Sales Executive Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Get the truth about a sales executive's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a sales executive.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Sales Executive

Sales executives try to cultivate business relationships and turn contacts into long-term customers of their products. Consider the below pros and cons to decide if becoming a sales executive is right for you.

Pros of Being a Sales Executive
Autonomy in work schedule*
May need only a high school diploma or equivalent*
Many career options*
Job security even if times are tough*

Cons of Being a Sales Executive
May have to travel extensively*
Often work on commission*
Long hours, weekend work*
Pressured to meet sales quotas*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

Sales executives work in almost every aspect of commerce. Some represent manufacturers and sell products to retailers and wholesalers. Others, such as insurance agents, sell services. Media representatives deal with advertising. These jobs, while differing in some aspects, have several factors in common. All sales executives try to cultivate business relationships and turn contacts into long-term customers. They attract new customers for their goods or services, create interest and provide information to address their customers' needs.

A sales executive will spend a lot of time on the road or on the telephone establishing business relationships. Sales executives assess their customers' needs and demonstrate how their products or services can meet them. Having interested the client, they negotiate contracts, close the sale, manage and ensure the delivery of the goods or services and follow up with the customer to ensure satisfaction.

Career Prospects

It's hard to predict the potential growth in employment of sales executives because growth is tied to the health of the industry in which they are employed. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that employment for various types of sales people would continue to grow about as fast as average for all occupations from 2012-2022. For instance, sales manager positions are expected to grow by 8% and the wholesale and manufacturing sales field may grow by 16%. However, the advertising sales field is projected to shrink by 1%. The BLS noted that companies are generally reluctant to lay off sales people because most organizations consider the sales department most vital to its success.

Salary Information

The salary for a sales executive has many variables. Pay varies among industries. Many sales executives receive a base salary and earn commissions, determined by the monetary value of the sale, or bonuses, which are based on overall performance. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for a sales representative who worked for a wholesaler or manufacturer was almost $55,000 in May 2014. In September 2015, Salary.com said the median salary for an account executive was nearly $68,198.

Career Skills and Requirements

Obtaining a high school diploma or a GED certificate is often enough to land an entry-level sales position. You may need a bachelor's degree in a field related to the product if you want a job selling technical or scientific items. You'll probably go through a company training program before setting out on your own to sell. Some companies require trainees to follow the manufacturing of the product through the factory. In most cases, you'll make your first sales calls with an experienced employee. Training can take as long as one year.

Useful Skills

Sales executives need outstanding written and verbal communication skills. They must be organized and show initiative. In addition to knowledge of the company and its products and services, successful sales executives must possess qualities such as self-confidence and persistence.

What Employers Want

Experience seems to be the common requirement in job postings for sales executives in various industries. Most employers want someone with a proven track record of sales success. Here's a sampling of what real employers were looking for in job postings from April 2012:

  • A company in Georgia needed someone to sell online advertising to businesses. The ideal candidate would have extensive cold calling experience and excellent client presentation and communication skills.
  • In New Jersey, a health insurance company was looking for an experienced sales person to enroll new customers. In addition to knowing about the employer's products, the sales executive would have to be knowledgeable about the competition. Travel throughout the state would be required.
  • A Missouri firm needed someone to sell fire safety and security products. This job required a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience, and the candidate should have the technical skills needed to design security and fire alarm systems.
  • A firm in New York was seeking a sales person for data conversion services. At least two years sales experience was required. The employer offered a signing bonus to anyone who could bring in an established client list.

How to Stand Out

Earn a Degree

While not mandatory, earning a college degree or a certificate will help you stand out from the sales pack. Many community colleges and technical schools offer sales certificates and associate degrees, which teach sales principles and communication skills. Most college schools of business offer bachelor's degrees in marketing, and, at some schools, you can minor in professional selling while you pursue a major in another area.

Get Certified

Obtaining certification from a professional organization of sales executives will demonstrate your expertise to employers and clients. There are many organizations for sales executives, and most offer some type of professional certification. Some groups are for the profession in general, such as the Manufacturers' Representatives Education Research Foundation (MRERF) and Sales & Marketing Executives International (SMEI), while others are industry specific, such as the National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives (NAPR). To obtain certification, you usually must meet education and experience criteria and pass an examination.

Alternative Careers

Real Estate Agent

If you like the flexible schedules of a sales career and want the personal satisfaction of helping someone find a home of their own, perhaps you should consider becoming a real estate agent. You don't need a degree, but you must complete real estate courses and pass a state licensing exam. Real estate is a career that depends a great deal on the economy, but the BLS predicts 11% growth in employment from 2012-2020, which is about as fast as all occupations.

Most real estate agents earn most of their income from commissions on sales. Therefore, earnings can be erratic. The BLS reported the median annual salary for a real estate agent was about $39,000 in May 2011.

Purchasing Agent

If you like the personal relationships of sales, but don't have the confidence and persistence that goes with that profession, a career as a purchasing agent might be for you. A purchasing agent buys products for a company to use or sell commercially. They interview vendors to determine who will give them the best deal and negotiate contracts for the purchase. You need a high school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training to become a purchasing agent.

The BLS forecasted slower that average growth, about 7%, in the profession from 2010-2020. The median annual salary was nearly $58,000 for purchasing managers and agents in May 2011, according to the BLS.

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Ashford University

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  • MBA - Marketing
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  • B.A. - Operations Management and Analysis

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Full Sail University

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  • M.S. - Internet Marketing
  • B.S. - Music Business
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Utica College

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