What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Sales Representative?

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Best Degree Path to Becoming a Sales Representative

Do you have an aptitude for science and the interpersonal skills of a natural salesperson? You can turn a sales representative job into a high-paying career. Sales positions in the wholesale and manufacturing industries:

  • pay well
  • offer opportunities for advancement
  • present ongoing challenges that keep the work interesting and engaging

To land a sales job in wholesale, manufacturing or science and technical services, you should pursue a formal college education. You can earn a bachelor’s degree in one of several different majors.

In today’s sales environment, firms are looking for intelligent individuals with technical acumen and strong interpersonal relationship skills. These high-level sales positions certainly require persuasion. But the focus is more on outstanding communication with a focus on:

  • technical aptitude
  • the ability to build trust through customer service
  • producing the desired results

Sales in the Wholesale and Manufacturing Industries

In the wholesale and manufacturing industry, sales representatives are involved in the sales process from start to finish. As a sales representative, you identify potential customers and initiate contact. You point out product features and benefits to encourage potential clients to purchase the product or service. You negotiate the terms of the sale and prepare sales contracts between the customer and the company. The sales cycle requires different skills as you go from cold call to close. Regardless of where you are in the sales cycle, the process requires:

  • technical expertise
  • customer service
  • communication

Why You Need a Degree for a Sales Representative Job

Not all sales representatives need a college degree to find work. Many sales positions in various industries are available to candidates who have only a high school education. However, these jobs don’t have the serious earning potential that more lucrative sales roles in technical, science, wholesale, and manufacturing have. Cashiers and retail sales workers, for example, often earn salaries below the national median wage for all occupations.

If you want to earn salaries well above the median, then you will need to find work in the right industry. Industries that pay sales representatives the most include computer systems design and footwear manufacturing, according to U.S. News & World Report. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) sales roles that require higher qualifications and have higher income include:

  • industrial equipment
  • medical instruments
  • pharmaceuticals

Sales representatives must understand the merchandise they sell, so candidates interested in selling technical or scientific merchandise should earn a degree in a relevant field. Depending on which area interests you, this might mean earning a bachelor’s degree in:

  • engineering
  • biology
  • chemistry

Courses that help you improve your sales skills and techniques include those in:

  • business
  • marketing
  • communication
  • economics

After completing a college degree program, you should expect to spend some time – often, a year or more – in your employer’s formal training program.

Best Degree Path to Becoming a Sales Representative

Job Outlook for Sales Representatives

The overall employment rate for wholesale and manufacturing sales representative jobs is expected to increase 2% from 2019 through 2029. While this is slower than the average growth for all other occupations tracked by the BLS, there are significant pockets of growth within the wholesale and manufacturing sector.

Individuals working as independent sales agents in the electronics and consumer electronics sector are expected to experience 12% growth during during 2019-2029. Demand is driven by an increased economic appetite for electronics. It’s also driven by a lower cost of doing business for corporations that use independent sales agents to sell their goods to consumers and businesses. The costs are lower because these agents represent the brands they sell but do not hold inventory.

As with other occupations, there are regional differences when you compare job prospects by geographic location. California, Texas, and Florida employ the highest number of wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives. Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma having the highest employment concentration of manufacturing sales representatives.

The highest paying states include:

  • Wyoming
  • California
  • New York

Annual wages averaged $129,290, $115,870, and $112,430, respectively. It should be noted that, according to BLS, the Wyoming data set is a rather small sample of just 200 sales representatives.

When looking at specific metro areas, the job prospects in locations such as San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Durham-Chapel Hill, and Raleigh have the highest job concentrations.Median annual salaries range from $143,850 – $111,810. The majority of these sales positions are reflective of the highly technical nature of the products being sold in the information technology and healthcare industries.

Potential Earnings for Sales Representatives

According the BLS data, the median wage for non-technical and scientific products sales representatives was $53,930 in May 2019. Compare that to the average annual wage of $39,810 for all BLS-tracked occupations. It’s clear that sales careers in this area pay well above the median.

Sales professionals that sell technical and scientific-related products and services earn a median wage of $81,020. The large increase in salary is highly reflective of the technical nature of the products and services that require higher levels of:

  • education
  • training
  • expertise

When looking further into salary data, the lowest 10% earn about $41,080 and the highest 10% earn around $158,580. Disparate wages largely reflect the number of years of experience a person has in the occupation.

sales degree

Training for Sales Representative Jobs

In addition to a college degree, some wholesale, manufacturing, and technical salespeople go through extensive training programs once they are hired. Many of these programs last up to a year. During this time you spend time in the field and in the office learning the business from the ground up. It is critical that you obtain an in-depth understanding of all phases of the product’s :

  • design
  • installation
  • distribution
  • sales

Once you pass the formal training program, it is highly likely you will receive your own client list or territory to manage.

Certifications, Licenses, and Registrations for Sales Representative Jobs

To those who complete the initial training programs, the Manufacturers’ Representatives Educational Research Foundation confers certifications. These are:

  • the Certified Professional Manufacturers’ Representative (CPMR)
  • the Certified Sales Professional (CSP)

These certifications are valuable insignias that prove a level of technical knowledge and sales ability. They they can be helpful when procuring clients. In addition to completing the initial training program, the CPMR requires 10 hours of annual continuing education to maintain licensure.

Advancement Opportunities

Advancement opportunities abound in the sales profession. If you are a consistently high achiever you most likely will be rewarded with larger, more lucrative accounts and territories. This leads to increased commissions and bigger paydays. Moreover, if you show leadership qualities, you may have the opportunity to assume a leadership position as a:

  • sales manager
  • district sales supervisor
  • vice president of sales

Important Qualities for Sales Representatives

Working in wholesale, manufacturing, and technical sales is generally a lucrative career. But it’s not for everyone. Sales careers are by nature a riskier profession due to:

  • the commission-based pay structure
  • its propensity to be impacted by the current state of the economy

Individuals with certain personalities and characteristics fair better than their counterparts.

Ability to Handle Change

While the best salespeople are organized and systematic, they also must be ready and willing to handle fluid situations that occur. Any experienced salesperson will have war stories of panicked clients calling up demanding they drop everything and attend to an important matter. The top professionals know how to handle change with grace and professionalism.

Ability to Handle Rejection

Much of a sales representative’s time is spent finding prospective clients through developing leads. Even the most successful sales representative will tell you they deal with daily rejection and sometimes go long stretches without closing a sale or acquiring a new client. For many, dealing with constant rejection is difficult to handle, which is why sales is not the best fit for everyone. For those who can handle hearing, “no” on a consistent basis, sales can be a very rewarding and lucrative profession.

Attention to Detail

The most successful sales representatives will tell you that it takes a lot of attention to detail to be successful on the job. Each client has specific needs and wants. Many times, sales representatives are responsible for dozens, and sometimes, hundreds of clients. All demand a high level of service and consistent communication. Today’s sales contracts are complex and often have client-specific language and specifications that are unique to that account. It’s critical that the salesperson is on top of those details and can ensure each product is delivered smoothly. Most salespeople meet with high-level decision-makers who expect a high degree of attention to detail and personal attention. Sales is a competitive space, so if the professional is not organized, he or she may lose the account.


If you’re a competitive person who thrives in an environment driven by achievement, you may enjoy a career in sales. Salespeople aren’t the types to just go to work, punch the clock, and go home. They thrive on competition – whether it is with:

  • himself or herself
  • colleagues in the office
  • rival companies


At the end of the day, you’re a successful salesperson if you’ve met your sales goals. Salespeople are beholden to numbers. It’s one of the few professions that requires you to meet a specific target to keep your job. Top-notch salespeople are driven by meeting monthly, quarterly, and annual sales goals.

Interpersonal Communication

Successful salespeople will tell you that one of the most important contributors to success is the ability to build strong relationships through strong interpersonal communication. Gone are the days of the pushy salesperson with the slick talk and overbearing demeanor. High-level sales require strong active listening and the ability to build trust. All existing and potential clients are unique individuals with distinct needs, wants, and personalities. An adept salesperson is excellent at communicating with different types of people from various backgrounds while maintaining a professional and friendly demeanor.


As a salesperson, your days are spent meeting with existing clients, developing leads, and performing a host of other duties. Multitasking is a huge part of the job. You have to be able to adapt quickly and devote your time and energy to multiple tasks – often at the same time. If you are too plodding and linear in your habits, you can have a difficult time with this. You may not enjoy the work that is often part of a salesperson’s day.

Public Speaking

Public speaking is an integral part of many professions, and sales is no exception. Wholesale, manufacturing, and technical salespeople often find themselves giving technical and business presentations to decision-makers. It is critical to present with professionalism and poise. The best salespeople are well prepared for pitch meetings and can answer off-the-cuff questions with ease.

Best Degree Path to Becoming a Sales Representative

Work Environment for Sales Representatives

Sales representatives spend a lot of time communicating with current and potential clients through various channels such as:

  • email
  • phone
  • text
  • chat
  • video calls

Those with large territories covering several states travel a considerable amount and spend a lot of time away from the home and office. Those with smaller territories travel a lot, too, but they may not spend as much time on the road or in the air. The job can be stressful because your income is directly tied to your ability to sell goods and services by meeting sales quotas and goals. You will most likely work more than the standard 40 hours per week. Many sales people work upwards of 50-60 hours on a consistent basis. Depending on the type of product, the workload may vary throughout the year.

For the right individual, a career as a sales representative in the wholesale and manufacturing industry can be a great choice. The future of the occupation looks strong and there are several different degrees that can assist you on your journey to success.

Related Resources:

This concludes our article on the best path to becoming a sales representative.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris