How to Become a Sales Engineer

Sales engineers use their technical know-how to drive a company's sales. Learn about the benefits of this career and how to become a sales engineer.
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Updated on April 18, 2023
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  • Sales engineers may work for companies selling technologically complex products.
  • Sales engineers earn a median annual salary of $103,710, according to the BLS.
  • Most sales engineers hold a bachelor's degree in engineering or computer science.
  • Sales engineers fall into three main categories, including generalists and specialists.

In 2021, the tech industry's retail sales revenue reached a record-breaking $487 billion. Much of this was due to increasing demand for the technologies that impact people's lifestyles, work, and school environments. Sales engineers act as the bridge between sales representatives and the technological expertise these products demand.

Sales engineers usually work in business-to-business sales for companies selling scientific or technologically complex products. They may sell directly to other businesses or act as the go-to for sales representatives who need technical advice and support. They can also work in research and development, helping manufacturers fine-tune their products to align with customers' changing demands.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2021, sales engineers earn a median annual salary of $103,710. Sales engineers working in the field of computer systems design and related services make some of the highest salaries, with median annual earnings of $127,180.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Sales Engineer?

Many employers require sales engineers to hold a bachelor's degree in engineering, computer science, or a related technical field. Most positions include some on-the-job training in sales and a company's procedures. Some sales representatives with extensive experience in specific technical products may work their way into a sales engineering position.

Additional sales engineer requirements include strong communication and interpersonal skills. They present complex technical features in a way that customers and sales personnel can understand. They may work closely with sales representatives to develop sales strategies, help them with proposals, and demonstrate how a product solves a customer's pain points.

There are no specific certification requirements. However, because this position spans the gulf between engineering and sales, sales engineers can earn general sales certifications, such as the certified professional sales person, to demonstrate their proficiency in this area. These professionals may also earn the certified sales engineer certificate.

Sales engineers can also expect to continue their education, keeping up with the latest technological advancements.

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What Are the Types of Sales Engineers?

There are generally three main types of sales engineers. These engineers may work as sales representatives and engineers, taking responsibility for accounts and sales projections. They may also specialize in specific technical products or services, offering expertise in these areas. Others work directly with account managers in the office.

  • Inside Sales Engineers: These engineers typically work in an office. They offer their technical expertise to external and inside sales teams and account managers. They may also present products remotely, demonstrating how a product fulfills a customer's needs. These engineers tend to work with multiple customers and rarely take on customer accounts.
  • Specialist Sales Engineers: Specialists or subject matter experts usually develop specialized knowledge in specific products or technologies. They may cover a large territory and travel from one customer to the next as sales representatives request their assistance. Their earnings are often tied to the sales of their specialized products or technologies.
  • Generalist Sales Engineers: Generalist sales engineers wear the hat of both sales reps and engineers, developing customer relationships and taking responsibility for their accounts. They usually know a company's many technical products and may turn to specialists when clients require extensive information.

What Does Sales Engineer Training Look Like?

Most sales engineers hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or engineering. These programs may require students to specialize in a particular field, determining their area of expertise as sales engineers.

For example, engineering programs typically require students to specialize in a certain type of engineering, such as electrical, mechanical, civil, software, or aerospace engineering. Computer science programs may offer concentrations in networks and security, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and computing systems.

Students can expect courses in advanced mathematics and physical sciences. These programs typically take at least four years to complete. Candidates with sales experience and technical training may qualify for some sales engineering positions without a bachelor's degree.

Most sales engineers go through a period of on-the-job training. Sales engineer training includes learning about the products the company sells and the type of clients their products support.

They may also work directly with a sales mentor, learning the business's preferred sales strategies. The level of training usually depends on the position and if the sales engineer will work with sales reps or perform the full sales cycle, from contacting prospective clients to performing sales calls and closing the sale.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Sales Engineer?

It usually takes four or more years to earn a bachelor's degree and become a sales engineer. Some individuals may shorten this time by earning an accelerated online bachelor's degree. Sales engineers also need on-the-job experience working with a sales professional or another sales engineer.

Others gain the required technical skills and knowledge by working their way up from sales representative to sales engineer. This approach varies in length, depending on the company's products and solutions. It's also an unconventional path that not all companies recognize.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Become a Sales Engineer

Is it hard to become a sales engineer?

Becoming a sales engineer often requires earning a bachelor's degree in engineering or another technical field like computer science. Some people find these majors challenging, while others excel in these fields. A strong background in advanced mathematics and physics and an analytical mindset can help students get through the more difficult courses.

Applicants without a degree may qualify for some positions with technical knowledge and sales experience. This usually requires extensive on-the-job training.

Qualified candidates should experience strong demand. The BLS anticipates strong employment growth as more technology products hit the market.

Is sales engineer a good career path?

A career as a sales engineer can offer a lucrative and rewarding profession, particularly for those who enjoy sales and appreciate the technical aspects of products. Like most professions, you may be able to work your way up the ladder by continuing to develop your skills and technical prowess.

These professionals may start as associate sales engineers before working up to a corporate position. With several years of experience, a sales engineer may also qualify for a sales manager role. They can also specialize in research and development or general sales.

Is sales engineer a stressful job?

As in most sales positions, a sales engineer's success and job security may depend on successful sales. The more sales you bring in, the more valuable you become to the company. This can be stressful, particularly for those that rely on another party, such as sales representatives, to close the deal.

Additionally, some sales engineers travel extensively, which may be difficult for those with family or other obligations. These professionals may also work irregular hours, providing technical support to a company's customers after office hours or conducting extra work to meet sales goals. Some people, however, thrive under these conditions.

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