The pathway into this job is a difficult one to get on, but you can manage if you are prepared. We’ve pulled together a Q&A series to help answer those common questions many of you are asking today.

Q: What type of background do I need to enter into a sales position?

A: The background needed for sales jobs varies by product line and market. The number of college graduates has increased and the job requirements have become more technical and analytical. Most firms now emphasize a strong educational background. Nevertheless, many employers still hire individuals with previous sales experience who do not have a college degree. For some consumer products, other factors such as sales ability, personality, and familiarity with brands are as important as a degree. On the other hand, firms selling industrial products often require a degree in science or engineering in addition to some sales experience. In general, companies are looking for the best and brightest individuals who have the personality and desire to sell.

Q: Do companies offer sales training programs?

A: Many companies have formal training programs for beginning sales representatives lasting up to two years. However, most businesses are accelerating these programs to reduce costs and expedite the returns from training.

New workers may be trained by accompanying experienced workers on their sales calls. As they gain familiarity with the firm’s products and clients, these workers are given increasing responsibility until they are eventually assigned their own territory. As businesses experience greater competition, increased pressure is placed upon sales representatives to produce faster.

These workers stay abreast of new merchandise and the changing needs of their customers in a variety of ways. They attend trade shows where new products and technologies are showcased. They also attend conferences and conventions to meet other sales representatives and clients and discuss new product developments. In addition, the entire sales force may participate in company-sponsored meetings to review sales performance, product development, sales goals, and profitability.

Q: I have no sales experience, how can I break into the industry?

A: It’s important to identify and research what industry you want to go into and think about how it relates to the industry or position you’re currently employed in. Making this connection is important because you need to communicate the connection both on paper, in the form of your resume as well as in person during the interview.

Once you’ve covered the task of making the connection, it’s time to begin talking with people working in the field. Information interviewing is a way to get additional questions you may have answered and build your network of contacts as well. Send an approach letter to a person you’ve identified as someone you’d like to speak with. Let them know who you are and the type of information you need. Request 15-20 minutes and state that you’ll call in a week to try and set up an appointment.

You may be surprised how willing people are to help out. If the person has the time and likes their job, chances are they’ll see you.

If you work in an office environment or a clinical environment, trying networking with the sales reps that you see on a regular basis. Many positions in the industry can be found via word of mouth so networking not only gives you insight about the profession but it may also get you your foot in the door.

Since many pharmaceutical sales employers require a four-year degree, it’s important that you take special care when preparing your resume. If you are a nurse, think about all the medical devices and products that you’ve used in your clinical setting. Having the practical experience and hands on knowledge of these devices and products makes you a perfect promoter for the manufacturer. You’ve used the products and if you’re excited about them you will be able to communicate the importance of purchasing the product to others.

Q: How do I know if a sales career is for me?

A: Those who want to become a sales representative should be goal-oriented, persuasive, and work well both independently and as part of a team. A pleasant personality and appearance, the ability to communicate well with people and problem-solving skills are highly valued. Furthermore, completing a sale can take several months and thus requires patience and perseverance. These workers are on their feet for long periods and may carry heavy sample cases, which necessitates some physical stamina. They should also enjoy traveling. Sales representatives spend much of their time visiting current and prospective clients.

Q: What type of promotions can I expect with a career in sales?

A: Frequently, promotion takes the form of an assignment to a larger account or territory where commissions are likely to be greater. Experienced sales representatives may move into jobs as sales trainers, who instruct new employees on selling techniques and company policies and procedures. Those who have good sales records and leadership ability may advance to sales supervisor or district manager.

In addition to advancement opportunities within a firm, some manufacturers’ agents go into business for themselves. Others find opportunities in purchasing, advertising, or marketing research.


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