Technical sales engineers work in a specialist area of business-to-business (B2B) sales, which involves selling products and services with a technical element, such as machinery, plant equipment, tools and devices. These guys are employed by organisations in all kinds of industries, from telecommunications companies to medical equipment manufacturers.
The main factors which distinguish technical sales personnel from ordinary sales professionals are: detailed product knowledge, understanding of technical specifications, and the expertise to understand customer requirements with regards to product modifications.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be conducting research and identifying potential clients, contacting prospective customers, arranging meetings and presenting the products that you’re selling in a convincing and persuasive manner.
You’ll be using your expertise to understand your customers’ requirements and then incorporating your technical knowledge into your sales pitch. This will involve demonstrating the effectiveness of your product and explaining how it will provide an ideal technical solution to your clients’ problems.
The technical sales profession is not just about persuading people to buy your products, smashing your targets and then swimming around in a pool full of your commission money. Indeed, you will also have to carry out administrative tasks, track your sales activity, write reports, negotiate contracts and get involved with marketing tasks from time to time.
Some technical sales engineers may even be required to provide technical support to their clients once they’ve purchased the product.
Salary & benefits
Trainee technical sales engineers in the early stages of their careers can earn basic salaries ranging between £18,000 and £35,000, while personnel with more than five years’ experience can earn around £35,000 to £80,000 a year.
The basic salary offered by most employers tends to be supplemented by target-driven commission and bonus schemes. Furthermore, you are likely to be given a company car or a transport allowance, as most technical sales engineers need to travel around the country to meet with clients and customers.
Working hours are usually irregular, since the job involves a mixture of office and field work. Weekend or holiday work is rare, but working late hours on a daily basis can be common. Frequent travel is also required, especially for technical sales engineers who are responsible for managing the sales activity across a large region.
If your role involves selling complex solutions which require specialist technical knowledge, you will most likely need a degree in a relevant subject, such as electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, maths, physics or chemistry.
If the products you’re selling are technical, but not too complex, you may be able to enter this profession without a degree. However, you’ll have to develop a sound understanding of how the product works before getting out there and pitching it to prospective customers.
Most employers will also require you to have a full, valid driving licence. If you are given the opportunity to travel abroad on sales assignments, you will understandably need a passport. Fluency in at least one foreign language will also be a great asset.
Training & progression
Training and development is often facilitated through bespoke graduate development programmes or initial-entry schemes, which tend to last between one and two years. You’ll primarily be training ‘on-the-job’, but you may also take part in formal training sessions focusing on business management, presentation skills and technical demonstrations.
Trainee sales engineers usually start by shadowing experienced colleagues before working independently.
A typical career path involves gaining technical sales experience for a specific product or market, followed by progression into managerial roles or moving laterally into different technical functions, such as research and development and product design and development. Flexibility and adaptability is key to building a long and successful career in technical sales.