Strong interpersonal and negotiation skills are often characteristics of someone who will excel in a sales career. Whether sold face-to-face, over the phone or online, sales people must have knowledge of their product or service they sell, the company they represent and their target market are critical to a successful career. Whether it’s business-to-business or business-to-consumer, many sales professionals receive training on the job, especially when working for large companies. While sales professionals may have lucrative salaries, compensation is often based on commission.

Find out about the many sales career paths, earning potential, and skills needed to be successful in this field.

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Sales & Business Degrees and Career Paths

Individuals who prefer to be on the road most of the time instead of working in a cubicle all day may find a career in sales to be more attractive than other jobs in the fields of advertising, marketing, and business. Sales professionals spend most of their time visiting clients in person, communicating with clients and negotiating contracts over the phone and email. In some cases, they may be required to attend meetings with marketing and advertising teams to ensure their activities are aligned with company goals and objectives. They are responsible for meeting monthly, quarterly, and yearly sales quotas in the territory or sector they’re assigned.

In many ways, a sales professional works as an independent business owner or entrepreneur, strategizing how to close the next deal and learning how to work within their market. Success in this field requires drive, ability to handle challenges effectively, good time management skills, and strong networking skills. Job options and career paths in this field include:

Advertising Sales Agent

Advertising sales agents are responsible for selling advertising spots for their employer. They typically work for an advertising firm, radio station, television channel, magazine and newspaper publishers, or for online advertising companies that have advertising space available.

Education requirements

High school diploma for some entry-level positions, bachelor’s degree and some sales experience preferred

Insurances Sales Agents

These sales professionals are responsible for selling insurance products and services to the consumer market. They build up their client base and help clients choose the right type of insurance plan for their individual needs. They may be responsible for generating new business during slower times of the year, conducting seminars for human resources professionals, and hosting training events for other sales professionals.

Education requirements

High school diploma or equivalent, bachelor’s degree attractive to most employers. State licensure required.

Loan Officer

Although it may not be a traditional sales job, loan and mortgage specialists are in the business of selling loan products to customers. They are typically employed by banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, and financial institutions to evaluate and authorize loan applications for different types of customers. Some specialize in a particular type of loan or customer market while others serve as a general mortgage and loans specialist at a commercial bank.

Education requirements

Bachelor’s degree and on-the-job training, mortgage loan officer license required.

Purchasing Manager or Buyer

Working as a purchasing manager or buyer for a company means the individual is in charge of negotiating purchasing contracts, managing inventory, and reviewing product quality for the company they serve. These individuals may also be responsible for buying products at cost for reselling purposes.

Education requirements

High school diploma or bachelor’s degree plus on-the-job training.

Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents

Buying, selling, and renting properties are the responsibility of a licensed real estate broker or sales agent. Brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate business and are typically self-employed. Sales agents work with brokers and may work as independent contractors. These real estate professionals have a sound understanding of the market they serve, strong interpersonal skills, and must be driven to meet sales goals.

Education requirements

High school diploma or equivalent and state real estate license.

Sales Engineers

Those with an interest in scientific and technological products or services may fare well as sales engineers who are responsible for explaining how these complex products work, and how they benefit the client. Sales engineers work under stressful conditions to meet sales quotas, keep ups with product knowledge training requirements, and maintain client relationships. Still, this can be a rewarding career for those who want to work in a fast-growing field.

Education requirements

Bachelor’s degree in engineering or related field.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agent

Working in the fast-paced industry of the financial markets can be attractive to those who thrive in high-pressure situations and want to work in a competitive field. These sales agents are responsible for selling securities and other financial products to customers, providing financial and purchasing recommendations, and conducting trading activities.

Education requirements

Bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, master’s degree in business administration (MBA) to advance in their career.

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Individuals interested in selling wholesale or manufactured goods to businesses, government organizations, and other companies can make a living as a sales representative or sales manager in this field. Having good product knowledge, the ability to travel, and being able to work under pressure are critical for success in this field.

Education requirements

High school diploma for entry-level positions, bachelor’s degree and some sales experience required by some companies.

Sales Salaries

Sales representatives and sales managers that work in certain fields have the privilege of earning higher base pay and commissions with commissions accounting for a significant amount of their monthly income. Income potential is unlimited in certain fields, such as startup business development and some companies may offer sales representatives additional benefits such as equity in the company and other perks. Working in the technology and telecommunications fields may translate to higher earning potential and opportunities for fast growth as companies continue to expand and develop new products and services that can only be sold by a seasoned and knowledgeable sales professional.

$120,000 to $250,000 + Commission Consulting Sales
$150,000 to $180,000+ Commission Consumer Packaged Goods Sales
$170,000 to $180,000 + Commission Digital Media Sales
$0 to $70,000 + Commission Medical Device Sales
$150,000 to $200,000 + Commission Outsourced Services
$80,000 to $100,000 + Commission Software Sales
$150,000 + Commission Startup Business Development
$70,000 to $100,000 + Commission Telecommunications Sales

Components of a Successful Sales Career: Skills, Tools, and Technology

Skills

Whether working for a large corporation or independently, sales professionals need to have very strong interpersonal skills. They must be able to communicate with customers and clients effectively, have good time management skills to coordinate meetings and presentations, and develop strong public speaking skills to deliver impactful presentations. They must have also have in-depth knowledge about the products and services they are selling so that they can relay this information to customers effectively and close the deal. Experience with computers and being comfortable using technology is critical for success in this field.

Tools and Technology

Since communicating with clients and coworkers on a daily basis is critical to success in this field, sales professionals must be comfortable using computers, mobile devices, and certain sales management and customer relationship management (CRM) software programs. Companies in certain fields, such as real estate, financial services, and telecommunications use specialized software designed for their industry. These programs are designed to effectively manage leads, handle all client communications, coordinate digital contracts, and ensure privacy and security standards are met every step of the way.

Sales professionals who are self-employed may need to invest in desktop publishing software programs and download time management apps to improve productivity. Some of the most popular tools used by sales agents include:

Desktop Publishing

Microsoft Office, Apple Pages, Microsoft Publisher

Presentations

Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote

Operating System

Windows, Mac OSX

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Contactually, Infusionsoft, TeamSupport, Follow Up Boss, Salesforce, Zoho

Productivity and Organization Evernote, CamCard, Dropbox, eSignature app, TripIt, Wunderlist, Feedly

Sales Careers Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook

With the rise of online shopping that reduce the need for direct sales calls to customers, demand for sales professionals will be stronger in business-to-business sales and business-to-customer sales for goods and services that cannot be packaged easily and sold through online distribution.

Still, demand or sales professionals and sales managers is expected to be about as fast as average through 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who work in a particular field, such as wholesale and manufacturing, digital media sales, software sales, or telecommunications and technology sales, may find more job opportunities in the oncoming years as these industries continue to evolve and new companies emerge.

What Do Related Occupations Make?

Sales professionals who want to move out of the sales field can explore a number of job opportunities in a related field that command attractive salaries. In most cases, these jobs are paid as a flat salary without commission but the employee may be able to earn bonuses throughout their career. Others may offer higher a base pay than traditional sales career with an opportunity to earn commissions. Related occupations include:

Related Occupations: What You Need to Know

Since the field of sales is fairly diverse and requires skills that can be transferred into the fields of advertising, marketing, and business, sales professionals can explore a number of career paths over their working years. In addition to serving as a manager for a sales team, an individual with a sales background may be qualified for jobs in marketing, market research, and brand management.