What Is Sales Engineering and the Complete Guide to MasteryJun 22, 2022
Sales jobs are varied and multi-faceted careers that many different people will consider in their lives. However, there are key differences between different types of sales professionals. The types of goods being sold and the amount of technical knowledge that you need to have will vary depending on what type of sales role you take on.
Having a sales job can be a lucrative and fulfilling career. In particular, sales engineers can make a lot of profit and work in highly advanced and lucrative industries. However, there's a lot to know in order to become a sales engineer. It's not an easy job to just jump into, so it's important to learn as much as you can about sales engineers before you decide if the career is right for you.
In this complete guide to sales engineering, we'll help you understand everything you need to know about becoming a sales engineer. We'll discuss the technical knowledge you need to know, the qualities and skills you need to have, and even go over some of the questions you'll get asked when interviewing for a sales engineer role.
What is a Sales Engineer?
A sales engineer is a sales person who specializes in the sales of technological and scientific products and services, typically in a B2B setting. Sales engineers need to have detailed knowledge about the products and services they sell, as they need to answer questions about the technical and advanced mechanics of what they sell. They can work as sales representatives for different companies, or work for independent sales firms.
The complexity of the products they sell means that sales engineers need to be able to translate complex terms and industry-specific knowledge into terminology that an average person would be able to understand. In the same vein, they also need to be able to answer difficult questions and understand exactly how the products and services they sell work, so that customers understand the sales presentation and are aware of what the products or services do.
In addition, sales engineers also need to be good sales people. They have to be able to make a good pitch and presentation to clients, be responsive, and proactively look for new customers and business. They need to work with their sales team and know how to be a collaborative player within their company culture.
Qualities of a Sales Engineer
Sales engineers need to have the qualities of a regular salesperson along with specialized skills that help them become successful sales engineers. The sales process for a sales engineer can be a lot more complicated and detailed than other types of products or services, meaning that in order to be successful, sales engineers need to hone their skills. Let's examine these different skill sets now.
Possesses Technical and Soft Skills
Soft skills, otherwise known as interpersonal skills, are the types of skills that have to do with working well with others, engaging with clients and fellow team members, and knowing how to read people's body language and moods in order to ask the right questions and create a good sales dialogue. Technical skills are the types of skills that allow sales engineers to explain highly complex concepts and understand different product and service features. A good sales engineer will have both of these skill sets and be able to grow and expand their skills in order to become more successful in both areas.
Works Well with Others
At its core, sales is a team sport. Working in sales teams requires the ability to work well with others. A good sales engineer will be able to help their fellow sales engineers prepare presentations, come up with new talking points, respond to customer questions and messages, and understand the technical aspects of the products and services you sell. Sales engineers often need to team up with other sales representatives and work on pitching to potential clients together, meaning that you need to work well in a group and be a team player.
Ability to Solve Problems
Problem solving is another important skill for sales engineers. You need to be able to understand the problems and pain points of a customer, and make sure that you are solution oriented so you can help make the products and services you represent even more appealing to potential customers. You need to know how to capitalize on the sales process and make it work for you while also meeting the potential client where they are on the customer journey. When you know the technical aspects of your products and services, you can always maneuver the conversation back to the talking points you want to make and ensure that you are addressing the customer concerns at the same time.
Can Deliver Complex Information in an Easy-to-Understand Way
Sales engineers typically sell products or services that are highly technical, scientifically advanced, or simply complex and difficult to understand. A sales engineer needs to be able to communicate that complicated information to the customer in a way that is easy to understand. If you can't, the customer will be confused and uncertain of what it is you are actually selling, making it highly unlikely that they will choose to buy from you. A sales engineer needs to be able to translate difficult subjects into information that anyone can understand. This will help you create great technical presentations and pitches that your leads and ideal customers will respond to positively.
Experience Working in Sales
Sales engineers need to be experienced. A career in sales engineering typically isn't the first type of sales career a person will have. Sales engineers need to have detailed knowledge of the sales process and have strong sales skills that take time to build up. Without this background and experience, it will be hard to manage the types of clients and accounts that a sales engineer will typically engage with. A seasoned sales engineer will do much better in the role than someone who is brand new to sales as a whole.
How to Become a Sales Engineer
Despite the technical knowledge needed and the complexity of the products and services you sell, sales engineering is a highly sought after career option for those who want to go into sales. Sales engineering is often considered one of the more difficult sales roles, but can be incredibly rewarding for those willing to take the right steps in order to become a sales engineer. Let's talk about some of the different ways you can become a sales engineer and begin your career.
Take a Course
One way to start the journey to becoming a sales engineer is to begin education. Most sales engineers have a degree in a relevant field like a science or engineering degree. If you know that becoming a sales engineer is something that is important for you, then gaining the technical knowledge needed to do well in the role is a great idea. Taking a course and earning a degree that can lead you towards a sales engineering career is a great first step.
Pick a Specialty
After you have a degree, you'll also want to narrow down what specialty or industry you want to move forward in. Because you'll need to have such specialized knowledge, you don't want to spread yourself too thin. By picking a niche and specializing in that area, you can increase your knowledge sets and get a better idea of what types of information and knowledge you'll need for your niche.
Work Your Way Up
Don't expect to get a sales engineering job right out of school. You'll likely have to start at the bottom and work your way up. This isn't a bad thing, if in fact, it's a good idea for you to learn more about the sales process and how to become a good sales person before you begin your career as a sales engineer. This will help you learn those important technical skills and soft skills that will serve you well as you become a sales engineer.
Get Relevant Experience
While we've mentioned the importance of experience, it's even more important to make sure you get relevant experience. In order to really start working as a sales engineer and getting involved with the types of clients and accounts you want to aim for, you'll need to begin with things like learning how to use automation solutions and platforms, researching clients and building customer profiles, and exploring the market.
Master Technical and Soft Skills
As mentioned earlier, most sales engineers are masters of both technical and soft skills. If you find that you aren't excelling at particular skill sets, try taking courses in things like communication or leadership or doing additional research to improve your technical ability. This will help you stand out and be able to refine the important skills of a sales engineer.
Gain the Ability to Work Well with Others
Sales engineers need to know how to work well with others. If you have the kind of personality that doesn't work well with others, you'll want to work on fixing that. Try volunteering for more cooperative projects or looking for ways in which you can do more teamwork. When you can work better in teams and with others, you'll be able to become a better sales engineer.
Improve Your Excellence in Problem Solving
Sales is a career where you need to be sympathetic and understanding of the problems your customers are facing. Your potential customers will have pain points and problems that you want to solve with the products and services you are selling. This requires you to have the ability to problem solve and provide the answers that your customers are looking for in your sales engineering pitches and technical presentations.
Learn to Explain Complex Concepts in Simple Terms
If you can't take complicated information and details and turn those into simple explanations and terms that people can understand, then you will have a very difficult time getting into a career as a sales engineer. While it's all well and good that you and other sales engineers understand the products and services you sell, if your customer can't grasp those concepts, you won't be able to make any sales. Practice how you can approach customers and explain these concepts in a way that they understand and that encourages them to buy from you.
Sales Engineer Interview Questions
If you get an interview for a sales engineer position, then there are some common questions that the interviewer might ask you in order to determine if you are the right fit for the role. Let's take a quick look at these sales engineer interview questions so you can be prepared.
How Might You Highlight the Benefits of Our Company’s Product in Relation to Other Market Competitors?
What technical knowledge do you have about our products that makes them different from anyone else's products or services?
How Do You Explain Complex Industry Terms to Current or Potential Customers
Are you able to make complicated topics easily understood by those who aren't sales engineers or experts in your field?
Who Do You Believe We Target Our Products and Services To?
Do you have a basic understanding of what our goals are as a company and who our ideal customers are?
If Asked to Give a Presentation on Our Products and Services, What Might You Choose to Share?
What might you include in a technical presentation and how that will appeal to clients and customers?
How Many Professional Experiences Have You Had as a Sales Engineer?
Do you have the required background in order to excel in a sales engineer role?
What Types of Sales Engineer Technologies are You Proficient in?
How well versed are you in different technologies that help you do your job as a sales engineer better?
Do You Thrive in Independent or Collaborative Work Environments?
Are you able to work as part of a sales team?
What Information Do You Need to Know About a Current or Potential Customer Before Presenting a Demo?
How much training on our products or services will you need before you can start selling them to customers?
Where Do You Find Information About Sales Engineering Trends or Emerging Research?
Are you invested in sales engineering and sales education?
How Might You Handle Conflict Resolution with a Customer or Colleague?
Are you able to put personal differences aside in order to work as a team and sell products and services to customers?
What Does a Sales Engineer Do?
Sales engineers typically have similar days to other types of sales professionals. While the tasks themselves might vary from day to day, the types of projects you work on will likely be very similar to other sales roles.
Deliver Client Presentations
A sales engineer will need to pitch to sales and marketing executives and explain to them what it is that you are selling and why it's important that they buy it.
Sales engineers also need to be able to recommend modifications, improvements, and upgrades that clients might be interested in if they are already a customer.
Resolve Client Issues
If a client is experiencing issues with the product or service that you've sold them, a sales engineer will need to be able to help them resolve the issue and foster a stronger relationship.
Collaborate with Other Teams
A sales engineer will need to be able to work with other teams and employees in the office to create a cohesive approach to customers and make sure their requirements are met.
Sales Engineer Job Description
A sales engineer job description might not always be under the title of "sales engineer". Instead, you might need to look for job descriptions and titles like:
- Solutions engineer
- Solution architect
- Solution consultant
- Systems engineer
- Presales engineer
- Customer engineer
- Application engineer
- Technical sales
- Technical account manager
Despite the different titles that may come up, the job descriptions will largely be the same. Sales engineers will have job descriptions for technical individuals who have advanced knowledge about products and services and are able to work with a team to close a sale.
Sales Engineer Responsibilities
The responsibilities of a sales engineer will vary, depending on the industry and type of product and service you sell. However, some common responsibilities that sales engineers will have include:
- Preparing and delivering technical presentations that give detailed explanations of products and services to customers
- A strong understanding of the sales process and how to work on a sale at different points of this process
- Working with customers and engineers to determine what new equipment needs or system requirements are necessary
- Collaborating with sales teams in order to make sales and provide support
- Researching and developing new products
- Recommending improvements and upgrades to customers
- Helping clients implement purchased products and services
Sales Engineer Salary
As with most sales positions, the salary of a sales engineer will vary widely depending on the types of products you sell, the commissions you make, the number of accounts you have, and the level of experience you have. However, the average sales engineer makes around $80,800 every year, according to salary databases.
What It’s Like Working as a Sales Engineer
Working as a sales engineer is a fast-paced and exciting career. While it does take time to understand the technical aspects of the product or service that you sell, after you have this base knowledge you'll be able to create agile presentations and pitches, problem solve for customers, and work on doing what it takes to close a deal. Sales engineers will also often attend conferences, trade shows, and networking events in order to learn about industry updates and connect with others who are involved with sales engineering.
Sales engineers are also usually involved in the development and research of new products and services. They have a unique understanding of both what customers want and what they are looking for in products, along with a technical understanding of what is possible to accomplish and how new goals can be achieved. Sales engineers can also spend time working on data analytics, supporting other team members, and jumping back and forth between different projects. Working as a sales engineer can be stressful, but many find the work and the compensation very rewarding.
What it Takes to Become a Sales Engineer
Sales engineers are highly dedicated professionals who need to have varying different qualifications and skills in order to do their jobs effectively. Here is what it takes to become a sales engineer and grow as a successful sales engineer.
Unlike other types of sales roles, sales engineering usually requires a college degree, expect in a few rare circumstances. At minimum, a four year degree is necessary in areas like computer science, mechanical engineering, or civil engineering. This degree helps prep you for the technical and complicated knowledge you'll need as you move forward in your career.
You can't be a good sales engineer without technical skill. You need to know how to demo or explain the products and services you sell in great detail, which requires a deep level of technical knowledge in order to obtain them.
While there are no specific qualifications needed beyond a degree in order to become a sales engineer, there are different requirements across industries that you may be required to obtain. For example, if you work in a security field, you may need different qualifications than in other industries. You may also need to have a Certified Professional Sales Person or Certified Professional Salesperson certification, depending on what your company requires.
Other Skill Sets
In addition to the technical skill that is required to become a sales engineer, you'll also need to have other skill sets that will improve your ability to sell successfully and grow in your career as a sales engineer. Those skill sets include:
- Analytical Skills
- Sales Skills
- Interpersonal Skills
- Communication Skills
- Customer Service Skills
- Leadership Skills
While creativity isn't typically associated with technical fields, it is an important skill to have as a sales engineer. Having creativity allows you to explore unconventional ways of approaching new customers and creating sales strategies. Being creative also helps you think of innovative ways to work together and create presentations and pitches with your team.
Languages and Technologies to Know
Sales engineers might also benefit from having different language or technological skills in order to do their jobs better. It's helpful to know in advance which industry you may want to go to so you can prepare in these areas.
Sales Engineer FAQs
Let's take a look at some common sales engineering FAQs that people have around sales engineering as a career.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Sales Engineer?
It takes at least four years to earn a college degree in order to become a sales engineer, but it will likely take a few more on top of that to gain experience.
Is Sales Engineering a Good Career?
Sales engineers have a high earning potential due to the technical nature of the job, and it is a great career for those who enjoy the technical side of sales.
What Certifications Do You Need to Become a Sales Engineer?
There are no specific certifications and requirements to become a sales engineer, but different companies might request SCPS or CPSP certifications if they so choose.
Can You Become a Sales Engineer with No Experience?
It is highly unlikely that you can become a sales engineer without any experience. While you might not need technical sales experience, you will likely need to have some level of general sales experience and experience in a technical field.