The hush on how sales engineers are compensated, what the role is and isn't.
Whether you're an experienced sales engineer or just starting out, this guide will cover everything you need to know about the role, job market, and total compensation/salary range.
Similarly to product managers, what people perceive as a sales engineer can be completely different depending on the company culture. The role can also have different job titles set by recruiters like: re-sales engineers, field sales, field engineers, solutions architects, solutions consultants, etc. This makes it much harder to nail down an accurate salary range.
Bottom line: get ready to ask plenty of questions of each prospective employer to get a good idea of what their sales engineer role entails. Figure out what you will like best to find a role where the company culture has the right trade-off between technical and client-facing requirements.
👉 Learn about more sales jobs in the tech world here.
Most entry-level sales engineer jobs ask for at least a bachelor's degree. You don't need prior experience as a software engineer, but you should have a deep level of technical knowledge (particularly around system architecture) and strong interpersonal skills. Commonly, you can transition into the role if you started out as an account manager, operations employee, or applications engineer/systems engineer.
Recruiters find it hard to fill this role, especially for senior sales engineers. Why? At a minimum, the job description requires both technical experience in what you are selling and strong soft skills. It can feel like trying to find a needle in the haystack, so recruiters are inclined to pay sales engineer salaries comparable to what an experienced engineer would be making (and sometimes more).
As an entry-level SE, this can be insanely confusing, and a lot of the "average salary" numbers out there are actively harmful-- they're put together by people who don't get SE compensation. So let's start by explaining what OTE is and how it's calculated:
On Target Earnings (OTE) = Base Salary + Variable Bonus based on performance.
OTE, or On Target Earnings, is defined by you hitting all of the performance goals laid out in your plan. At some (but not all) companies, the OTE will be supplemented with an equity grant and sign-on bonus.
The base salary is usually 70-80% of OTE. You might hear "We're on a 70/30 plan here" from the recruiter, which sounds super confusing as an entry-level candidate. Let's break it down:
The 70/30 is based on the total. So if your base salary is 100k, they expect with commission, bonus, milestones, or whatever that your total compensation will be 145k. You are essentially guaranteed cash compensation, $100k, and anything past that is performance-based.
The variable is typically comprised of a revenue quota and/or MBOs. This can vary company to company. For the quota aspect, an SE is usually tied to a region, vertical, or product.
Mature companies and late-stage startups
Your variable will likely be tied to a sales quota. The arrangement here is very straightforward: you make quota, you get your full variable. However, sometimes there are additional complexities like "floors", "caps" and "accelerators":
Smaller startups and new sales orgs
Smaller organizations will more heavily rely on MBOs (Management By Objective). As the name suggests, this type of plan rewards the sales force meeting objectives rather than predefined quotas. Often times, these goals will be individually assigned, sometimes in addition to a quota and base salary.
Good MBOs will be very specific and have discrete timelines within your first year of employment, and beyond. Your hiring manager should be able to explain clearly how the MBO ties to the overall organizational goals and how you will track progress and record completion.
Before you even think of asking for more money, you should have a clear idea of how tangible the company's opening offer is. Why? Because even if your OTE is very high, how your variable comp works determines how much you'll make in the end.
In some cases, if you're joining as a new hire AND a very early employee (maybe sales employee #1, even), know that the company might not be able to answer all of these questions to your satisfaction. In these situations, we recommend asking for an OTE guarantee as part of your negotiation to account for the runway the company needs to feel out the market.
You can refer to your salary negotiation guide here for general tech salary negotiation advice or schedule a time to talk more specifically about technical sales engineer negotiations.
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