What Does a Sales Representative Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows two people shaking hands in business garb. Text reads: "A day in the life of a sales representative: Critical thinking skills; verbal communication skills; customer service skills; presentation skills"

Image by Chelsea Damraksa © The Balance 2019 

Sales representatives sell products to businesses, organizations, and governments on behalf of manufacturers or wholesalers. They might work directly for the company producing the goods, or for an independent sales agency whose clients are manufacturers and wholesalers.

About 34,000 sales reps sell scientific and technical products. Approximately 1.5 million sales representatives worked in wholesale and manufacturing in 2016.

Sales Representative Duties & Responsibilities

Responsibilities can depend on the employer and the field in which they work, but some common duties of sales representatives include:

  • Sell to key retail accounts.
  • Contact new and existing customers to meet and exceed sales objectives.
  • Organize, rotate, and stock shelves during each store visit.
  • Participate in sales meetings and on-site training.
  • Negotiate and use persuasion skills to overcome objections.
  • Deliver presentations and demonstrate products to customers.
  • Provide daily recap of results and accomplishments to the management team.

An inside rep accomplishes this from an office, while an outside rep travels to clients. 

Sales Representative Salary

Salespersons in the wholesale electronic market are the most highly paid. Overall, including all sales reps, salaries fall into the following ranges:

  • Median Annual Salary: $79,680 ($38.31/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $156,630 ($75.30/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $39,960 ($19.21/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Earnings usually include a combination of salary and commission. Commission is usually a percentage of sales.

Education, Training & Certification

This occupation doesn't have any formal educational requirements, but experience can be very helpful.

  • Education: Some employers prefer to hire job candidates who have earned their bachelor's degrees. Many people working in this occupation have majored in marketing. Those selling technical and scientific products may benefit from earning a degree that is related to the product they sell.
  • Training: Some employers provide formal training programs for their new hires.
  • Experience: Related experience in any field that requires persuading and dealing with people can be helpful, such as customer service.

Sales Representative Skills & Competencies

To succeed as a sales representative, you must have certain soft skills or personal qualities.

  • Listening skills: The ability to listen well in order to understand others allows you to respond to your customers' needs, wants, and concerns.
  • Verbal communication skills: You must be able to provide concise information about the products you're selling.
  • Interpersonal skills: You must be able to understand non-verbal cues as well as negotiate with and persuade your customers.
  • Critical-thinking skills: The ability to weigh all your options and choose the best one is essential when you have to make a decision or solve a problem
  • Customer service skills: You must respond appropriately to your customers' questions, concerns, and complaints.

Job Outlook

This occupation has a good job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts it will grow by about 5% from 2016 through 2026, which is about as fast as average for all occupations. Growth in this field tends to track the health of the economy.

Work Environment

Outside representatives travel extensively. Some have territories that cover numerous states, so they're away from home and on the road a good bit of the time.

This can be a stressful profession for both inside and outside reps due to the pressure of meeting quotas and because income is typically tied directly to the volume of sales achieved.

Work Schedule

Most sales reps work at least full time, and this career often demands more than 40 hours a week. Even outside reps might spend a great deal of time on the phone and online, pitching products, taking orders, and fielding complaints, when they're not traveling and personally seeing customers.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018