Sales engineers, also referred to as manufacturers' agents, sales representatives, or technical sales support workers, work with customers to help them determine which of their employers products or services will meet customers' needs. They are often liaisons between the customer and the production, engineering, or research and development departments of their company. They solve problems relating to how products and services can be improved to meet customer needs. They sometimes consult with the customer regarding how to best integrate the products or services into their business model.
Sales engineers form a bridge between scientific discoveries and commercial application. Most specialize in a specific type of engineering. While they use their technical engineering knowledge, the job also requires a high degree of sales skill. They are responsible for making the client interested in their products. They often work in teams with other salespersons who focus on other non-technical aspects of sales, such as marketing. This allows the sales engineer to concentrate on the more technical aspects of sales.
Sales engineers need to have a solid background in engineering, particularly in the area of engineering in which they specialize. In addition, they must have the sales skills that will enable them to succeed beyond the technical aspects of the job. They need to have very strong interpersonal communication skills, an upbeat and positive personality, and they must be persistent. They must enjoy interacting with people on a regular basis. It is also important for sales engineers to be organized and self-motivated.
In 2002, sales engineers earned a median annual salary, including commissions, of $63,660. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $37,430, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $108,080. The median annual salary of sales engineers in the computer systems design and related services industry was $77,100; and sales engineers in the professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers industry averaged $53,170.
Training and Education
Usually a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for obtaining a job as a sales engineer. However, other combinations of training and skills can qualify some candidates. Some have sales and technical experience, while others hold a degree in science or a degree in business with no sales experience. The requirements for admission to undergraduate engineering schools includes a background in mathematics, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; physical sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics; and English, social studies, humanities, and computer science. There is a high degree of variance between college programs, with some focusing on industrial practices that prepare students for employment, and others concentrating on more theoretical work that prepares students for graduate school.
Many sales engineers begin their careers working as engineers, where they gain the technical knowledge necessary to convey the benefits of products to clients. Some move into the sales engineer occupation because it provides a greater challenge and higher potential earnings. Some new engineering graduates who have no sales experience will sometimes team up with a mentor who excels in the area of sales, including business practices, customers, and company procedures and culture.
In 2002, sales engineers held about 82,000 jobs. 32% worked in the manufacturing industries, and 28% worked in wholesale trade. Very few sales engineers are self-employed.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of engineering technicians is expected to increase about as fast as the average. The increasing variety of goods to be sold is one reason, and competition among advancing technologies is another. Job opportunities will be good in independent sales agencies which contract with manufacturers, and prospects will be best for those who have the right technical knowledge coupled with the personality traits of a salesperson.
For more information on pursuing a careeer as a sales engineer, please check out our directory of schools offering Computer and Technology training.