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When Does Your Startup Need to Hire a Sales Engineer?

The Betts Team
March 20, 2024

Hiring a Sales Engineer (SE) is vital for tech startups, but do you wonder if now is the right time to start sourcing a candidate for this role? The short answer is that a SE provides immense potential value for a SaaS company at every stage past Seed. However, the more complex answer involves looking at your Cost-per-Hire (CPH) for sourcing and recruiting for this role. Technical sales remain in very high demand, and competition is only growing as they become ever more necessary for software sales cycles. 

In this blog, we will break down what exactly Sales Engineers do and how they contribute to tech startups revenue generation in particular to help determine when the right time to hire an SE is right for you. We will also go over many of the trends and data insights we have uncovered in our research, and how the Betts team is helping SaaS companies adapt.

Key Responsibilities of a Sales Engineer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the primary duties of a Sales Engineer include the following:

  1. Prepare and deliver technical presentations explaining products or services to existing and prospective customers
  2. Talk with customers and engineers to assess equipment needs and to determine system requirements
  3. Collaborate with sales teams to understand customer requirements and provide sales support
  4. Plan and modify products to meet customer needs

A typical day in the life of a tech SE can also include these responsibilities:

  1. Discussing technical features and/or design of the products or services with other technical personnel
  2. Customizing solutions as much as possible to align with client needs/preferences/pain points
  3. Answering questions and providing general support, both to clients as well as internal employees
  4. Closely monitoring market trends or conditions

Obviously, these are mostly top-level descriptions of what exactly SEs do, but they do cover the gist of the purpose of this role. Technical sales jobs are a middle ground between product engineering and selling directly to customers, yet the modern SaaS Sales Engineer does much more than just that. They not only bridge the gap between Sales and Product and translate it for the end user’s sakes, but they are also on the frontline of what prospects need and what they expect to see before they buy.

Startup Challenges and How Sales Engineers Help

One word encapsulates many of the challenges that tech startups face from pre-Seed to Series B and C: scale. As we outline in the Betts Scale Guide series, it is not just the numbers themselves that present hurdles to success, but the way that metrics must change over time. From keeping costs down to increasing annual recurring revenue (ARR), teams in the early stages are always sprinting to empower change and facilitate growth for their organization.

In the technology market, there is the added pain point of condensing the value of a complex software platform without losing what makes it valuable to your customer base in the translation process. Sales Engineers shine in this role as they guide customers through the technical description into how it impacts the business case and their ROI. For a startup trying to sell new products into saturated markets, hiring an SE at an early stage can be a critical catalyst for closing deals faster and growing revenue to secure funding for the next Series.

The Right Time to Hire a Sales Engineer

With all of the reasons why it is a good idea to fill a technical sales role on your go-to-market team early on in the startup lifecycle, it is also important to consider exactly when it is the best time to hire a Sales Engineer. Here are some examples of when bringing an SE could make a significant difference:

  • When you can’t close deals without answering enough technical questions about the product
  • When your AEs don’t have enough technical knowledge to explain the product in detail
  • When you’re not sure if a prospect is a right fit for your product currently 
  • When you need to discover if customizing the product will fit with the customer’s need
  • When you’re having a hard time standing out from competing solutions

Many of these types of situations are increasingly common for SaaS companies in the current state of the market, and new tech startups outside of the Generative AI field are going to be facing a serious challenge in getting ahead of established competition. Recruiting a technical sales professional to solidify your sales motion can make all the difference, but pay careful attention to the cost for hiring a qualified candidate versus the potential revenue from your sales.

Key Factors When Hiring a Sales Engineer

Before you begin trying to source your next Sales Engineer ASAP, there are a number of factors to consider that will impact your likelihood of finding the right fit and your Cost-per-Hire over time:

Sales Engineer Compensation Continues to Rise

Compensation rates for GTM jobs in tech have gone through veritable pits and valleys as many roles have gone through sharp rises and falls in hiring demand, with salaries for most positions stagnating or dipping from 2022 to 2024 as a direct consequence. However, technical sales and analytical professionals – namely experienced SEs and Revenue Ops Managers – have seen the opposite when it comes to their earnings, with more competition for services prompting a 5% year-over-year (YoY) salary bump.

Increasing Demand for Skill Specialization in SaaS

One of the biggest contributing factors behind the consistent increases in Sales Engineer recruiting and compensation rates is the growing need for specialization among SaaS go-to-market teams. Sales cycles for tech startups are becoming progressively more scrutinous and complex, as their customers have to juggle comparing multiple solutions that often appear near-identical at a surface review, while still dealing with their own challenges in their actual job. The demand for technical sales knowledge is rising as a necessity and a direct result of these trends, and will probably continue to for years to come.

Sales Engineers with Proven Soft Skills are Unicorns

A concept we saw developing throughout tech companies is the idea of the “unicorn seller” – a candidate that is the right fit for your GTM team at the right time, bringing the experience, technical specialization and proven personal skills that your sales motion needs to achieve success. Many of the top soft skills needed for selling in the world of technology startups are hard to train and have been impacted significantly by pandemic factors, making Sales Engineers with these talents even more valuable.

Go Beyond Location – Hiring Remote

The data taken from the Betts Compensation Guide shows that remote SEs usually earn at the top average rate of their field, equal to that of their peers working onsite in tech hubs like New York and San Francisco. While many other GTM professionals are being incentivized to return-to-office with higher pay, technical sales roles not only face less pressure and restrictions on working from home, they often might be required to travel for client engagement and therefore can be more valuable in a distributed team under the right circumstances.

Longer Time-to-Hire Equals Bigger Cost-per-Hire

As the Betts Scale Guide series illustrates in detail, balancing Cost-per-Hire against your ROI is the key to recruiting success for your startup, and the best way to achieve this is by making your talent acquisition scalable to your needs and the realities of the current market. In simple terms, the less you spend on tracking down the right fit candidate the better off you will be, but sourcing a unicorn always takes time and a lot of effort, and is often expensive. The high demand for technical sales professionals means that there will be a lot of competition over the same unicorn sellers in this space, but this can be offset by refining the profile for what your top SE looks like and leveraging tools like Betts Connect to scale your recruiting search faster.

Boost Your Recruiting Search for a Sales Engineer with Betts 

No matter the stage you’re at, a Sales Engineer is an invaluable addition to your startup. The only question is when is the best possible time to hire your unicorn tech sales candidate, in order to help your team accelerate at the pace you need to reach the next round of funding. Betts Recruiting will help you refine what this top seller looks like and optimize your search to find the right fit candidate faster.

Contact Betts here and learn more about unique solutions for sourcing your unicorn seller SE without breaking your hiring budget.