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The Sales Rep Role: Forging Your Path to Success

Aug 29, 2019

The sales rep role encompasses much more than minimum-wage pay at entry-level jobs. There are many career opportunities for sales reps in nearly every industry, and many of them can be quite lucrative. The top 10 percent of wholesale and manufacturing sales reps, for instance, earn close to $123,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the top 10 percent of technical and scientific product sales reps earn more than $156,000 a year.

Regardless of their specialty, sales reps must use their comprehensive knowledge of the goods and services they represent to make sales and increase revenue for their companies. A business degree can help you develop the skills needed to be a successful sales rep—and a degree looks great on your résumé, to boot.

Let's take a look at the sales rep role across various industries and the skills and education that can get you on your way. 

Qualities of a successful sales rep.

To successfully close sales, reps must be

  • Communicative. Sales reps need to communicate effectively with their clients in order to understand their needs and match them with the best products and services. Whether selecting the right insurance policy or finding the perfect advertising sales space, reps must ask questions, solve problems, and ensure that their clients are satisfied. They also need to connect with people and build relationships with their clients on a human level.

  • Self-confident. Making cold calls to attract new customers is one of the sales rep's toughest tasks. To draw in new business, sales reps must be confident and assertive—and able to handle rejection. Pharmaceutical sales reps, for example, might have to drop by physicians' offices unannounced and risk being turned away.

  • Persuasive. The ability to persuade others helps every sales rep, whether they're setting up sales appointments, giving presentations, selling clients on products and services, or negotiating sales agreements.

  • Driven. Sales reps need the stamina to continually search for leads and make follow-up phone calls. They need to juggle that with searching for new clients and keeping current customers happy. Motivation is the key to success.

Where to find sales reps.

Behind seemingly every product or service is someone selling it. Here are four of the top industries for sales reps and agents in the U.S.

  • Insurance. Insurance sales reps explain various insurance policies to potential clients and customize plans to meet their needs. More than half of insurance sales reps work for insurance agencies or brokerage firms, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports; many others work directly for insurance carriers.

  • Advertising. Ad sales reps sell ad space by contacting potential clients and performing sales presentations. They work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, and they're often responsible for analyzing and reporting advertising statistics to their clients.

  • Pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical sales reps travel to physician's offices to provide drug samples and give presentations to office staff. They typically represent one drug manufacturer or a specific drug.

  • Wholesale and Manufacturing. Wholesale and manufacturing sales reps sell products to businesses, which sell them to their customers. Certification from the Manufacturers' Representatives Educational Research Foundation goes a long way for sales reps in this industry.

The pathway to sales.

A bachelor's degree opens up positions beyond the entry level—positions with higher salaries and better benefits. For example, a bachelor's degree in business management or marketing management can help candidates stand out in competitive fields such as advertising sales and in growing fields such as insurance sales, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow 10 percent by 2026.

Training programs and certifications also provide invaluable experience. A membership organization like the National Association of Sales Professionals can help you find certification programs in your field, network with managers, and navigate any state-required licensure programs.

With a bachelor's degree and sales experience under your belt, you can apply for management positions, which come with wider territories and higher commissions—and you'll be well on your way to management positions where you can direct and train your own sales team.

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