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Outside Sales Associate Career Guide

What is an outside sales associate?

An outside sales associate is a professional who executes the sales process outside the confines of the office, typically meeting with potential customers face-to-face at their locations. Their goal is to build and maintain client relationships, identify sales opportunities, and close deals. They are vital players in a company’s revenue generation efforts, serving as the primary link between a business and its customers in the field.

Associates in this role operate in various industries, from technology to pharmaceuticals to consumer goods. Their value lies in their ability to personally connect with customers, understand their needs, and provide tailored solutions. These sales professionals are often adept at navigating complex sales cycles and negotiating contracts, significantly contributing to a company’s growth and profitability.

Duties and responsibilities

An outside sales associate’s responsibilities encompass a variety of tasks associated with the sales process. They identify potential customers and research to understand their needs and challenges. They then reach out to these prospects, often scheduling and conducting in-person meetings to present their company’s products or services.

The role involves demonstrating how their offerings can solve the customer’s problems or meet their needs. They negotiate prices, prepare sales contracts, and work to close the sale. In addition, they are typically responsible for maintaining relationships with existing clients and seeking opportunities to upsell or cross-sell.

Beyond the direct sales process, these associates often contribute to developing and implementing sales strategies. They provide feedback to their organization about customer needs and market trends, contributing valuable insights that can inform product development and marketing efforts.

Work environment

The work environment of an outside sales associate can vary greatly, as they are frequently on the go, traveling to meet with clients. This might involve visiting clients’ offices, attending trade shows or industry events, or conducting product demonstrations at various locations. While some administrative work might be done in an office setting or from home, a significant portion of their time is spent on the road.

Their role often involves a high degree of autonomy, and they typically manage their own schedules. Successful associates are self-motivated and thrive in dynamic environments where every day is different. Despite the challenges, many find the role rewarding and enjoy the opportunity to interact with various people and industries.

Typical work hours

The work hours of an outside sales associate can vary based on the nature of their industry and the needs of their clients. While they typically work a full-time schedule, the unpredictability of their clients’ availability often requires flexibility. Early morning, late evening, or weekend meetings might sometimes be necessary to accommodate a client’s schedule.

Since travel is a significant part of their role, they may spend considerable time outside traditional working hours commuting or away from home. However, this flexibility often allows them to manage their time effectively and balance their professional and personal life.

How to become an outside sales associate

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming an outside sales associate. The key steps for this job involve gaining a basic education, acquiring relevant sales experience, developing important interpersonal skills, and becoming familiar with the product or industry specifics.

Step 1: Attain a high school diploma or equivalent

The first step is to complete your high school education or equivalent. This is usually the minimum educational requirement for most sales positions. Studies should focus on business or related fields for a strong foundation in communication, basic mathematics, and business principles.

Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree (optional)

While not always required, some employers prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees, especially in fields such as business administration, marketing, economics, or a related field. This higher level of education can provide more comprehensive training in areas vital to sales, such as market research, consumer behavior, and business strategies.

Step 3: Gain relevant work experience

Experience in a customer service role is often a necessary stepping stone toward a role in sales, whether in a retail environment, a call center, or any other position involving direct customer contact. This helps develop skills such as people handling, problem-solving, and communication.

Step 4: Develop required sales skills

Become proficient in core sales skills, including effectively communicating a product’s features and benefits, understanding how to handle objections and close sales, and developing the ability to build ongoing customer relationships. These techniques might be learned on the job, through self-study, or sales training programs.

Step 5: Learn about the product or industry

Knowledge of the product you’re selling, as well as the industry you’re working in, is crucial in being successful as a sales associate. Employers often provide product training, but it’s also beneficial to do your own research and stay updated on industry trends and updates. This will allow you to present yourself as a trusted advisor to prospective customers.

Step 6: Apply for jobs

The final step is applying for outside sales associate positions. Create a strong resume highlighting your sales skills, experience, and industry knowledge. Tailoring your application to match the specific company’s needs and role can greatly increase your chances of securing a job in outside sales.

How much do outside sales associates make?

Outside sales associate salaries will vary based on experience, industry, education, location, and the company’s size. Their compensation can be greatly influenced by performance-based incentives such as commissions and bonuses, making it unique compared to other jobs where salaries might be more fixed.

Highest paying industries

  • Information Technology and Services – $78,000
  • Financial Services – $74,500
  • Real Estate – $72,000
  • Pharmaceuticals – $70,000
  • Electronics Manufacturing – $68,500

Highest paying states

  • Massachusetts – $81,920
  • New York – $79,330
  • Connecticut – $78,460
  • New Jersey – $77,280
  • California – $75,540

Browse outside sales associate salary data by market

Types of outside sales associates

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for outside sales associates. This section examines various parts of the field’s potential development and provides detailed insights into the broad range of paths within this line of work.

Direct sales consultant

Often seen in consumer goods industries, direct sales consultants have a key role in establishing relationships with customers. Typically, their tasks are aimed at selling products directly to consumers. Their main responsibilities are establishing a customer base, creating sales plans, and computing profits.

Field account manager

These professionals frequently interact with existing clients, focusing on improving customer relationships and retention. Goal attainment is a common responsibility, which includes generating new business opportunities and increasing revenue streams. The role also entails offering product or service improvements based on customer feedback.

Territory sales representative

These specialists concentrate on specific geographical areas or territories, selling a company’s products or services within those boundaries. Developing sales strategies to ensure high customer satisfaction levels within their assigned areas is an integral part of the job. Networking events and professional associations often are visited to build substantial relationships.

Sales development representative

Often found in the technology sector, sales development representatives engage in business-to-business sales, targeting other businesses as potential customers. This role focuses on creating leads, following up on inquiries, and preparing sales pitches to initiate new client relationships. They typically work closely with sales and marketing teams to reach targeted business outcomes.

Independent sales representative

Independent sales representatives are self-employed professionals who sell products or services for multiple companies on a commission basis. They are responsible for finding their clients and managing all aspects of sales transactions. Given their independence, such roles require strong motivation, networking skills, and self-management capacities.

Trade representative

Trade representatives work in industries that require business-to-business transactions, often involving complex technical products like machinery, equipment, or industrial materials. Their duties primarily revolve around promoting and selling these products to other businesses, often requiring a deep understanding of the products and the associated industry.

Top skills for outside sales associates

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as an outside sales associate.

Communication skills

These sales professionals must be able to convey information about their products or services clearly and persuasively. They should be adept at bridging gaps in understanding, negating potential misunderstandings, and fostering positive rapport with customers. This skill extends to active listening, as understanding and dealing appropriately with clients’ needs, questions, and concerns are also essential.

Negotiation abilities

Being adept in negotiation often involves understanding the buyer’s motivations and constraints. It also calls for them to secure the best possible deal for their company while ensuring the customer feels valued and satisfied with the terms of the sale.

Industry knowledge

In-depth industry knowledge forms the foundation for effective sales. Familiarity with market trends, competitor analysis, and product understanding is imperative. This expertise allows for identifying unique selling points and positioning offerings advantageously within the marketplace.


Resilience is vital in a field that often includes challenges and rejection. Maintaining a positive attitude and persistence, even in the face of adversity, is a quality that advocates for success in an outside sales role.


As work primarily unfolds outside the office, self-motivation is a decisive factor for success. The will to chase leads proactively, set personal goals, and strive for continuous improvement calls for a high level of personal drive and discipline.

Outside sales associate career path options

An outside sales associate may be just beginning their career, but numerous growth opportunities are available. They are often recognized as some of the most important employees in the company due to their revenue-generating role. Their career path usually follows a progressive trajectory. With demonstrated job competence and consistently meeting or exceeding sales targets, advancement often lies ahead.

Promotion to an outside sales representative or an account manager is a typical next step. These roles entail more responsibilities, including managing existing client accounts and intensifying sales efforts. Additionally, they imply a greater degree of independence than a sales associate’s position.

For those who stand out in these roles and consistently perform well, advancement to sales team leader or sales supervisor could be the next step. These jobs involve meeting personal sales targets and leading a team of sales associates to achieve the company’s broader objectives. It involves responsibilities such as training new sales staff, overseeing team performance, and contributing to sales strategies.

Once they’ve gathered enough experience and shown sustained performance, they might progress into senior management roles. Positions such as sales manager or even sales director become attainable. The latter is one of the highest positions a salesperson can achieve within any organization and involves making critical business decisions, shaping the long-term sales strategy, and driving the largest sales deals.

Some professionals may decide to specialize in a particular product or market, becoming product or market specialists. This would require acquiring deep knowledge about a specific product or market and using that expertise to sell more effectively.

There’s also an opportunity for experienced outside sales professionals to leverage their deep industry-specific knowledge and become independent sales consultants. They could build a consultancy business advising organizations on their sales strategies and operations or sell high-ticket products on a contract basis.

Outside sales associates, commonly called field salespeople, navigate a dynamic professional climate. They are expected to keep pace with ever-evolving business trends. With technological advancements, a significant part of their sales process has changed. The accessibility of various innovative platforms has been a game-changer as it has broadened the sales territory and simplified reaching out to prospects. This prompts associates to be diligent in keeping their tech skills updated and staying familiar with emerging platforms and digital tools.

Personal branding has emerged as a significant trend in this job. Given the competitiveness of the sales environment, establishing a personal brand is essential to stand out and build credibility among potential clients. Social media platforms, personal websites, and blogs are examples of tools used to create and maintain these personal brands. Additionally, increasing importance is being placed on developing soft skills such as communication, negotiation, and empathetic listening. These skills are being recognized as vital for building and maintaining customer relationships.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for sales representatives is projected to grow 4% through 2031. This growth rate is as fast as the average for all occupations. However, it’s important to note that job prospects will vary by industry and region. For instance, sectors with growing demand for goods and services will likely have more job opportunities for these sales professionals.

Outside sales associate career tips

Keep up-to-date with product information

Your ability to sell a product or service hinges on your knowledge about it. Strive to always have the latest information about all your products. This not only allows you to answer any customer queries confidently but also makes it easier to persuade a potential customer about the benefits of the item. Use educational materials, attend product launches, and even engage product managers to gather all the information you need for this role.

Understand your target customers

You need to have a comprehensive understanding of your target customers if you are going to convince them to purchase your product. Research and learn their consumer behavior, demographics, preferences, and the best ways to approach them. This understanding will also guide you in product recommendation, making your sales pitch convincing and effective.

Build a professional network

Networking plays a huge role in your success in any sales position. Professional networking opens doors to new opportunities, allows the sharing of sales strategies, and even helps increase your client base. Here are a few professional associations and networks to consider:

  • National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP)
  • American Marketing Association (AMA)
  • Sales Management Association (SMA)

Embrace technology

Modern technology can greatly enhance sales productivity by automating certain processes and providing useful customer data. It’s imperative to learn and make the best use of available technology, such as CRM systems, sales analytics tools, and marketing automation platforms.

Continuous learning

Committing to lifelong learning is an effective way to stay ahead in the sales field as it evolves. Here are a few methods for continuous learning:

  • Attend industry workshops and seminars
  • Enroll in online courses on platforms such as Coursera or Udemy
  • Pursue sales certifications like Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) or Certified Sales Leadership Professional (CSLP)

Where the outside sales associate jobs are

Top employers

  • 3M
  • Oracle
  • Hilti North America
  • Honeywell
  • Pfizer

Top states

  • Texas
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder


What interpersonal skills are paramount for outside sales associates?

A high standard of communication and listening skills is important. Building strong relationships with current and prospective customers, negotiating contracts, and understanding the client’s needs are critical factors for success in this role.

What does a typical day look like for an outside sales associate?

A typical day may include calling and visiting potential clients to pitch products or services. Part of the day will likely be spent reading emails, planning presentations, and creating business proposals. Time may also be blocked out for team meetings and to respond to customer queries or complaints.

Do outside sales associates need a specific educational background?

Many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree, especially in business or a related field. However, certain industries might accept relevant sales experience in place of formal education. Employers will also provide on-the-job training to familiarize new hires with the products or services they will be selling.

Do outside sales associates have to travel?

This role often involves travel, as they frequently visit clients and attend trade shows and company events. The extent of travel, however, may depend on the company’s size and the geographical territory covered by the job. Those who enjoy different experiences and meeting new people might appreciate the travel component of this profession.

Do outside sales associates need strong IT skills?

Yes, familiarity with CRM software and proficiency in standard office applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are typically required. It’s also beneficial to be comfortable with email, social media, and video conferencing tools. The company may offer training in specific software applications.

What are some of the challenges that I might face as an outside sales associate?

Challenges in this role can include dealing with frequent rejections and potential clients who may be difficult to connect with. Additionally, the competitive nature of sales can create pressure to hit targets. While some may enjoy the travel component of the job, it can be a challenge for others, especially those with families or other commitments at home.

Is it beneficial to have knowledge in the industry I am going to sell in?

Yes, if you have industry-specific knowledge, it can provide a significant advantage. Understanding the terminology, challenges, and needs unique to the industry can help you relate more effectively to potential customers. If you’re new to the industry, take time to learn about the market, the competition, and the customers you will target.

What is the most rewarding part of being an outside sales associate?

Many find the most rewarding part of the job is building successful relationships with clients and closing a deal after working hard on a sales pitch. In addition, the sales field often provides opportunities to get out of the office and meet new people, making the role enjoyable and rewarding. For some, travel and social interactions can be motivating factors.

Are there any physical demands for outside sales associates?

Physical demands can vary. Extensive travel often includes long periods of driving or time spent in transit. Some roles may include carrying sample products or setting up displays, which could require a degree of physical effort. Discussing any physical demands with potential employers is always a good idea to ensure you understand what may be needed.