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March 31, 2009


Globally, sales is probably the one function in the corporate world that employs the largest number of people. It would be hard to identify any industry or company without some kind of sales organisation. The Sales function acts as an intermediary between the company and its customers. Sometimes, the distance between the company and its customers may be very short, in cases where the company sells directly to people (or other companies) who use its products and services. In other cases, the sales team may sell, not to the users, but to intermediaries such as distributors or stockists, who then make the product available to end-users. Whichever be the case, the sales function performs an important role with its main tasks being to:
  • Create Demand: Most people outside the business world would view this as the only function of a sales team, "to sell", by convincing users of their product's merits. However creating demand involves not only convincing a user of the product; it also involves convincing users to buy ‘now' rather than postponing purchases, and persuading them to buy at a price that meets the company's profit expectations.
  • Customer Service: While many companies have a separate customer service team that deals with customer complaints, since the sales team is constantly in touch with customers, they play in important role in this area. Sales persons often understand the customer's problems well due to their constant interaction with them, and make sure that these issues are passed on to the relevant department in the company.
  • Meeting Demand: While generating sales is viewed as the most important function of a sales person, they also play a vital role in ensuring that the demand is met on time and in a manner acceptable to customers. To do this, the sales function must be closely linked to the supply chain department. .

Besides these activities, sales managers at senior levels also carry out others such as sales forecasting, budgeting, team management and resource deployment. Sometimes, they may also work closely with the marketing team to implement sales promotion activities.

Job Roles in the sales function

While every company has a sales organisation, the nature of work may vary tremendously, depending on the industry and size of business. However, sales activities may broadly be divided into a few kinds:

Business to Business (B2B) Selling: B2B selling refers to companies where the products are purchased, not by individual users, but by other companies. This is especially the case with industrial products – for example, the automotive industry is a customer for paint manufacturers. B2B selling may also be needed in the service industry – for instance, hospitals may sell corporate health plans to other companies. In such cases, a highly qualified sales team, with a good understanding of the product or service involved, is needed to interact with corporate buyers. Selling to corporate users can take long since there may be many people involved in the purchase process.

Consumer Product Selling:In most consumer product industries, such as personal care, home care, or electronic items, where the buyers are large numbers of ordinary home users, sales are rarely ever made directly to the end user. Instead, the role of the sales team is to interact with the intermediaries, i.e. distributors, dealers and retailers, to convince them to carry stock, ensure that sufficient stock is available, negotiate margins and ensure timely payments.

Direct Selling:In certain industries, even though the user may be an individual buyer, the product is such that there is high involvement from the user. In industries such as insurance, health care plans, real estate etc, the buyer may have many doubts that need to be addressed before a purchase can be made. In such cases, a direct selling approach may be fruitful, where a salesperson meets the customer with all relevant information and spends time to address the customer's queries.

Telephonic Selling:In many cases, there is a need to identify and qualify prospects, before the sales team visits them. This helps to ensure that the sales team meets only relevant users, who are interested in the product and can afford to buy it. In industries such as insurance, holiday plans, credit cards etc, a tele-sales team first calls potential users and checks with them as to their interest in the product and whether they can afford it. Following this, a direct sales team meets only relevant users.

Retail Selling:Retail selling involves meeting users at the retail store to convince them about the merits of a particular product. It is often used in industries such as apparel, cosmetics and electronics, which are fairly high involvement products, and where users may want to compare rival products in-shop before arriving at a decision.

Career Options in sales

Considering the tremendous difference in sales roles across varied industries, it follows that the qualifications for a career in sales can vary from a basic senior secondary school certificate to a post-graduate degree in Business Administration.

For roles in retail sales, or even telephonic sales in smaller organisations, a senior secondary school certificate, along with a good command of English as well as the local language, may be sufficient. These are typically the junior most positions in many organisations, though candidates with initiative may be able to move to supervisory positions at a later stage.

For the bulk of telephonic and direct selling positions, however, graduation in any field is a must. This is apart from a good command of English and local languages, as well as an ability to understand customer requests and act upon them. Most training is on the job, and prior sales training may not be a requirement for entry level positions. This also applies to many sales jobs in the consumer product industries.

B2B selling is however a different ball-game, and may call for more qualified people, with degrees relevant to the field. The chemicals industry, for instance, may look for graduates or post-graduates in chemistry to work in sales functions, while a heavy equipments manufacturer may seek mechanical engineers. Knowledge of the concerned product is critical, as the customers in question will be highly informed themselves, and may have technical queries.

Finally, candidates with MBA degrees may also be assigned to sales roles, though usually in a supervisory capacity, where they head small sales teams.


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