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What does a sales engineer do?

Unlike their colleagues who develop new products and technologies, sales engineers take care of the marketing of these developments. In English they are referred to as "Sales Engineer", which brings the sales into the focus of the term. You are always in direct contact with the customer. Read more about the activities of sales engineers here.

Anyone who works as a sales engineer can find a job almost anywhere!

Photo: panthermedia.net/Goodluz

General overview of the activities

The sales engineer is, to put it casually, the "egg-laying woolly milk pig" among engineers. He not only has to have an understanding of engineering itself, but also has to be familiar with marketing, controlling and product management. The area of ​​application of sales engineers extends across all engineering branches. From mechanical and plant engineering to vehicle and electrical engineering, medical technology, electrical engineering, chemicals and pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and software technology.

Since the engineering industry produces many products that require explanation, it is important that people with the appropriate training also work in sales and marketing. Your core competence is to explain the functional, effective and structural relationships of developments in a generally understandable manner. For sales engineers, however, it is not enough just to be familiar with the technological side of the products. You must also have economic, legal and psychological knowledge. The latter especially for the communication with the customers, their acquisition and for the maintenance of the customer base. First and foremost, he must also understand the wishes and problems of the customer in order to find a solution to those wishes and problems among the services of his company. For this, sales engineers need a high level of communication skills.

Sales engineers also have to be curious about foreign (business) cultures. Because the engineering industry is not limited to Germany, but operates globally. Sales engineers therefore need an unrestricted willingness to travel as well as business fluent foreign language skills in English and, if possible, in French and / or Spanish. In view of the fact that the Asian market is becoming more and more important, Japanese, Korean or Chinese are not compulsory as foreign language skills, but they are definitely a free choice. Only those who are willing to get involved can understand their business partners around the world and their way of doing business. One thing should be clear: Sales engineering is not a 9-to-5 job.

In summary, the activities of the sales engineer include the following key points:

  • Sales of engineering products and services
  • Planning and implementation of a sales strategy
  • Product management and marketing as well as marketing analysis
  • Creation of offers
  • Processing of orders
  • Maintenance of customer contacts / customer service
  • Presales and after-sales management
  • Sales controlling

Qualities and soft skills that sales engineers should bring with them in order to be able to carry out their profession in the best possible way are:

  • technical understanding
  • high communication skills
  • Understanding of economic relationships
  • the willingness to take responsibility
  • creativity
  • self-organisation
  • Foreign language skills
  • Traveling
  • Experience with IT
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Interest in regular further training and curiosity for new things

How do you become a sales engineer?

In order to take up the profession of sales engineer, a degree in engineering is essential. Because it is precisely the technical understanding that companies in the engineering industry need in sales. Unlike civil engineering or electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, for example, sales engineering is not a classic engineering course. Only a few universities and technical colleges offer the degree in sales engineering as an independent course, such as the Brühl University of Applied Sciences or the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences (distance learning course). The typical path to becoming a sales engineer is therefore a first bachelor's degree in any engineering or industrial engineering course with a corresponding specialization in the master’s degree.

In industrial engineering, for example, these are the specializations “sales engineer”, “sales engineering”, “international technical sales management” or “technical sales”. The Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences, for example, offers mechanical engineering with a focus on project planning and sales. Other universities and technical colleges have very special courses on offer for prospective sales engineers. These include, for example

  • International technical sales
  • International technical sales management
  • Sales and Service Engineering as a postgraduate course
  • International sales & purchasing engineering
  • Mechanical engineering and international sales management as a master's degree
  • Industry marketing & technical sales
  • International project engineering

Prospective sales engineers who want to focus on the economic aspect should note that the courses mentioned differ significantly from the industrial engineering studies due to their technical focus. It is also worth remembering that a focus on the economic area does not always make sense to work as a sales engineer later. Because this often means that in-depth technical knowledge is lost. Above all, this is extremely important for marketing and is precisely what many companies want. It is therefore more advisable to focus on the technical aspect and to complete the economic area as an additional qualification or postgraduate course.

Engineers who have not explicitly completed a degree in sales engineering also have the opportunity to work in this profession. Many companies offer internal trainee programs to enable engineers from different disciplines to get started in sales.

In addition, since 1998 there has been the possibility of completing the "Sales Engineer VDI" course, which the VDI offers in cooperation with the Ruhr University Bochum and which is carried out part-time in the European Research Center for Business-to-Business Management at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering becomes. The course consists of six modules, for example industrial marketing or sales technology. These can be taken individually or in full, which corresponds to a total of 18 training days. The final certificate entitles graduated bachelor or master engineers to use the title “VDI sales engineer”. The basis of the training is the guideline VDI 4501 "Knowledge areas and learning content for the qualification of engineers in sales". This training path costs around 8,500 euros (plus VAT), VDI members pay 7,695 euros.

Where do sales engineers work?

Sales engineers can work in all branches of engineering:

  • mechanical engineering
  • vehicle construction
  • Automotive industry / suppliers
  • Technical sales and technical marketing in plant engineering
  • Electrical engineering / automation technology
  • Electronics / measurement and control technology / semiconductors
  • Energy generation / supply / trading
  • technical services
  • Gear and drive technology / bearings
  • IT / EDP / telecommunications
  • Plastics industry
  • Metal processing
  • Fittings / pumps / compressors
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Heating / air conditioning / ventilation / plumbing
  • Technical sales and technical marketing in engineering offices
  • Chemical / pharmaceutical industry / refineries
  • Precision mechanics and optics
  • Architecture / construction / building industry / building technology

There is something for sale in every discipline. Be it products or services. The latter is particularly common in the construction industry. Sales engineers operate globally, which means that they will rarely do their jobs from their own desks. The products are marketed on site at the customer's premises. Sales engineers often work in the company or group headquarters and from there regularly go on trips to trade fairs or foreign branches and customers. They may also work permanently abroad in subsidiaries there.

Graduates who have just finished their degrees are rarely sought in the field of technical sales and technical marketing. However, you will generally be given a chance in the application process, whereby ideally first professional experience is named by the company as "desirable" - this can also be proof of corresponding internships in sales during your studies. This is especially good in the résumé. Because it is rare: Many students mostly choose internships in marketing or in supposedly promising controlling. Sales tend to be considered inconvenient. However, this benefits those who are seriously interested in this activity.

In the case of management positions in sales, however, the job advertisements primarily address engineers with many years of professional, industry and management experience. Lateral entrants from other areas of engineering are therefore rarely offered opportunities in the application process for positions in sales management. You would have to start at the bottom of the career ladder in most companies and familiarize yourself with the sales industry through in-house programs.

That's what you earn as a sales engineer

First of all: sales engineers are desperately wanted. One should keep this in mind when negotiating salaries. The combination of engineering expertise and sales talent is so popular because technically advanced products cannot be sold without expert and understandable explanations. But the job seems to be increasingly unattractive. High pressure to perform, 60-hour weeks and constant competition with colleagues - hardly an engineer feels like doing that. But if you get involved, you have a good chance not only on the career ladder, but also on a decent plus in the financial area. Especially in the pharmaceutical industry, in mechanical engineering, in IT and telecommunications as well as in the automotive industry, engineers and IT specialists have the best chances of getting a good job in sales.

The salary of a sales engineer depends on many factors. Including on the type of product, the company, the age of the salesperson, his professional experience and the amount of the negotiated commission. The average annual salary is 62,400 euros. The minimum is 42,000 euros per year, the maximum is around 97,000 euros. Where your own salary levels off depends on the number of products / services sold, the size of the customer base and the commission. The last two points in particular show how much a sales engineer can control what he deserves. Anyone who is successful in acquiring new customers and has negotiated a good commission can earn a decent salary even without a management position. Since sales engineers determine the number of customers and appointments themselves, the growth potential is very large.

If sales engineers are active nationwide or globally, there is usually even more salary in it. In addition, the bigger the company, the higher the average earnings. A better income is more likely to be achieved by those who get a job in a large industrial group. Engineering firms, pure sales organizations and small and medium-sized companies usually pay less salary.

Students can also count on a small salary if they opt for a dual course of study. This makes sense because many companies expect initial experience from young professionals. However, prospective or studying sales engineers do not even begin to earn within the framework of the average salaries mentioned. The amount of the salary is determined by the company in which you complete the practical part of your studies. As a rule, such salaries are up to 980 euros gross per month in the first year, up to 1,200 euros in the second year and up to 1,400 euros in the third year. Another advantage of this variant: If fees are incurred for the course, these are usually also paid by the company.

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