 35 percent from 2012 to 2022.

    Job Prospects

    Successful sales engineers must have strong technical knowledge of the products they are selling, in addition to having interpersonal skills and the ability to persuade. Job prospects should be good for candidates with these abilities.

    For More Information: 

    For more information about careers in sales occupations, visit

    Manufacturers' Agents National Association (MANA)

    Manufacturers' Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF)