Software Sales

What is Pre-Sales? The Ultimate Guide to Software Sales Engineer Careers

Sometimes companies sell software that’s so complex that they need more than one salesperson to communicate its use-cases and features to prospects. That extra team player, the one with deep knowledge about the product, is the Sales Engineer.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Sales Engineer role, including roles and responsibilities, salary, and career path. We’ll also help clarify how their job differs from their counterpart, the Account Executive. After reading you should have a good idea if this is the right sales job for you.

What is a Software Sales Engineer?

A Software Sales Engineer is a B2B salesperson who uses their in-depth product knowledge and technical expertise to help a prospect understand complex software products and how they can use these products to satisfy their business needs.

Sales Engineers spend most of their time doing pre-sales activities such as diagnosing a company’s problem, explaining or demoing software features to prospects, choosing the perfect product for their needs, and answering technical questions. They may also attend trade shows and conferences, serve as a valuable resource, and give live demos at the events.

They’re part of the sales team and often work in tandem with an Account Executive, who relies on them for their technical savvy to move the deal forward.

Because a Sales Engineer is often one of the most knowledgeable members of a company regarding the product, they work cross-departmentally when other teams need technical expertise. For example, they may help marketing by editing white papers and blog content to ensure it’s accurate. They might also serve as the communication line between sales and products since they can speak both languages.

What’s the Difference Between Pre-Sales and Sales?

In complex B2B software sales, companies will often split their sales process into sales, run by the Account Executive, and pre-sales, managed by the Sales Engineer. 

What is pre-sales? Pre-sales, the domain of Sales Engineers, refers to the technical aspect of the sales process. It actually comes after the AE has held initial discovery meetings with the prospect. In those meetings, the AE finds a business need and gives general pitches to rally the prospect’s interests. The AE will then give this information to the Sales Engineer and employ their help for pre-sales.

During pre-sales, the Sales Engineer’s main goal is to find the right software solution for this prospect, which might require a more technical discovery meeting, where they learn about the prospect’s current technology and systems to see how the product will fit. The Sales Engineer will likely also have to give technical demos once they’ve found the right solution.

We have an entire article on the difference between pre-sales and sales. Check it out for more.

Pre-Sales Roles and Responsibilities

For a closer look at the day-to-day of a sales engineer, it’s important to understand the common roles and responsibilities of pre-sales reps.

  • Conduct Technical Discovery: The Sales Engineer often has to learn about the current systems, technology, and software present at a company in order to pick the right solution for them. This requires question-packed conversations with the company’s technical experts.
  • Find the Perfect Solution: Often, software companies will have numerous solutions to choose from. Given the prospect’s unique business need, it can be hard for an AE or the prospect to choose the perfect match. So, the Sales Engineer helps in this regard.
  • Give Technical Demos: The AE can pitch benefits and value propositions all day, but when it comes down to the technical aspects of the product, they need the help of a Sales Engineer. They’ll show prospects how the software works and fits into their current tech stack.

Once pre-sales is over, the AE will finish off the deal with objection handling, paperwork, and negotiations until the prospect is satisfied with the agreement. However, throughout this closing process, Sales Engineers might still be called in to answer technical questions or overcome objections that require deep product knowledge.

Sales Engineer Vs. Software Engineer

Though the term can be confusing, a Sales Engineer is a role on the sales team, not the product or tech team. Sales Engineers interact directly with prospects to move deals forward.

A Software Engineer, on the other hand, is on the product team and focuses on building and improving the company’s software via computer programming.

Software Sales Engineer Salary

The average total compensation for a Software Sales Engineer is $119,872 per year, according to Glassdoor’s data, and their average base salary is around $96,000 per year.

Image via Glassdoor

Sales Engineers do typically earn a commission, although it’s not as much of a percentage of their total earnings as it would be for an AE. Sales Engineers usually have a compensation split of 80/20 — 80% base and 20% commission. 

If you stay in this role for a couple of years, you can move up to a Senior Sales Engineer and earn an average pay of around $131,000 per year. That said, being a Sales Engineer is a great way to safely bring in over six figures each year, regardless of how well the company’s product is doing.

How to Become a Software Sales Engineer

To become a Tech Sales Engineer you should attain and nurture specific qualities, skills, and education, and create a resume that highlights these attributes. Let’s go over what makes a perfect candidate for a Software Sales Engineer position.

Skills & Education Requirements for Pre-Sales

Sales Engineers need to have both technical and sales skills and knowledge in order to succeed in their position. As for education, most Sales Engineers have bachelor's degrees in a technical field, whether it’s computer science or engineering. But, they may also have majored in business. As for the experience, they typically have some customer service or sales jobs under their belts.

Below are some qualities of a successful Tech Sales Engineer:

  • Ability to Communicate Complex Information: Sometimes they will have to communicate complex product details to an AE or prospect who isn’t proficient in this type of software. That means they have to explain it in a way they understand, as a good teacher would.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: A Sales Engineer has to be able to figure out how a product’s features solve a prospect’s problems or accomplish some goal.
  • Strong Interpersonal Skills: Sales Engineers have to build rapport with prospects in order to engender fruitful conversations and relationships.
  • Technical Knowledge: When they're speaking with prospects who do have a technical background, it’s important that the Engineer can talk shop and show their knowledge of the product’s functionality. That way they’ll establish trust.
  • Sales Skills: It’s important to be able to present, find key stakeholders, ask solid discovery questions, listen actively, and do other sales-related skills.

Sales Engineers will also need to stay up to date with technological trends in the industry so that they can bring new insights to prospects during the sales process and scout out the competition.

Software Sales Engineer Job Description

Each company wants something different out of its Sales Engineer. So, the best way to learn about the Sales Engineer job description is by looking at various job postings for the position and finding overlapping responsibilities. Then you can tailor your resume and cover letter to include these common traits employers are looking for.

Here are some common responsibilities you’ll find in a Sales Engineer job description:

  • Support Sales Staff: Answer difficult technical questions, create technical content they can use, help them create the presentation, and more. 
  • Deliver Technical Demos: Show potential buyers how the product works to solve their specific issues via a web demo.
  • Attend Trade Shows: At conferences and other events be the main source of product knowledge and deliver demos to groups or individual leads. 
  • Help Marketing Create Content: Act as a resource for marketing as they attempt to write white papers, product guides, manuals, and other technically-heavy content.
  • Conduct Technical Discovery: Hold meetings with prospects to learn about their issues and see if your software is a good fit to service them. 
  • Build Relationships with Prospects: Engage in small talk and other rapport-building activities with prospects to increase their level of trust in you and your brand.

Below is an example of a Tech Sales Engineer job posting from Split Software that lists some other key responsibilities of a Sales Engineer, such as supporting the customer service team, managing technical aspects of RFPs, building a product knowledge base, and performing complex demos, and more.

Image via Google

Software Sales Engineer Resume

A Software Sales Engineer resume should highlight your sales experience and technical background while also reflecting the requirements of the job posting. It’s often a good idea to use exact verbiage from the job posting in your resume so that any HR software can mark yours as a good match. Also, try to paint yourself as technically proficient by sharing experiences or courses you’ve taken related to the software the employer sells. 

For more, Indeed has a great step-by-step walkthrough on how to write a Sales Engineer resume.

Software Sales Engineer Career Path

The career path for a Software Sales Engineer typically looks like this: Sales Engineer => Senior Sales Engineer => Sales Engineer Manager.

Senior Sales Engineers will likely handle larger accounts and take on more responsibility. As a Manager, you’d be in charge of overseeing, training, and guiding a team of Sales Engineers.

This, however, isn’t the only path you could take. If you find yourself loving the sales aspect of the position, you could easily transition into an Account Executive role. Or, you could take those problem-solving technical skills over to post-sales and work as a Customer Success Manager.

The 3 Best Software Sales Engineer Books

To learn more about what it’s like to be a Sales Engineer, or to set yourself up for success in the role, check out these three books about how to succeed in the Sales Engineer position.

  • The Six Habits of Highly Successful Sales Engineers: Chris White explains how to give great demos, exude confidence, answer difficult technical questions, and more. This is a perfect entryway into the artistry of the Sales Engineer.
  • The Trusted Advisor Sales Engineer: John Care gives you practical techniques Sales Engineers can use to build trust with their prospects throughout the pre-sales phase. His goal is to help you be viewed as an advisor rather than a salesperson.
  • Great Demo!: Drawing from his experience giving thousands of software demos, Peter Cohan teaches the ins and outs of delivering software demonstrations that captivate and wow prospects, making it great reading for Software Sales Engineers.

Reading is one of the best ways to improve as a software salesperson since books are packed with tested strategies and tactics that you can apply to your sales job. For more, check out our list of the best software sales books every SaaS salesperson should read.

Is a Software Sales Engineer Job Right for You?

Now, we have answered the question 'what is pre-sales' and discussed the role of the sales engineer. If you love studying the intricacies of software platforms and finding creative ways in which they can solve prospects' problems while also deploying sales tactics and building relationships, then Software Sales Engineer might be the perfect match for you.

If you’d like to start checking out jobs, head over to the Salestrax job board, where plenty of companies are looking for tech sales professionals, whether they’re seasoned vets or entry-level rookies.