By Ken Lambert
It all depends on who they work for.
The answer to this question was and is instrumental to the establishment of our North American Association of Sales Engineers (NAASE). One of the main objectives of NAASE is to be a place where SE’s from all different industries and products can come together and learn from one another, in addition to networking etc.
The definition of “sales engineer” does not really tell us what industry the person is in. Per the US BLS, “Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses.”
Well- that could mean almost anything, and it does.
Just last night I conducted an informal scientific study, to try to back up my claim that roughly 50% of SE’s are in software, while the balance being in “other”, which sometimes I refer to as the “widget” world.
I went to LinkedIn and ran a search of sales engineers in the 4 largest cities/areas in the country. From there I just went in order of the names presented, and counted. Out of the first 100 names LinkedIn listed, 40% were working for a software/IT company, while a full 60% had nothing to do with software or computers. I realize this was a small sample, but it is safe to say that somewhere between 50-55% of sales engineers are not involved with software. So, what are the majority involved in? I found examples of:
Misc. Industrial/ Manufacturing
In short, almost any industry that has a level of complication and technology can employ sales engineers.
As the president of NAASE, I believe- I know actually- that there are many facets of our jobs that are nearly identical whether a SE is in software or not. About 98% of my career has been on the “widget side” of the business, but in truth I did dabble a bit in software about a decade ago. (I actually own a US registered Copyright regarding a computer program/ source code for a loan software type.) The point is- most of what works (and what doesn’t work) in the trenches for a software enterprise sales engineer also works for a SE working with commercial and industrial HVAC controls.
And this is the exciting part of NAASE- and also the value of being a sales engineer in the first place. It is a mindset, in addition to the intricate knowledge of 1 software or 1 product. We are technical salespeople, and we assist and navigate some of the more complex projects and transactions in business today. And we deserve an inclusive and wide-reaching trade organization.