Sales engineers use different selling techniques to be successful. The typical feature and benefit method of selling doesn’t work with prospective clients that need some sort of technical issue resolved. Selling style is always an important aspect of any sale, but sales engineers make their money by showing clients how their product or service will achieve expected result through consultation type sales meeting. Communicating technical skills using a subtle selling approach can produce big commissions and bonuses for sales engineers.
Compensation varies depending on the product and service and the terms of the sale. Sales engineers are often required to service the products they sell so there is ongoing interaction with the client that can produce additional sales revenue from accessories or replacement parts as well as from product updates. Sales engineers are usually paid a commission on sales or they are set up on a salary and bonus plan. The bonus is based on individual performance while commissions are based on total sales for a specific period. Commissions may vary from year to year depending on sales ability, consumer demand for a product or service, the economy, and performance of the product or service sold.
The medium income for a sales engineer including commissions is around $75,000 a year. The middle fifty percent earn between $55,000 and $95,000 a year while the lowest ten percent earn around $43,000. The top ten percent earn more than $120,000 plus benefits. Engineers who work for manufacturing companies are reimbursed for transportation, entertainment, meals and hotel expenses. Company cars and the use of frequent flyer miles as well as incentives like paid vacation trips and expensive gifts are some of the perks offered for outstanding performance. Sales engineers who work for independent companies may earn more per year, but those earnings may be unstable and vary greatly from year to year. Most large companies like to pay a salary plus a bonus based on personal performance, plus company related expenses are paid. Health and insurance benefits as well as a retirement plan are also part of the pay package.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
A sales engineer is a modern day traveling liaison between a company and its prospective clients as well as its existing clients. Sales engineers usually work more than forty hours a week and cover a large territory which means they are away from home for extended periods of time. International travel is increasing in some industries due to off shore manufacturing facilities, but some sales engineers still service the needs of customers locally using a company car. The hours can be long and the challenges can be stressful, but sales engineers can usually develop their own schedule and can arrange appointments so they can have time off without jeopardizing accounts.
The title sales engineer can also apply to technical support workers, sales representatives, manufacturer’s agent and sales and service representatives based on the industry and the nature of the product or service. Regardless of the title understanding and explaining the technical aspects of a product or service are essential components in making a sale so the technical issues related to the sale are the main focus, but marketing and follow-up are also important elements in client loyalty so sales engineers must be proficient in all aspects of the selling process. Some companies use a team approach where the sales engineer handles the technical presentation and marketing people handle sales, advertising and follow-up. A team effort allows the sales engineer to concentrate on the small details that are key elements in convincing prospective clients to use their services or buy their products.
The job outlook is very good. More companies need to improve or update product designs in order to stay competitive and to optimize their sales and manufacturing processes. More international companies are looking for sales engineers to expand their presence in foreign markets so independent sales engineer agencies are used to control costs. There are about seventy-five thousands sales engineers working in the wholesale and manufacturing industries and that number should increase by ten percent a year for the next five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that increase based on companies expanding their sales force and normal job fluctuation due to job transfers and retirements.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Most companies require a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but a degree in science or chemistry and in some cases a degree in business with little or no experience is acceptable. Education requirements vary from industry to industry but most companies want some sort of degree and some experience or technical training. A large number of sales engineers work as engineers first in order to fine-tune their product or service knowledge.
Each industry offers different sales engineer certifications. Large companies have their own certification programs so most sales engineers are certified to sell and service a particular product. Very few sales engineers are self employed so almost all of them are certified by some company or organization.
There are hundreds of professional organizations that certify and educate sales engineers. Two important manufacturing associations are:
- Manufacturer’s Agents National Association: www.manaonline.org
- Manufacturer’s Representatives Educational Research Foundation: www.mrerf.org