What Does a Sales Representative Do?

Job Description

Sales representative and a doctor.
••• Ben Bloom / Stone / Getty Images

A sales representative sells products to businesses, organizations, and governments on behalf of a manufacturer or wholesaler. He or she may work directly for that company or for an independent sales agency whose clients are manufacturers and wholesalers.

A sales rep demonstrates products to customers, showing them how they will increase sales and decrease costs. There are two types of sales reps: an inside rep works in an office while an outside rep travels to clients. Other job titles for this occupation are account executive, account manager or salesperson.

Quick Facts

  • Sales representatives earned a median annual salary of $57,140; those who sell scientific and technical products earned $78,980 (2016)*.
  • Earnings usually include a combination of salary and commission. Commission is usually a percentage of sales.
  • About 34,000 sales rep sell scientific and technical products. Almost 1.5 sell products other than those (2016)*.
  • Sales agents and brokers, or manufacturers employ most sales reps.
  • This occupation has a good job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts it will grow about as fast as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

    A Day in a Sales Representative's Life

    If you become a sales representative, what can you expect to do each day? We looked at some online ads on Indeed.com to answer this question:

    • "Sell to key retail accounts and develop relationships at store level"
    • "Plan daily activities, and provide daily recap of results and accomplishments to management team"
    • "Contact new and existing customers to meet and exceed sales objectives"
    • "Deliver exceptional customer service"
    • "Organize, rotate and stock shelves during each store visit"
    • "Participate in sales meetings, on-site training, and remain educated in company policy and industry trends and developments"
    • "Negotiate and use persuasion skills to overcome objections"
    • "Effectively deliver presentations to callers"

    How to Become a Sales Representative

    Although this occupation doesn't have any formal educational requirements, some employers prefer to hire job candidates who have earned a bachelor's degree. Many people working in this occupation have majored in marketing. Those selling technical and scientific products may benefit from earning a degree that is related to the product they sell. Some employers provide formal training programs for their new hires.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

    To succeed as a sales representative, you must have certain soft skills or personal qualities.

    • Listening Skills: The ability to listen well in order to understand others allows you to respond to your customers' needs and wants.
    • Verbal Communication Skills: You must be able to provide information about the products you are selling.
    • Interpersonal Skills: In addition to excellent listening and speaking skills, you must be able to understand non-verbal cues as well as negotiate with and persuade your customers.
    • Critical Thinking Skills: When you have to make a decision or solve a problem, the ability to weigh all your options and choose the best one is essential.
    • Customer Service: You must respond to your customers' questions, concerns, and complaints.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

    • "Strong communication, organization skills, and customer follow up"
    • "Ability to conduct physical work, frequently lift 15 lbs and occasionally up to 50 lbs"
    • "Outstanding telephone and customer service etiquette skills"
    • "Naturally persuasive with some leadership potential mixed in"
    • "Ability to travel"
    • "Highly motivated, dependable, individual with a strong work ethic"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Before you go any further, make sure being a sales representative is suitable for you. It must be a good match for your interestspersonality type, and work-related values. If you have the following traits, this occupation may be right for you:

    Related Occupations

    Description Median Annual Wage (2016) Minimum Required Education/Training
    Retail Salesperson Sells products directly to consumers $22,680 H.S. or equivalency diploma
    Stock Trader

    Buys and sells stocks for investors

    $67,310 Bachelor's degree
    Insurance Agent Helps clients select insurance policies $49,990 Bachelor's degree
    Real Estate Broker Helps people sell or rent properties $56,790 H.S. or equivalency diploma; state-approved courses

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited April 3, 2018).