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The Sales-Engineer job

If you like technology, people, travel and want to earn a decent salary, have you thought about becoming a sales engineer?

Sales engineers are always in demand and they are paid more than technicians with comparable experience and qualifications.

The work can be very interesting because over time a sales engineer, also known as a technical representative, acquires a large body of knowledge of his specialization.

When a client has a requirement the sales engineer discusses the application and suggests technical products and methods to achieve a solution.

Many products and services are highly complex. The main function of sales engineers and technical sales people is to advise customers on the choice of and how best to use the products or services that their company provides.

In addition to finding new clients and generating orders, sales engineers input suggestions to the production, engineering, or research and development departments of their companies on how products and services may be designed or improved to suit customers' needs.

Sales engineers need extensive knowledge of their technologically and scientifically advanced products, components and processes. They then use their technical skills to demonstrate to potential customers how and why the products or services they are selling would suit the customer better than competitors' products.

Often there may not be a directly equivalent from other manufacturers. Then role of the sales engineer is to demonstrate to the customer the usefulness of the product or service - for example, how much money new production machinery would save or additional business areas which could open up.

The technology sector is fast-moving; new materials and processes are invented and introduced continually. Markets change too, and people in engineering sales have the opportunity to travel and live in all parts of the globe.

As a sales engineer you meet a lot of people and will have many interesting conversations. If your job covers a large territory, as time goes by you will develop friendly contacts throughout the area you cover.

Starting salaries for the sales engineer are around £25,000 GBP or $50,000 US and sales commission increases those amounts. There is good opportunity to progress your career by taking on larger and more important territories and later to move into sales management, and potentially senior management.

To succeed as a technical sales professional requires certain personal qualities, which have a potential to conflict. It is necessary to understand and be able  knowledgeably to discuss the technology that you are involved with. Familiarity with the industry that you sell into is important too.

Good people and sales skills are also essential. This is where there may be a challenge; the type of personality which makes for a good engineer is markedly different from that which you find in good sales people. The successful sales engineer has the traits of both types - an uncommon mix.

It's this which explains in part why there is always demand for the right person in technical sales jobs. And it leads many companies to recruit graduates with a science degree and what appear to be suitable personal characteristics.

The selection process will have several stages of interviews and may include a psychometric test. Once recruited the new sales engineer may receive sales-training which can help, but it is essential that the appropriate traits be present to a substantial degree.

So far so good, but now the drawbacks; it is common that sales reps experience levels of stress, coming from many sources. At work, if you fail to achieve the sales results that your company wants, they will urge you to try harder. And it's inevitable that some dealings with customers are frustrating. It can be difficult to make appointments and when you do, sometimes they are cancelled at short notice. In overseas locations it isn't unusual for the client simply to not show up.

In all sales work, sales engineers have to anticipate that some potential orders will fail to materialize. This can be very disappointing when the client postpones the job or gives the order to your competitor. It can happen after you have invested a great deal of effort progressing the sale through all the stages which are involved.

Your domestic life may be difficult too. In most sales engineer positions, you will spend many nights away from home. If you have a partner this may not suit them well. It's even worse if you have children, you'll most likely be forced to miss school events and be unable to help them with homework.

The novelty of air travel and staying in hotels wears off quickly. You'll find yourself rushing to airports, often only to learn that the flight is delayed, then on arrival, lining up to get a taxi or a hire car. And from time to time, an airline will probably lose your baggage.

Hotels get things wrong too and may not have held a room for you, or they can only give you a smoking room even if you told them in advance you don't want that. Getting an internet connection can be hard sometimes. Staying in hotels, your evenings are likely to be spent with a combination of eating and drinking, television, internet, and writing up business reports. After a while this isn't much fun.

When you get home after a trip, the first hours are likely to spent recovering from the strain. Weekends go fast like this and sometimes you will need to depart on Sunday afternoon in order to be in the right location for a Monday morning meeting.

That's quite a long list of disadvantages and explains why people typically follow the sales engineer career for a limited number of years before settling into a work niche involving less travel. But if you are unattached, want to see the world, make a lot of friends and earn good money doing a technically interesting job, consider becoming a sales engineer.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at my book.

The Selling for Engineers manual

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