How to Become a Sales Executive: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a sales executive. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in sales.

Should I Become a Sales Executive?

Sales executives are high-level sales jobs that involve selling products and services to businesses and individual consumers. Sales executives are responsible for developing sales strategies, determining new markets, identifying potential customers and providing knowledgeable information regarding their company's products and services. In addition to these responsibilities, sales executives should be able to answer the questions of established and prospective customers and help them make informed purchasing decisions.

Sales executives may work for many different types of businesses, including retail and wholesale trade, finance, manufacturing and management companies. Excellent communication skills are necessary for this line of work. Executives also must usually travel to meet with potential clients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree preferred
Degree Fields Varies; sales, marketing or business degrees are common
Certification Certification not required, but may aid in professional advancement
Experience 2+ years prior sales experience
Key Skills Strong oral and written communication, analytical, presentation, time-management and customer-service skills, as well as confidence and motivation, ability to work in a wide variety of environments, willingness to travel
Salary (2014) $110,660 per year (Median salary for sales managers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Statistics, Job postings from employers (November 2012), Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI)

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring sales executives commonly earn bachelor's degrees in business or sales and marketing. However, a variety of majors could provide useful skills for the sales industry. For example, an undergraduate program in English might teach superior communication ability, while a psychology program could give insight to personal relations that would lend itself to good customer service. Other related sales programs, such as the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Professional Sales or B.S. in Sales and Marketing, are available.

Success Tip

  • Develop and strengthen sales skills while working towards a degree. Sales executives meet with current and prospective customers to sell a product. As a result, they're expected to have excellent skills in public speaking and an advanced understanding of the English language. In a field where presentation is everything, it's important for potential sales executives to hone these skills and work on persuasion and negotiation techniques.

Step 2: Gain Sales Experience

Because employers usually require sales executives to have at least two years of prior experience in the sales field, gaining this experience is an essential step towards becoming successful. There are a wide variety of entry-level sales positions, such as a customer service representative. Future executives may also look for a position in the area of sales they plan on working, which will allow them to gain specific knowledge and training.

Success Tip

  • Consider a professional credential. Organizations like the SMEI offer certification that shows employers an applicant is qualified and serious about their role in sales. Credentials from the SMEI include the Certified Professional Salesperson (SCPS) and the Certified Sales Executive (CSE). The SCPS certification may be helpful to prospective sales executives, while the CSE certification may be more appropriate for individuals already employed as sales executives. Both certifications involve course programs that conclude with an exam and require the completion of recertification, as needed.

Step 4: Find a Sales Executive Position

The sales industry is large, which allows great opportunity for growth. When searching for a sales executive position, it's important to keep in mind potential advancement opportunities. Once hired, a sales executive should learn everything he or she can about the products being sold in anticipation of questions from clients. Also, most employers offer on-the-job training to be sure that new employees are following company procedures.

Step 5: Continue Learning About the Field

A great way to show devotion to the sales field and be considered for promotion is to actively seek continuing education. Some colleges and universities offer online business and management courses that award certificates in fields like sales and service. These types of continuing education show initiative and might increase a sales executive's ability to outperform other salespeople.

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