If your image of a salesperson is a fast-talking, cigar-chomping pushy jerk in an ugly plaid jacket, then it's time to hang up that old stereotype.
Dave Pearce, of SalesTestOnline.com, concedes that some types of sales jobs call for an assertive personality - people who can close a deal in 15 minutes or less. But other sales jobs require people who can form long-lasting relationships, or who are comfortable conveying technical information.
"There's sales jobs that are quick hit - you meet the person, you close (sell) them," Pearce observes. "There are sales jobs where you have to be very good at follow-up because it takes a long time to close the sale. Others where you have to make a lot of calls, but it's more public relations."
Sales jobs can range from high-paid account executive to part-time retail worker. In general, the jobs fall into three categories.
Counter Sales and Cold Calls
Retail sales, where the customer comes to you, is the best-known category. Firms in this sector run the gamut from small boutiques to block-long car lots. Most retail stores pay an hourly wage, although store management sometimes will be salaried. Some stores offer bonuses for meeting sales targets, or small percentage commissions on the sales a worker makes. Larger outlets, particularly car dealerships, pay their sales staff strictly on commission.
Inside sales and customer service jobs usually involve order-taking or follow-up, and may include telemarketing, handling incoming calls, greeting walk-in customers, or some combination thereof. Reps often increase sales by suggesting product options to a customer, perhaps offering discounts on large or multiple orders. Customer follow-up may involve offering additional services or providing information on ways to use the product.
Requirements vary with the position and product line. For example, taking orders for a technical parts company may involve much more specialized knowledge of electronics in order to help the customer effectively.
Outside sales is what's usually found at the corporate level, and that's the field that pays the best, whether it's a salary, commission or both. Depending on the product and the company, outside sales involves varying degrees of prospecting (searching out new clients), cold calling (making the first pitch to a customer who didn't call you first), closing the deal, and relationship-building. It can be grueling work because it often takes considerable persistence and sometimes a more assertive, even predatory approach.
But some outside sales jobs require a more gentle touch, such as representing a brand-name product that is already sold. Toothpaste, for example, is already on grocery store shelves. In essence, it's been sold. The salesperson's job then becomes building a good relationship with store management so that the toothpaste being "sold" gets prime placement on the store's shelves.
Is Sales for You?
"Learning to sell is like learning tennis," believes Dick McLean, president of the marketing firm Sales Speak. "It requires a learning curve. But if a person will give it a try and accept the discipline, then they have a marvelous opportunity."
There are numerous sales seminars available which can help you determine if sales is your calling.
"The thing I see is that selling is a self-selecting occupation or avocation," McLean says. "Those that are good stay. Those that are bad roll out quickly."
Classes can help, but Ron Whitney, owner and president of the recruiting firm Sales Consultants of Sacramento, recommends getting your foot in the door at a company with a good training program. Look for industry leaders, such as Procter and Gamble or Pitney Bowes. Yes, they are headquartered elsewhere, but Whitney points out that these major corporations need sales reps all over, including here in Northern California. Sometimes being willing to work far from the corporate center can get you the job.
People considering sales careers should take chances, advises Dale Rosen, a recruiter with Sales Consultant Management in Oakland. "If there's something they're very interested in, then they ought to be willing to sweep floors for a leader in the industry."
Whitney adds that another good place to start might be with a local broker in an industry you're interested in, such as food or office supplies. The bottom line is to start small and work your way up.
One of the disadvantages of a sales career is that rejection goes with the territory, so you need to be resilient and develop a thick skin. "[Salespeople must] realize that when the prospect turns them down, they are not turning the person down, but the product," McLean counsels.
One advantage to a sales career is you often get more flexibility over your work time. You certainly have a lot more control than most over how much money you make. And perhaps best of all, if you're good, opportunities abound, even when the economy is weak.
"A successful salesperson is never out of work because you're bringing in the money," Whitney explains. Smart companies recognize that they need salespeople even more in a weak economy.
The general consensus is that the outlook for sales jobs in (Northern) California is improving. Jobs in the tech industries are still tight, but many companies are beginning to hire again.
"We just had our best month," Whitney adds. "We anticipate [the demand for new salespeople] is going to be coming in waves."
For more information on sales careers, visit these websites:
- AccesSalesJobs.com - Search engine for sales and marketing jobs in all industries. Also provides a resource center with job-seeking tips, resume services and links.
- Jobs4Sales.com - Job search engine, resume posting, a resource center with links, and a "Personal Career Agent" that e-mails jobs meeting your criteria.
- MarketingJobs.com - Job listings, career and resume resources, and salary surveys for sales and marketing jobs in all industries.
- SalesJobs.com - Search engine for sales positions in all industries, resume posting, and sales-related links.
- SalesTrax.com - Job and sales career fair listings, and resume postings for sales positions in all industries.
- TopSalesPositions.com - Job listings, resources, links, resume postings, and a newsletter for sales professionals.