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An Analytical Look At the Future Of Technical Sales Roles

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If you follow B2B sales—especially software or other technical sales—you’ve likely realized that B2B sales cycles seem to be getting longer, more complicated and extremely competitive. Firms are realizing they need more qualified staff on the presales and sales engineering side of the business to help win commercial deals.

NAASE (North American Association of Sales Engineers) ran an analysis of these trends as well as the near-term and future job prospects of sales engineers, to determine if data mimics these anecdotes.

Everywhere we look we read about digital transformation, artificial intelligence, big data and automation. It begs the question—will my job be automated 5-10 years from now?

Of course, nobody has a crystal ball, but we can use tools to take a look at this important topic. At its core, the website linked is using data and rankings from an Oxford University whitepaper (2013) to focus on which jobs are less likely to be automated in the future. While the article does not estimate exactly when automation may occur, it does rank and group 702 occupation titles with results that are quite interesting and profound but must be taken with a grain of salt.

So, what’s the key takeaway for sales engineers (SEs)?

Jobs where there is a heavy social and interactive element, including management of other people, are relatively safe from automation. Intuitively, even with artificial intelligence and computer learning, it is unlikely that a computer can read a room or a situation as well as an experienced person can. 

Aside from that, there is something odd and awkward about signing an $800,000 software deal for your company with a robot or a computer. To some degree, there will always be a need for that “human touch.” However, many analyst positions are more at risk; computers and supercomputers can do much of this kind of numerical and data work much quicker and with less error.

 

The current job market for sales engineers

HR directors and sales managers are realizing a few tough facts right now; many companies are beginning or expanding their sales and presales engineering positions—the problem is there aren’t many around or available.

There are, of course, many SEs out there who have been seeking employment for more than six months, and there are always circumstances and outliers in various industries. However, using a broad brush here, it does seem that hiring a SE is quite a bit harder right now versus other professions.

There have been many articles and stories written in the last year or two highlighting the importance of sales engineers, stating they are a needed yet unsung hero of a winning revenue team in most B2B endeavors. Some of these articles may be self-serving, but overall, stories from various businesses, sales writers and enterprises are hard to ignore.

Another factor is that if purchasing decisions are getting more complicated, teams are getting more analytical, and B2B sales cycles are taking longer, it would make sense that sales teams need more technical support and assistance to win deals. Hence, more sales engineers are finding their way into firms and departments where sales engineer positions didn’t exist just a few years ago.

 

How many open SE positions are there?

In order to find how many open positions actually exist in the U.S., versus looking at how many open job listings there are for said position/title, I reviewed the first portion I researched through the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and job listings on LinkedIn.

As an example, there are about 67,000 sales engineers that exist in the U.S. and, per LinkedIn, there are 51,127 job listings, which change every day and week. To be transparent, some of those listings might be duplicates, thus I don’t really know if there are 51,000 job listings or 51,000 actual job openings. But regardless, figuring out this “professionals/openings ratio” can be used to compare different job titles. To help contextualize, for graphic designers there are 261,600 graphic designers that exist in the country with only 12,600 job listings.

I compared the ratio of sales engineers to that of a computer programmer, dentist, graphic designer, electrical engineer and architect. I averaged those five positions to come up with a ratio of “non-SE” and then compared that to the SE job listing ratio. The amount of job openings for sales engineers is over 9 times that of the other job titles.

What does all this mean? It means that being a sales engineer in 2021 puts you in a great position when on a potential job search.

 

Conclusion

In summary, most professional salespeople and their managers are in great positions right now as we look toward the future labor market. Technical sales isn’t necessarily easy, but it can be very rewarding and I predict it will be vibrant in the years and decades ahead.


Ken Lambert is the president of the North American Association of Sales Engineers.