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 product features, answer any questions that their customers may have, and negotiate prices.

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 product capabilities and limitations
  • Answer customers' questions about prices, availability, and product uses
  • Negotiate prices and terms of sale and service agreements
  • Prepare sales contracts and submit orders for processing
  • Collaborate with colleagues to exchange information, such as selling strategies and marketing information
  • Follow up with customers to make sure they are satisfied with their purchases and to answer any questions or concerns

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.

Rather than selling goods directly to consumers, wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives deal with businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. For more information about people who sell directly to consumers, see the profile on retail sales workers.

Some wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives deal 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. For more information about people who specialize in sales of technical products and services, see the profile on sales engineers.

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 needing to gain technical knowledge.

After the sale, representatives may make follow-up 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 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, which means they call potential customers who are not expecting to be contacted in order to establish an initial contact. They also take incoming calls from customers who are interested in their product, and 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 prices, availability, and ways in which their products can save money and boost productivity. Because many sales representatives sell several complementary products made by different manufacturers, they may take a broad approach to their customers' businesses. For example, sales representatives may help install new equipment and train employees in its use.

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

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives hold about 1.8 million jobs. The industries that employ the most wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives are as follows:

Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 17%
Manufacturing 14
Machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant wholesalers 7
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 6
Grocery and related product wholesalers 5

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.

Inside 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 chat, 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. Since sales calls take place during regular working hours, many do much of the planning and paperwork involved with sales in the evening and on weekends. Although the hours are often irregular, many sales representatives may determine their own schedules.

How to Become a Wholesale or 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, depending on 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.

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representative Education

A high school diploma is sufficient for many positions, primarily for selling nontechnical or scientific products. However, those selling scientific and technical products typically 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 often 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 that last up to 1 year. In some programs, trainees rotate among jobs in plants and offices 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

Many in this occupation have either the Certified Professional Manufacturers' Representative (CPMR) certification or the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) certification, 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.

Other Experience

Although not required, sales experience can be helpful, particularly for nontechnical positions.

Advancement for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Frequently, promotion takes the form of an assignment to a larger account or territory, where commissions are likely to be greater. Those who have good sales records and leadership ability may advance to higher level positions, such as sales supervisor, district manager, or vice president of sales. For more information on these positions, see the profile on sales managers.

Important Qualities for Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

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

Interpersonal skills. 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.

Self-confidence. 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.

Stamina. Sales representatives are often on their feet for long periods of time and may carry heavy sample products.

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, technical and scientific products is $76,190. 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 $38,570, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $153,940.

The median annual wage for sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products is $55,730. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,000.

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

Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers $66,590
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 63,530
Manufacturing 61,700
Machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant wholesalers 57,190
Grocery and related product wholesalers 52,550

Compensation methods for representatives vary significantly by the type of firm and the product sold. Most employers use a combination of salary and commissions or salary plus bonuses. Commissions are usually based on a percentage of sales. Bonuses may depend on individual 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.

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

Employment of wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives is projected to grow 7 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 growth of the overall economy.

In addition to the total volume of sales, a wider range of products and technologies will lead to increased demand for sales representatives.

Because the work of sales representatives requires a lot of face-to-face interaction with potential buyers, this type of work is not likely to be outsourced to other countries.

Employment growth is expected to be strongest for sales representatives working at independent sales agencies. Companies are increasingly shifting 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 26 percent over the next ten years.

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be best for those with previous sales experience. Though the large size of the occupation 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, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing 1,800,900 1,918,200 7 117,200
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products 347,800 371,700 7 23,800
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 1,453,100 1,546,500 6 93,400


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

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