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Sales - Career Information

Sales picture    Sales image

Sales people may go by many different titles, including account representative, account executive, sales representative, inside sales representative, and others. Collectively, these titles refer to an individual who sells the products or services of a company, manufacturer, or wholesaler. Sales representatives typically sell to other businesses (business-to-business) and are considered to be professionals separate and distinct from consumer-oriented sales positions, such a retail sales clerks.

Sales representatives can be divided into two broad categories:

  1. Inside Sales Representatives - Inside sales representatives spend most of their time interacting with prospects and customers over the phone or via e-mail.
  2. Outside or "Field" Sales Representatives - Outside sales representatives spend much of their time traveling to customers and prospects, and a great deal of time in face-to-face meetings at customer locations.

Travel and time away from home can be very common, especially for field sales representatives. Long hours in excess of 40 hours a week may also be common. It is also very common for commissions, or other forms of variable compensation, to make up a large part of a sales representatives pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment in all sales and related occupations will increase 7 percent nationally from 2012 to 2022. However, certain sales careers are expected to see growth that is higher or lower, depending both on the region and the specific type of sales career.

Although sales careers are prevalent in nearly every industry, the following careers are some of the most prevalent in this field, according to the BLS:

  • Insurance Sales Agents
  • Product Sales Representatives
  • Real Estate Appraisers
  • Real Estate Brokers
  • Real Estate Sales Agents
  • Retail Sales Workers
  • Sales Managers
  • Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents
  • Technical Products Sales Representatives
  • Advertising Sales Agents
  • Cashiers
  • Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Top Careers in Sales (BLS, 2013)

CareerNumber of Workers Nationally in 2013Job DescriptionDegree Requirements
Insurance Sales Agents354,460Insurance sales agents look for new clients and help existing ones select insurance policies that meet their needs. They research pricing and plan details, present options to their customers, and complete required paperwork. They may also assist in the claims process whenever applicable.According to the BLS, most insurance agents are only expected to have a high school diploma to gain employment. However, a Bachelor's degree could improve job prospects.
Sales Managers352,220Sales managers oversee a sales team. They resolve customer complaints, create budgets and prepare incentives for their team, create new goals and measure progress, and coordinate employee training sessions.According to the BLS, most sales managers need a Bachelor's degree in order to gain employment.
Real Estate Brokers38,970Real estate brokers manage their own real estate businesses and may oversee other real estate sales agents. They sell properties owned by others and may manage other properties for a fee.Real estate brokers must have a high school diploma and be licensed in their state. They typically must take real estate courses in order to learn the material required for the licensing exam.
Real Estate Sales Agents158,850Real estate sales agents work underneath a broker. They sell property owned by others and forfeit a percentage of their earnings to the broker they work for. They help clients find properties and assist them in writing purchase agreements and closing the transaction.Real estate sales agents must have a high school diploma and become licensed in their state. They typically must take real estate courses in order to learn the material required for the licensing exam.
Advertising Sales Agents148,770Advertising sales agents work with clients to place advertisements in a variety of media outlets. They explain pricing and potential benefits, deliver sales presentations, and prepare promotional plans and literature.Many entry-level positions can be started with just a high school diploma. However, the BLS reports that many employers prefer to hire advertising sales agents with a Bachelor's degree.

Sales Education

Although there is no specific course of study for sales representatives while in college, many future sales representatives take business-oriented courses while they earn their degree. Coursework in marketing, finance, accounting, and communications skills can all be a good foundation for a future sales representative. It is, however, not at all unusual for individuals with liberal arts backgrounds to go into sales. Proficiency with a computer is increasingly a requirement for any sales person.

Individuals who want to go into technical or scientific sales positions may wish to take technical and/or scientific courses that provide them the necessary background to be "conversant" in a particular field.

Most companies also provide some level of new-hire sales training, which typically focuses most on that company's products or services and sales systems (forecasting and reporting systems). Company training may also include some general sales skills training such as presentation skills. Many sales representatives also attend conferences, seminars, or distance-education courses to stay abreast of the subject matter in their field.

While not a requirement for most positions, certifications are available for sales professionals. Many companies also have their own internal certification programs for sales and sales support staff.

The following table uses 2013 data from the BLS to outline the different degree options in this field, and what kind of career they may help you qualify for:

Education LevelTimeline for CompletionPossible Careers
High School Diploma or EquivalentA high school diploma or GED can take up to 12 years to earn during childhood.Insurance Sales Agents, Product Sales Representatives, Real Estate Appraisers, Real Estate Brokers, Real Estate Sales Agents, Retail Sales Workers, Advertising Sales Agents, Cashiers, Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives
Bachelor'sBachelor's degree programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.Insurance Sales Agents, Product Sales Representatives, Sales Managers, Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents, Technical Products Sales Representatives, Advertising Sales Agents, Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives
Graduate, Professional, or Doctoral DegreeStudents can earn a graduate, professional, or doctoral degree in 1-5 years after earning a Bachelor's degree.Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Sources:

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Insurance Sales Agents, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/insurance-sales-agents.htm#tab-1

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Sales Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/sales-managers.htm#tab-1

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/real-estate-brokers-and-sales-agents.htm

"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Advertising Sales Agents, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/advertising-sales-agents.html

Schools for Sales are listed in the column to the left.

Careers and Salary Data

This table shows summary data on occupations in the US. Clicking on any occupation name brings you to a page showing job prospects and salaries for that occupation in hundreds of metro areas across the country, with data updated through 2022.(Where data is denoted by an asterisk (*), summary info was not available.

Click each Occupation title for more details.


Sales

OccupationJobs
(2016)
Median Pay
(2016)
% Growth
2014-2024
Advertising Sales Agents136,520     $49,680     -2.9%
Cashiers3,564,920     $21,030     -0.8%
Insurance Sales Agents386,320     $49,710     9.7%
Product Sales Representatives1,391,400     $56,970     5.5%
Real Estate Appraisers58,880     $54,010     14.4%
Real Estate Brokers40,530     $56,730     5.4%
Real Estate Sales Agents147,960     $45,990     6.2%
Retail Sales Workers4,442,090     $23,210     1.9%
Sales Managers371,410     $121,060     7.4%
Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents389,610     $63,780     6.1%
Technical Products Sales Representatives327,190     $78,830     5.5%
Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives1,718,580     $60,340     5.5%

Selected Schools for Sales (including any online schools)

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