Sales Engineers

Summary

sales engineers image
Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses.
Quick Facts: Sales Engineers
2012 Median Pay $91,830 per year
$44.15 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 66,000
Job Outlook, 2012-22 9% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 5,900

What Sales Engineers Do

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Work Environment

Sales engineers often work under stressful conditions because their income and job security depend on successfully completing sales. Some sales engineers may work long and irregular hours to meet sales goals and client needs.

How to Become a Sales Engineer

Sales engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field. Successful sales engineers combine technical knowledge of the products or services they are selling with strong interpersonal skills.

Pay

The median annual wage for sales engineers was $91,830 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of sales engineers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As a wider range of technologically sophisticated products comes on the market, sales engineers will be in demand to sell these products and services related to these products.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of sales engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about sales engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Sales Engineers Do About this section

Sales engineers
Sales engineers specialize in technologically and scientifically advanced products.

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Duties

Sales engineers typically do the following:

  • Prepare and deliver technical presentations explaining products or services to customers and prospective customers
  • Confer with customers and engineers to assess equipment needs and to determine system requirements
  • Collaborate with sales teams to understand customer requirements and provide sales support
  • Secure and renew orders and arrange delivery
  • Plan and modify products to meet customer needs
  • Help clients solve problems with installed equipment
  • Recommend improved materials or machinery to customers, showing how changes will lower costs or increase production
  • Help in researching and developing new products

Sales engineers specialize in technologically and scientifically advanced products. They use their technical skills to explain the benefits of their products or services to potential customers and to show how their products or services are better than their competitors' products. Some sales engineers work for the companies that design and build technical products. Others work for independent sales firms.

Many of the duties of sales engineers are similar to those of other salespersons. They must interest the client in buying their products or services, negotiate a price, and complete the sale. To do this, sales engineers give technical presentations during which they explain the technical aspects of the product and how it will solve a specific customer problem.

Some sales engineers, however, team with salespersons who concentrate on marketing and selling the product, which lets the sales engineer concentrate on the technical aspects of the job. By working as part of a sales team, each member is able to focus on his or her strengths and expertise. For more information on other sales occupations, see the profile on wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives.

In addition to giving technical presentations, sales engineers are increasingly doing other tasks related to sales, such as market research. They also may ask for technical requirements from customers and modify and adjust products to meet customers’ specific needs. Some sales engineers work with research and development (R&D) departments to help identify and develop new products.

Work Environment About this section

Sales engineers
Some sales engineers have large territories and travel extensively.

Sales engineers held about 66,000 jobs in 2012. Sales engineers encounter stress because their income and job security often depend directly on their success in sales and customer service. Some sales engineers have large territories and travel extensively. Because sales regions may cover several states, sales engineers may be away from home for several days or even weeks at a time. Other sales engineers cover a smaller region and spend only a few nights away from home. International travel to secure contracts with foreign clients is becoming more common.

The industries that employed the most sales engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods24%
Manufacturing23
Computer systems design and related services17
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers11
Telecommunications9

Work Schedules

Most sales engineers work full time, and about 6 in 10 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Some may work long and irregular hours to meet sales goals and client needs. However, many sales engineers can decide their own schedules.

How to Become a Sales Engineer About this section

Sales engineers
Successful sales engineers will have a combination of technical knowledge of the products they are selling and strong interpersonal skills.

A bachelor’s degree is typically required to become a sales engineer. Successful sales engineers combine technical knowledge of the products or services they are selling with strong interpersonal skills.

Education

Sales engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field. However, a worker without a degree, but with previous sales experience as well as technical experience or training, sometimes holds the title of sales engineer. Workers who have a degree in a science, such as chemistry, or in business with little or no previous sales experience, also may be called sales engineers.

University engineering programs generally require 4 years of study. They vary in content, but all programs include courses in math and the physical sciences. In addition, most programs require developing strong computer skills.

Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school. Most programs, however, require students to choose an area of specialization. The most common majors are electrical, mechanical, or civil engineering, but some programs offer additional majors, such as chemical, biomedical, or computer hardware engineering.

Training

New graduates with engineering degrees typically need sales experience and training before they can work independently as sales engineers. Training covers general sales techniques and may involve teaming with a sales mentor who is familiar with the employer's business practices, customers, procedures, and company culture. After the training period, sales engineers may continue to partner with someone who lacks technical skills yet excels in the art of sales.

It is important for sales engineers to continue their engineering and sales education throughout their careers. Much of their value to their employers depends on their knowledge of, and ability to sell, the latest technologies. Sales engineers in high-technology fields, such as information technology and advanced electronics, may find that their technical knowledge rapidly becomes obsolete, requiring frequent retraining.

Advancement

Promotions may include a higher commission rate, a larger sales territory, or elevation to the position of supervisor or marketing manager.

Important Qualities

Interpersonal skills. Strong interpersonal skills are a valuable characteristic for sales engineers, both for building relationships with clients and effectively communicating with other members of the sales team.

Problem-solving skills. Sales engineers must be able to listen to the customer’s desires and concerns, and then recommend solutions, possibly including customizing a product.

Self-confidence. Sales engineers should be confident and persuasive when making sales presentations. 

Technological skills. Sales engineers must have extensive knowledge of the technologically sophisticated products they sell in order to explain their advantages and answer questions.

Pay About this section

Sales Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Sales engineers

$91,830

Total, all occupations

$34,750

Sales and related occupations

$25,120

 

The median annual wage for sales engineers was $91,830 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,660 and the top 10 percent earned more than $150,970.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for sales engineers in the top five industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services$106,440
Telecommunications97,130
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers95,500
Merchant wholesalers, durable goods85,020
Manufacturing82,240

How much a sales engineer earns varies significantly by the type of firm and the product sold. Most employers offer a combination of salary and commission payments or salary plus a bonus. Some sales engineers who work for independent sales companies earn only commissions. Commissions are usually based on the value of sales. Bonuses may depend on individual performance, on the performance of all workers in the group or district, or on the company's performance. Earnings from commissions and bonuses may vary from year to year depending on sales ability, the demand for the company's products or services, and the overall economy. In addition to their earnings, sales engineers who work for manufacturers usually are reimbursed for expenses such as transportation, meals, hotels, and customer entertainment.

Most sales engineers work full time, and about 6 in 10 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012. Some may work long and irregular hours to meet sales goals and client needs. However, many sales engineers can decide their own schedules.           

Job Outlook About this section

Sales Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Sales engineers

9%

Sales and related occupations

7%

 

Employment of sales engineers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As a wider range of technologically sophisticated products comes on the market, sales engineers will be in demand to help sell products or services related to these products.

Employment growth is expected to be strong in independent sales agencies (companies that sell on behalf of manufacturers without taking title to the goods being sold). As manufacturing companies outsource their sales staff as a way to control costs, employment in these independent agencies is expected to increase. Growth is also likely to be strong for sales engineers selling computer software and hardware. Employment of sales engineers in computer systems design and related services is projected to grow 35 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Job Prospects

Successful sales engineers must have strong technical knowledge of the products they are selling, in addition to having interpersonal skills and the ability to persuade. Job prospects should be good for candidates with these abilities.

Employment projections data for sales engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Sales engineers

41-9031 66,000 71,800 9 5,900 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of sales engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Aerospace engineers

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Bachelor’s degree $103,720
Computer hardware engineers

Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

Bachelor’s degree $100,920
Electrical and electronics engineers

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems—from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS).

Bachelor’s degree $89,630
Industrial engineers

Industrial Engineers

Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient ways to use workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Bachelor’s degree $78,860
Insurance sales agents

Insurance Sales Agents

Insurance sales agents help insurance companies generate new business by contacting potential customers and selling one or more types of insurance. Insurance sales agents explain various insurance policies and help clients choose plans that suit them.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,150
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor’s degree $80,580
Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents

Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents buy products for organizations to use or resell. They evaluate suppliers, negotiate contracts, and review product quality.

See How to Become One $60,550
Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. They sell securities to individuals, advise companies in search of investors, and conduct trades.

Bachelor’s degree $71,720
Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. They contact customers, explain product features, answer any questions that their customers may have, and negotiate prices.

See How to Become One $57,870
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Sales Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/sales-engineers.htm (visited October 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014