Just like Girl Scout cookies come in many different flavors, sales jobs are incredibly varied. While one role might be perfect for your personality and career goals, another might make you miserable or require skills you don’t have.
Rather than learning from direct experience which type of sales job you love -- and which ones you’re ill-suited for -- use this comprehensive guide. You’ll learn what each position encompasses and how to tell whether it’s right for you.
What to Look for in a Sales Job
Before you can analyze a sales job, you need to know what to look for. Take the following five points into consideration.
Industry and career path: Are you interested in working for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies? Chances are, you’ll need to start as a business development rep and work your way to an account executive position. On the other hand, if you go into manufacturing sales, you’ll probably be responsible for handling deals from start to finish.
This is to say: The industry you work in will determine the type of sales roles open to you, and vice versa. Before you commit to a certain career path or industry, make sure the positions and focus are compatible with your goals and preferences.
Long-term job outlook: Certain jobs, like BDRs, are steadily growing more popular. Others, like outside sales, are on the decline. Before you commit to a career path, make sure your role will still be necessary in 10 years.
Type of compensation: How do you like to make money? Sales compensation ranges from zero-commission (retail salespeople, for example) to pure commission (your salary is completely determined by performance.) The former offers a greater sense of security, but the latter can be incredibly profitable -- assuming you’re good at your job.
It’s even more important to keep in mind the average and median pay of the role. You might discover the position you’re interested doesn’t provide enough income to maintain your desired lifestyle.
Type of leads: If you prefer working inbound leads, a role that asks you to proactively find your opportunities won’t be the best fit.
Personality: You’ll be miserable if you dislike the main activities of your role. For instance, someone who loves to get to know their customers and help them achieve their goals over an extended period would likely be best in account management.
Jobs in sales:
- Sales development rep (SDR)
- Account Executive (AE)
- Outside Salesperson
- Account Manager
- Sales Engineer
Common Sales Job Types
1) Sales development rep (SDR)
SDRs (also commonly called business development reps, or BDRs) are responsible for the first part of the sales process: Researching, prospecting, and qualifying leads.
Depending on the organization, that may mean identifying and reaching out to potential good fits, answering requests for more information, following up with prospects who downloaded content, prospecting on LinkedIn and other social networks, and more.
Once an SDR has determined the lead is qualified, they pass the opportunity to a sales rep. That rep is responsible for presenting or demoing the product, resolving the buyer’s objections, and creating a proposal.
Unlike a closing sales rep, SDRs don’t carry a traditional quota. They’re typically measured on their activity, like number of calls made and/or emails sent. According to The Bridge Group’s 2016 Sales Development Metrics and Compensation report, it’s most common for companies to base an SDR’s commission on the number of meetings or opportunities they pass to their partner reps and the number of meetings or opportunities accepted by those reps.
The Bridge Group also found average SDR compensation (base plus commission) is $72,100.
How to know if this job is right for you: This position is a great entry point to sales. Not only is there a clear promotion path, you don’t need much experience. Since 2010, the number of businesses bringing on board SDRs with less than one year of experience has increased four times.
You’ll spend most of your time speaking with potential prospects, so you may not want to become an SDR if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone. The typical SDR role requires excellent written and verbal communication skills.
2) Account Executive (AE)
The vast majority of candidates are ready to be promoted after approximately six to 18 months in a sales development role. As an AE, they’ve got a brand-new set of responsibilities: Running demos or giving presentations; identifying, surfacing, and addressing potential buying obstacles; crafting personalized value propositions; getting the commitment to purchase; and negotiating the actual terms.
AEs are held to quotas. RingDNA says average OTE (on-target earnings) is $112,000.
How to know if this job is right for you: Being an AE is a natural next step once you’ve gotten some selling experience under your belt. People with strong interpersonal skills thrive as AEs, since the lion’s share of their day is spent in meetings, on the phone, sending emails, and/or engaging prospects on social media.
Resiliency is crucial. Like most sales jobs, the AE role comes with rejection and uncertainty. You’ll be miserable if you don’t learn to bounce back quickly after failure and remain calm in high-stress situations.
Of course, there are also a lot of highs. If the idea of closing a big deal or winning a low-probability opportunity thrills you, this position is right up your alley.
3) Outside Salesperson
Thanks to the rise of email, social media, and web-conferencing tools -- not to mention, a growing desire to talk to salespeople virtually and on the phone rather than in-person -- outside sales roles are becoming increasingly less common.
An outside salesperson spends most of their time “in the field,” or visiting potential customers at their offices. You’ll be moving around constantly: Around the city, region, state, country, or even world.
Because you’re largely working by yourself or with a few other team members, a field sales job can be isolating. On the other hand, you’ll likely have a flexible schedule.
Pace Productivity, a consulting firm, found the average outside sales rep works 48 hours a week and spends 13% of their time traveling.
The average national salary for this role is around $42,000, according to Glassdoor.
How to know if this job is right for you: Employers usually look to more experienced salespeople for outside sales roles, since you’ll normally be meeting buyers on your own. It’s also harder to learn selling fundamentals when you’re operating solo or in a small team.
As a result, an outside sales role might not be the optimal choice when you’re new to sales. The travel takes a toll too -- whether you’re a novice or veteran.
Outside sales does offer some advantages. Building rapport and establishing trust with your prospects tends to be easier if you’re face-to-face. In addition, many reps like how much autonomy and independence this role offers.
4) Account Manager
Account managers enter the picture once the initial purchase is complete. Unlike a salesperson, whose accounts are constantly changing, an account manager’s portfolio is relatively stable.
You’ll work with each customer to understand their needs, create a long-term strategy, and help them realize the greatest possible ROI from your product.
An account manager also serves as the client’s primary point-of-contact at the company. When they have non-support questions, they’ll go to you.
The main metrics you’ll be measured by? Retention and satisfaction rates. But account managers also look for upsell and cross-sell opportunities. At some organizations (usually smaller ones), they’ll handle this conversation with the customer directly. At larger companies, it’s more common for a salesperson to take over once an opportunity to expand the account comes up.
The average national salary is $59,000, according to PayScale.
How to know if this job is right for you: If you’re passionate about building lasting relationships and being an internal advocate for your customers, you’ll do well as an account manager.
Successful account managers are also skilled at balancing multiple needs. For any given account, you must consider the client’s objectives, your company’s objectives, sales targets, and more.
Lastly, you’ll need to speak your customer’s language. Without a deep understanding of their business, market, product, and industry, you’ll never earn their confidence.
5) Sales Engineer
These professionals are also known as “pre-sales support,” “systems engineer,” or “field consultant.” Sales engineers combine the technical expertise of engineers with the business acumen and selling skills of a traditional rep.
That’s a powerful -- and rare -- combination, so demand for them is relatively high.
As a sales engineer, you’ll answer in-depth product questions; work with prospects to determine their technical needs; communicate those needs to your sales, engineering and/or product teams; help salespeople give demos; and craft the technical components of proposals and contracts.
You’ll either be paired with a single rep -- in which case you may be held to a joint quota -- or assigned to deals. Reps often complain there aren’t enough sales engineers to go around, so it’s likely you’ll have a full schedule.
Because sales engineering calls for more tech savvy than a traditional selling role, the median pay is relatively high: $97,650, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How to know if the job is right for you: This position is ideal if you’re excited to flex both your technical knowledge and people skills. It requires fantastic active listening, presentation, and communication skills, as you’ll be spending a great deal of time in front of customers.
Some sales engineers are always on the road. Can you picture yourself spending a few days per week away from home hosting workshops for prospective customers and giving demos? If just the thought exhausts you, a sales engineering position may not be the best fit.
It’s also worth noting most employers look for a B.S. in computer science, a B.A. in engineering, or another related degree. Five-plus years of experience in pre-sales roles will also increase your chances of getting hired.
Good luck finding your first job in sales. Let us know how it goes in the comments below.