Technical Sales Engineer

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Technical sales engineers combine technical knowledge with sales skills to provide advice and support on a range of complex products and services. They have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions, and understand the scientific processes that make these products work. Using their technical skills, they explain the benefits of products and services to potential customers. Many sales engineers have worked in an engineering specialty. In addition to customer service, sales engineers also decide how products and services could be designed or reworked in order to suit the customers’ needs. They liaise regularly with other members of the sales team and colleagues from a range of departments, such as research, development, design, purchasing, production and quality, as well as senior company managers.

Some sales engineers work for independent sales companies, while others work for firms that design and manufacture technical products. 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.

>> INTERVIEW: The Nuts and Bolts
>> WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
>> WHERE CAN I STUDY?
>> WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?
>> WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?


THE NUTS AND BOLTS 

JC van der Westhuizen - Technical Sales Engineer - Heat and Control (Pty) Ltd

JC van der Westhuizen
TECHNICAL SALES ENGINEER 
Heat and Control (Pty) Ltd

Why engineering?  It started with me as a boy – I was always taking things apart and trying to figure out how they worked! In high school my fascination with processes and systems grew, and I had the urge to improve and simplify. During my final years in high school, I decided to study industrial engineering.

What training did you undergo?  I studied BEng (Industrial) at the University of Stellenbosch. I received my degree in 2005.

Your typical day…  There is never a typical day, as new challenges unfold daily. Much time is spent liaising with customers via email, telephonically or directly, as well as on resolving issues and identifying practical solutions in order to deliver projects on time and on budget. I am often required to fly to Joburg for the day to visit a customer, or to gain a better understanding of their needs and requirements. I work closely with clients in either improving their current system/processes, or on new ventures that they might be exploring.

Your favourite parts of the job?  I enjoy the fact that you can never know everything and are required to learn about new processes on a regular basis. This keeps me on my toes and enables me to solve problems and work with the customer.

Any dislikes?  Unreasonable and ignorant people, which often leads to the wasting of valuable time and money.

Experience versus formal training?  You have to start with some form of tertiary education; training is the foundation just to be hired in the industry. Formal training shapes your line of thought and is required when you go onto practical experience. Therefore, even though experience is as important, you can’t have one without the other.

Hurdles overcome…  One of my biggest challenges is to be persistent and percussive enough to ensure a sale. Another challenge is being ‘young’ compared to other people in the engineering industry – but being taken seriously by older peers.

What ‘makes’ an engineer?  You have to be a professional and motivated person who is able to work alone or as a member of a team. You have to be a hands-on, results-orientated, proactive team leader. You have to be able to focus on a client’s business needs rather than functional needs. You need to have excellent communication skills at all levels, and be able to work under pressure and prioritise.

Advice for newcomers  If possible, obtain a tertiary qualification first. Make use of every opportunity to gain experience in as many fields as possible. Be hungry to learn; you are never too old. Once you are hired – be dedicated, motivated, trustworthy and, above all, always follow ethical business practices.


WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?

Many technical sales engineers have worked in an engineering specialty or a related field and, typically, a Bachelor of Engineering is required to gain employment. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a diploma or degree course is a prerequisite for these courses. Others who have sales and technical experience or training may become sales engineers. Some employers offer on-the-job training and opportunities to gain product knowledge. Technical training is normally supplemented by sales training in areas such as sales negotiation and learning how to build and maintain client relationships. Employers also usually encourage, and may even expect, further study at postgraduate level in technical or business-related subjects, as engineering fields are constantly changing. Companies are often keen for technical sales staff to gain membership of a relevant professional engineering body. Graduates may apply to the Engineering Council of South Africa for registration as Registered Engineering Technicians once all theoretical and practical requirements have been met.


WHERE CAN I STUDY?

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Science: Engineering
www.wits.ac.za

University of Cape Town
Bachelor of Science: Engineering
www.uct.ac.za

North-West University
Bachelor of Engineering
www.nwu.ac.za

University of Johannesburg
National Diploma: Engineering
www.uj.ac.za

University of Pretoria
National Diploma/Bachelor: Engineering
www.up.ac.za

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Engineering
www.sun.ac.za 

UNISA
National Diploma and Degree: Engineering
www.unisa.ac.za

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
National Diploma: Engineering
www.cput.ac.za

Tshwane University of Technology
National Diploma: Engineering
www.tut.ac.za


WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?

Engineering Council of South Africa – www.ecsa.co.za
South African Institute for Industrial Engineering – www.saiie.co.za
The Chamber of Engineering Technology – www.engineeringchamber.yolasite.com


WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 

  • Mathematics
  • Physical Science
  • Economics
  • Life Sciences
  • Engineering
Sources:
www.prospects.ac.uk
www.campusexplorer.com
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