As a sales engineer, you'll combine technical knowledge with sales skills. The balance depends on the level of technical knowledge and understanding you'll need to sell the product you're offering and to respond to clients' queries.
You clients will usually be technical staff from non-retail organisations, such as factories, public utilities, local authorities and hospitals.
So, what will I actually be doing?
To ensure your clients' and your own company's needs are met, you'll liaise regularly with other sales personnel, and colleagues from other departments such as research and development, design, purchasing and production, and senior company managers.
Your day-to-day tasks are likely to involve:
- Searching for new clients who could benefit from your products in a designated region
- Travelling to visit potential clients
- Establishing new, and maintaining existing, relationships with customers
- Managing and interpreting customer requirements
- Persuading clients that a product or service will best satisfy their needs
- Calculating client quotations
- Negotiating tender and contract terms
- Negotiating and closing sales by agreeing terms and conditions
- Offering after-sales support services
- Administering client accounts
- Analysing costs and sales
- Preparing reports for head office
- Meeting regular sales targets
- Recording and maintaining client contact data
- Co-ordinating sales projects
- Supporting marketing by attending trade shows, conferences and other marketing events
- Making technical presentations and demonstrating how a product will meet client needs
- Providing pre-sales technical assistance and product education
- Liaising with other members of the sales team and other technical experts
- Solving client problems
- Helping in the design of custom-made products
- Providing training and producing support material for the sales team
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The nitty gritty
You'll usually split your time between the office and visiting clients, visiting these on a weekly basis.
As well as clients, you'll also travel to trade shows and conferences regularly. If you work internationally, regular trips abroad are also likely.
Initially, you will be expected to gain experience in your field, develop product/service knowledge, and build your reputation in technical sales.
To advance, you must produce results - through sales and by breaking into new markets. You should be willing to travel regularly within the UK and abroad. You'll also be expected to continually enhance your expertise through relevant training courses. Gaining professional qualifications is likely to boost your career prospects as well.
Once established you could stay in the sales field, on a higher salary and a more attractive benefits package. You could move into a managerial role. Or you could switch to other related areas, such as technical marketing or product development and research.
You also have the option to become self-employed, and contract to sell products or services for several different companies.
Money, money, money
Figures are a guideline only. Note that earnings can vary a great deal.
- Typical graduate starting salaries are £24,000 - £28,000
- Middle to senior management roles rise to £35,000 - £80,000
Basic salaries can be boosted through commission and performance-related pay. Many businesses also offer a company car and other incentives, including private health insurance.
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The good points...
Generally, demand for experienced technical sales engineers with relevant qualifications continues to grow. Experienced technical sales engineers may well be head-hunted by other companies. What's more, positions occur throughout the UK and abroad.
...and the bad
Long or irregular hours are normal.
Is there study involved?
Entry requirements vary depending on the product or service: For example, if you want to sell complex electronic avionic systems for aircrafts you're likely to be an electronic engineering graduate.
However, if your products are electronic such as, building alarm systems, you could be a non-graduate who has gained the appropriate technical knowledge.
Some employers require you to have a degree relevant to the industry sector you are entering, for example, civil engineering for the construction industry, or production engineering for the manufacturing industry. However, degrees in engineering, physics, mathematics or applied science are all relevant, and those that combine with business studies can be particularly useful.
Postgraduate qualifications are not normally required, but if you're a graduate hoping to move directly into technical sales, relevant work experience in a commercial environment is essential.
In practice, it's rare for a new graduate to be recruited as a technical sales engineer. Most companies expect you first to gain experience working in the design or manufacturing of the product you will eventually sell and work your way up from there.
Entry with an HND is possible, but you will usually need several years' experience and product/service knowledge, probably gained working for the company.
Most employers offer on-the-job training and opportunities to gain product knowledge.
Many large companies run graduate training schemes. These normally last up to two years and offer the opportunity to work in different departments of the firm. Short periods (around three months) may be spent in design, production, quality assurance, distribution, and marketing, so that you build up a general picture of the organisation, as well as gain product knowledge.
Technical training is normally supplemented with sales training. This usually takes the form of short courses in various aspects of selling, such as sales negotiation, and may be held on the company's premises or delivered externally. Learning how to build and maintain client relationships is often another feature of the training provided.
Once you have acquired sufficient product/service knowledge, your role as a technical sales engineer will begin. You are likely to start by selling smaller packages, giving supervised quotes, putting proposals together and gradually working your way up to bigger deals.
Companies are normally keen for technical sales staff to gain membership of a relevant professional body (although achieving chartered engineer status (CEng) is less common in technical sales than other engineering disciplines). Further study for other postgraduate technical, business or related specialist qualifications may be required, and is normally encouraged by employers.
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
To be a sales engineer you'll need:
- A solid technical background
- Sound judgement and good business sense
- Teamworking ability
- The ability to build relationships with clients quickly
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Resilience and tenacity
- Increasingly, foreign language skills are in demand
- A full driving licence