You have the power to choose your career. Do you want to travel across the country or around the world to meet with customers, understand their needs, and develop new business opportunities for your company? Or would you rather be a technical specialist, or a subject matter expert, and talk to customers about exactly how your product or service works? No matter what you want to do, chances are there is a sales role that you will enjoy.
It is important to understand the different industries as “the skills to work in either (B2B or B2C) industries are quite different and moving between the two can be difficult so it’s well worth doing some research up front to ensure you make the right choice” (Walters, 2020, para 2).
The main differences are that the majority of B2B sales jobs tend to be technical with complex products or services (hospital medical equipment or industrial car parts for example). The complexity of B2B sales jobs usually means that sales professionals in B2B tend to earn a higher income than B2C sales people and this is often justified with the requirement for more education or training with a B2B sales job (Walters, 2020).
Lastly, “When choosing between a career in B2B or B2C sales comes down to where the sales person feels most passionate and where they can achieve the most fulfilment. Professionals who enjoy dealing with people on a professional level will do well in a B2B sale environment. Professionals who are typically a “people persons” would flourish dealing directly with people in a B2C environment“ (Walters, 2020, para 8).
The direct selling process is “the sale of a consumer product or service away from a fixed retail location.” (Direct Selling Association, 2023). Some of the most well-known direct selling companies are Amway, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Avon, and Pampered Chef. It is an industry that employs many sales people! In Canada, there were 1.2 million independent sales consultants with $3.5 billion in annual sales (yes, billions) (Direct Sellers Association, 2022). What makes direct selling so appealing is the fact that you can run your own business using the power of an established brand name and without the costs of manufacturing or providing the product or service? More important, you are your own boss. Although direct selling usually requires an initial purchase of products or services, called starting inventory, many direct sellers have been able to supplement their incomes and in some cases make it their full-time job, earning more than six figures a year. Given the opportunities, you probably are not surprised to learn that direct selling is growing because of the uncertain job market. Recent graduates, retirees, and everyone in between are turning to direct selling as a way to safeguard them during the recession. It is attractive because those who sell or distribute the products (also called independent business owners [IBOs]) make a percentage on the products they sell.
But direct selling isn’t lucrative for everyone. Not all IBOs maintain their focus and develop their network. It is hard work running your own business. It takes time, discipline, effort, focus, and passion. Many direct selling companies engage in network marketing, also called multilevel marketing (MLM), which allows IBOs to invite other people to sell the products and earn money based on the sales of those they recruited. If you think about the concept of social networking on web sites such as Facebook, it is easy to understand MLM. You can expand your network of contacts simply by tapping into the network of your friends; MLM operates on the same principle. If you sell to your friends and they sell to their friends, your opportunity to earn money expands significantly with every contact. So if you were an IBO for The Body Shop and you recruited your friend Alex to be an IBO, and they recruited their friend Devon to be an IBO, you would not only make commission on your product sales, but also on the product sales of Alex and Devon. You can see how being a part of an MLM company can offer significant earning potential (Inc., 2009). Unfortunately, there have been some unscrupulous people involved in the MLM business, and some have created pyramid schemes in which many people have lost money. The concept of MLM sales will be explored further in the chapter on ethics.
You have now seen how B2B, B2C, and direct selling work. Still, there are some other selling environments that you may also want to explore.
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) each had a unique idea for a product or service. And while good ideas are key to building a business, what ultimately made each of these people successful was their ability to sell their idea to their customers and to their investors. If you have the passion and vision to start your own business, you will need selling skills no matter what business you decide to create. Being an entrepreneur can be exhilarating, invigorating, and exciting, but it can also be challenging, time-consuming, and frustrating. That is why successful entrepreneurs, like successful salespeople, plan, do their homework, listen to customers, and make ideas and solutions come alive. It is no surprise that the traits of a successful salesperson discussed earlier in this chapter are the same traits that are required of an entrepreneur. Just like the different types of sales positions covered previously, there are virtually unlimited types of businesses that can be started by entrepreneurs.
Nonprofit organizations are those that use their proceeds to reinvest in the cause and are granted “tax-exempt” status from federal and other taxes (McNamara, 2023). In May 2020, Idealist (a nonprofit job and volunteer portal) had over 135,000 charities in North America looking to hire and Work for Good (job board for mission driven careers) has matched candidates with more than 30,000 organizations. There is work in the non-profit arena for mission driven folk.
You might be wondering what selling has to do with nonprofit organizations. The fact is that fund-raising and the development of endowments are actually the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. Your school may have a director of alumni relations and development. This is the person who secures donations for the continued development of the school and facilities; for example, if your school needs a new athletic facility or classroom building, much of the funding would likely come through the alumni office. Just like for-profit businesses, selling is the engine of nonprofit organizations as well. If you have a passion for a particular cause, such as the green movement, breast cancer, literacy, or education, among others, and want to focus on making a contribution by choosing a career in the nonprofit sector, you can find selling opportunities at many organizations. Although you may want to volunteer for some organizations before you make a career choice, there are paying career fund-raising and development positions in the nonprofit sector.
Types of Sales Positions
There are different ways to categorize salespeople. They can be categorized by the customers they work with, such as whether they are consumers, other businesses, or government institutions. Another way to categorize salespeople is by the size of their customers. Most professional sales positions involve selling to other businesses, but many also sell to consumers like you. For the purposes of this book, we will categorize salespeople by their activities. Using activities as a basis, there are four basic types of salespeople: missionary salespeople, trade salespeople, prospectors, and account managers. In some discussions, you’ll hear that there are three types: order getters, order takers, and sales support. The four we describe in the following are all types of order getters; that is, they actively seek to make sales by calling on customers. We’ll also discuss order takers and sales support after we discuss the four types of order getters.
A missionary salesperson calls on people who make decisions about products but don’t actually buy them, and while they call on individuals, the relationship is business-to-business. For example, a pharmaceutical representative might call on a physician to provide the doctor with clinical information about a medication’s effectiveness. The salesperson hopes the doctor will prescribe the drug. Patients, not doctors, actually purchase the medication. Similarly, salespeople call on your professors urging them to use certain textbooks. But you, the student, choose whether or not to actually buy the books.
There are salespeople who also work with “market influencers.” Mary Gros works at Teradata, a company that develops data warehousing solutions. Gros calls on college faculty who have the power to influence decision makers when it comes to the data warehouses they use, either by consulting for them, writing research papers about data warehousing products, or offering opinions to students on the software. In an effort to influence what they write about Teradata’s offerings, Gros also visits with analysts who write reviews of products.
A trade salesperson is someone who calls on retailers and helps them display, advertise, and sell products to consumers.
Eddy Patterson is a trade salesperson. Patterson calls on major supermarket chains for Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, a company that makes barbecue sauces, rubs, marinades, and other barbecuing products. Patterson makes suggestions about how Stubb’s products should be priced and where they should be placed in store so they will sell faster. Patterson also works with his clients’ advertising departments in order to create effective ads and fliers featuring Stubb’s products.Trade salespeople like Eddy Patterson for Stubb’s help retailers promote and sell products to consumers.
A prospector is a salesperson whose primary function is to find prospects, or potential customers. The potential customers have a need, but for any number of reasons, they are not actively looking for products to meet those needs—perhaps because they lack information about where to look for them or simply haven’t had the time to do so. Prospectors often knock on a lot of doors and make a lot of phone calls, which is called cold calling because they do not know the potential accounts and are therefore talking to them “cold.” Their primary job is to sell, but the activity that drives their success is prospecting. Many salespeople who sell to consumers would be considered prospectors, including salespeople such as insurance or financial services salespeople, or cosmetic salespeople such as those working for Avon or Mary Kay.
In some B2B situations, the prospector finds a prospect and then turns it over to another salesperson to close the deal. Or the prospector may take the prospect all the way through the sales process and close the sale. The primary responsibility is to make sales, but the activity that drives the salesperson’s success is prospecting.
Account managers are responsible for ongoing business with a customer who uses a product. A new customer may be found by a prospector and then turned over to an account manager, or new accounts may be so rare that the account manager is directly responsible for identifying and closing them. For example, if you sold beds to hospitals, new hospital organizations are rare. A new hospital may be built, but chances are good that it is replacing an existing hospital or is part of an existing hospital chain, so the account would already have coverage.
Account managers also have to identify lead users (people or organizations likely to use new, cutting-edge products) and build relationships with them. Lead users are in a good position to help improve a company’s offerings or develop new ones. Account managers work closely with these lead users and build relationships across both their companies so that the two organizations can innovate together.
Other Types of Sales Positions
Earlier, we stated that there are also order takers and sales support. These other types of salespeople do not actively solicit business. Order takers, though, do close sales while sales support do not. Order takers include retail sales clerks and salespeople for distributors of products, like plumbing supplies or electrical products, who sell to plumbers and electricians. Other order takers may work in a call centre, taking customer sales calls over the phone or Internet when customers initiate contact. Such salespeople carry sales quotas and are expected to hit those sales numbers.
Sales support work with salespeople to help make a sale and to take care of the customer after the sale. At ResearchNow, a marketing research company headquartered in Dallas, sales support help salespeople price projects and prepare bids. At Oracle, an information systems provider, sales support assist by engineering solutions and, like at ResearchNow, pricing offerings and preparing proposals. At ResearchNow, the sales support staff also helps deliver the project, whereas at Oracle, another team takes over when the sale is made.
“2.3. What Kind of Job Can I Get in Sales?” from The Power of Selling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
“Chapter 13: Professional Selling” from Marketing Principles (v. 2.0) by Andy Schmitz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, except where otherwise noted.