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  3. The in-depth guide for a successful sales career path
The in-depth guide for a successful sales career path

The in-depth guide for a successful sales career path

Artwork by: Aleksandra Zabnina

  • What is sales?
  • Is sales a good career path?
  • Job opportunities
  • Compensation
  • Career outlook
  • Work environment
  • What does the sales career path look like?
  • 1. Education
  • 2. Entry-level sales positions
  • 3. Mid-level sales positions
  • 4. Executive roles in sales
  • Things to consider before taking a sales job
  • What are your options?
  • What is the compensation like?
  • Does the job match your work style?
  • How do leads work?
  • Key takeaways

Sales is a great career path that offers plenty of opportunities for good pay. If you’re interested in sales, keep reading to learn more about how to achieve success in this field.

Just about every company out there earns revenue by selling a product or a service. Because of this, salespeople are at the center of most industries. If you’re looking for a career path that offers great compensation and ample opportunities, sales might be a good choice.

Not every sales career path is the same. Some people go into sales right out of school, while others work for years in different fields before beginning their sales journey. No matter where you’re coming from, there’s no reason why you can’t pursue this path. 

But if you are considering a sales career, you might be wondering how to get your first job, how much you might earn, or how to transition to sales from a different career. If you’re scratching your head, we’re here to help.

In this blog, we’ll help you understand the sales career path better. We’ll cover:

  • What is sales?

  • Is sales a good career path?

  • What does a sales career path look like?

  • Things to consider before taking a sales job

What is sales?

Sales refers to the department of a company that’s responsible for selling products or services to customers. These customers might be either private individuals or other companies. Sales departments work closely with marketing teams. Marketers try to draw in prospective customers while salespeople turn these leads into paying customers.

A salesperson’s job can vary widely based on the company they work for and the products they sell. Some might spend their days making phone calls and sending emails, while others will take prospective customers to lunch. No matter how they make sales, these professionals require excellent interpersonal and persuasion skills and a good understanding of the product they sell.

Is sales a good career path?

Everybody is different, and the answer to this question will depend on your individual skills, talents, needs, and experience. Here are some factors that can help you decide whether sales is the right path for you:

Job opportunities

As we mentioned above, almost all companies engage in sales to one extent or another. This means that there are a wide variety of sales positions available in all locations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, There are more than 13 million people working in sales positions throughout the U.S. This makes it one of the largest meta-occupations in the country. 


When it comes to pay, sales jobs range from adequate to excellent, and this will depend on the path you take. The sales field includes everyone from retail associates to insurance salespeople. At the low end, retail associates have a mean annual income of $34,730 according to the BLS. On the other side of the scale, the BLS reports a mean annual wage of $100,740 for salespeople working in finance.

Commission is an essential feature of sales jobs that you should understand going in. Working on commission means that you earn a set percentage of every sale that you make. This has upsides and downsides. On one hand, you have the power to seriously boost your pay if you work hard. Conversely, your pay may be less consistent than in other professions. If you’re an adrenaline junkie who wants to roll the dice in hopes of a big win, sales might be right for you.

Career outlook

While there are a lot of jobs in sales, it’s not growing like other industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the overall number of sales jobs won’t change much between 2021 and 2031, and there may be some loss in employment. However, this outlook will vary based on the specific field you go into. For example, if you want to work in sales, look for jobs in growing sectors like tech. 

Work environment

Before getting a sales job, you should know that your work environment may change. Salespeople are judged based on the results they deliver rather than their time on the clock. This can be stressful for some and exhilarating for others. Try to understand your own skills and motivations before you take a job in sales.

What does the sales career path look like?

The sales field encompasses many different jobs, and each is a little different. However, here are some steps that you can expect during a career in sales:

1. Education

When it comes to sales, there’s no single educational path. Educational requirements will vary based on the type of job you’re looking for and the field you’re interested in. For example, if you plan to start a career as a retail salesperson, you won’t need a college degree. As long as you have strong sales skills and a good understanding of your products, you can go far.

In other fields, a college education may be a benefit or even a requirement. If you plan to pursue sales in a highly specialized field like tech or financial services, most employers will require at least a bachelor’s degree. This ensures that you have the technical knowledge to sell specific products and services in a competitive atmosphere. 

Finally, some people choose to earn an MBA with a concentration in sales or a sales management degree. While these degrees don’t focus on any particular industry, they help students develop strong business acumen and sales skills that they can apply in a wide variety of jobs.

2. Entry-level sales positions

After college, most aspiring salespeople will get an entry-level job in a sales department. While there are many different titles for these positions, one of the most common is Sales Development Representative or Business Development Representative (SDR/ BDR). These individuals are responsible for generating quality leads that can be developed by mid and senior-level sales pros. They usually do this by cold-calling or emailing prospective clients before handing them off to mid-level salespeople.

Inside and outside sales representatives are a step up from SDRs, but are still junior employees. In order to earn one of these positions, you’ll most likely need some sales experience. Outside sales reps are responsible for meeting with clients and developing strong relationships outside of the office. This may include traveling to meet clients at their places of work, attending conferences, or arranging lunches. 

Inside sales reps generally cultivate client relationships and make sales from an office setting. Their main tools are email and the telephone. Unlike SDRs, inside sales reps are responsible for closing sales, rather than just identifying leads.

3. Mid-level sales positions

After gaining some experience, budding sales professionals may move into mid-level positions. These roles usually involve management, and it’s vital for individuals to cultivate their sales chops and leadership skills. When you reach this level, you may encounter positions like account manager, account executive, or regional sales manager.

Account managers are responsible for maintaining long-term relationships with major clients. After a sale is closed, they stay in contact with customers to ensure that all their needs are met. Account executives have a similar role, primarily focusing on customer relationship development.

A regional sales manager will usually oversee sales operations throughout a given area. This requires them to supervise teams of salespeople, manage customer relationships, direct sales strategies, and identify opportunities for growth. Their work may also include hiring and training sales personnel and providing mentoring.

4. Executive roles in sales

Executive positions are at the top of the heap when it comes to sales. Professionals at this level have important responsibilities and can expect good compensation in return. For many salespeople, an executive role is a dream role. 

At the executive level, roles include Vice President (VP) of sales, Chief Sales Officer (CSO), and director of sales. The VP of sales is always a highly skilled leader and salesperson with many years of experience. Their primary responsibility is to achieve growth in the sales department and they develop strategies to do so. VPs of sales are also in charge of meeting the hiring and resource needs of their departments. The director of sales usually reports to the VP and relays their strategic goals to the sales teams. These professionals may also oversee staffing, budgeting, and overall sales performance.

Chief sales officers are a step above VPs and have a role similar to a CFO. In most cases, this position is only found in large companies with complex sales operations. Like VPs, CSOs are responsible for sales strategy, except on a much larger scale. This position requires extensive sales experience, as well as leadership skills, creativity, and business acumen.

That’s a brief overview of what to expect in a sales career. As mentioned, sales is an enormous field with many options, and your trajectory will be your own. If you want to plan out a custom career path using real-world data, consider Resume.io’s Career Pathways tool. This will give you all you need to identify skill gaps, monitor current trends, and achieve success in sales.

Things to consider before taking a sales job

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and enter the sales field, Resume.io has you covered. Our job board gives you access to a wide range of jobs from all over the USA, curated according to your unique needs. When browsing jobs, it’s important to remember that not all positions will be right for you. Before you accept a position, try to think about the following factors:

What are your options?

No one wants to stay in an entry-level role forever, so it’s important to explore your professional goals before you take a job. If you’re interested in moving into a management or leadership role, make sure that you find a job that offers plenty of opportunities for advancement. 

What is the compensation like?

There are many types of compensation that you might encounter in the sales world. As we mentioned above, most roles employ some type of commission combined with base pay. Before you take a job, make sure that it offers adequate compensation, as well as the type of security you need to thrive.

Does the job match your work style?

Your personality will make some jobs more pleasant than others, and it’s important to think about this before you make a decision. With each job, do as much research as possible and find out what type of work you’ll be doing. For example, if you’re someone who likes meeting new people on a regular basis, you might do well in a job that requires you to find leads. On the other hand, if you’re someone who enjoys building deep relationships with a few customers, you might do well as an account manager.

How do leads work?

Some sales jobs require employees to seek out and develop new leads. Alternately, some sales professionals work with incoming leads, meaning that they work with potential clients who have already shown interest. If you’re not comfortable making cold calls or contacting complete strangers, you might prefer working with incoming leads. Try to learn more about what a position requires before jumping in.

Key takeaways

  1. Sales is the segment of a company devoted to turning leads into paying customers.

  2. For many professionals, sales is a rewarding career path that offers good compensation, ample opportunities, and an enjoyable work environment.

  3. Many sales professionals start in lead generation before moving on to work as sales representatives. Some may then move into management or executive roles.

  4. Before you take a job in sales, make sure that the job offers a work style that matches your skills, good compensation, a commission rate that works for you, and plenty of opportunities for advancement.

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