The majority of salespeople represent products and services to consumers. It's called business-to-consumer selling, often abbreviated B2C. Salespeople are consumers themselves, so selling to other consumers is easier than selling to industrial clients, for example. New salespeople are more comfortable selling retail merchandise, consumer services, cars, houses, securities, and other items to people just like them.
Because the price of consumer items is less than most sales made to businesses and industry (wholesale inventory, heavy equipment, etc.), income derived from B2C sales initially is lower. However, an experienced seller can, within a few years, develop an income that rivals or exceeds that paid to other professional positions. Income from some sales jobs is open-ended — in both directions.
Nearly 60 percent of all salespeople work in retail, either as clerks or cashiers. They sell everything from general merchandise to cosmetics, books, music, clothing, auto parts, hardware, and other common commodities. Most are paid an hourly wage, ranging from minimum wage to double the minimum wage.
Depending on how much assistance customers need in selection, some retailers also pay a commission or bonus. A commission is a fee based on a percentage of the value of the sale. The commission typically ranges from 3 to 15 percent of the sale total (excluding taxes). To be eligible, commissioned salespeople must accurately track their sales, or the employer must have a trustworthy system for tracking the source of all sales.
A bonus is based on individual, department, or store sales totals for a period. For example, a retailer may offer a bonus of 5 percent if monthly sales exceed a specified level. Some retailers offer yearly bonuses and split it among all employees based on the number of hours or days they worked.
Unfortunately, some retailers take advantage of commission structures, cutting salaries to a minimum and forcing employees to sell hard to make a living wage. Some employees do. Some don't, and they soon begin looking for another job. In the meantime, the retailer has minimized employee costs.
It often puts retail salespeople in a position where they must coerce rather than persuade. Many otherwise good salespeople give up this career because of excessive pressure to sell at any cost. Others find jobs without this pressure and learn that being a seller can be a rewarding career.
A typical retail sales job is as a sales clerk in a specialized store (hardware, electronics, etc.) or in a department of a large store. Many retail salespeople work when consumers shop, often evenings and weekends. Others have nine-to-five jobs. In addition to basic sales skills, clerks typically need knowledge and training in their store's primary product lines.
For example, an auto parts clerk must first know the components of cars and how they are purchased. They also must know customer sales and service techniques. This includes a practical knowledge of using computers and product databases. Their pay and advancement depends on both product knowledge and customer satisfaction. Specialty clerks often move into retail management or into wholesale sales in their field.
Consumers need services as well as products. Parents need day care for their children, car owners need auto detail services, homes need cleaning services, wage earners need tax services. In each case, what is sold is a service rather than a tangible product. Selling services to consumers can be a full-time job, or it can be a component of providing the service. In either case, basic selling skills can be invaluable.
Selling services to consumers is similar to selling retail products. The primary difference is that the seller must be adept at helping the buyer understand the intangible benefits. You can't point to the product and tell how it works. You must make promises. This type of sales takes more developed trust and usually more sales skill. If you are personable and enjoy helping others, selling consumer services may be a better fit for you than other types of sales.
Consumer service sales often pay a basic wage and a commission or bonus. Because there often are fewer costs to providing a service than a product, commissions can be higher than in retail product sales. Dedicated consumer service salespeople can earn commissions of 10 to 20 percent. If consumer service sales interest you, focus on the services that you use yourself. You can then help buyers more easily visualize benefits.
For example, there are more than 100,000 travel agents in the United States selling travel services ranging from airplane tickets to cruise excursions to round-the-world packages. Travel agents sell a combination of products and advice. Before the Internet, travel agents handled the majority of travel products for travelers. They now face stiff competition from online services like Expedia and Travelocity that allow consumers to directly book travel with airlines and purchase other travel products.
Many travel agents now specialize in selling unique travel packages: two weeks of golf in Scotland, small ship ocean excursions to remote islands, or all-inclusive packages to the Olympic games. Others specialize in last-minute travel sales or cater exclusively to business travel clients. Most travel agents earn a relatively small salary, usually two or three times minimum wage, plus a small commission on sales. In addition, most agents also get complimentary, or “comp,” travel from airlines and packagers wishing to promote their services. In fact, the comps are why many people become travel agents.
Though car salespeople often have the lowest consumer rating, the majority are knowledgeable and professional. That's why millions of cars are sold each year. The advantages of selling cars over other consumer products is that (1) nearly everyone loves to look at cars and (2) income is higher for selling cars. What buyers don't like is pushy salespeople. Become a Golden Rule Seller (see Chapter 2) and selling cars may be the best job for you.
Car salespeople typically are paid a salary plus a commission and bonuses. The pay structure varies widely depending on whether you are selling new or used cars, the local demand, and the dealership's market position. Selling cars for a living typically earns from two to five times minimum wage. Experienced salespeople offering high-ticket cars, trucks, and SUVs can earn up to ten times minimum wage.
How can you find a car dealership that matches your sales philosophy? By becoming a consumer. Visit area dealerships and analyze how they treat you. Do they attempt to sell you as you want to be sold? Also, ask family, friends, and acquaintances about their local car buying experiences. Can they recommend a dealership or seller? When you're ready, talk with the dealership's sales managers about career opportunities. There's no obligation. You can get a job in sales that meets your needs and benefits both your employer and your customers.
The Internet has dramatically impacted the sales profession. Consumers now can do extensive product research and compare prices on thousands of products and services without leaving home. Knowing this, smart salespeople must offer benefits to buying through them rather than online. They must offer unique knowledge, provide superlative service, and be prepared to negotiate harder. Learn how to use the Internet to advance your sales career.
For many people, their first sales job is in real estate. It also may be their last and only. Real estate sales is a high-turnover career that requires advanced skills for long-term success. In a “hot” market, sales are relatively easy. In a down market, many real estate salespeople either work twice as hard or get out of the business.
Most real estate salespeople don't get a salary or wage. They are paid a commission on the sale of the property. Actually, they share the commission. For example, if the sales commission is 5 percent and the home sells for $400,000, the total commission is $20,000. Typically, it is shared four ways, with one-quarter each going to the seller's broker, seller's agent, buyer's broker, and buyer's agent.
In this example, each gets a commission check of $5,000. From that income, sales agents must pay expenses ranging from auto and fuel to office expenses. The actual split depends on the office agreement. Sell three houses a month and you're rich. Sell one house every three months and you can barely pay expenses.
In all states, real estate agents must be licensed to represent property and buyers in a transaction. To be licensed, they must know real estate law sufficient to pass a state test. The test covers property rights, transfers, and financials as well as residential construction basics.
In addition, real estate agents acquire ongoing training to keep up with market and financial trends. There currently are about 47,000 real estate brokers and 168,000 agents in the United States. Related jobs include insurance agents, with more than 310,000 agents offering insurance to consumers as well as businesses.
About 280,000 B2C salespeople work in the financial services trade. Actually, this trade serves both consumer and business clients. They sell securities (stock and mutual funds) and commodities (crude oil, soybeans, etc.) to investors. In addition, some sell related services, such as financial planning, tax planning, and other knowledge-based products. They sell financial advice.
Most financial service sales jobs require licensing and advanced training, just as real estate sales jobs do. They often have college degrees in business or finance and additional training in their specialty. They typically work for brokerage houses and other financial service groups. Some work for banks and related financial institutions. Many are self-employed and work from their home or a small professional office.
More than 120,000 workers involved in sales are demonstrators, product promoters, and models. Their job is to get you interested in the product or service. Someone else will actually make the sale. If you enjoy showing off a product, but aren't yet comfortable asking for the purchase, consider a job showing how to use the product. In most cases, these jobs are part-time; however, they are a vital part of selling products and can be a rewarding way of making a living.
Financial service salespeople are paid well, often among the highest sales incomes. A financial investment person can earn 20 times minimum wage or more. Of course, most entry-level jobs begin at just a few times minimum wage to entice new employees and keep them ambitious.
Financial services can be a highly stressful job, especially for the most successful. Hundreds of critical financial decisions are made daily, each capable of dramatically impacting clients' wealth — and your own. A career in financial sales can be extremely rewarding for those with the knowledge, skills, emotions, and stamina required to maintain long-term professionalism.