For an outgoing, motivated person, a job in sales can be a pathway to a lucrative salary and a rewarding career. When you’re combing through sales job titles on career boards, however, the path can seem anything but straightforward.
The problem is, many sales job titles don’t give much context to what the position actually entails. Typically, different companies tend to use different titles to describe very similar sales roles. This makes it a challenge to discern the level of responsibility it comes with how much experience the position requires.
As a job seeker, you want to make sure you’re qualified for the role you’re applying for, otherwise, it’s waste of time and can reflect poorly on your judgement. You also want to have a solid understanding of the job duties so you can make an accurate assessment of whether you’ll be happy in the role, which can be difficult when you’re dealing with ambiguous job titles.
We’re here to help with a guide to some of the most common sales job titles and the answers to your frequently asked questions about different sales roles.
What is Inside Sales?
The term ‘inside sales’ describes jobs in sales that are done via phone, email and virtual channels. Inside sales is the most common sales model for B2B, technology and SaaS companies, though it can be used in any field. Inside sales are typically made remotely, with the salesperson working in an office, call center or from their home.
This field of sales has a longer sales cycle, is often high-touch and usually involves big-ticket items or services with long-term commitments, like contract-based products. More and more, inside sales representatives work hand in hand with a company’s marketing department to move sales leads through a strategic funnel and ultimately close the deal.
Inside sales is the preferred sales method for many companies that sell online, as this type of consumer likes to do their own research and arrive at a decision rather than having the experience of being “sold to” like you would in a product showroom or retail store.
What is Outside Sales?
Representatives in outside sales physically go out into the field and meet with prospects, hence the term ‘outside.’ Think of the old-school door-to-door salesmen—this job is a quintessential example of outside sales. A more contemporary example would be a pharmaceutical sales rep who goes and visits different doctors’ offices to showcase their company’s products.
An outside sales representative typically does a lot of their work in transit, working at home, from the car, or occasionally in an office space. Their work often takes them farther from home, with travel to different towns, across the country and even to other parts of the world sometimes being part of the job. Outside sales reps frequently spend time entertaining customers and prospects, taking them to lunch, coffee, etc.
Outside sales jobs typically don’t come with a strict schedule. In this role, you’ll have a good amount of flexibility in the hours you work, but you’ll also need to be available at nonstandard work hours if that’s when a prospect wants to meet. The most successful people in this role typically have a wide network and are skilled at developing relationships.
Outside sales teams are more expensive for companies to maintain than inside sales departments, but they also bring in more revenue. In an average organization, an outside sales force out-earns their inside sales counterparts by anywhere from 12 to 18%. Outside sales is a challenging job, but the healthy commission and bonus structure that’s typical to the field can make it very lucrative for those who are good at it.
Most Common Sales Job Titles
These titles are used pretty interchangeably in the sales field and describe the same type of role: a general sales job responsible for conveying the benefits of a product or service in order to make a sale. This person might work in an office, from their home, or out in the field (more on these distinctions in a minute). Titles like these sometimes come with a modifier that gives you more information about the industry or product being sold, like ‘pharmaceutical sales representative’ or ‘automotive sales consultant.’
Common sales representative duties include conveying a value proposition, making persuasive arguments, overcoming customer objections, developing new leads, and maintaining ongoing customer relationships. If you’re resilient, a strong communicator and enjoy working with people, a job as a salesperson may be a great fit for you.
Though this title sounds a lot like some of the other ones we previously covered, the role of a sales associate is primarily reserved for the retail industry. This face-to-face role is responsible for interacting with customers, answering questions, showcasing merchandise, keeping the store clean and orderly, and meeting sales goals.
A sales associate is often an entry-level position, with more experienced associates working their way up to roles like shift leader, assistant manager or store manager.
Direct sales describes the process of selling products directly to consumers in a non-retail environment. Today, direct sales take place largely on the internet and social media. Rather than being employed by the company whose products they sell, direct sales reps are independent contractors who earn a commission on every product sold. The Pampered Chef, Mary Kay and Avon are a few well-known examples of companies that employ a direct sales model.
While there are plenty of legitimate direct sales jobs, this is a role job seekers need to be especially wary of accepting the role. There is a proliferation of direct sales jobs listed online that require reps to buy a certain amount of product from a company before they turn around and attempt to sell it. These so-called opportunities often come with a pricey up-front investment and little real chance of a payoff. Instead, they make the bulk of their money from reps recruiting others to join the organization.
This type of structure borders on being a pyramid scheme, which is not only illegal but will likely leave you with less money than when you started. Be sure to thoroughly vet any direct sales job you’re considering and be wary of any that require you to put up cash upfront.
An account executive may be a salesperson, but they usually also have additional duties related to servicing customer accounts. In an insurance company, for example, an account executive can sell a customer a policy, but they also help them navigate questions about their policy, solve outstanding account issues, interface with underwriters and work with other team members to develop new sales opportunities.
A good account executive will have a strong knowledge of the industry they work in, be that insurance, software, advertising, marketing, etc.
A sales manager is the leader of the sales department, responsible for motivating their sales team and keeping everyone on track to hit the organization’s sales targets. In a smaller organization, a sales manager may still make sales themself, while in a larger organization they spend more time coaching their team members and managing the department’s activities.
A sales manager reports to the organization’s higher-ups and thus is responsible for compiling sales reports, projecting future performance, analyzing opportunities for growth and setting benchmarks against which to measure performance. A good sales manager is motivated, organized and a strong leader with several years prior experience in a sales role.
This sales job is a bit different from your general salesperson role, having more of a focus on strategy than closing deals. A business development representative is tasked with driving new revenue opportunities for the company, which may include market research, relationship building, cold calling, networking, negotiating partnerships, and more.
While salespeople focus on converting the customers that are in front of them, business development focuses on identifying creative new customer segments that might not even exist yet. They look at how each opportunity contributes to the company’s overall objectives and zero in on those that make the most strategic sense. In a typical organization, the business development lead brings in new opportunities and hands them over to the sales team to close.
Most business development roles require several years’ experience in sales, marketing or business.