Sales executives help to drive a business forward by selling its products or services to customers

Your role as a sales executive is to sell a company's products and services to individuals, businesses and government organisations. Sales may be domestic (within the UK), international, or a combination of both.

As well as approaching potential customers with the aim of winning new business, you'll strive to maintain good relationships with existing clients, gaining repeat business wherever possible.

Types of sales executive

Also known as sales representatives, sales consultants, territory managers or business development representatives, sales executives usually operate within one of two main categories of sales:

  • business to business (B2B)
  • business to customer or consumer (B2C).

Responsibilities

As a sales executive, your duties will differ if you're working in B2B or B2C sales.

In B2B sales, you'll need to:

  • build good working relationships
  • understand the needs of your business customers
  • research the market and related products
  • present the product or service favourably and in a structured professional way face-to-face.

In B2C sales, your responsibilities include:

  • listen to customer requirements and present appropriately to make a sale
  • maintain and develop relationships with existing customers in person and via telephone calls and emails
  • cold call to arrange meetings with potential customers to prospect for new business
  • respond to incoming email and phone enquiries
  • act as a contact between a company and its existing and potential markets
  • negotiate the terms of an agreement and close sales
  • gather market and customer information
  • challenge any objections with a view to getting the customer to buy
  • advise on forthcoming product developments and discuss special promotions
  • create detailed proposal documents, often as part of a formal bidding process which is largely dictated by the prospective customer
  • check the quantities of goods on display and in stock
  • make accurate, rapid cost calculations and providing customers with quotations.

For both roles, you'll be required to:

  • negotiate on price, costs, delivery and specifications with buyers and managers
  • liaise with suppliers to check the progress of existing orders
  • record sales and order information, sending copies to the sales office, or entering figures into a computer system
  • represent the company at trade exhibitions, events and demonstrations
  • feed future buying trends back to employers
  • review your own sales performance, aiming to meet or exceed targets
  • attend team meetings and share best practice with colleagues.

Salary

  • Salaries and commission rates vary considerably in sales. As a guide, basic salaries start in the range of £20,000 to £30,000.
  • Mid-range salaries with approximately three to five years' experience are usually around £28,000 to £40,000.
  • At senior level, you can earn a basic salary of £30,000 to £60,000, with commission or bonuses adding £2,000 to over £100,000, depending on the industry, product, location and level of individual success.

Salaries are usually a combination of a basic salary (a guaranteed amount, regardless of sales made) and a bonus or commission (an amount based on the quantity sold). The combined amount is often referred to as on-target earnings (OTE). Commission may be calculated as a percentage of or a flat rate for every sale. It can be capped or uncapped.

It's also possible to work on a commission-only basis, which means working without a basic salary and having an income based entirely on sales.

As considerable travel is often required, many employers provide a company car, petrol allowance or subsidised mileage in your own car.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary according to the sector but are generally quite long, with the pressure to meet targets making late finishes a regular part of the job, especially at the end of the employer's financial quarter or year.

Part-time work may be available.

What to expect

  • The sales industry is target driven and as a consequence the work can sometimes be demanding and pressurised.
  • Conditions of work vary widely according to the field in which you operate. You could be based in the UK or overseas and may work from an office base, or office at home or use hotels as your office.
  • Sales executives are generally expected to look professional and smart, particularly when liaising with clients.
  • The working culture created by management and colleagues can often be competitive.
  • This is a male-dominated industry.
  • Travel within a working day, overnight absence from home and overseas work are all common. The constant travel, sometimes with overnight stays or longer business trips, may affect your social and personal life.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following subjects may improve your chances:

  • business, management or marketing
  • computing, engineering or technology (for technical sales)
  • media studies (for advertising and media sales)
  • modern European or Asian languages (for organisations that operate in overseas markets).

Larger employers who operate graduate-training schemes usually look for a 2:1 or above, as well as evidence of involvement with university activities or some relevant work experience.

Academic qualifications are often less important than personality, attitude and abilities and a strong commercial awareness and excellent communication skills are particularly desirable attributes.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • the ability and desire to sell
  • excellent communication skills
  • a positive, confident and determined approach
  • resilience and the ability to cope with rejection
  • a high degree of self-motivation and ambition
  • the skills to work both independently and as part of a team
  • the capability to flourish in a competitive environment
  • a good level of numeracy
  • a full driving licence
  • fluency in a foreign language - this can be helpful, particularly if working for an international company.

Work experience

A number of larger companies recruit for sales positions as part of their graduate training portfolio. The training is sometimes combined with marketing, as organisations seek graduates who will work towards becoming commercial leaders of the future.

It will be helpful to you if you can gain experience in a customer-facing environment, such as retail or hospitality.

Employers

A variety of companies across all sectors employ sales executives to broaden the demand for their brand, product or service. It's important to choose an area that suits your interests and career aspirations.

Typical sectors include:

  • fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), such as food and drink, dry commodities, tobacco and alcohol
  • technical, including automotive, aerospace, IT, electronics, construction and communications
  • business, such as consulting and advice, training, software and cloud-based computing services
  • advertising, including magazine publishers, radio, television, web and text message
  • pharmaceuticals, such as medical supplies and services
  • financial, including banks and financial services providers.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies, such as BMS Performance, Pareto Law and Celsius - The Graduate Recruitment Specialists commonly advertise sales executive vacancies.

Professional development

You may be put on a short induction course, covering knowledge of the company's products, goods or services, as well as the methods used for sales administration. This may be organised internally by your employer, or outsourced to an outside training company.

After induction, it's usual to be given a period of time on probation, without any pressure to meet targets. Further development often takes place in the form of shadowing an experienced representative and gradually taking over sales calls, under supervision. However, after a relatively short period of time, you'll be expected to start bringing in the number of sales required to meet individual targets.

Training often includes role play and explores selling techniques, such as:

  • how to close sales
  • how to deal with potential objections
  • negotiation.

It's likely that some role-play exercises will be involved in this type of training.

Very small companies may offer little or no training beyond some basic instruction.

A wide range of sales and marketing courses are available, such as those offered by the Institute of Sales Management (ISM) and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). You may wish to research how valuable prospective employers consider these to be before embarking on any courses.

You could consider going on to study for an MBA or undertake a postgraduate course in a particular area, such as sales management.

Career prospects

Promotion is usually based on results and so rapid progress and early promotion is common for high performers. A successful sales track record will generally result in promotion to:

  • handling larger and more prestigious customer accounts
  • taking responsibility for key products
  • working on national accounts, for example selling to retail buyers and wholesalers
  • a sales executive trainer role (usually as part of a current role)
  • a sales manager role with responsibility for a team of people.

Many larger companies have a promotion structure that typically involves moving up from sales executive to area sales manager, to national sales manager and ultimately to sales director. It's quite common to move between different companies to achieve promotion or a higher salary.

A move out of sales into training and education, or recruitment, is another possibility. Sales executives also have the option to move into related career areas, such as advertising, marketing, more general commercial management or public relations (PR).

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