There are plenty of products that can be sold by literally anyone, without the need to have any special knowledge of how they work or how clients can use them—like stationery, for example. But what if you sell intruder alarm systems or programmatic advertising solutions? A salesperson can’t do that without special training or with only some general soft skills. A client may need a consultation from a person who knows all about the operation and features of the product and who can recommend a particular solution for a particular problem. And to do that, you don’t need an engineer from the technical department—you need a Sales Engineer.
Who Is a Sales Engineer?
Sales Engineers are experts who promote sales of technologically and scientifically advanced products. In most cases, a Sales Engineer works in a B2B sector where they sell complex products and solutions to other businesses. This job requires both the skills of a sales manager and the knowledge of a product engineer.
Depending on the nature of the company's products or services, Sales Engineers may spend a significant amount of time traveling to meet customers at their manufacturing locations, so their working hours may vary depending on the needs of customers. Once on-site, they describe the technological features of their company's products in more detail and develop sales strategies.
The overarching task of a Sales Engineer in the tech sphere is the same as in other areas—onboarding new customers to the company by accompanying a potential client in a sales funnel from first contact to the installation stage. After product installation, further support for the client is provided in much the same way as a sales manager.
They are the first and often only representative of a selling company that customers communicate with, so in most cases, they inform clients about products or services and explain how to solve their current issues with these products.
Features of sales in the tech industry
The sales cycle in the tech industry is slow and can last for months. Sometimes it takes up to a year to finish a deal, in contrast to the retail sector, where a salesperson closes deals quickly: a client sees the products, likes them, and buys them, thus the deal is done in just a few minutes. Companies consider commercial offers made by Sales Engineers for days or even weeks; therefore, sales methods are dramatically different. The target audience of a Sales Engineer knows what they want.
A Sales Engineer cannot simply get a job and begin working right away. They need special training, including:
- Training on mastering the company’s products
- Continuous development of their communication skills
- Short marketing courses and intensives
- Deepening their tech knowledge
Providing such quality training requires time, money, and effort, but it results in extra revenue, so companies pay special attention to preparing their Sales Engineers.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Sales Engineer
Among the advantages of working as a Sales Engineer, we can highlight the following:
- Different duties and the opportunity to communicate with a wide range of clients. Sales Engineers typically like communicating with people from different countries and cultures and solving technical problems of varying complexity. They cherish the feeling they get when they solve a difficult—and at first glance, unsolvable—problem. Often extroverts find themselves liking this kind of work involving constant, active communication.
- Opportunities to gain versatile experience and a broad knowledge base. This position requires versatile, although not overly deep, knowledge as well as personal qualities like friendliness, endurance, and persistence. A Sales Engineer needs to know the product, understand tech, and understand the client's business. When working in this position, experience is gained very quickly. Moreover, at first Sales Engineers focus on solving tasks, but as they progress they learn more about how to automate the problem-solving process, which organically leads to professional growth as well.
- Easy entry into tech and wide opportunities for further career development. A Sales Engineer position is quite interesting, as it is necessary to communicate not only with clients but also with the company's engineers—developers, testers, technical writers, and management. This role thus leads to a holistic vision of the industry and allows a Sales Engineer to develop in any direction and establish many professional contacts. For many people, Sales Engineering is a transitional stage from working as a System Administrator to going into software development. The work is quite diverse, and tasks can be quite complex and interesting. Sales Engineers routinely have the opportunity to show themselves in action.
- Space for self-realization. Sales Engineers often have to show a creative approach in both the search for clients and in developing effective product promotion. If you like creativity, you will have the opportunity to come up with original ways to increase brand recognition and present the product to your audience so that they immediately understand how it satisfies all their needs.
- Good income. The average salary for a Sales Engineer position starts at $75,000–$80,000, and with experience and skills, you can earn $100,000–$120,000 or more.
It is worth noting, however, that there are disadvantages to working as a Sales Engineer—stress being the chief downside. The reasons for stress on the job include:
- Significant workload. Searching for and training Sales Engineers take a lot of time, so companies as a rule have a very small group of these specialists. This means their workload is significant, and this is typical for both large corporations and small businesses. A Sales Engineer always has a lot of work to do.
- Individual responsibility. Even though they work as part of a team, a Sales Engineer does a lot of individualized work. A team can often do very little to help a Sales Engineer. If you cannot fulfill your duties on your own, it will become noticeable very quickly, and eventually, you will lose your job. The results of the Sales Engineer's work are immediately visible, and it is easy for management to estimate contracts and the amounts of money they bring in. Much of a Sales Engineer’s success depends on themselves.
- Frequent travel. If you do not like traveling, this job is not for you. Sales Engineers may visit clients once a week or even more frequently. And if the geographic spread of your customers is extensive (i.e., different countries and even continents), supporting them can be quite difficult. Long journeys add stress and reduce performance.
Skills and Characteristics of a Sales Engineer
Here are some of the most important characteristics of a good Sales Engineer:
- Possesses both technological and soft skills. To be effective in their roles, Sales Engineers must be technically literate as well as possess the necessary interpersonal skills. They must be able to describe the high-tech concepts and functionality of the product to sales representatives and potential customers in an accessible and understandable way. For example, imagine a Sales Engineer who works for a B2B software company is helping a potential client who doesn't have a technical background. They must be able to describe the features of the software in an engaging, inspiring manner so that the potential customer understands them and is inspired to take action.
- Gets along well with others. Sales Engineers must be good team players because they work closely with sales representatives. Both sides cooperate in a good relationship. In order to best serve their target customers, they develop reliable sales methods. For example, if a sales rep needs a Sales Engineer’s help in developing the abstract for an upcoming presentation, the Engineer needs to know how best to contact the representative in order to prepare for closing.
- Has the ability to solve problems. The goal of a Sales Engineer is to understand how the technological complexities of their products can help solve their customers' problems. A good Sales Engineer should be continually focused on solutions and constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience. Suppose a Sales Engineer works for a corporation that offers beverage dispensers in office buildings. The Sales Engineer should be aware of the most common issues beverage vendors face with their current dispensers. They also need to be able to show why the technological advantages of their product make it the right solution for a potential customer's pain points.
- Can convey complex details in an accessible way. Sales Engineers are often available to give presentations or answer technical questions during commercial offers. They must be able to provide details simply, confidently, and concisely to help their company close the deal.
- Has good sales experience. A Sales Engineer must be aware of the importance of the sales process. They also must have the advanced technical knowledge necessary to facilitate a transaction that will benefit both the consumer and their business. An experienced Sales Engineer, for example, can understand the intricacies of the sales process and the optimal point in the sales process where they can provide technical support to their rep to close the deal. Finally, having a Sales Engineer on hand can speed up rather than slow down the sales process.
Now that we know what a Sales Engineer is, let's take a look at what a Sales Engineer does.
The day-to-day duties of a Sales Engineer may vary depending on the organization and the requirements of the particular position. Generally speaking, however, a Sales Engineer contacts potential customers, negotiates prices and terms, and eventually closes the deal while offering in-depth technology expertise.
How to Become a Sales Engineer
Most people who enter the Sales Engineering position have a bachelor's degree in engineering or a similar technical field. It is also helpful to have previous sales experience.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to become a Sales Engineer. Many Sales Engineers have a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, computer science, or another technical field. Some Sales Engineers have academic or industry backgrounds and professional training.
In addition to training, becoming a Sales Engineer requires hands-on sales experience as a sales representative or experience working side-by-side with sales representatives. This allows Sales Engineers to gain valuable insight into the sales process as well as gain the sales skills needed to get the job done.
Good Sales Engineers are also always on the lookout for continuing education programs to keep up with the ever-evolving technology. Sales Engineers are a valuable asset for sales teams of companies that sell high-tech or technology-intensive products.
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