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How Much Do Sales Engineers Earn? 

 October 14, 2020

By  Pat

Sales Engineer Salary Range

So, how much can you make as a Sales Engineer? 

First, let's agree on what the title Sales Engineer means!
What we mean by a Sales Engineer is the technical person on the sales team, not the salesperson. Sales Engineers are also know as Pre-Sales Engineers, Pre-Sales Consultants, Solutions Consultants, and many others titles!

NB: The title, Sales Engineer, is sometimes used as the title of a quota carrying sales person. In our experience, we find Account Executive (AE) to be a much more common description for the sales role.  

So this salary information is for the technical person on the sales team, not the salesperson. 

Now back to how much you can earn as a Sales Engineer.
The pay range for the role is between $50,000 to $250,000 plus which is a big range, I know.  Typical base salary ranges from $50k to $160k. 

Pay Plans and Quota

Since, Sales Engineering is a sales function, you will typically be paid at least partially on sales performance.

A typical SE package is comprised of a base salary and a commission or bonus component. Commision plans, or pay based on sales, is typically governed by a sales quota.

A sales quota is simply the dollar volume of sales you and your team are expected to win over a specific period of time. Let's look at an example of a pretty typical SE pay plan:

Base Salary: 80% of total income - You are guaranteed to make this amount regardless of sales performance.
Commission: 20% of total income - This money is dependent on how you, your team and group do relative to your sales quota.

This is known as an 80/20 ratio of base to commission. You can finds jobs with different ratios and different risk/rewards like 70/30 and 50/50.

If you are unsure of your suitability to the role or if you will succeed, you may want to consider a plan weighted more towards higher base pay and lower commision such as 90% base and 10% commision. A plan like this will pay less than a position with more risk/commision but it will allow you to have a more predictable income.

80/20 is pretty standard for an SE so we will start here. The most important thing to know is if the commission portion of the plan is reasonable and attainable. You can have the best commission plan in the world, but if you can't win enough sales, you will not make the money you were hoping or expecting. 

Assuming an $80,000 base and a possible $20,000 in commission, you are guaranteed to make $80,000 but the additional $20,000 depends on sales performance. 

If you can, check with other Sales Engineers at companies that you are interested in and ask if they are consistently able to make quota or if the numbers are unrealistic. One final note, even with a good plan and realistic quota, you have to execute well as a team and win sales to get paid!

How Do Equity Packages Work?

Stock Options - Many startups offer equity packages, but as they are not established companies and may not ever go public or get acquired, there is no guarantee that the options will be worth anything.
On the other hand if you get in at a company early and they make it, it could be a nice payday!
The key here is that you need to be aware of the trade-off between the possible future value of stock with the perceived, security of a larger proven company.

Stock - Some companies provide employees the ability to purchase stock at a reduced price. This is something to be aware of when looking at changing positions. Do some research to see how the stock is doing and what it might be worth, then factor in the value to you.

What Factors Determine What you Earn?

The pay varies widely based on many factors including: the type of role and duties, the company and industry and the amount of experience you have.

Let's break down the various aspects and how they affect the amount of money you can make. Armed with this information, you will be in a better position to control how much your are paid as a Sales Engineer.

For additional salary and job information, here are two excellent resources for Sales Engineers:

Type and Size of Company

The type and size of the company can make a big difference in the pay scale for the Sales Engineer job. For example, well-funded startups in hot markets often pay top dollar and stock options to secure the best talent in a demanding market.
Large companies in hot markets like Amazon or Google often pay well AND often offer generous stock/equity packages. 

Smaller companies may not pay quite as well as larger organizations, but these jobs may be a bit easier to get than those at large companies. Smaller companies do often let you do more things in your role as an SE which leads to overall development of important skills.


Industry

Certain industries pay better than others. Networking and Communications are strong industries as are SAAS companies that provide complex products. Storage and Security are also hot areas. If you have data about the state of your industry, please let us know in the comments.

Solution Complexity

The complexity of the solution you support is a key factor in what you can earn. Working with very technical and complex products that require special skills and knowledge to use and deploy will allow you to command a higher wage if you have the requisite skills and knowledge to do the job.

Solution complexity is reflected by the product or technologies used and also in the skill and knowledge needed to customize it to the needs of your customer. You should focus on being the company expert for your product or service. Do this well, and you will be able to command more money than your peers.

Job Title, Role and Duties

Typical progression in Sales Engineering is a continuum from new SE to SE Leadership. Let's take a look at each role:

New SE - Lowest Pay, as you are just learning your craft.

Experienced SE - You have a few years experience and have developed many of the core skills you need. You can command a middle of the range salary here.

Senior SE - Very experienced, with strong skills. You should be able to command a salary on the upper end of the scale.

Principal or Lead SE - Very experienced and effective in the role, often takes a lead role in training and coaching new SEs. Pays on the upper end of the scale.

Specialist SE - You are a senior who focuses and has deep experience with specific technologies and products. You will be at the high end of the pay scale. You are often brought into deals as an expert in your area to help close deals. This is a great role if you want to remain technical and avoid management.

Length of the Sales Cycle

Products and services with long sales cycles, six months to multiple years require advanced selling skills and great SE AE teamwork. These items are often high ticket (price) and as such the approval cycle can take a long time and involve multiple decision makers and influencers. In general, if you have or can get experience with high priced, high complexity products, you will be paid more.

Location, Location, Location

As an SE, you will often be remote as opposed to being in an office. Where you are located is an important factor in how much you can make. Do keep in mind that this difference in earnings is to offset the differences in the cost of living (rent, housing, food, necessities) in a geographical area. For example, Sales Engineers in California are usually paid more than Sales Engineers in Minneapolis Minnesota. In general, just focus on where you want to live and you will be fine.

Your Experience Level

Experience here applies to your experience with your products, market, company and competition. This does not always translate to years in a job or role. I have seen many talented Sales Engineers rise quickly through the ranks because they learn rapidly and are very effective at their jobs. Your focus should be on constant improvement and new experience as opposed to doing the same things for many years.

Education and Degree

Often a bachelor's degree is required, but not always. In Sales Engineering, if you know your role and can be effective, you can compensate for any lack of experience. Many roles depending on the industry do not require a particular degree, but some are very specific. Your degree is important and it does matter, but in sales the real currency is making sales. If you can do that you can get the job.

Your SE Skills

As an SE, you need a wide array of skills such as: demo and presentation skills, interpersonal skills and organizational skills to succeed. If you can master all the critical skills you need to be a great SE, you will be able to command more money. 

For more detail on the types of skills you need, please see this article.

How Well You Interview

All things being equal, the person who does a better job in an interview will be selected over a candidate who does not interview as well. In addition, if you interview well you will be good at demonstrating your value. Employers will take this into consideration when offering you a position and the more value they perceive, the more money you can ask for and get.

Who You Know

Your network is invaluable as you look at jobs and also to help you to validate the salary you are offered. Be sure to keep up your network. Getting a referral can be a major asset to you as you interview. Employers who receive recommendations from a trusted source are much more likely to grant you an interview and offer you a job!

How to Negotiate your Salary

When discussing pay with a prospective employer, be prepared with three numbers:

  • What is the minimum you need to take the job
  • What is the high end that you would like to get
  • What are you comfortable with and believe is fair

Armed with these figures, you are ready to negotiate. Employers will often give you a range. In some cases this is a jumping off point and in some cases the pay is set by the job (this is often true in government jobs). With hope, you will receive an offer in the middle of your acceptable range.

Based on the offer, you can ask for more or accept or decline the offer. Do remember to consider intangibles and other aspects of the role besides pay. It is typically OK to ask for around 10% more than the offer if you feel your value commands it. 

Who Makes More?

Since a role in Sales, Sales Engineering and Engineering are common vectors for your career, i'm often asked who makes more?

Engineer vs Sales Engineer

Many SEs are coming from or looking at (as new grads), engineering positions in their chosen field. In general, Sales Engineers can make more than Engineers since they need additional soft and sales skills and talent, and take on the additional risk/reward of quota based pay.

Sales vs Sales Engineers

Account Executives (AEs) will typically make more than Sales Engineers because they need to cope with a high degree of risk. Account Executives pay is often largely based on sales performance. In fact, if an AE does not make quota there is a chance they may lose their job! 
So as a budding SE, the key here is to pick the role that fits you, and to work hard to get to the top of your field.


Have questions about SE pay, please ask in the comments below!





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