Every sales professional wants a job that pays top dollar. Contrary to popular belief, these great sales jobs aren't rare, even in a weak economy. Here's how to find them.
Where is the Money?
For most sales professionals, a sales job isn't great unless it pays well. Unfortunately, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of sales job are in retail where compensation tends be low: an average of $25,000 a year. While there are a few big-ticket exceptions (like auto sales), if you're looking for big money, you'll need to look elsewhere.
According to the BLS, these jobs are most likely to command top dollar:
Securities, commodities, and financial services. Sales professionals in this field earn average compensation approaching $100,000 a year by selling investments to individuals and institutions and by explaining the costs, benefits and risks of making those investments. The best paid sales professionals earn millions of dollars a year.
Engineering Sales. Sales professionals in this field (typically called "sales engineers") sell complex technological offerings to businesses using their extensive knowledge of the products and their understanding of the scientific processes behind them. Average compensation, at $97,320 a year, is nearly as high as financial sales, but there's less variation between the top and bottom of the field. However, many sales engineering jobs (like selling semiconductor design services) require an engineering degree, which most sales job seekers lack.
Real estate. Real estate brokers and agents both help clients buy, sell, and rent properties. However, there's a huge difference in compensation between brokers, who are licensed to own a brokerage, and agents, who must work with a broker. Brokers command an average compensation of an average of $83,830 a year, while agents earn a comparatively paltry average of $51,170 a year.
Wholesale and Manufacturing. These are the classic "business to business" sales jobs, where reps sell goods and services to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations by contacting customers, explaining product features, answering questions and negotiating prices. For technical and scientific industries, the average yearly compensation is $85,750; those in non-technical industries command $63,520.
Insurance. Sales professionals in this field earn an average compensation of $62,340 a year. Making money in this business is largely dependent upon your ability to generate new business by contacting potential customers, explaining various insurance policies and helping clients choose plans that suit them. Some insurance agents offer policies that act as investments, as well, thereby putting them in the financial sales category as well.
Advertising. Selling advertising (print, broadcast and web) services to businesses and individuals remains a fairly lucrative field, with agents earning an average of $55,430. However, times have changed since the Mad Men era, and this type of selling involves less of the traditional glad-handing routine and more of the detailed knowledge of technology that can help companies coordinate complex campaigns executed through multiple messaging channels.
Travel. Surprisingly, travel agents earn an average compensation of $35,740 a year, despite the fact that many consumers and businesspeople use sites like Orbitz and Travelocity and book flights and hotels. The field has remained resilient because of the growth in exotic travel, where the expertise of the agent helps ensure that the traveler has a positive (and safe) experience.
How Can I Get It?
Once you've decided which general sales category is right for you, you need a plan to find the right job. We asked some sales job experts for advice and here's what they told us:
Sell something that interests you. Whatever the industry you work inside, if you're intrigued by what you're selling, you're far more likely to be successful, both at winning a great job and then succeeding at it. "When looking for a sales position my advice is that the professional should find a field he or she is interested in and cares about whether the product or service is in technology, health care, professional services, manufacturing, financial services, and so forth," says Linda Richardson, founder of the sales training firm Richardson.
Sell something strategic. In every field, the big money is products and services that are play a crucial role in the buyer's success, according to Dave Stein, the CEO of ES Research, a company that studies the sales training market. "Your average salesperson who has a territory and hopefully bangs out their numbers quarter by quarter selling a less-than-mission-critical product or service has a hard job, with a lot of pressure, and which can yield inconsistent and less-than-impressive paychecks," he warns.
Don't avoid "inside sales" jobs. In the past, inside jobs (where selling is done largely by telephone and email) were considered to be career dead-end. However, that's no longer the case, according to Richardson. "Thanks to tools such as webinars, there is a trend to move the more complex sale inside where solutions are sold as opposed to products," says Richardson, who adds that, overall, the number of "inside sales" jobs are growing at a rate of seven times that of outside sales jobs.
Become an entrepreneur. Because the business world is constantly changing, sales managers value sales professionals who can adapt to the needs of the customer, without depending upon an infrastructure of clerical staff and sales support. "Sales leaders are taking the time to rethink their orgs, wanting flatter and more nimble organizations," explains Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of SellingPower magazine.
Develop specific expertise. A weak economy has created increased competition for the best sales jobs, according to Richardson. "Firms are hiring but are much, much more selective because the pool of candidates is so much greater," she says. The key to being an outstanding sales job candidate is to know more than your competition. "There will always be a need for that breed of sales professional who knows their industry, products, customers, and how their products help their customers achieve their goals and objectives," Stein explains.
Don't get discouraged. While competition for the best sales jobs can be fierce, there is always enough "churn" in top sales organizations to ensure a constant supply of job openings, "It doesn't matter what's going on in the economy, there's always a high attrition rate which means that they're always hiring more people, especially those willing to work as independent sales reps on straight commission," explains Wendy Weiss, author of "Cold Calling for Women" (DFD Publications, 2010)
Finding a great sales job doesn't just mean finding the jobs that pay well, but the high-paying job that's right for you. It's not enough to know where the jobs are; you must also become a job candidate who has the courage, determination and patience to take full advantage of the job openings that come your way.
Geoffrey James is an award-winning journalist who also authors Inc.com's Sales Source, the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. He has written hundreds of articles on sales and marketing and helped thousands of sales professionals communicate more effectively. His newly published book is How to Say It: Business to Business Selling (Prentice Hall, 2011).