Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

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 for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives[About this section] [To Top]

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products hold about 1.5 million jobs. The largest employers of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products are as follows:

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 29%
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 19
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 17
Manufacturing 15
Retail trade 4

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products hold about 343,600 jobs. The largest employers of sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products are as follows:

Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 17%
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 15
Professional, scientific, and technical services 13
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 12
Manufacturing 12

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.

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representative 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 and Manufacturing Sales Representative[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives near you!

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 for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

A high school diploma is typically sufficient for many positions, primarily those selling nontechnical or scientific 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 degree in a field related to the product sold, such as chemistry, biology, or engineering, 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.

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representative 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 for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

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 for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

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 for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

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.

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representative Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products is $57,140. 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 $27,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $121,080.

The median annual wage for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products is $78,980. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,940.

The median annual wages for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers $64,640
Manufacturing 60,630
Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 55,160
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 52,990
Retail trade 51,080

The median annual wages for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers $83,950
Professional, scientific, and technical services 83,270
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 81,500
Manufacturing 79,870
Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods 79,300

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 for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment growth for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives will largely follow the growth of the overall economy. 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 growth is expected to be stronger for sales representatives working at independent sales agencies, because companies often shift their sales activities to independent agencies as a way to cut costs and boost revenue. These independent companies do not buy and hold the products they are selling. Instead, they operate on a fee or commission basis in representing the product manufacturer. Employment of sales representatives in this industry—wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers—is projected to grow 14 percent over the next ten years.

Job Prospects for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Job opportunities should be best for those with previous sales experience. Although the large size of the occupations creates many job openings, the relatively high pay will also likely attract a large number of applicants.

Employment projections data for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing 1,813,500 1,907,600 5 94,100
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products 343,600 361,300 5 17,600
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 1,469,900 1,546,300 5 76,400


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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