What a Sales Engineer is NOT

Since the job title Sales Engineer (Wikipedia entry I created) is new, I see employers confusing the hell out of this role. I just had to post about it in the hopes that at least one employer or head hunter will realize how they are making things for real Sales Engineers worse by doing so.

When an HR professional, recruiter, or head hunter puts the title “Sales Engineer” on a job description that isn’t, it makes my job (and those of other real Sales Engineers) much, much harder. PLEASE stop doing this.

I’ve been a Sales Engineer a lot longer than the title has been officially recognized (around 2003), so I know what the role is supposed to be. I crafted this role for years, and when the role is bastardized it makes it harder for employers to see our value.

A true Sales Engineer is exactly 50% sales and 50% engineer. Period.


A Sales Engineer is not an account manager.

A Sales Engineer is not an Engineer.

(These are actual snippets from actual job postings)

“Field Sales Engineer” Employers try to mess things up by adding Field to Sales Engineer to make the alterations to the role a bit more feasible. In most cases the confusion is limited to saying that a Sales Engineer does implementations.

There is no such thing as a Field Sales Engineer.

This is because ALL Sales Engineers are already in the field. In fact, a true Sales Engineer is a telecommuter, having no permanent desk/cubicle in any particular city.

Sales Engineers don’t do implementations.

In rare cases the confusion is so great that a FSE has the following job description:

Calls on major OEM customers, consulting engineers, large consumer accounts, independent manufacturers reps, and other sales prospects. Provides direction to assigned district sales personnel to maximize sales growth in the district. Achieves sales qualifier objectives for the assigned territory.

Here is another classic mistake, trying to tie in the AMs job with the Sales Engineer’s in the worst way:

Account Manager/Sales Engineer

Warner Power is seeking an Account Manager/Sales Engineer to perform the following responsibilities:

* Achieve aggressive revenue and margin projections and increase market share within the assigned target customers.
* Grow, manage, motivate and facilitate success of independent to meet performance goals.
* Foster existing customer relationships while developing new contact an relationships.
* Create prospects through networking, telemarketing/cold calling and other prospecting methods.
* Follow up on all leads and sales opportunities in a timely fashion.
* Respond to detailed Requests for Quote, Request for Price, Requests for information and other detailed procurement contracts.
* Professionally represent Warner Power in trade shows.
* Travel 75% of the time.

This position offers the opportunity to work from home.

There are no parallels between AMs and Sales Engineers. Trying to mix the roles makes each worse, and does less than the sum of the two.

Sales Engineers don’t source (call on prospects).

Employers also erroneously try to force a Solution Architect role into a Sales Engineer’s role by simply changing the title. Solution Architects don’t work in the field.

Sales Engineers don’t sit in cubicles.

“Inside Sales Engineer” Here is a classic example of how to do it wrong. As stated above, no Sales Engineer sits in a cubicle. Take a look at this job description of a so-called “Inside Sales Engineer”. See if you can guess what this job title should be:

This position is hands-on & will be involved in all areas of the sales process from bid to order, through production & on to final shipping. The ideal candidate is someone who understands the importance of making our sales process run smoothly & effectively. This position must review & approve cost estimates, schedule estimates & price quotations on new work, provide outside sales with info including production scheduling and updates on customer change requests. Will act as a liaison between outside sales & the internal depts to facilitate sales

Incredible, isn’t it? That is a snippet from a company called Hill Phoenix. Anyway, did you guess Solution Architect? If you did, you win! Solution Architects sit back at corporate and price deals, apply part numbers, and generally make sure that whatever Sales (Account Manager and Sales Engineer) have come up with will actually work. To call the above a Sales Engineer role, even Inside, is wrong.

So what have we learned?

Sales Engineers don’t set pricing.

One of the best indicators, though, as to whether a role is for a Sales Engineer is to see if they are salary/bonus. Real Sales Engineers are on commission, typically a roll-up of the commissions of all those outside sales and channel sales reps they support.

Sales Engineers aren’t on salary + bonus.

So wait, you say, “Who cares if they get it wrong?” You, as a real Sales Engineer should. Think about it.

How much does a salaried Solution Architect, Field Engineer, Implementation Engineer, Billable Technical Consultant, Systems Engineer (another good one to get wrong) make in total compensation?

A lowly salary of anywhere from $70-$80k (depending wildly on area of country) and a bonus (usually a mysterious, hidden algorithm borne from the executive washroom). You’ll also see an ethereal bonus of some sort that is never completely under your control (as is commission).

A Sales Engineer on the other hand will usually make a base (not salary) of $100k-$125k, and OTE of $140k-$175k. Non-commission staff (non-managers) never make anything close to what a Sales Engineer or Sales Rep make.

“So? Whats the problem?”. The problem is that real Sales Engineers are going to start being paid less because people can’t figure the role out due to all these incorrect, wrong, and patently bad interpretations (bastardizations).

A Sales Engineer does not make an engineer’s salary.

A friend of mine actually got an offer letter with just a salary the other day. He asked about the bonus that had been mentioned earlier in the process, and they said that since they can’t guarantee any bonus (the last year had none), it was better left off the offer letter.

I filled out an interview application yesterday for a Sales Engineer position and it asked what my salary and bonus were! I immediately threw it away. If they can’t get how to comp a Sales Engineer right, then they surely don’t understand the role. That job would be nothing but trouble from the start.

If you are a real Sales Engineer, you should be infuriated at how your role, job and career is being diluted and bastardized, and feel compelled to correct those trying to make our life more difficult.

So in closing:

A Sales Engineer is a Sales Engineernothing else!


  1. Very interesting site, nice design, greetings


  2. More abuse of the Sales Engineer title:

    “The Sales Engineer for Nielsen Sessions in Berlin, CT will generate and support sales of new and existing products by working with customers and internal Nielsen resources to supply designs and specifications. ” from: Actuant – http://www.careerbuilder.com/JobSeeker/Jobs/JobDetails.aspx?ipath=EXIND&siteid=cbindeed&Job_DID=J3G54N5X62X6Y10CJCY&cbRecursionCnt=1&cbsid=9a2a00ef2b34487093d80c4a698b6f27-275061260-VJ-4

    Sales Engineers don’t _generate_ sales. This is the role of a sales rep, account manager, director of sales, etc.

    Again, this kind of abuse cheapens our profession and ultimately affects our salaries negatively.


  3. This violation is really, REALLY bad. The company is called RW Gray & Associates, and they have a Sales Engineer as:
    “Job will involve responding to customer enquiries for electrical products, including load banks, neutral ground resistors, dynamic brake systems and dynamic brake resistors. Candidate will be a high-energy person with excellent personal skills.”
    The spelling error aside, the clue is the pay: $50k-$60k Base and $5k bonus!
    This is NOT a Sales Engineer, it is an Inside Sales Rep, and a poorly paid one at that.
    People, this is _killing_ Sales Engineering! By bastardizing the title by saying it is the same as a sales rep making 1/2 what a Sales Engineer should you are cheapening our profession, and threatening our income structure and potential.

    Please STOP.

    Job found at: http://www.careerbuilder.com/JobSeeker/Jobs/JobDetails.aspx?ipath=EXIND&siteid=cbindeed&Job_DID=J8B4K0790182K1X9Y2R


  4. Another bastardization of the title “Sales Engineer”:

    Sales Engineer
    SALES Fast growing Dist. Co. is looking for Inside Sales Person for San Marcos office Duties include: Order processing, request for quotations and help field sales. Good communication skills and a positive attitude are a plus. Xlnt growth potential.

    Send resumes to:
    Zemarc Corporation
    2240 Gaspar Avenue
    Los Angeles, Ca 90040-1516
    email: djones@zemarc.com
    fax: 323-721-0596

    Do YOU think this person is going to make what a real Sales Engineer does? Exactly. This kind of error makes it harder for a real Sales Engineer to get correct compensation.


  5. Caribbean Sales Engineer — Calix Networks — Petaluma, CA•Boston, MA

    Damn! I missed this one!



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