Becoming a Sales Representative: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a sales representative career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a sales representative is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Sales Representative

Sales representatives are hired to sell goods or services on behalf of a manufacturer or provider by contacting customers on the telephone or in person. Review the pros and cons to find out if becoming a sales representative is right for you.

PROS of a Sales Representative Career
Can work as a contractor or directly for a company*
Can specialize in a type of product (pharmaceuticals, office supplies, computer goods, etc.)*
Formal education not required for all jobs*
Flexible scheduling possible*

CONS of a Sales Representative Career
Can require long and irregular hours
Extensive travel often required for outside sales reps*
Technical and scientific sales jobs require a bachelor's degree*
Pressure to meet sales quotas can be stressful*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

The goal of a sales representative is to generate and close sales leads. In this position, you'll answer questions about the products and services you're selling, provide demonstrations and fill customer orders. You may also investigate complaints and work to keep customers satisfied with the level of service provided to encourage repeat business. Sales reps can be employed directly by manufacturers or wholesalers or work as independent sales agents under contract with a variety of companies. While inside sales representatives contact potential customers from an office, outside sales representatives travel to existing and potential customers to demonstrate and suggest products.

Due to travel requirements, paperwork and sales strategy planning, sales representatives sometimes have to work long hours that are irregular. There is some flexibility, however, in scheduling. Since part of a sales representative's pay depends on how much he or she sells, there's often pressure to meet sales quotas.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

The BLS projected that sales representatives in wholesale and manufacturing could expect average job growth at a rate of 9% from 2012-2022. Independent sales representatives will likely experience the best prospects, because companies often outsource sales activities to independent sales agencies.

A sales representative's earnings typically consist of commission for products sold and a base salary. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for sales representatives who sold technical and scientific products was about $87,000 as of May 2014. Those who did not sell technical products received a mean annual wage of nearly $66,000. The highest levels of employment were in the wholesale electronics market industry. Earnings can vary depending on your geographical location, industry and selling abilities as well as your company's commission policy.

Career Skills and Requirements

According to the BLS, a high school diploma can be enough to qualify for a sales representative job that does not involve scientific or technical products, especially if you have work experience in the field. Employers, however, typically require a bachelor's degree to sell technical or scientific products. A degree in engineering, technology or a field related to the product sold may be needed for technical sales jobs. Employers also commonly provide courses and on-the-job training to familiarize you with the job. Such training programs can last up to a year. Other qualifications you will need as a sales representative include:

  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to persuade
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work under pressure to meet goals
  • Capacity to work on a team as well as independently

Job Postings from Real Employers

Since employers don't always require degrees, they tend to look for candidates who have successful sales experience and are performance oriented. Some also look for candidates who are knowledgeable in the latest technologies that allow them to locate new customers, including experience using social media sites. Strong communication and customer service skills are also emphasized. The following are some example job postings open in March 2012:

  • A manufacturing company in Massachusetts is looking for an inside technical sales representative with a bachelor's in business or a related field and three or more years of experience in sales. The listing asked for cold-calling success, time management skills and technical service experience.
  • A publishing firm in Portland advertised for an outside sales representative with three years of successful sales experience, a high school diploma and the ability to work without supervision. A college degree was preferred.
  • A property restoration company in Maryland is seeking an outside sales representative with a year of sales experience, the ability to use social media and a strong understanding of marketing. Strong communication skills and customer service skills are required.
  • A Louisiana staffing firm advertised for an inside sales representative with four years of sales experience, a strong record of closing sales and the ability to work in a fast-paced environment. Strong communication skills to talk on the telephone, give presentations and meet with clients are required.
  • A pharmaceutical services company in Pennsylvania is looking for a sales representative with a bachelor's degree, sales experience and the ability to travel. Three years of sales experience in the healthcare industry and experience in internal medicine is preferred.

How to Beat the Competition

Pursue Additional Education and Training

Since a degree is typically not required for non-scientific and technical product sales representatives, earning one can help you gain an advantage over candidates with only high school diplomas. You might, for example, earn an undergraduate degree in marketing, business or communications, which can give you the general background needed to work in sales in a variety of industries. Single courses in these topics can also be a good alternative if you don't want to spend the time and money on a degree program.

Employers may also prefer sales representatives who have work experience specific to the industry or products in which they work. For example, pharmaceutical sales reps might need work experience in healthcare, and technical sales reps might need tech support experience. As such, you might benefit from gaining non-sales experience in the field you wish to work in.

Earn Certification

Many sales representatives demonstrate sales skills and commitment to the field by becoming certified. The Manufacturers' Representatives Education Research Foundation offers certifications in the field, including the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) and the Certified Professional Manufacturers' Representative (CPMR) credentials. The CSP program involves three days of training and a written exam, while the CPMR program consists of three years of training sessions and exams.

Other Careers to Consider

Retail Salesperson

If you dislike travel but prefer to interact with customers in person, consider becoming a retail sales worker. A retail sales worker is employed in a store and helps customers find the best products for their needs. Other duties include taking customer payments and stocking products on shelves. Entrance into this profession generally requires only a high school diploma, though salaries are typically low; the BLS reports a mean annual wage of about $25,000 as of 2011. The BLS also predicted average job growth at a rate of 17% from 2010-2020.

Sales Engineer

If you are interested in selling technical products and advising others on how to best use them, becoming a sales engineer may be the right career option for you. Sales engineers not only complete sales like sales representatives do, but they also act as consultants who help their clients solve problems and help companies develop new products. The education needed generally includes a bachelor's in engineering, but some employers look for experience in sales or technology. The BLS projected as-fast-as-average job growth for this profession at 14% from 2010-2020. Although the field is competitive, the best job prospects are in companies specializing in computer systems design and software publishing. The mean annual wage for sales engineers was more than $97,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Business Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • MBA: Marketing
  • BSBA in Sales Management
  • AASBA in Sales

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management (DM) - General Concentration (Executive Format)
  • Master of Business Admin: Marketing
  • BS - Business Administration - Marketing
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

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Saint Leo University

  • BA: Business Administration - Management
  • BA: Business Administration - Logistics
  • AA: Business Administration

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Business
  • Master of Business Administration - Marketing
  • Bachelor of Science in Business
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Business

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Post University

  • B.S. in Marketing
  • B.S. in Marketing / International Marketing
  • A.S. in Marketing

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration - Custom/General
  • Master of Business Administration - Multiple Concentrations

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Virginia College

  • Associate's - Business Admin
  • Diploma Program - Business Administration

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