Marketing and Sales Careers for ChEs

While not true, engineers have a reputation of always being introverts – preferring numbers and computers to interacting with other people. If you hold that view, you might be surprised to learn that chemical engineers often work in marketing and sales. We also – mistakenly – assume that marketers and salespeople are naturally extroverted, not paying attention to important details.

What is marketing?

In our previous post in this series on chemical engineers working in product development, we mentioned the role of marketing. Marketing involves understanding customer needs and market trends to predict qualities of products needed for sale in a given time period. Marketing also means understanding features and attributes of specific products to help a company remain competitive and profitable.

Marketing typically falls within two categories: in-bound marketing and out-bound marketing. Chemical engineers can fill both of these roles with excellence because we have great skills in data analysis and can easily communicate the benefits of a particular product or process. Engineers can readily see patterns in market behaviors and collate data for further analysis and interpretation.

In-bound marketing is associated with gathering data on sales of existing products, failure points documented in customer service reports, and trends in technology (especially those of competitors). This type of job requires some travel to interact with customers but also involves digging through public and private reports to extract relevant data. Presenting the market, customer, and industry information in a way that weaves a story for your company to profit is a special skill of a chemical engineer working with in-bound marketing.

Out-bound marketing, on the other hand, often involves interaction with “creatives” to generate packaging and promotions. While many engineers do not view themselves as creative (read Tools for Open Innovation in the January 2021 issue of CEP), all of us are creative. ChEs working in out-bound marketing assist the advertising and e-commerce teams to ensure that product performance claims and representations are accurate. Beyond a more traditional view, creativity can include skills of trouble-shooting and problem-solving.

For companies selling wholesale or to other businesses, chemical engineers help with marketing in product demonstrations and technical support. In pitching a product or service to a potential customer, engineers ensure the operating conditions, boundaries, and constraints are accurately represented. For example, something as simple as the fill level in a coffee pot can be tied to safety and operational effectiveness, traits that are in-bred to a chemical engineer via education and training.

What is the role of a chemical engineer in sales?

Sometimes people associate the term “sales” as a function represented by a slimy used car salesman wearing a cheap polyester suit. Nothing could be further from the truth! Sales is a helping profession in which a company assists a customer to identify products and services to meet their needs. With this definition, we see that chemical engineers are a natural fit for sales jobs.

While most engineers will not be fully responsible for individual sales deals, the skills of communication, negotiation, and business savvy are important for success. Chemical engineers often work in technical sales, supporting a conventional salesperson with data and design knowledge. For example, chemical engineers support the sales of equipment by specifying flow rates, pressure levels, and heat loads.

On the receiving end of a sales negotiation is the purchasing department. Chemical engineers must actively support purchasing by detailing an accurate specification, understanding maintenance and reliability requirements for new equipment, and integrating new apparatus and processes into existing operations. Working with purchasing in your company puts you into direct contact with the sales groups of potential suppliers. Asking the right technical questions, in addition to timing and cost decisions, can ensure a successful installation.

ChE skills for marketing and sales 

Marketing and sales typically involve more interaction with external, third parties than do traditional engineering careers. Listening is a very important skill to be successful in marketing and sales. In marketing, engineers listen for customer needs and in sales, and they listen to identify their potential advantage against competitors.

While it's possible to start your career immediately in sales, most chemical engineers advance to these positions after learning technical aspects within their chosen industry. Just like working in product development (see our previous post), chemical engineers working in marketing and sales must have a firm grasp on the business. Our strong skills in data analysis, trouble-shooting, and problem-solving are excellent starting points for careers in marketing and sales.

Summary: a spectrum of careers

Pursuing a career in marketing or sales might be the furthest thing from your mind as you study for a degree in chemical engineering. Yet, chemical engineers are specially trained and educated to tackle diverse problems and to help their companies and communities.  

In a traditional process engineering job, chemical engineers ensure safe and reliable operation of chemical plants and refineries. Working in R&D, ChEs identify new processes and products as well as help to trouble-shoot manufacturing issues. Chemical engineers work as project managers and quality management specialists to continuously improve processes for safety, health, and the environment. Finally, chemical engineers often find themselves in less traditional careers, working to transform ideas into new products as well as marketing and selling them.

Chemical engineers are a special breed of engineers. We are trained to analyze the smallest details at the atomic level yet advance the betterment of society through economical production and manufacture of commercial goods at scale. Our skills are both broad and deep.

Where will your career take you?