Sales Representative: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a sales representative. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Sales & Marketing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Sales Representative Do?

Sales representatives work to sell a product or service for companies. Whether as in-house representatives or hired workers, it is the sales representative's job to find customers. This often means demonstrating the uses of what they are selling, as well as working with potential customers to find the best version for what they need. Representatives work in a variety of environments and sell many different products and services, from wholesale and manufacturing, to technical and scientific products, and more.

Read the chart below to find out more about this position.

Degree Required High school diploma for general sales and bachelor's for scientific or technical sales; many sales representatives attend seminars to improve their skills
Education Field of Study Business administration or marketing
Key Skills Time management, customer service, and presentation skills
Certification Voluntary Certified Sales Professional credential available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% for all wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives*
Average Salary (2015) $66,790 for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives, except technical and scientific products
$89,170 for those representing technical and scientific products
$62,360 for all other types of sales representatives*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Sales Representative?

Your primary role as a sales representative is to promote your company's products or services and persuade wholesale or retail buyers and purchasing agents to choose them over those sold by your competitors. Some representatives work in 'inside sales,' using the phone as the primary means to contact clients. Others work 'outside' sales, traveling to the customer for face-to-face meetings.

Before making a sale, you might have to demonstrate or explain your products and answer a prospective customer's questions. Many representatives bring a technical expert along on sales calls that involve complicated or technical products. After a sale, you need to follow up with customers to ensure their satisfaction. This could entail spending some time training them in a products use, setting up installations or providing assistance in displaying consumer goods. Finally, you need to develop new customer leads, research new products, and monitor existing products.

What are My Employment Prospects?

Many companies now use independent sales representatives, rather than employing an in-house sales force, and this may affect your chances for employment. Independent agents are generally paid on sales produced, therefore lowering overhead costs for the company. Technology is also having an impact since advances in information technology have made the job easier, allowing fewer representatives to handle more clients. However, advances in technology are also spurring increased demand for products, thus driving a need for representatives to sell them.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected employment of wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives would increase 7% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). As of 2015, approximately 334,010 people were employed as sales reps for wholesale and manufacturing, scientific and technical products. Meanwhile, sales reps for non-scientific and technical products held 1,409,550 additional jobs. In the same year, 886,580 people held jobs as sales representatives for all other services.

What Education Will I Need?

Many employers prefer to hire representatives who have earned a bachelor's degree in marketing, business administration, or a related area. You will also benefit from knowledge of communications, economics, or a foreign language. Once hired, you can expect to spend time with an experienced representative to learn your employer's product line or service offerings. If you choose to become an independent representative you will need accounting, finance, and administrative skills to manage your own business.

A bachelor's degree program in marketing will acquaint you with most or all aspects of promoting a business and its products, including advertising, market research, and public relations. Courses cover domestic and global markets, consumer behavior, and marketing strategies for print, broadcast, and electronic media. Bachelor's programs in business administration include content in sales and marketing as part of a broader examination of other core business functions such as accounting, finance, and management. Economics, organizational theory, and planning are also covered.

The Manufacturers' Representatives Education Research Foundation (MRERF) offers the offers the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) certification, which you can obtain by completing their 3-day training program and passing a certification exam. Topics include time management, stress management, account management, and presentation skills development.

What Are Some Related Careers?

Similar jobs with comparable education requirements are common. One option is to become an advertising sales agent, or someone who sells advertising space the same way a sales representative would sell a product. Retail sales workers also have similar job descriptions, mainly selling products from retail stores rather than in wholesale format. A purchasing agent is in charge of buying products and services for an organization's use, possibly for resale.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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