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Working as a sales representative will require drawing on a range of skills and abilities to forge and maintain professional relationships with buyers and representatives. This will lead to meeting sales targets and increasing profits for your company.
Sales representatives are expected to be knowledgeable ambassadors for their companies. Whatever the business, a sales representative must possess an ability to retain arcane details about products and developments within the industry. Using this knowledge, they then seek out potential customers and attempt to initiate interest in the products sold by their company.
They routinely work in a large and diverse range of industries, including the pharmaceutical, engineering, medical, electronics and packaging industries to name but a few.
Most spend a significant amount of time on the road, travelling to meet current or potential customers. The rest of their time will be spent in an office environment or working from home.
Sales representatives form a vital part of any company’s team, as they are principally responsible for maintaining its customer base. An ability to represent the company well and secure business is a skill appreciated and often duly rewarded by employers.
A new sales representative will earn in the region of £20,000. With experience and good performance levels this is likely to increase to between £40,000 and £60,000. Those who hold more senior positions with increased management responsibilities can even earn above £90,000.
As sales representatives must travel frequently to attend meetings with customers, a company car is also provided in most cases. Bear in mind, however, that you are likely to be responsible for paying the tax on your car. Most companies will also provide a mobile phone and laptop to enable representatives to keep in constant contact with their colleagues and customers when they are out on the road.
In some cases, a basic salary may be supplemented (sometimes substantially) by commission. An annual bonus, conditional on meeting an agreed sales target, may also be offered.
As a sales representative, your biggest responsibility will be meeting your sales budget for the year. This will involve maintaining current accounts by keeping current customers satisfied, while simultaneously seeking new accounts.
Depending on your industry, you may also be required to attend conferences or training events to increase your product knowledge, or even give presentations yourself for the benefit of others.
Necessary qualifications will vary depending upon the industry. Selling products which require you to have some kind of specialist knowledge may require a degree in the relevant field. For example, medical sales representatives are almost always graduates of medically-related subjects. For most industries, however, a university degree is not a prerequisite.
An aptitude for the job is usually more valued by employers than academic achievement, although a decent standard of education will be expected. Evidence of good language and arithmetic skills will be needed, as these skills will be necessary to perform the everyday tasks the job demands.
Far more important than formal qualifications, or even experience, will be clear evidence that you have the right attitude to do the job well. For this reason, it is vital that you appear well dressed, well spoken and affable when attending interviews. A person who shows the right kind of acumen will stand a better chance of being offered a job than someone with a poor attitude. Having a degree will not persuade an employer to hire you if he or she feels your personality is not well suited to the job.
A good sales representative will always have an excellent relationship with his or her customers. As you will frequently encounter buyers who are able to exercise discretion over which companies they deal with, your general manner and ability to communicate well will be pivotal to your success when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships with your clients.
Therefore, an affable personality and excellent communication skills will serve you well. You should be polite, well presented and professional at all times. When courting accounts, well written emails or letters are sure to give a good impression, while producing the opposite may be enough to lose you an account. For this reason, good English and computer skills are essential.
It is also important to learn how to assertively pursue new accounts without seeming too pushy. The most successful sales representatives are those who are skilled at dealing with people and presenting themselves well. You must learn to be organised to ensure that you continue to give your customers a favourable impression of yourself. They are sure to be unimpressed by unanswered calls or emails, or late arrivals at meetings.
As you will inevitably encounter people who have no interest in your sales pitch, anyone who lacks a thick skin is likely to become demoralised. An ability to deal with people who are difficult, or even overtly rude, is an important part of the job.
As travelling to meetings with customers will be an important part of your work, a driving licence is likely to be essential.
For the most part, sales representatives will work a typical 40-hour week. However, you should bear in mind that being a sales representative is not always a 9-to-5 job. There will be times, for example, when you are forced to leave early in order to be on time for a morning meeting with a customer. However, unsociable hours and weekend work are usually rare.
You are likely to spend a substantial amount of time driving to different appointments, depending on the area you are expected to cover. If you work for a larger company with many sales reps, it is likely that you will cover only your local region. In some cases, you might be expected to travel anywhere within the UK, or even abroad. Those who do cover a large geographical area should therefore be aware that overnight stays may sometimes be necessary.
When you are not travelling to meetings, it is likely that you will work in an office environment, although many sales representatives are now able to work from home.
While sales experience will obviously be an advantage, it is not necessarily essential. Once again, requirements will vary widely depending on the industry, but it is by no means unheard of for a person with little or no relevant sales experience to secure a job as a sales representative if the employer can be persuaded that they have the capacity to learn fast and do the job well.
Your employer will depend on the industry you choose to enter. Most companies hire sales representatives to sell their products. Check the job listings on websites, but also remember to check your local paper as a company in your area may well be advertising for representatives.
New sales representatives who show an aptitude for the job can expect to be rewarded with an increased salary and further responsibilities, with some moving into senior management positions within their company.
A move into marketing is also a popular step, and ambitious sales representatives could even use the skills they have acquired through their work to start and run their own business.
Also known as…
- Sales Executive
- Account Executive
- Sales Associate
- Account Representative
What’s it really like?
Bill Stratford, 63, has been working as a sales representative for almost 30 years. He shares the benefit of his experience.
Before I became a sales rep I worked in the sales and transport office at British Gypsum in Nottingham, where my responsibilities included telephone sales and organising transport. After that I accepted a job as a sales representative for a packaging company, and I have now been working in the industry for about 28 years.
My work involves ensuring that all of my current accounts are serviced properly, as well as working hard to secure new ones. I keep in touch with my current customers by phone and email, and spend a lot of my time driving to their offices to meet them face-to-face.
The best thing about my job is the satisfaction I get from opening a new account. Meeting or exceeding your sales target can give you a real buzz and makes all of the hard work that goes into securing new business seem worthwhile.
The worst thing about my work is probably the amount of driving involved, particularly when I’m travelling through congested areas. It can also be pretty stressful work: as your focus is always on meeting your annual sales budget, you constantly feel the pressure of making sure you achieve your goal. The disappointment of not securing an account you’ve worked hard for, often due to factors that are beyond your control, can also be frustrating.
The best advice I can give to anyone considering becoming a sales representative is to work hard, be persistent and be confident in your product knowledge. Having a good attitude is a really important part of this job. Being personable and well presented will always help when it comes to impressing customers and getting along with your colleagues. It’s also important not to be put off by unpleasant people, as you are sure to come across plenty of them!