Maybe well-meaning friends or relatives have said to you, “You should think about getting a job in sales.” Great—now what? “Sales” can absolutely be a solid career path, but unless you already know what you want to do, it’s a vague one. There are tons of different kinds of sales jobs: field sales, retail sales, sales support, account management, and even sales engineering, just to name a few. So how do you know which path you should take?
What should you look for in a sales job?
Sales is a tricky field, in that the industry you work in will help determine the path. A salesperson in the tech industry has a much different career than someone working in, say, publishing sales or pharmaceutical sales. So the first thing you should consider is this: what industry interests you? Retail? Healthcare? Food? Manufacturing? Real estate? Considering the industry is a good starting point, as it can help focus your job search. The good news is that virtually every industry out there has a sales component, and therefore job opportunities.
Second, take a look at your personal skills and strengths. Are you good at explaining complex concepts for a lay listener? If so, you might be well-suited to a sales job in a science or tech field. Are you good at schmoozing people and maintaining relationships? You could be an outside salesperson or business development rep. Are you super organized, with an eye toward logistics? You might want to consider being an account manager and working directly with clients.
Next, think about the financial logistics. Sales jobs can have a range of compensation types, including the following:
- Salary: Your standard yearly wage, with no commission (compensation based on what you sell). This is also known as a “zero-commission” sales job. Many salespeople who work in retail or storefronts work on this model.
- Commission + salary: You make a base salary, with additional commission and bonuses built in based on your sales. Many business development professionals (like those in software or tech services sales) work on this model.
- Commission-only: You are what you sell. In this model, your compensation is based entirely on a percentage of your performance. Many independent sales reps (who typically sell a product or service directly to customers) work on this model.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of basing your finances on a future state of success, then commission-heavy jobs may not be the right choice for your long-term goals and career happiness. But if you feel secure in your ability to perform at (or exceed) a contracted level, then it can be a profitable choice, depending on your hustle and your success.
And finally, you should think about the long-term success possible in the sales field. Many traditional sales jobs (think in-person or phone sales positions) are becoming somewhat obsolete, giving way to business development roles and sales jobs that rely on high-tech lead development and networking. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that travel agents, who traditionally developed sales by offering in-person services, are on the decline because their role has largely been replaced by self-service travel options. On the flip side, insurance sales and medical device/pharmaceutical sales are booming, because those industries are incredibly hot right now. So as you consider the industry and sales roles that might work for you, it’s also helpful to think (and research) about what is currently going on in Industry X sales, and where it looks like things are heading over the next few years.
What types of sales jobs are out there?
Now that you’re thinking about the sales career basics, let’s look at some different types of sales jobs across the field.
Retail Sales Representative
Retail sales representatives typically work in a store and are responsible for completing sales with customers who come in. Because retail is so varied, this can include general retail stores (think WalMart or mall stores), and also industry-specific stores like car dealerships or jewelry stores. Most retail representatives work under a base salary, but large or expensive goods like cars may be sold on a commission basis.
This job is a good fit for you: If you want a 9-to-5-type sales job with a significant base salary. It’s also a good entry-level position to start building sales skills and experience.
Inside Sales Representative
An inside sales representative works for a company selling a specific product, service, or suite of products/services. They often have sales quotas to work with and follow a lead from the earliest stages (like research) through to completing the sale. Inside sales representatives may meet with potential customers face-to-face or on the phone, or maintain communication via email. Much of the job is spent cultivating and reaching out to potential customers, building a relationship that ideally ends in a sale, as well as follow-up like coordinating order fulfillment or setting up installation of a service.
This job is a good fit for you: If you’re interested in cultivating customers and seeing the relationship through the courtship, the sale, and the follow-up.
Outside Sales Representative
This may be what many of us think of when we think of “sales”: a person who makes the rounds of current or potential customers, plugging a particular product or service. An outside sales rep is also known as a field sales rep, which tells you that the job may include traveling to meet customers, perform demos, or make presentations. It can be a very hands-on sales job, as you might be helping customers install a product, use a service, or troubleshoot issues.
This job is a good fit for you: If you are a self-starter and a major people person, and perform best when dealing one-on-one with customers. It also helps if you already have some baseline sales experience, because field reps are often sales veterans.
Business Development Associate
Business development representatives (also called sales development representatives) are specialists at reaching out to potential new clients or customers. That can include researching potential sales targets, following up with leads (like people who came to the company looking for information, or joined a mailing list), and scouting networks for potential customers. Once a sales lead is identified and determined to be legitimate, business development reps typically hand it off to a direct sales representative. There isn’t usually a specific quota associated with business development, but some companies may base commissions on the number of leads passed along.
This job is a good fit for you: If you like the thrill of the chase and are fine with handing off the sale-closing duties to someone else. It can also be a strong opportunity to build sales skills and experience.
Account managers are kind of the post-sales professionals. Once a client or customer is brought on board, an account manager is responsible for maintaining that business and ensuring that the customer’s needs are met. They may work with a variety of clients or focus on a single one depending on the industry and company, but almost always focus on the personal relationship between the client and their company. It‘s a role that is heavy on customer service, project management, and day-to-day operations. In addition to maintaining customer relationships, account managers may also be responsible for expanding the account, or up-selling particular goods and services. This is typically a salary position, but may have bonuses or incentives built in based on customer retention and expansion.
This job is a good fit for you: If you’re more interested in operations than sales figures and in building strong and lasting client relationships instead of focusing on the sale. This can be a good sales role for people who are highly organized and skilled at project management.
The tech industry continues to grow, which means they need qualified sales people who can not only understand complex products or services, but also how to help match those products or services to the right customers. These sales engineers sell complex tech goods or services to customers as solutions, often selling particular software or systems to business customers rather than individual users. Sales engineers need to be able to see both the technical side of things (how the product works) and the business side of things (why the customer needs this product). A sales engineer may work with other salespeople to create presentations or answer questions for the customer, and help create the technical parts of sales contracts. They may also continue to be a point of contact as the customer is getting up and running with the product or service.
This job is a good fit for you: If you have an engineering degree or a technical background, but aren’t necessarily interested in developing new products or services.
So whether you’re thinking about developing client relationships or closing the deal, there is a variety of sales jobs that work with your goals, your skills, and your comfort level to help you build a long and fulfilling sales career.
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