Sales Representative

The Job and What's Involved

Sales representatives, also called salespeople or sales executives, sell their company's products or services to customers. They could be selling cleaning or food products, ICT or electronics components, medicines and pharmaceuticals, vehicles, cosmetics - in fact almost any kind of product or service. Their customers may be individuals, businesses, factories or retail outlets.

They may work for a major distributor, such as a motor vehicle agency, a national retailer or a distributor of one or more particular products. They may be responsible for sales in one specific geographical area, nationally or even worldwide.

Direct sales representatives sell directly to individuals in their homes, demonstrating products or leaving catalogues for customers to choose from. Alternatively, they may sell to companies, taking orders and delivering products.

Technical sales representatives and sales engineers work in the industrial, engineering or ICT sectors, selling industrial, specialised or high-tech equipment, materials and components. They often act as a consultant or liaise between the customer and their own company's design or production departments.

Many sales representatives specialise in one sector - pharmaceuticals, for example, or food products for resale through shops and stores. When they meet a customer, they show catalogues or demonstrate their products, discuss prices and payment plans, suggest accessories, and advise the customer on after-sales service, guarantees and delivery schedules.

Their employers rely on them to collect information from customers on the products that sell well and any new products that might be needed in the future.

Sales representatives need to keep records of their orders and invoices, the calls they make, and any money they take. This may be done on paper forms, although it is increasingly carried out on laptop computers or handheld terminals.

Working hours can be long and irregular, and usually depend on meeting targets for appointments or sales. Administration work is usually carried out between appointments or at home at the end of the day. It may be possible to work part time.

Sales representatives visit customers at their homes, offices or factories, which requires a lot of driving. If they cover a large area, they may spend most of the week traveling and staying in hotels. When not on the road, they are likely to work in the company's office or at home.

A full, clean driving licence is highly advantageous and may be essential in some jobs.

Depending on the employer, some overseas travel may be required.

Salaries may start from around £15,000 a year. Most sales representatives get a basic salary plus commission. This commission basis is usually shown as an OTE (on-target earnings) figure in job adverts. They may receive a petrol allowance and a company car.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Sales representatives work for manufacturers and wholesale distributors in every sector - from foodstuffs and machinery to pharmaceuticals and printing services. About 14 per cent of sales representatives are self-employed or work freelance, often on a commission-only basis.

There is always a need for skilled sales representatives and there are opportunities throughout the UK and abroad.

A number of recruitment agencies specialise in sales positions, many in specific sectors, and there is a huge range of website's that advertise and recruit for sales jobs. Posts may also be advertised in magazines and newsletters relevant to the particular sector, as well as in Jobcentre Plus offices and local and regional newspapers.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications for sales representatives, although most employers do ask for a minimum of GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English and maths, or the equivalent. Some people may move into a sales role after working in another job within the same company.

An increasing number of applicants have higher qualifications, and a degree or an HNC/HND in a subject related to sales, marketing or business may be useful. The minimum entry requirements for a degree are usually two A levels/H grades and five GCSE's/S grades, or equivalent qualifications.

Technical sales representatives usually know their products and markets thoroughly. This expertise and experience may be backed up with an HNC/HND or a degree in a subject relevant to the products or services they sell. When people move into sales from technical jobs in design or production their sales qualifications may be less important than their product knowledge.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) offers a part-time Certificate in Professional Sales at various colleges and centres around the country. This is an introductory course and there are no entry requirements.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

New sales representatives usually work with experienced sales staff until they become familiar with the product and the area they will cover. Most companies provide training on their products, organisation and the sales methods they use.

They may also take a range of courses and qualifications in sales, including Edexcel and SQA certificates and diplomas, NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 2 and 3, and the City & Guilds International Vocational Qualification (IVQ) in Sales and Marketing.

The Institute of Sales and Marketing Management (ISMM) offers a number of relevant qualifications, including:

  • Certificate in Sales and Marketing at Level 2.
  • Advanced Certificate in Sales and Marketing at Level 3.
  • Diploma in Strategic Sales (Key Account Management or Sales Management)
    at Level 5.

The Managing and Marketing Sales Association (MAMSA) has a range of diplomas including a Standard Diploma and Higher Diploma in Sales Marketing. The Standard Diploma is open to people wishing to enter the profession. The Higher Diploma requires some sales experience.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A sales representative should be:

  • Enthusiastic, ambitious and self-confident.
  • A natural extrovert and good at networking.
  • Persuasive and good at negotiating.
  • Able to take rejection.
  • Smart in appearance and polite in manner.
  • Knowledgeable about the company's products and those of their competitors.
  • Able to work alone and on their own initiative.
  • Able to plan a schedule and keep to it.
  • Quick at calculations.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion possibilities for sales representatives depend on their sales results.

Progression may involve taking on responsibility for a larger area or moving into sales management. Some sales representatives become national account managers, working closely with one or more large organisations and businesses.

Technical sales representatives sometimes move into product development, research and production.

Some sales representatives move into overseas sales.

Get Further Information

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM),
Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9QH
Tel: 01628 427500

The Institute of Sales Management (ISM),
18 King William St, London, EC4N 7BP
Tel: 020 3167 4790

Managing and Marketing Sales Association (MAMSA),
PO Box 11, Sandbach CW11 3GE
Tel: 01270 526339

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