The sales engineer career path: A complete guide
Interested in becoming a sales engineer? Here’s everything you need to know before pursuing this career path.
Last updated March 18, 2022
Not all sales are created equal. Depending on the products, region, and size of a company, a business may require sales experts with different specialties.
In 2021, Americans spent nearly $487 billion on technological products and services (a 7.5 percent increase from the previous year)—they’re expected to spend even more in 2022. With the tech industry expanding exponentially, sales companies are on the hunt for tech-savvy, down-to-earth sales representatives who know what it takes to explain big tech to big companies.
This is where a sales engineer comes in.
What is a sales engineer, and what do they do?
Sales engineers (also known as technical sales engineers) are specialists focused on selling complex scientific and technological products. They often negotiate high-value enterprise-level B2B sales.
Some sales engineers work independently, while others work alongside other sales team members and serve as tech consultants for the sale. A sales engineer’s primary job is to use their expertise to translate technical concepts into everyday language so complicated products are approachable and understandable for buyers.
Common activities for sales engineers include:
- Preparing and delivering presentations that carefully explain the scientific or technical aspects of products
- Consulting with current and prospective customers (and other engineers) about equipment and system requirements
- Securing orders of relevant products and arranging their delivery
- Working with the sales team to understand customer problems and how they might be solved by relevant products
- Collaborating with product development to modify products to better fix customer pain points
- Assisting established clients with product/tech installation
- Recommending improvements to customers and the company to lower costs and/or increase production efficiency
- Researching and developing new products with the product development team
Many aspects of a sales engineer’s job overlap with those of a sales rep, which makes it a highly specialized position. Not only do sales engineers need to be excellent sales representatives, but they also need to be science and technology experts. Because they have a hand in everything from sales to marketing to product development, sales engineers are often considered the driving force behind bringing products to market.
Typical sales engineer career path
Sales engineering is extremely specific, and the world of tech and science is rapidly evolving, so education and training are key to succeeding as a sales engineer.
Despite “sales” being the primary descriptor of their job, most sales engineers have a technology or science background. The average sales engineer starts with a degree in computer science, engineering (electrical, mechanical, or civil), or a related technical field. While it’s possible to become a sales engineer without one of these degrees, it’s much easier to get a foot in the door if you do.
Following graduation, many study sales either in a formal educational setting or as a trainee at a sales company. Some may use this time to serve as a technological consultant alongside a non-tech-trained sales representative.
Before they can begin their sales career, sales engineers must acquire basic sales certifications. These typically include the CPSP (Certified Professional Sales Person) through the National Association of Sales Professionals and the SCPS (SMEI Certified Professional Salesperson) through Sales and Marketing Executives International.
Once certified, a sales engineer has access to various jobs thanks to their highly valued specialization.
How to become a sales engineer
While the path to becoming a sales engineer is relatively clear, there’s a lot of work to do along the way. In addition to making sure you’re well-studied and fully certified, you need to ensure you’re developing all the necessary qualities of a sales engineer:
- Mastery of technical and soft skills. Even if you’re primarily working as a technical consultant alongside a salesperson, you still need to be able to communicate clearly about the products and the company to prospects. Immersing yourself in as many aspects as possible will make you more valuable.
- Ability to work well with others. You’re going to be working with many different types of personalities. You must be able to navigate social situations with ease and create a calm, pleasant environment.
- Excellence in problem-solving. Not only are you going to be expected to solve client pain points, but also to address technical issues when they arise. A cool head and a keen eye are essential.
- Ability to explain complex concepts in simple terms. You’re not selling to tech experts—you’re selling to people who want to use tech to fix their problems. The ability to break down complicated products to the basics is what makes a great sales engineer.
Sales engineer interview questions
When interviewing for sales engineering jobs, you’ll likely get the basic questions: Can you tell us about yourself? Why are you interested in this role? But you also need to prepare for more complex sales interview questions.
According to Indeed, here are 10 in-depth questions you may encounter in a sales engineer interview:
- How might you highlight the benefits of our company’s product in relation to other market competitors?
- How do you explain complex industry terms to current or potential customers?
- Who do you believe we target our products and services to?
- If asked to give a presentation on our products and services, what might you choose to share?
- How many professional experiences have you had as a sales engineer?
- What types of sales engineer technologies are you proficient in?
- Do you thrive in independent or collaborative work environments?
- What information do you need to know about a current or potential customer before presenting a demo?
- Where do you find information about sales engineering trends or emerging research?
- How might you handle conflict resolution with a customer or colleague?
When you can answer these questions with confidence, you’re ready for your interview.
Where do I start?
The honest answer is: It depends on where you’re starting from.
I’m a sales worker looking to add the technical side
If you currently work in sales, you’re halfway there. And if your company specializes in technological or scientific products, you likely already know more than you think. Begin looking at your clients from a tech perspective: What do they need? Efficiency? Features? Use that knowledge and reach out to your colleagues to see if you can work on more technical B2B sales.
Alternatively, if you work for a company that has nothing to do with technology, you may want to sign up for a few specialty classes. Or, look for organizations with sales engineers who are hiring sales representatives.
I’m an engineer looking to add the sales side
If you already consult for a sales company, ask them if you can observe more sales or train under a senior sales representative. If you don’t have any sales experience, you must get some. It might mean starting at the bottom of the ladder, but you’ll need to work with a sales team in a more junior position so you can develop sales skills.
The good news is that the world is flush with technology and science companies looking for smart salespeople. Many will be more than happy to train you so they can eventually have a sales engineer on their team.
I’m just starting out
If you want to be a sales engineer, your first step is to pick a focus: You can begin your career in either sales or engineering.
Identify the types of companies you’re interested in, and then work backward through study and relevant experience. Start building your network so that when you’re ready to go, the industry is ready to have you.
Enhance your sales engineer qualifications by becoming a sales tech expert
No matter your technical specialty, every sales engineer needs to have a handle on sales technology. This includes CRM software, SFA systems, lead generation software, and contact management platforms.
Sales tech makes modern sales happen efficiently, accurately, and effortlessly. Sales representatives and sales engineers use these tools daily for sales tracking and sales funnel management as well as client and coworker communication.
If you’re looking to combine your passions for sales and technology, you should be comfortable with the tech needed to make sales happen. The easiest way to get your hands on a simple CRM is to request a demo of Zendesk Sell. Reach out today, and start your sales engineering journey with the powerful combination of sales and technical expertise.