Every day, American manufacturers churn out millions of dollars' worth of products and importers bring boatloads more to our shores. Farms and ranches produce tons of food items. Millions of service-providing businesses, such as hospitals, advertisers, and insurers, stand ready to fill our needs, from vital to trivial. All of these industries depend on sales workforces to find buyers for their products and services among household consumers, businesses, and government agencies.

Through the sales industry, businesses are able to contact the potential buyers of their products and services, inform these customers about features and benefits, answer customers' questions, negotiate prices, and take orders.

About 5.5 million Americans work in sales-related jobs other than retail sales. About 1.8 million sell the products of wholesalers and manufacturers. Another 1.5 million sell services such as advertising, insurance, and securities. About 700,000 are engaged in miscellaneous other forms of sales, such as sales engineering and telemarketing. About 350,000 manage sales.

The industry is often divided into two sectors: B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-customer). Someone working in B2B might sell copy machines to business offices or diagnostic equipment to hospitals. In a B2C sales job, the worker might sell property insurance to a homeowner or a tropical vacation package for a couple's honeymoon.

Another way to divide sales workers is into two groups, inside and outside sales representatives. Inside reps sell mostly by making phone calls from offices, although sometimes they use more advanced technologies. Often they make "cold calls" to potential customers who have had no previous contact, but they also field calls from customers who express interest in their products. Outside reps travel to visit customers, both existing and potential. They may give a presentation at a customer's work site or provide information at a trade show booth.

Working in sales requires self-confidence and persistence. An anecdote that is often recounted in the industry (whether it is true or not) tells of a company that hires sales workers but routinely tells all applicants that they did not get the job; the company hires only those who persist in making the case for why they should not have been turned down.

Of course, sales work depends on something other than being argumentative. Sales workers need to have good interpersonal skills, getting along with many types of people. They also must be able to listen to the customer's needs and preferences, both before and after a sale. Success often depends on building a relationship with the client.

Outside sales workers can often use their home as a base of operations and have considerable flexibility in how they structure their workday. On the other hand, the work can be physically draining because of the amount of travel and because it sometimes requires the sales worker to carry heavy sample products.

Sales workers are often paid some combination of salary plus commission or salary plus bonus. Commissions are usually a percentage of the dollar value sold; bonuses may be based on the performance of the individual, the team, or the company as a whole. Businesses that serve as wholesalers usually are paid a commission or fee by the seller.

Next Section: Background

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