Career Guide for Manufacturing Sales Representative

A manufacturing sales representative helps companies sell the products they produce – usually in large quantities to wholesalers, jobbers, or retail store chains. The sales rep is one of the most important investments for a company – a high quality sales person can make the difference between success and failure for a company.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to become a successful manufacturing sales representative.

Manufacturing Sales Rep Summary

  • Job prospects will be best for those with a college degree, the appropriate technical expertise, and the personal traits necessary for successful selling.
  • Earnings usually are based on a combination of salary and commission.
  • Employment opportunities and earnings may fluctuate from year to year because sales are affected by changing economic conditions.

Working as a Manufacturing Sales Rep

Sales representatives are an important part of manufacturers’ and wholesalers’ success. Regardless of the type of products they sell, sales representatives’ primary duties are to make customers interested in their merchandise and to arrange the sale of that merchandise.

The process of promoting and selling a product can be extensive, at times taking up to several months. Whether in person or over the phone, sales representatives describe their products, conduct demonstrations, explain the benefits that their products convey, and answer any questions that their customers may have.

Sales representatives—sometimes called manufacturers’ representatives or manufacturers’ agents—generally work for manufacturers, wholesalers, or technical companies. Some work for a single organization, while others represent several companies and sell a range of products. Rather than selling goods directly to consumers, sales representatives deal with businesses, government agencies, and other organizations.

Some sales representatives specialize in technical and scientific products ranging from agricultural and mechanical equipment to computer and pharmaceutical goods. Other representatives deal with all other types of goods, including food, office supplies, and apparel.

Sales representatives stay abreast of new products and the changing needs of their customers in a variety of ways. They attend trade shows at which 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 the firm’s sales performance, product development, sales goals, and profitability.

Frequently, sales representatives who lack the necessary expertise about a given product may team with a technical expert. In this arrangement, the technical expert—sometimes a sales engineer—attends the sales presentation to explain the product and answer questions or concerns. The sales representative makes the preliminary contact with customers, introduces the company’s product, and closes the sale. Under such an arrangement, the representative is able to spend more time maintaining and soliciting accounts and less time acquiring technical knowledge. After the sale, representatives may make follow up visits to ensure that the equipment is functioning properly and may even help train customers’ employees to operate and maintain new equipment. Those selling technical goods also may arrange for the product to be installed. Those selling consumer goods often suggest how and where merchandise should be displayed. When working with retailers, they may help arrange promotional programs, store displays, and advertising.

Sales representatives have several duties beyond selling products. They analyze sales statistics, prepare reports, and handle administrative duties such as filing expense accounts, scheduling appointments, and making travel plans. They also read about new and existing products and monitor the sales, prices, and products of their competitors.

Sales representatives generally work in either inside sales, interacting with customers over the phone from an office location, or outside “field” sales, traveling to meet clients in person.

Inside sales representatives may spend a lot of their time on the phone, selling goods, taking orders, and resolving problems or complaints about the merchandise. These sales representatives typically do not leave the office. Frequently, they are responsible for acquiring new clients by “cold calling” various organizations—calling potential customers to establish an initial contact. They also may be responsible for arranging meetings for outside sales representatives.

Outside sales representatives spend much of their time traveling to, and visiting with, current clients and prospective buyers. During a sales call, they discuss the client’s needs and suggest how their merchandise or services can meet those needs. They may show samples or catalogs that describe items their company provides, and they may inform customers about prices, availability, and ways in which their products can save money and boost productivity. Because many sales representatives sell several complementary products made by different manufacturers, they may take a broad approach to their customers’ business. For example, sales representatives may help install new equipment and train employees in its use.

Work environment. Some sales representatives have large territories and travel considerably. Because a sales region may cover several States, representatives may be away from home for several days or weeks at a time, often traveling by airplane. Others cover a smaller region and travel mostly by car, spending few nights away from home. Sales representatives frequently are on their feet for long periods and may carry heavy sample products, requiring some physical stamina.

In 2008, about 48 percent of sales representatives worked around 40 hours per week, but about 24 percent worked more than 50 hours per week. Since sales calls take place during regular working hours, much of the planning and paperwork involved with sales must be completed during the evening and on weekends. Although the hours are often irregular, many sales representatives have the freedom to determine their own schedules.

Workers in this occupation can encounter pressure and stress because their income and job security often depend directly on the amount of merchandise they sell and their companies usually set goals or quotas that they are expected to meet. Sales representatives also deal with many different types of people, which can be stimulating but demanding.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

There generally is no formal educational requirement for sales representative positions, but many jobs require some postsecondary education. Regardless of educational background, factors such as communication skills, the ability to sell, and familiarity with brands are essential to being a successful sales representative.

Education and training. There usually is no formal educational requirement for sales representatives. Some positions, especially those which deal with scientific and technical products, require a bachelor’s degree. For other jobs, however, applicants can be fully qualified with a high school diploma or its equivalent. For these positions, previous sales experience may be desirable.

Many sales representatives attend seminars in sales techniques or take courses in marketing, economics, communication, or even a foreign language to provide the extra edge needed to make sales. Often, companies have formal training programs for beginning sales representatives that last up to 2 years. However, most businesses accelerate these programs to much shorter timeframes in order to reduce costs and expedite the returns from training. In some programs, trainees rotate among jobs in plants and offices to learn all phases of production, installation, and distribution of the product. In others, trainees take formal classroom instruction at the plant, followed by on-the-job training under the supervision of a field sales manager.

Regardless of where they work, new employees may be trained by accompanying experienced workers on their sales calls. As they gain familiarity with the firm’s products and clients, the new workers are given increasing responsibility, until they are eventually assigned their own territory. As businesses experience greater competition, representatives face more pressure to produce sales.

Other qualifications. For sales representative jobs, companies seek individuals who have excellent communication skills and the desire to sell. Those who want to become sales representatives should be goal oriented, persuasive, and able to work well both independently and as part of a team. A pleasant personality and appearance and problem-solving skills are highly valued. Patience and perseverance also are keys to completing a sale, which can take up to several months.

Manufacturers’ representatives who operate a sales agency also must manage their business. Doing so requires organizational and general business skills, as well as knowledge of accounting, marketing, and administration.

Certification and advancement. Certifications are available that provide formal recognition of the skills of sales representatives. Many in this profession have either the Certified Professional Manufacturers’ Representative (CPMR) certification or the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) certification, offered by the Manufacturers’ Representatives Education Research Foundation. Certification typically involves completing formal training and passing an examination.

Frequently, promotion takes the form of an assignment to a larger account or territory, where commissions are likely to be greater. Those who have good sales records and leadership ability may advance to higher level positions such as sales supervisor, district manager, or vice president of sales. Others find opportunities in purchasing, advertising, or marketing research.

Advancement opportunities typically depend on whether the sales representatives are working directly for a manufacturer or wholesaler or whether they are working with an independent sales agency. Experienced sales representatives working directly for a manufacturer or wholesaler may move into jobs as sales trainers and instruct new employees on selling techniques and company policies and procedures. Some leave their organization and start their own independent sales company.

Employment as a Manufacturing Sales Rep

Manufacturing and wholesale sales representatives held about 2 million jobs in 2008. About 432,900 of these worked with technical and scientific products. Around 61 percent of all representatives worked for wholesale companies. Others were employed in manufacturing establishments, retail organizations, and professional, technical, and scientific firms. Because of the diversity of products and services sold, employment opportunities are available throughout the country. About 73,800 sales representatives were self-employed.

Job Outlook

Job growth is expected to be about as fast as average. Job prospects will be best for those with a college degree, the appropriate technical expertise, and the personal traits necessary for successful selling.

Employment change. Employment of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Given the size of this occupation, a large number of new jobs, about 143,200, will arise over the projection period. Job growth will result from the continued expansion in the variety and number of goods sold throughout the economy. Because they play an important role in the transfer of goods between organizations, sales representatives will be needed to accommodate this expansion. In addition, as technology continues to progress, sales representatives can help ensure that retailers offer the latest products to their customers and that businesses acquire the tools they need to increase their efficiency in operations.

Employment growth will be greatest in independent sales companies as manufacturers continue to outsource sales activities to independent agents rather than using in-house sales workers. Independent sales agents generally are more efficient, reducing the overhead cost to their clients. Also, by using agents who contract their services to more than one company, companies can share costs of the agents with each other.

Job prospects. Job prospects will be best for those with a college degree, the appropriate technical expertise, and the personal traits necessary for successful selling. Opportunities will be better in independent sales companies than with manufacturers, who are expected to continue contracting out field sales duties.

Employment opportunities and earnings may fluctuate from year to year because sales are affected by changing economic conditions and businesses’ preferences. In addition, many job openings will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing 41-4000 1,973,200 2,116,400 143,200 7
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products 41-4011 432,900 475,000 42,000 10
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 41-4012 1,540,300 1,641,400 101,100 7
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Manufacturing Sales Reps

Median annual wages of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products, were $70,200, including commissions, in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $48,540 and $99,570 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,980, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $133,040 a year. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products, were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services $80,060
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 77,190
Drugs and druggists’ sundries merchant wholesalers 74,840
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 70,140
Electrical and electronic goods merchant wholesalers 63,050

Median annual wages of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products, were $51,330, including commission, in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,460 and $75,120 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,950, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,040 a year. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products, were as follows:

Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers $57,100
Machinery equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 50,310
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 49,750
Grocery and related product merchant wholesalers 47,980
Miscellaneous nondurable goods merchant wholesalers 44,680

Compensation methods for representatives vary significantly by the type of firm and the product sold. Most employers use a combination of salary and commissions or salary plus bonus. Commissions usually are based on the value of sales, whereas bonuses may depend on individual performance, on the performance of all sales workers in the group or district, or on the company’s performance. Unlike those working directly for a manufacturer or wholesaler, sales representatives working for an independent sales company usually are not reimbursed for expenses. Depending on the type of product or products they are selling, their experience in the field, and the number of clients they have, they can earn significantly more or less than those working in direct sales for a manufacturer or wholesaler.

In addition to receiving their earnings, sales representatives working directly for a manufacturer or wholesaler usually are reimbursed for expenses such as the costs of transportation, meals, hotels, and entertaining customers. They often receive benefits, including personal use of a company car and frequent flyer mileage. Some companies offer incentives such as free vacation trips or gifts for achieving an outstanding sales performance.

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