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What Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives Do About this section

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives
Some wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives specialize in technical and scientific products, ranging from agricultural and mechanical equipment to computer and pharmaceutical goods.

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives sell goods for wholesalers or manufacturers to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. They contact customers, explain the features of the products they are selling, negotiate prices, and answer any questions that their customers may have about the products.

Duties

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives typically do the following:

  • Identify prospective customers by using business directories, following leads from existing clients, and attending trade shows and conferences
  • Contact new and existing customers to discuss their needs and explain how specific products and services can meet these needs
  • Help customers select products to meet customers’ needs, product specifications, and regulations
  • Emphasize product features that will meet customers’ needs, and exhibit the capabilities and limitations of their products
  • Answer customers’ questions about the prices, availability, and uses of the products they are selling
  • Negotiate prices and terms of sales and service agreements
  • Prepare sales contracts and submit orders for processing
  • Collaborate with colleagues to exchange information, such as information on selling strategies and marketing information
  • Follow up with customers to make sure that they are satisfied with their purchases and to answer any questions or concerns they might have

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives—sometimes called manufacturers’ representatives or manufacturers’ agents—generally work for manufacturers or wholesalers. Some work for a single organization, while others represent several companies and sell a range of products.

Unlike retail sales workers, who sell goods directly to consumers, wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives deal with businesses, government agencies, and other organizations.

Some wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives work with nonscientific products, such as food, office supplies, and clothing. Other representatives specialize in technical and scientific products, ranging from agricultural and mechanical equipment to computer and pharmaceutical goods.

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives who lack expertise about a given product frequently 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 initial contact with customers, introduces the company’s product, and obtains final agreement from the potential buyer.

By working with a technical expert, the representative is able to spend more time maintaining and soliciting accounts and less time seeking technical knowledge.

After the sale, representatives may make followup visits to ensure that equipment is functioning properly and may even help train customers’ employees to operate and maintain new equipment.

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.

In addition to selling products, wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives analyze sales statistics, prepare reports, and handle administrative duties such as filing expense accounts, scheduling appointments, and making travel plans.

Staying up to date on new products and the changing needs of customers is important. Sales representatives accomplish this aim in a variety of ways, including attending trade shows at which new products and technologies are showcased. They attend conferences and conventions to meet other sales representatives and clients and to discuss new product developments. They also read about new and existing products and monitor the sales, prices, and products of their competitors.

The following are examples of types of wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives:

Inside sales representatives work mostly in offices while making sales. Frequently, they are responsible for getting new clients by “cold-calling” various organizations, meaning that they call potential customers who are not expecting to be contacted. That way, a representative can establish an initial contact. They also take incoming calls from customers who are interested in their product, and they process paperwork to complete the sale.

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 they can meet those needs with merchandise or services. They may show samples or catalogs that describe items their company provides, and they may inform customers about the prices and availability of the products they are selling and the ways in which their products can save money and boost productivity.

Work Environment About this section

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives
Some wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives have large territories and travel considerably.

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products held about 1.3 million jobs in 2021. The largest employers of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products were as follows:

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 32%
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 20
Manufacturing 18
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 10
Retail trade 4

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products held about 280,700 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products were as follows:

Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 22%
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 17
Manufacturing 14
Professional, scientific, and technical services 11
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 6

Some wholesale and manufacturing 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. Sales representatives who cover a smaller region may not spend much time away from home.

Other wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives spend a lot of their time on the phone, selling goods, taking orders, and resolving problems or complaints about the merchandise. They also use Web technology, including chats, email, and video conferencing, to contact clients.

Workers in this occupation can be under considerable 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.

Work Schedules

Most wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives work full time and many work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Wholesale or Manufacturing Sales Representative About this section

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives
Sales representatives of scientific or technical products, such as pharmaceuticals or medical instruments, typically need a degree in a field related to the product sold.

Educational requirements vary with the type of product sold. If the products are not scientific or technical, a high school diploma is generally enough for entry into the occupation. If the products are scientific or technical, sales representatives typically need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Education

A high school diploma is typically sufficient for many positions, primarily those selling nontechnical or nonscientific products. However, representatives selling scientific and technical products usually must have a bachelor’s degree. Scientific and technical products include pharmaceuticals, medical instruments, and industrial equipment. A field of degree related to the product sold, such as agriculture or biology, is sometimes required.

Many sales representatives attend seminars in sales techniques or take courses in marketing, economics, communication, or even a foreign language to improve their ability to make sales.

Training

Many companies have formal training programs for beginning wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives. These programs may last up to 1 year. In some, trainees rotate among jobs in plants and offices in order to learn all phases of producing, installing, and distributing the product. In others, trainees receive formal technical instruction at the plant, followed by on-the-job training under the supervision of a field sales manager.

New employees may be trained by going along with experienced workers on their sales calls. As they gain familiarity with the firm’s products and clients, the new workers gain more responsibility until they eventually get their own territory.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The Certified Professional Manufacturers’ Representative (CPMR) certification and the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) certification are both offered by the Manufacturers’ Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF). Certification typically involves completing formal technical training and passing an exam. In addition, the CPMR requires 10 hours of continuing education every year in order to maintain certification.

Advancement

Frequently, promotion takes the form of an assignment to a larger account or territory, for which commissions are likely to be greater. Those who have good sales records and leadership ability may advance to higher level positions, such as sales manager, sales supervisor, district manager, or vice president of sales.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives must be able to listen to the customer’s needs and concerns before and after the sale.

Interpersonal skills. Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives must be able to work well with many types of people. They must be able to build good relationships with clients and with other members of the sales team.

Physical stamina. Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives are often on their feet for a long time and may carry heavy sample products.

Self-confidence. Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives must be confident and persuasive when making sales presentations. In addition, making a call to a potential customer who is not expecting to be contacted, or “cold-calling,” requires confidence and composure.

Pay About this section

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Median annual wages, May 2021

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products

$94,840

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing

$62,890

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

$61,600

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Sales and related occupations

$30,600

 

The median annual wage for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products was $61,600 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $125,750.

The median annual wage for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products was $94,840 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $168,320.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers $74,220
Manufacturing 63,520
Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 60,700
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 60,360
Retail trade 51,930

In May 2021, the median annual wages for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods $120,780
Professional, scientific, and technical services 102,680
Manufacturing 99,020
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 98,470
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 79,550

Compensation for representatives varies considerably with the type of firm and the product sold. Most employers use a combination of salary and commissions or salary plus bonuses. Commissions usually are based on a percentage of sales. Bonuses may depend on the individual’s performance, on the performance of all sales workers in the group or district, or on the company’s performance.

Most wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives work full time and many work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook About this section

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing

4%

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

4%

Sales and related occupations

-1%

 

Overall employment of wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 170,000 openings for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

In addition to a rising total volume of sales, a wider range of products and technologies will lead to increased demand for sales representatives. Although wholesale sales are increasingly being conducted online, these online sales are expected to complement, rather than replace, face-to-face selling. Therefore, online sales are not expected to have a negative effect on employment growth for these workers.

Employment projections data for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing

41-4000 1,597,600 1,660,900 4 63,300 Get data

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products

41-4011 280,700 295,100 5 14,400 Get data

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

41-4012 1,316,900 1,365,800 4 48,900 Get data

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