Sales Executive

The Job and What's Involved

Sales executives, sell products or services to customers. They are known by various other names, including field sales representatives (or reps), account managers and business development managers.

What they sell depends on the company they work for, but could be anything from food to IT equipment, from insurance products to cars, from medicines to cosmetics. They may work for a national retailer, for a distributor, a service provider or for a manufacturer.

Sales executives sell either business-to-business, which means selling a product or service to another business, or business-to-consumer, which involves selling goods direct to the user.

The main sectors are:

Consumer goods - selling fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), such as food and drink, and durable products, such as domestic appliances.

Pharmaceuticals - selling medicines to doctors, hospitals and retailers.

IT - selling equipment, software or services.

Finance - selling pensions, insurance, mortgages and savings schemes.

Technical - selling industrial, specialised or high-tech equipment, materials, components and technical services, often to industry. Technical sales reps often act as consultants between the customer and their own company's design or production departments.

Business-to-consumer salespeople, also known as direct sales representatives, sell directly to individuals in their homes or businesses, demonstrating products or leaving catalogues for customers to choose from. They also take orders and deliver products.

Many sales executives specialise in selling one kind of product to shops and other retailers, who then sell these products on to their customers. When they meet a customer, they show catalogues or demonstrate their products, discuss prices and payment plans, suggest accessories, and advise the customer on after-sales service, guarantees and delivery schedules.

Their companies rely on them to collect information from customers on the products that sell well and any new products that might be needed in the future.

Sales executives need to keep records of their orders and invoices, the calls they make, and any money they take. This may be done on paper forms, although it is usually carried out on laptop computers or handheld terminals.

Working hours can be long and irregular, and usually depend on meeting targets for appointments or sales. Administration work is usually carried out between appointments or at home at the end of the day. It may be possible to work part time.

Sales executives visit customers at their homes, offices or factories. The job involves a lot of driving. If they cover a large area, they may spend most of the week travelling and staying in hotels. When not on the road, they are likely to work in the office or at home.

A driving licence is essential in some jobs and an advantage in most.

Depending on the employer, some overseas travel may be required.

Starting salaries may be from around £15,000 a year. Experienced sales executives may earn up to £35,000 a year.

Senior sales executives could earn, with commission, more than £50,000.

Most sales executives get a basic salary plus commission. Advertised salaries are often shown as OTE (on-target earnings). This is the salary that it is possible to earn when all sales targets are hit. Many sales executives also receive a petrol allowance and a company car.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Sales executives work for manufacturers and distributors in every sector, from foodstuffs and machinery to pharmaceuticals and printing services. Some are self-employed or work freelance, often on a commission-only basis.

There is always a need for skilled sales executives and there are opportunities throughout the UK and abroad.

Many recruitment agencies specialise in sales, and there is a huge range of websites that advertise and recruit for sales jobs. Posts may also be advertised in magazines and newsletters relevant to particular product types, as well as in Jobcentre Plus offices and local and regional newspapers.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications, although most employers do ask for a minimum of GCSE's (A*-C) in English and maths or the equivalent.

Some people may move into a sales role after working in another job within the same company. Experience of dealing with people in another role, such as customer service, can be an advantage.

An increasing number of applicants have higher qualifications such as a degree or a Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/D) in a subject related to sales, marketing or business.

The minimum entry requirements for a degree are usually two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. People without the usual entry qualifications can take an Access course to prepare them for higher education.

Other possible qualifications include:

  • Diplomas in business administration and finance and in retail business.
  • BTEC level 2 award and level 3 certificate in sales.
  • City & Guilds level 3 certificate in sales.
  • IMIAL level 3 diploma in vehicle sales.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) offers a part-time Certificate in Professional Sales. This is an introductory course and there are no entry requirements.

The Institute of Sales and Marketing Management (ISMM) Level 1 Award in Basic Sales Skills, the Level 2 Award in Sales and Marketing and the Certificate in Sales and Marketing are aimed at those new to sales.

Technical sales executives need a thorough knowledge of their products and markets. This expertise and experience may be backed up with an HNC/D or a degree in a subject relevant to the products or services they sell.

Some people may start in the career on an Apprenticeship in sales or telesales.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most companies provide training on their products, organisation and the sales methods they use. New sales executives usually work with experienced sales staff until they become familiar with the product and area.

They may also take a range of courses and qualifications in sales, including certificates, diplomas and NVQs in sales at levels 2, 3 and 4.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Sales executives should be:

  • Enthusiastic, ambitious and self-confident.
  • Good at communicating with all types of people.
  • Persuasive and good at negotiating.
  • Able to take rejection.
  • Smartly dressed and polite.
  • Knowledgeable about their company's products and those of their competitors.
  • Able to work alone and on their own initiative.
  • Able to plan a schedule and keep to it.
  • Quick at calculations.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion possibilities for sales executives depend on their sales results. Progression may involve taking on responsibility for a larger area or moving into sales management. Some become national or key account managers, working closely with one or more large organisations and businesses.

There is a range of professional qualifications available to those who wanting to become sales managers. These are offered by organisations such as the CIM and ISMM.

Technical sales executives sometimes move into product development, research and production. There may be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

The Chartered Institute of Marketing,
Moor Hall, Cookham,
Maidenhead SL6 9QH
Tel: 01628 427200

Direct Selling Association,
29 Floral Street, London WC2E 9DP
Tel: 020 7497 1234

The Institute of Sales Management (ISM),
18 King William St, London, EC4N 7BP
Tel: 020 3167 4790

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