Sales Engineer Insight

SD_Prairie_Goat

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Mar 18, 2019
Messages
312
Location
SE SD
Hey everyone,

I am thinking about a career change in the near future and was hoping someone could shed some light on their experiences with being a sales engineer (specifically I was looking into major electrical equipment manufacturer, think like Square D or Allen Bradley MCC's and switchgear).

I'm hoping for Pro's and Con's, that kind of stuff. You know, work life balance in general, is working on commission good or bad at the end of the day, things that make the job tough, just general insight really.


I'm currently in consulting engineering, Electrical engineering to be exact, and have been getting more and more bored/fed up with the consulting life style. Any input would be greatly appreciated!
 

Treeshark

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Joined
Jul 14, 2014
Messages
81
Location
Wisconsin
I’m not in electrical sales, but am a salesperson so I know the commission lifestyle (I’m self-employed sales so it’s truly “eat what you kill,” no base $). It’s a good fit for competitive people, but it’s hard to “turn off” the switch because every day, at least inside my head, I’m either winning or losing. There isn’t really a “just show up to work and punch out” option for me anyway, it’s always there. Including nights, weekends, in a tent in October in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, it’s still “on” for me.

It was a perfect fit for me when I was young/single and could just work anyone into the ground to win if that’s what it took. Still is a good fit and it’s easier now that I’m established. But it’s less important to me by the year and eventually that will become a problem. I have about another 10 years Id say and then I would love to do something else with less stress. I’d be happy to use that juice towards something other than work for a change.

To paraphrase... I like sales but it’s not a job for an old me. When you’re on commission, your good months are gravy and can come an go, base your lifestyle off your few worst months and sleep easy.
 

SD_Prairie_Goat

Active member
Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Messages
312
Location
SE SD
I’m not in electrical sales, but am a salesperson so I know the commission lifestyle (I’m self-employed sales so it’s truly “eat what you kill,” no base $). It’s a good fit for competitive people, but it’s hard to “turn off” the switch because every day, at least inside my head, I’m either winning or losing. There isn’t really a “just show up to work and punch out” option for me anyway, it’s always there. Including nights, weekends, in a tent in October in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, it’s still “on” for me.

It was a perfect fit for me when I was young/single and could just work anyone into the ground to win if that’s what it took. Still is a good fit and it’s easier now that I’m established. But it’s less important to me by the year and eventually that will become a problem. I have about another 10 years Id say and then I would love to do something else with less stress. I’d be happy to use that juice towards something other than work for a change.

To paraphrase... I like sales but it’s not a job for an old me. When you’re on commission, your good months are gravy and can come an go, base your lifestyle off your few worst months and sleep easy.
I'll throw the tidbit in that the positions I am looking at, or would entertain, would all be salaried with commission on top. I think most of them are like 75% of your pay is salary with 25% coming from commission. Do you think that would help with the stress level and being able to turn it off?
 

btweedy

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Joined
Feb 14, 2018
Messages
174
Location
South Dakota
People I know that are sales engineers that are salary with commission on the top end up doing a lot of project management. Consider that as well. It is really difficult to get a good sales engineer though. It is in my company.
 

Treeshark

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Joined
Jul 14, 2014
Messages
81
Location
Wisconsin
I'll throw the tidbit in that the positions I am looking at, or would entertain, would all be salaried with commission on top. I think most of them are like 75% of your pay is salary with 25% coming from commission. Do you think that would help with the stress level and being able to turn it off?
Yes, I’m sure that would help quite a bit!
 

SD_Prairie_Goat

Active member
Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Messages
312
Location
SE SD
People I know that are sales engineers that are salary with commission on the top end up doing a lot of project management. Consider that as well. It is really difficult to get a good sales engineer though. It is in my company.
What would you say makes for a good sales engineer?
 

brnsvllyjohn

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Oct 7, 2017
Messages
221
Location
California (for now)
I was an electrician for 35 years and worked a lot with sales people from Square D as well as most of the other major brands like AB, Cutler Hammer and so on. I was also estimator and project manager on a lot of projects. When I was around 40 I was offered a sales position with a company that represented Cutler Hammer. It seemed like a good fit at the time. After a few months I decided it wasn't going to work for me. I took a big pay cut to accept the position but I knew that eventually it should work out. What I found out in our area was no matter how hard you tried you were not going to get business away from companies that had established relationships with other reps. The reason I was hired was for my local knowledge of the contractors as well as my experience working with the products. All of the contractors were nice but if they had been buying Square D or AB they were not going to change to Cutler Hammer. I was expected to sell to new accounts because the other CH rep had all of the existing accounts. Long way of me telling you that unless you can pick up some existing high volume accounts you probably will struggle to get enough sales to make much on commission. Getting contractors to change brands is like getting a Chevy guy to buy a Nissan. Tough to do. I also struggled getting the electrical engineers to spec CH on jobs if they were loyal to other brands.

I went back to being an electrician after about a year.
 

crock239

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Sep 18, 2012
Messages
111
Location
Iowa City, IA
I'm an engineer, background in operations, project management etc. with large firms including consulting engineering as well. Several years ago started my own company now do everything from sales to custodial.

+1 what's said above about not being able to turn it off when 100% commission...yes being more salary helps w that some. (For me that transition is still occurring going from zero to growing recurring accounts which "act" like a salary if that makes sense.)

I think if you're 75% salary 25% commission make sure that the 75% covers all your needs and use the 25% for your wants. Also as said if salaried sales then you'll probably spend a significant amount of time managing existing accounts / people who already know what they want....which is a kind of project management mixed w customer service.

The best sales engineers I've known are natural extroverts who happen to have the mental capacity and training to digest, comprehend, apply, and communicate technical knowledge about the products they represent. Engineers' engineers don't make the best sales engineers IMO.

Pros....work w people solving problems, get a chance to get out from behind the desk, opportunity to more directly influence your income

Cons....problem people can be a pain, need to be comfortable being told no, could be more travel than you want depending on territory, hard to switch off if too dependent on commission income

My .02. Hope that helps. Good luck!
 

SD_Prairie_Goat

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Mar 18, 2019
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312
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SE SD
Guys,

All good info, gives me a lot to think about if I am offered the position. Tough to say which way I will lean right now, base salary will play a large roll in that along with expectations of me.

The way I figure it, if it really doesn't work out, I'm sure I'll be able to find my way back into the consulting world with very little difficulty!

Thanks again everyone!
 

thatsjet

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Jul 1, 2019
Messages
73
Location
Beaverton, Oregon
I was a sales engineer for years in the tech world. Base pay is usually better than strict sales, in my case at least it was 75% Base, 25% Variable compensation to hit On Target Earnings (OTA). Pros: lots of variety, you get to be in a short-term consultative role (best product to meet the customer's needs) vs. long-term (make this thing work), and in many cases travel in a defined geographic territory and eat off the company's dime. Cons: working with sales people :ROFLMAO: (who often want to make a sale, regardless of whether the customer really needs it).

I always saw my job as being the advocate of the customer, regardless of what the salesperson wants to sell them.

Highly recommend picking up a cool book on Amazon called "Sales on Rails". An easy read, written by a buddy of mine that was an SE most of his life and has a lot of great advice. It might actually even help you make your decision. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1521302375/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_srjtDbYP9RNW0
 

btweedy

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Joined
Feb 14, 2018
Messages
174
Location
South Dakota
What would you say makes for a good sales engineer?
Someone that doesn't need to be managed much. i.e. can regulate their time and do what is necessary without being told
Being able to prioritize and execute when there are a lot of details and more complex jobs. It is hard to multitask and keep everything straight.
Natural extrovert
EXCELLENT communication skills. Communication is hard. humans are weird.:LOL:
 

sdkhunter

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Apr 13, 2012
Messages
166
My feelings with a SE job would be it really depends on what the organization and especially sales guys are like... Often times the sales guys I deal with would tell you anything to get the sale - then it's the SE that has to deal with the mess on the implementation and taper back the ridiculous expectations the customer was initially given... I call it building skyscrappers with toothpicks.... :)

I really like the project manager suggestion... Normally a good wage\salary and you get to control many of the aspects of the project.... Instead of being the 'mop up guy'... I'm sure there are exceptions, but it seems like the SE's never really last that long - I don't know that I have ever seen one make a career out of it - their MO seems to be get some expierence, make a connection at a company and go work for one of the customers directly...
 
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