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What Is a Sales Engineer, and What Do They Do?

Sales engineer: two sales team members looking at a computer.
When sales and tech skills come together, you gain a highly valuable member of your sales team. [Adobe/Skyword]

Sales engineers tap into both the sales and tech sides of an organization, using their technical know-how to close deals.

Peanut butter and jelly. Fish and chips. Macaroni and cheese. Some things are just better together.

The same goes for the role of sales engineer.

What’s a sales engineer? It’s a mash-up of sales and tech. And when those two skill sets come together, they create a hugely valuable member of a sales team.

Here, we cover what you’ll do, the skills and experience needed to be successful in the role, and what you need to know to nail an interview and get the job.

What you’ll learn:

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What is a sales engineer?

A sales engineer specializes in selling complex technological and scientific products and services. They play a crucial role in the sales process by acting as a bridge between a customer or prospect’s technical resources and their company’s sales team.

A sales engineer typically works in business-to-business (B2B) sales in industrial and technical industries. The top organizations that employ sales engineers are in high-tech, manufacturing, merchant wholesale, and computer systems design.

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What does a sales engineer do?

A sales engineer’s role and responsibilities are a blend of sales and tech. They collaborate with their sales team to develop an understanding of where the prospect or customer is today and where they could potentially go with the product being offered. The sales engineer then takes that understanding and provides solutions based on the customer’s tech needs and requirements.

These duties are key to the sales engineer role:

  • Consultant: A sales engineer works with customers and prospects to identify their technical challenges and provide potential solutions. This often entails reviewing the customer’s tools, processes, or systems and suggesting improvements.
  • Product expert: A sales engineer has an in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects of their company’s product or service. They know how it works and why it is beneficial to a customer. The sales engineer conveys their product expertise to a prospect with a presentation tailored to their needs. They communicate about complex technology in a way that is understandable and relatable.
  • Technical support: A sales engineer helps customers troubleshoot and solve technical issues with their company’s product or service. They also work with their own company’s product development team to report any customer issues that could be fixed in future product iterations. For example, a sales engineer at a software as a service (SaaS) company helps a manufacturing customer fix a software error.

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Skills needed to become a sales engineer

Sales engineers need a mix of hard and soft skills. They must be armed with technical proficiency and be able to interact with customers and prospects. Let’s say you’re a sales engineer for a company that provides technology for health care call centers. These are some of the skills you may need:

Hard skills

  • Technical knowledge: You know the ins and outs of your company’s product or service, such as how the technology routes incoming calls. You understand the product’s features, its capabilities, its differentiation from the competition, and how it could work for a customer.
  • Industry intelligence: A sales engineer keeps up on information, trends, and research developments specific to their product’s industry. They are immersed in the world they sell into and are constantly reading industry reports, getting certifications, and learning how the latest tech works.
  • Opportunity and project management: A sales engineer must juggle multiple opportunities, projects, stay on track, and meet deadlines. The goal is to manage your time and be productive. For example, on a typical day, a sales engineer might balance the priorities of attending customer meetings, answering customer questions, updating sales management, and delivering a call center solution.

Soft skills

  • Verbal and written communication: A sales engineer works with customers, prospects, sales account executives, and product developers — and must speak the language of all of them. An example might be talking with a customer about their call center’s help-ticketing system and telling a story through a demonstration of the product showcasing how your product decreases the time to ticket resolution.   
  • Interpersonal skills: Sales engineers build a rapport with customers and must be comfortable with active listening, empathy, and adaptability. An example is participating in a face-to-face customer meeting about an issue with their current call-center tech. A sales engineer must ask questions, provide a technical solution, and do it all while building a human connection.
  • Analytical thinking: Sales engineers are problem solvers. They like to dig into complex customer issues and offer tailored solutions. An example is interpreting patterns in the customer’s call center data to identify ways to decrease call volume.

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What you need to be successful as a sales engineer

My career path to becoming a sales engineer and working with great sales engineers involved earning a bachelor’s degree. While working at the Ohio Army National Guard and at one of the largest metal distribution and manufacturing companies in North America. That’s where I first learned about Salesforce from our IT team. I learned while on the job and completed Salesforce Trailhead Badges. Then, I studied to become a certified Salesforce Admin and developed my sales skills while learning the technical aspects of Salesforce products.

In my experience, it takes three to five years of working experience to become a sales engineer. A college degree is often required, along with relevant certifications.

The job outlook for sales engineers is promising. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook projects that sales engineer employment could grow 5% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. About 5,900 openings for sales engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Employment growth is likely to be strong for sales engineers selling computer software and hardware.

Here are the qualifications you should consider on your career path:

College degree

It is recommended that you have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field. Common engineering majors are for electrical, mechanical, or civil engineering to gain technical acumen as well as critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

I have seen that some employers no longer require a college degree, though. For example, companies offering cloud technology tend to require only certifications and work experience. This is likely because the technical knowledge needed for cloud tech is different than that in a more industrial field, such as an aeronautical fabrication company, where an aeronautical engineering degree could be seen as more beneficial.


Work on getting the technical and sales credentials needed for your industry or product.

Certifications enhance your credibility and demonstrate to a potential employer that you have specialization in a field. Certifications typically involve learning via courses and books to prepare for a certification exam. To find out which certifications you may need:

  • Scan sales engineer job descriptions.
  • Ask your colleagues or managers.
  • Search online groups or industry associations.

Sales training

Technical acumen is only half the equation. You’ll also need sales skills to succeed in this role — that’s where sales training comes into play. It teaches salespeople how to sell more effectively, such as presenting products or closing deals. Start with the sales training offered by your current employer and check out this list of leading sales training programs. Seek out programs that address your specific needs or weaknesses. For example, a sales engineer who needs to have better interpersonal skills could focus on improving active listening.

Gain relevant experience

You’ll want to obtain experience in sales and tech, because a sales engineer role encompasses both these areas. I have found that a typical sales engineer job description requires three to five years of sales and technical experience.

The choice is yours as to where you want to start. On the sales side, you may hold entry level roles within a sales organization, such as business development representative (BDR) or inside sales representative, and use them as a stepping stone to gain tech experience. People in these positions look for potential new customers by generating qualified leads through outbound prospecting or by following up with inbound leads.

Or you could begin on the tech side and use that experience as a foundation to then switch over to sales. Tech experience could include implementing the product or spending time as a product end user, such as using Slack.

Maintain continuous learning

The technology that sales engineers work on is constantly changing because of new developments, innovations, and product variations. Once you’ve landed your job as a sales engineer, you must continue to learn through courses, conferences, and workshops, books, and articles in your areas of expertise.

Some technical certifications may require renewal, maintenance, or updates. For example, to maintain a valid Salesforce Admin Certification, you must complete a Trailhead maintenance module each year.

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What you need to know to nail a sales engineer interview

So, you’ve attained your certifications, training, and everything else you need to set yourself up for success as a sales engineer. Now it’s time to show off your experience and expertise in a job interview. These are the typical steps of the sales engineer interview process:

1. Meet with human resources

You’ll meet with a person from the hiring company’s human resources group. The purpose of the meeting is for the HR person to screen your experience for the sales engineer position and decide whether you will move on to the next stage of the process. You will be asked basic questions to gauge your interest in the role and determine whether you have the right qualifications, such as:

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Why do you want to work at this company?
  • What sales engineer skills and experience do you have?

The HR person is looking to unearth your reasons for applying to the company. Get specific in your answers, such as responding that you like one of their new cloud-product innovations, and weave in your previous experience working on cloud solutions.

2. Meet with the hiring manager

The hiring manager is usually the sales director or sales manager who leads the sales team. The focus of this interview will be on technical questions, so they can confirm that you have the certifications, skills, and experience needed for the role. The interviewer may ask about your sales experience, such as how you handle objections on a sales call or what soft skills you use to interact with customers. Questions may include:

  • What is one way you’ve used our product to benefit customers?
  • How do you explain complex technical topics to a customer?
  • How do you think your technical certifications have helped in your past roles?

Your responses should play up your technical and sales skills to illustrate your experience. For instance, when the interviewer asks how you explain complex tech topics, your answer could include an example of how you described a firewall for cybersecurity software.

3. Give a final presentation and product demo

The hiring manager wants to see whether you can back up your skills and experience with a live presentation and demonstration. They’ll assess your ability to speak with customers, answer questions, and explain the company’s tech in simple terms.

In my experience, you will be given a mock sales scenario and asked to present to the sales leader, who will act as the customer or prospect. The presentation typically lasts about half an hour to 45 minutes. It includes creating and presenting your slides and conducting a demo of the company’s product or service. Here are some tips to keep in mind for your presentation:

  • Research the customer or prospect: Learn everything you can about the customer or prospect’s company, such as going to their website and reading press releases and searching for industry articles. This information allows you to tailor your presentation to your audience’s needs and showcase how you can help solve their pain points.
  • Review technical terms: Go over the features and benefits of the hiring company’s product or service. Decide how you will cover the technical features in plain language. Consider telling a story or using an analogy. For example, if you’re demonstrating cybersecurity software, you might explain how a firewall is like a security guard at a bank.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Rehearse your presentation with a friend or family member and ask for feedback. Run through your demo several times to ensure there are no malfunctions with the tech. Time yourself with a stopwatch and try to keep the presentation within your allotted time. Remember to allow a few extra minutes for answering questions.

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Uniting the best of both worlds

Working as a sales engineer means tapping into the sales and tech sides of an organization and using your technical know-how to close deals. It’s all attainable with the right certifications, experience, and training to prepare you for a successful job interview. Before you know it, you’ll be thriving in your new career.

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