Science and engineering graduates with communication and sales skills face good prospects as the demand for technical sales engineers increases

As a technical sales engineer, you'll use your technical knowledge along with sales skills to provide advice and support on a range of products, for which a certain level of expertise is needed.

You'll assist colleagues with bids and tenders for new clients from a technical perspective.

Clients are usually technical staff from non-retail organisations, such as factories, public utility providers, local authorities and hospitals.

The emphasis of the work varies depending on the level of technical knowledge needed to sell a particular product or service.

Technical sales engineers are a key point of contact for clients and provide both pre and after-sales advice. You'll liaise regularly with other members of the sales team and colleagues from a range of departments, such as:

  • design
  • development
  • production
  • purchasing
  • quality
  • research
  • senior company managers.

Responsibilities

As a technical sales engineer, you'll need to:

  • search for new clients who might benefit from company products or services and maximise client potential in designated regions
  • develop long-term relationships with clients, through managing and interpreting their requirements
  • persuade clients that a product or service best satisfies their needs in terms of quality, price and delivery
  • negotiate tender and contract terms and conditions to meet both client and company needs
  • calculate client quotations and administer client accounts
  • provide pre-sales technical assistance and product education
  • work on after-sales support services and provide technical back up as required
  • arrange and carry out product training
  • analyse costs and sales
  • prepare reports for head office and keep customer records
  • meet regular sales targets and coordinate sales projects
  • support marketing activities by attending trade shows, conferences and other marketing events
  • make technical presentations and demonstrate how a product meets client needs
  • liaise with other members of the sales team and other technical experts
  • help in the design of custom-made products
  • provide training and produce support material for other members of the sales team.

Salary

  • Technical sales engineers start on salaries in the region of £19,000 to £30,000.
  • With experience and working at a middle-management level salaries range from £30,000 to £45,000.
  • Senior management positions can pay £50,000 to more than £70,000.

Salaries vary depending on a range of factors, including experience, location and type of company. Basic salaries may be boosted through commission and performance-related pay. Many businesses also offer a company car and other incentives, including private health insurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You should expect to work long or irregular hours to meet deadlines, secure deals and attend conferences and networking events.

Career breaks and part-time work are possible, but are still relatively unusual in this area of work.

What to expect

  • Technical sales engineers usually split their time between the office and visiting clients.
  • Positions occur throughout the UK, particularly where manufacturing companies are concentrated. If you are employed by an international company, you are likely to have greater opportunities to work abroad.
  • Self-employment (contracting for several companies), is a viable option for successful and experienced technical sales engineers. Freelancing may be easier if you have established and developed contacts in the wider business sector.
  • Relocation may be necessary for some jobs, although new technology has made communications easier.
  • Your ability to bring in work will affect the success of the company, so you are likely to be judged on results. Demands to meet sales targets and profit margins may create a pressurised work environment. Competition between businesses is often intense.
  • Travel to and from client companies, trade shows and conferences will extend the working day. Client visits usually occur on a weekly basis.
  • If you work internationally, monthly trips abroad are typically required.

Qualifications

Entry requirements vary depending on the employer and the product or service they sell.

For example, a technical sales engineer selling complex electronic avionic systems for aircraft is likely to be an electronic engineering graduate, but someone selling electronic alarm systems may have gained in-depth technical knowledge of the product but may not have a degree.

Some employers expect a degree relevant to the industry sector you are entering, e.g. civil engineering for the construction industry, or production engineering for the manufacturing industry. Qualifications that combine an engineering subject with business studies are particularly useful.

The following degree and HND subjects may also increase your chances:

  • applied science
  • engineering
  • mathematics
  • physics.

Entry with a HND only or with no higher qualifications is possible, depending on the industry, type of product and expected expertise. You will usually need several years' experience in a related area and product/service knowledge.

Postgraduate qualifications are not normally required but may be useful if they provide specific knowledge of a technical area in which you would like to work.

Search for postgraduate courses in engineering.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a solid technical background
  • sales skills
  • communication skills
  • sound judgement and good business sense
  • organisational skills
  • teamworking capability
  • the ability to build relationships quickly and effectively
  • analytical and problem-solving skills
  • resilience and tenacity
  • independence and self-reliance.

Foreign language skills may give you an advantage over other applicants, particularly when applying to companies with international markets.

A full driving licence is normally essential for travelling to various clients.

Work experience

Most companies like you to have some experience in a commercial and/or sales environment to show you have the necessary skills to accompany the technical knowledge. Building up experience in the design or manufacture of products may also be helpful. Many degrees offer a sandwich year to carry out industrial placements, which can help you build contacts and gain employment upon graduation.

Employers

Technical sales engineers play a key role in many industry sectors, including:

  • aeronautical
  • agricultural
  • automotive
  • biomedical
  • chemical
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • manufacturing
  • telecommunications.

Typical employers include organisations that provide technical or industrial products and services. Companies range in size from multinationals employing a large number of staff in a range of departments, to small specialised businesses with only a handful of staff.

The market for technical sales engineers continues to grow, as an increasing number of companies identify a need for employees with the right mix of technical and product knowledge as well as sales skills.

Long-term prospects look good, as technology in all sectors continues to advance.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies are a common source of vacancies, particularly for experienced staff.

Professional development

Most employers offer on-the-job training to gain product knowledge. The level of training you receive depends on the type and size of employer. Some may expect you to learn while you work, while others may offer a more dedicated induction period.

You may be recruited into some larger companies on a graduate training scheme and will move on to the role of technical sales engineer once you have built up sufficient product/service knowledge. These schemes normally last up to two years and provide the opportunity to work in several different departments, such as:

  • design
  • production
  • quality assurance.

In all companies, technical training is usually supplemented by sales training in areas such as sales negotiation and learning how to build and maintain client relationships.

Training may be provided in-house or delivered externally.

You are likely to start by selling smaller packages, giving supervised quotes and putting proposals together, before gradually working your way up to bigger deals.

Companies are often keen for technical sales staff to gain membership of a relevant professional engineering body, although achieving chartered engineer status (CEng) is less common in technical sales than in other engineering disciplines.

Employers usually encourage, and may even expect, further study at postgraduate level in technical or business-related subjects.

Relevant professional awards in sales and marketing are available from:

Career prospects

Initially you are expected to gain experience in your field, develop product/service knowledge and build your reputation in technical sales.

Once established as a technical sales engineer you will have the option of:

  • staying in the sales field, which may offer a high salary and attractive benefits package
  • moving into a managerial role and climbing the management ladder
  • moving into other related areas, such as technical marketing or product development and research
  • opting for self-employment, contracting to sell products or services for several different companies.

To get ahead in technical sales, you must produce results both through sales and by breaking into new markets. A willingness to travel regularly within the UK and abroad is necessary.

You are expected to continually enhance your expertise by attending relevant training courses. Gaining professional qualifications is also likely to boost your career prospects.

Membership of a relevant professional engineering body is useful and offers opportunities for networking and continuing professional development (CPD).

Experienced technical sales engineers may be headhunted by other companies.