Education and Training Bachelor's degree, prior experience, and training
Salary Median—$70,620 per year
Employment Outlook Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Sales engineers demonstrate and sell highly technical products such as computer networks or manufacturing equipment to large companies and institutions. They also work with their company's engineering and research and development departments to devise new ways of putting their company's products to use.
Most sales engineers work for large manufacturers. Unlike rank-and-file sales-people, sales engineers do not visit potential clients and recite a standard sales pitch. Rather, they are usually brought in after a client has already been in touch with the company. Their job is to listen to potential clients' needs and attempt to explain how their product—be it a turbine or a robot welder—can satisfy those needs. Sales engineers must also demonstrate in extensive, technical detail how their product is better than that of the competition.
Following a sale, sales engineers may supervise the installation of the system and provide training for the employees who will use the product. They also maintain contact with their clients to ensure that the clients' needs have been met and to assist them with any additional problems that may arise well after the purchase.
Sales engineers are in constant contact with customers and have a good idea of the improvements customers would like to see in the products they buy. Together with the research and development departments in their own companies, sales engineers work to bring their products in line with customer expectations.
Education and Training Requirements
Most sales engineers have undergraduate engineering degrees and work for a number of years as engineers before moving to the position of sales engineer. Sometimes employers will hire inexperienced engineers who have just graduated from college and train them further at the company's expense. The training typically involves being paired up with an experienced sales engineer and learning on the job. After training, the new sales engineer will team up with an experienced salesperson in need of engineering knowledge.
Individuals interested in becoming sales engineers must be analytical and detailed oriented. They must be good at solving logic problems. Because they are salespersons, they must also be persuasive, good with people, and impeccably groomed.
Getting the Job
Most sales engineering jobs require prior experience. Students who have earned engineering degrees should visit their college placement office for information on entry-level engineering jobs. After gaining several years of experience, interested individuals can apply directly to companies that employ sales engineers, such as computer systems design companies or makers of manufacturing equipment. Ads for sales engineers may be listed in the classified section of the newspaper or on Internet job sites.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Most sales engineers advance as they receive higher commission rates (a commission is a percentage of the selling price) or larger sales territories. With some additional business training, they can move into top management positions within the companies where they work. Some sales engineers start their own firms and sell equipment for a number of different manufacturers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sales engineers held 74,000 jobs in 2004. Employment of sales engineers was expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations between 2004 and 2014. As high-tech products become more complex and varied, companies will continue to expand their engineering sales force. Jobs will also become available as sales engineers retire or leave the profession.
Many sales engineers do a great deal of traveling. Because they work for commissions or bonuses, they usually try to work with customers for as many hours each day as they can. Sales engineers must be friendly and enthusiastic about their work and be able to adjust easily to the personalities of their various customers.
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings for sales engineers vary widely, depending on the industry, the employer, and their degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2004 sales engineers earned a median annual income of $70,620. The top-paid 10 percent earned more than $117,260 per year.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society for Information Science and Technology
1320 Fenwick Ln., Ste. 510
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Manufacturing Agents National Association
P.O. Box 3467
Laguna Hills, CA 92654
Benefits usually include health and life insurance, paid holidays and vacations, and retirement plans. Many sales workers are given a company car for business use or are reimbursed for the use of their own car and other travel expenses.