Sales Engineer in Wikipedia

I was astonished to find that the link to Sales Engineer on Wikipedia was redirected to, of all things, Field Applications Engineer. I decided immediately to fix the error.

This is my initial post to the Wiki:

The Sales Engineer

This job title is still very new, and is very misunderstood. It has only been around since 2003, yet the function of this title had been sporadically provided since much earlier. When software started to get too complicated for a Sales Rep to explain satisfactorily, an engineer from Development was usually presented to the prospect. Unfortunately, not all those with a deep understanding of a complex product are presentable. In most cases, this caused more harm to the opportunity than benefit.

The Sales Reps had to find the rare engineer that knew:

* When to talk
* When not to talk
* How to explain the offering to a buyer
* How not to judge, critique or otherwise put down any existing solution a prospect may already have
* Looked good in a suit(!)


Early on, this was a tall order. Not only were software developers that wore suits every day hard to find, but they were not compensated so as to have skin in the game, meaning that they were not on commission, but rather a generic, generalized bonus plan that was based on the entire company’s performance (and spending habits) rather than the individual’s ability to perform. This performance based compensation later manifested itself as commission.

Sales Engineers are found in companies selling enterprise software, products and/or services. There is no such thing as an Inside Sales Engineer, as Sales Engineers do all their work in the field, where the prospects/customers are. As a result, Sales Engineers almost exclusively telecommute, locating themselves not where a company’s headquarters would be, but rather where the prospects/customers are.


This brings up a key differentiator between Sales Engineers and all the other titles confused with them: Sales Engineers are not on salary and bonus. Sales Engineers make a base, and a commission. A true Sales

You are usually on commission as a roll-up of the reps’ numbers you support, or at least bonus driven based on sales goals.

Whats In A Name?

Often confused as Solutions Engineers, Systems Engineers, Technical Account Managers, and several other awkward titles, the Sales Engineer is part all of these titles and more. The problem for Sales Engineers comes from when these incorrect titles are used in actual job descriptions. When the title Sales Engineer is applied to someone on salary (because they are not performing the tasks a Sales Engineer really does), it causes managers to think that the salary (base) for a Sales Engineer should be low.

The rationale is that a salaried engineer for an enterprise software company makes about $80,000 salary, and a Sales Engineer is typically at a $110,000 base and $150,000 OTE (On Target Earnings). This diminishes the perceived value of a Sales Engineer, as the manager thinks a Sales Engineer is the equivalent of an engineer. In fact, this couldn’t be less true.

You Might Be a Sales Engineer if…

* You write in at least 5 programming languages fluently.
* You own more suits than any of your friends.
* You are a frequent flyer on at least 6 airlines
* You have a stack of hotel and car rental “rewards” cards-all gold or platinum.
* Know everyone by name at your local airport and on the planes you most frequently take.
* Have to determine what city you are in by knowing the day of the week.
* Have a tricked out laptop, or two, with multiple VMware images on it.
* You have so many technical books that your friends check them out, just like at a library.
* You can pack for a week on the road in less than an hour.
* You know what kind of flowers and/or candy every administrator/coordinator in your company likes.
* You can’t remember the last time you had a cubicle.

The Dirty Little Secret

The Sales Engineer is the only person in a company who is compensated to make the company work together. Engineering is not paid to help Marketing, and Advertising is not paid to help Sales. Product Development is not paid based on how well Sales performs, and Engineering usually can’t stand even being near a Sales Rep. So who is left?

The Sales Engineer is paid on the deal-any way that can happen. This means that usually the only productive communication between separate, isolated elements of a company is via the Sales Engineer. The role is often described as being the glue that holds together the culture in a company, as no other role touches every area of the company on a tactical level.

This means that the Sales Engineer has to know how to treat each person in the company with respect as if they are the only one that matters. This inherent humility is rare among sales and engineering types, who pride themselves on being aloof. A Sales Engineer must be genuinely nice to people they can’t stand. Anything else jeopardizes their commission, and ultimately their pay. Salaried employees have the luxury of not cooperating with anyone they choose, often marginalizing themselves at no personal expense.

Another quality needed on a daily basis is to effectively deal with individuals who can’t stand each other. A professional has to resist the urge to gossip and promulgate rumors. This may seem hard enough, but there is also a more difficult quality that a Sales Engineer has to have-humility. This is important, so let me explain.

Most people, by their very nature, want praise and attention. They love to be the star, basking in the limelight, the savior that stands alone in the spotlight. In a company that rewards productivity, there is no better way to solidify your worth than to be associated with success. The problem is that there has to be a support level that got that person there, and there isn’t room for everyone in that spotlight. I call this secondary praise.

A person can have all the qualities of a Sales Engineer on paper, but if they aren’t truly comfortable having someone else take credit for their work, then they aren’t cut out to be a Sales Engineer. They will be miserable, thinking that nobody understands the work they put into the deals that close. This is the one attribute, the most difficult, that shortens the most Sales Engineer careers, and accentuates the value of those who shine with these requirements/restrictions.

A Day in the Life

So what does a Sales Engineer do? How could you describe such a misunderstood role to someone? It isn’t easy. As discussed above, a Sales Engineer wears many hats, but is compensated on the deal. Typically only the Sales Engineers, Sales Reps, and their management are commission. This is ideal incentive for a Sales Engineer to learn and do as much as possible. With so many skills in so many areas, it once again seems like we’re losing track of what the Sales Engineer needs to know/be.

It would seem that the Sales Engineer is a loose collection of many parts of the company, possessing skills and expertise in each that give him/her authority and respect on an individual relationship level. In a complex company, selling complex software/products, an internal professional network that respects you is vital.

So a Sales Engineer is part everything, right? Well kind of. More accurately, the Sales Engineer is actually comprised (mostly) of 3 even parts of:


Helps the AM (Account Manager) qualify opportunities, present company background and product/service information, and present proposed solutions. Research opportunities and prospects, becoming an expert in what they do, as compared to being an expert at what we do.


* Every sales call, or is the main presenter from first contact. Typically creates the PowerPoint and animations to be used.
* POCs – Their stuff in our software. If you can prove that the software will perform as advertised, with your data, you will buy it.
* Pilots – Similar to a POC, except that the installation is designed to become a staging system, on its way to production.
* Demos – Your software, but with sample, representative data.
* Solutioning meetings on account penetration for each account.

Typically crafts all customer facing agreements, or at a minimum approves them prior to distribution. Attends all sales meetings, except one on one meetings, where individual AM goals are discussed with the VP of Sales.


Must be on a par with the most technical customer/prospect resources. Able to guide their resources, vendor resources and our consultants/engineers in the execution of an engagement. Must be expert in trends as well as our products and product roadmap. Typically on all product weekly status calls with Engineering/Development. Design and create POCs, pilots, demos and prototypes on/with anything they throw at you.

Typically suggests changes to internal product wiki, and submits as many product bugs as QA.


Create materials for events, opportunities and websites. Expert in word processing, spreadsheets, all graphics utilities, animation and rendering. Staff and train for industry events such as speaking opportunities and trade show booths. Able to design a booth, all materials, then staff to ensure a success. Typically, the Sales Engineer designs and produces booth animations (in Flash with accents in other software, such as rendering software).

This doesn’t mean sitting behind a table, but rather standing in the passageway engaging people as the come by.


So lets boil it down. What does it take to be a Sales Engineer? What qualities must someone aspire to have in order to be the best?

Generally speaking, a Sales Engineer must appear to be an expert in anything they need to, but in a very short time. This means that not only must the Sales Engineer be an expert in their own technology in a few weeks, but also the technology at a prospect/customer with usually only a few days’ notice. This skill is usually a combination of using the web and consulting, and a vast personal library.

More specially, a Sales Engineer at the top of their field would be an expert in:


* Discussion and negotiation
* Active and passive listening
* Pacing (sometimes referred to as Neuro-linguistic Programming)
* Body language (yours and theirs)


* MS PowerPoint, MS Word, MS Excel (including VBA programming)
* Projectors, LCDs, flat screens, and A/V equipment
* Public speaking, working the room
* Dealing with snipers and aggressive meetings
* Flash and 3D software, like 3DS Max and AutoCAD
* PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.


* Visual Studio (VB.NET, VB6, VC++, etc.)
* Java (J2EE, J2EE, EJB3, etc.)
* GNU-based/compiled languages (C, C++, etc.)
* Scripted languages (Perl, PHP, Python, etc.)
* Shell scripting (csh, ksh, korn, sh, bash, etc.)

Operating Systems

* Windows
* POSIX-based languages (UNIX, Linux, HPUX, AIX, etc.)
* Mac/Apple


A Sales Engineer is not an engineer that looks good in a suit. A Sales Engineer is more than the sum of his/her parts.


  1. I’m having trouble with the Wikipedia folks, as I don’t think they understand that virtually all references on the Internet to cite regarding Sales Engineers are companies charging for such services. My site here seems to be the most unbiased, as I actually publish information.


  2. I have been forced to start small, and work up from there. While this takes a lot more effort and time on my part (as compared to just publishing the article in its complete form), it is what will pass muster with the wikipedia moderators. The version that got pared down looks now like this:

    Sales engineer
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Sales Engineer is a job/role found primarily in enterprise software, hardware or professional services companies. The role serves to bridge the gap between sales acumen and engineering expertise.

    Role in Enterprise Sales

    Initially, the products or services a company sold were easily understood by sales reps, who could represent these without assistance on sales calls. Any questions a prospect (potential customer) had could be addressed by the sales rep. As technology became more complex, generalists were replaced by specialists.

    Sales reps, however, did not develop specializations. This break from a single sales rep being able to handle all aspects of the sale to one which he/she needed assistance was what brought about Relationship Selling, or Strategic Selling. The enterprise sales rep developed skills that got meetings with strategic buyers, but the sales rep was only expected to explain the solution at a high level, leaving the more technical aspects to be explained by the Sales Engineer.


    A key differentiator between Sales Engineers and all the other roles in an organization is that Sales Engineers are not on salary and bonus as most people in an organization are. Sales Engineers instead make a base, and a commission.


    Unknown (2007-12-18). “Sales Engineers “Sales Engineers”, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition”. Retrieved on 2008-09-22.

    Unknown. “”Summary Report for: 41-9031.00 – Sales Engineers”, Occupational Information Network”. Retrieved on 2008-09-24.

    Levine, Edward S. (2007-08-30). “The Evolving Sales Engineer”. Dog Ear Publishing, LLC. Retrieved on 2008-09-24.

    Care, John (2008-08-31). “Mastering Technical Sales: The Sales Engineer’s Handbook”. Artech House Publishers. Retrieved on 2008-09-24.

    Rubli, Jerry (2008-03-25). “My Life As A Sales Engineer”. Whitecaps Media. Retrieved on 2008-09-24.


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