In a long and varied career, I have spent a couple of decades in sales, sales training, sales management, and running my own businesses.
What Is the Right Sales Job for You?
Are you looking for your first job in sales . . . or already on the first rung and wanting to climb the career ladder, but not sure where your next step should be?
Over the last few years, many companies have stopped referring to their salespeople as ‘sales representatives’ and instead have diversified the ‘sales rep’ into several distinct roles, often incorporating the phrase ‘business development’ or similar, maybe trying to be less ‘salesy.’ However, this complicates things if you are developing a career in sales—what are all these new roles about? Hopefully this article will clarify what, exactly, are the main roles in sales, where they are found, and what they encompass.
Markets for Sales Roles
All companies that sell a product or service incorporate sales into their business models. After all, it is crucial to seek out and find the people or companies that will eventually become your paying customers. Without sales, a company does not exist. So sales roles are found everywhere, but the market you are selling in influences what type of salesperson you become, what your career prospects will be, and ultimately how much you will earn. Below are some of the general markets where you will find sales positions.
Business-to-Business Sales Jobs
The clue is in the name with this one, as this role focuses on selling to small or large corporations/companies. All business organisations require a vast raft of products to ensure continuity of their day-to-day work - these products can range from entire computer systems, through desks and chairs right down to the humble paperclip.
Business-to-Consumer Sales Jobs
Also known as B2C, this is where goods are sold to the ‘general public’; often these goods are backed by strong (TV/radio/magazines) marketing campaigns and seek to establish strong branding, which once established is key to gaining sales (think: shampoos, soaps, toothpaste, foodstuffs etc.).
Selling-to-Industry Sales Jobs
This is linked to Business-to-Business, but selling to industry tends to be for far more specialised, often niche markets - as such it is the total opposite of consumer selling. Selling to industry may often involve months of negotiations/tendering to supply a special ‘widget’, which will be used in a manufacturing process or machine. Broad based advertising campaigns would be a waste of time and a waste of money in such a specialised market. Face-to-face customer negotiations would be the key to success in this area (think: heavy engineering, automobile manufacturing, building materials etc.).
How Do You Earn in a Sales Role?
How you are compensated or paid for your role in sales depends on where you work and what type of role you take on. So, for example, if you work in retail you will probably get paid a flat wage with zero commission, or you could be in a role that is solely commission based; this of course would involve a higher degree of risk, but if you are great at sales this could prove very lucrative. Most roles fall somewhere in-between offering a base salary combined with a target-based commission or bonus.
Common Roles in Sales
Below are some of the most common titles for positions in sales. Be aware that these positions can be quite fluid and often you may come across a position that is a hybrid of two or more roles, especially in smaller companies where they may not have the budget or requirement for a fully developed sales team.
Business Development Representative (BDR)/Manager (BDM)
Also commonly known as a Sales Development Representative. Some of the main responsibilities of a BDR is to ‘qualify’ leads by seeking out ‘prospects’ that will eventually become clients. In this role you might use a combination of cold calling (on the phone, by email or face to face). In some roles you will make sales in person with prospective customers, or once a prospect is qualified, pass the lead onto an account executive to close the sale – your success in this role will depend on consistently bringing in new business.
For this role you’ll need good communication skills (written and verbal) and be confident talking to prospects on the phone or face to face. It’s a good role to start off your sales career, as you may not require previous ‘sales’ experience.
Also known as Field Sales Rep or Outside Sales Rep, this role represents the classic sales representative role in that when you take on this role you are basically on the road most of the time, only visiting the main office for meetings, training etc. On a daily basis you would meet with prospects, work with clients at their premises and often seek to build relationships at social events or trade exhibitions. You will generally have a defined geographical area to work when you are ‘in the field’; this could be a city, part of a state or, indeed, part of the world.
For this role you will need the prerequisite communication skills, along with being able to build relationships. You must be organised and able to work on your own initiative, and maintain your motivation. These types of roles tend to give you a lot of autonomy and freedom when it comes to organising your days. Employers tend to look for someone with some sales experience when recruiting for these roles, so this can be a natural step up from a BDR.
Note, you may also come across Inside Sales Rep – which is similar in scope of duties, but as you may have guessed this role would be primarily office based.
An Account Manager’s role focuses on ensuring that current clients are kept happy, and would often become a new client’s main contact after contracts have been signed and the initial business won by an Account Executive. Everyone knows that it is far smarter to keep hold of current customers than just trying to constantly win new ones, so an Account Manager’s role is crucial for the success of any organisation – in this role your main focus is to retain customers. On a daily basis you would be problem solving, dealing with customer concerns and answering questions. More importantly you will be tasked to target current customers with additional services or products and constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities to cross-sell or up-sell to increase sales revenue.
For this role you will need to build on all the previous sales skills mentioned, but it will be key to develop a deep understanding of your customers’ needs as well as your company’s targets and objectives. This will help you develop long-lasting relationships with your customers based on trust and will be essential to your ongoing success.
Regional Sales Manager (RSM)
Regional Sales Manager roles rarely if ever involve any direct selling to customers. In this role you would often be responsible for the running and managing of a sales team. You might also reasonably expect to be involved in the hiring or firing of team members. You will be involved in setting individual team members sales quotas based on your overall team targets. Performance reviews will also fall under your remit, and you are also very likely to be involved in the coaching and training of your team members.
An RSM position is not for everyone (although most sales people tend to aspire to it). For this role you will need exceptional people skills and at least three years in a sales role (you can’t manage a sales team if you have never been part of one). Before going for this role, you need to ask yourself if you will be truly happy managing other people, the more people in your team the more personalities there are and the more variables there will be. Running a sales team involves a lot of moving parts and you cannot control it the way you might control the day-to-day the way you did when you were a sales rep. When you a take on a an RSM role you become a general, but some people who take it on realize they preferred being a humble soldier.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jerry Cornelius