A bachelor’s degree in engineering usually is required to become a sales engineer. However, some workers with previous experience in sales combined with technical experience or training sometimes hold the title of sales engineer. Also, workers who have a degree in a science, such as chemistry, or even a degree in business with little or no previous sales experience, may be termed sales engineers.
Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and the physical sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), as well as basic courses in English, social studies, humanities, and computer science. University programs vary in content, though all require the development of computer skills. For example, some programs emphasize industrial practices, preparing students for a job in industry, whereas others are more theoretical and prepare students for graduate school. Therefore, students should investigate curriculums and check accreditations carefully before making a selection. Once a university has been selected, a student must choose an area of engineering in which to specialize. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical, mechanical, or civil engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches.
Many sales engineers first work as engineers. For some, the engineering experience is necessary to obtain the technical background needed to sell their employers’ products or services effectively. Others move into the occupation because it offers better earnings and advancement potential or because they are looking for a new challenge.
New graduates with engineering degrees may need sales experience and training before they can work directly as sales engineers. Training 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 has been completed, sales engineers may continue to partner with someone who lacks technical skills, yet excels in the art of sales.
Promotion may include a higher commission rate, larger sales territory, or elevation to the position of supervisor or marketing manager. Alternatively, sales engineers may leave their companies and form independent firms that may offer higher commissions and more freedom. Independent firms tend to be small, although relatively few sales engineers are self-employed.
It is important for sales engineers to continue their engineering and sales education throughout their careers because much of their value to their employers depends on their knowledge of the latest technology and their ability to sell that technology. Sales engineers in high-technology areas, such as information technology or advanced electronics, may find that technical knowledge rapidly becomes obsolete.