The Art of Persuasion: A Look at the Role of Sales Associates

March 02, 2023 · 20 min read

"Sales are not about selling anymore, but about building trust and educating." - Siva Devaki

 

Job Description

 

A sales associate is responsible for providing excellent customer service, promoting products or services, and maximizing sales revenue. They typically work in a retail or sales environment, such as a store or showroom, and may be required to work evenings, weekends, or holidays.

Requirements

To be a successful sales associate, candidates should have a high school diploma or equivalent and some prior sales or customer service experience. They should also be familiar with the products or services they will be selling and have good communication and interpersonal skills.

Main Responsibilities

Responsibility

Description

Customer service

Provide excellent customer service, be friendly, approachable, and answer customer questions about products and services.

Sales

Generate sales, identify customer needs, offer products or services that meet those needs, and upsell and cross-sell to increase sales.

Product knowledge

Have a deep understanding of the products or services being sold, explain features, benefits, and differences between products, and answer customer questions.

Inventory management

Monitor inventory levels, restock shelves, and ensure products are displayed correctly.

Cash handling

Handle cash, credit card transactions, and other payment methods accurately and securely.

Store maintenance

Maintain the appearance of the store, keep it clean and organized, restock shelves, and set up displays.

Customer follow-up

Follow up with customers after a sale to ensure satisfaction and encourage future sales.

Reporting

Generate reports on sales activity, inventory levels, and other metrics to help management make informed business decisions.

Teamwork

Work with other team members, such as managers, cashiers, and stockers, to ensure the store operates smoothly and efficiently.

 

Additional Duties

  • Restocking shelves and managing inventory
  • Handling customer complaints or returns
  • Creating sales reports or analyzing sales data
  • Participating in sales training or product knowledge sessions

Hard Skills

  • Product knowledge: Sales associates need to have a deep understanding of the products or services they are selling. This includes knowing the features, benefits, and specifications of each product, as well as how they compare to similar products from competitors.
  • Sales techniques: Sales associates need to be skilled in various sales techniques, such as upselling, cross-selling, and closing sales. They should know how to identify customer needs and objections, and how to address them effectively.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software: Many companies use CRM software to manage customer interactions and track sales. Sales associates should be proficient in using this software to input customer data, update sales information, and track customer interactions.
  • Social media: Social media has become an important channel for sales and marketing. Sales associates should be skilled in using social media platforms to identify and engage with potential customers, promote products, and build relationships.
  • Data analysis: Sales associates should be able to analyze sales data to identify trends and opportunities. They should be proficient in using software tools to create reports, track sales performance, and forecast future sales.
  • Basic math skills: Sales associates need to be comfortable with basic math skills such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. They should also be able to calculate discounts, percentages, and commissions.
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65% of sales professionals use a CRM, and 97% consider sales technology "very important" or "important" (LinkedIn)

Soft Skills

  • Strong listening skills for understanding customer needs and preferences
  • Patience and empathy for dealing with difficult customers
  • Salesmanship and persuasion skills for closing sales and meeting targets
  • Attention to detail for maintaining store cleanliness and organization
  • Time management: Sales associates need to be able to manage their time effectively to meet sales targets and deadlines. 
  • Communication skills: Sales associates need to have excellent communication skills to build rapport with customers, understand their needs, and persuade them to make a purchase. 

 

Photo: Christian Koepke/Unsplash

 

 

Salary

 

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a retail sales associate in the United States is around $29,180. The hourly wage can range from $10 to $20 per hour.

Factors that can influence the earnings 

  1. Location
  2. Industry
  3. Employer
  4. Experience
  5. Education level
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"The best salesperson is the one who makes the customer feel like they won when they bought the product." - Zig Ziglar

High-paying industries for sales associates

  • Technology: Sales associates in the technology industry can earn high salaries due to the high demand for tech products and services. Sales positions in software, hardware, and IT services can offer salaries ranging from $60,000 to over $100,000 per year.
  • Finance and Investment: Sales associates in finance and investment industries can earn high salaries due to the high value of the products and services they sell. Sales positions in investment banking, wealth management, and private equity can offer salaries ranging from $70,000 to over $150,000 per year.
  • Pharmaceutical and Biotech: Sales associates in pharmaceutical and biotech industries can earn high salaries due to the high value of the products they sell. Sales positions in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and biotechnology can offer salaries ranging from $60,000 to over $100,000 per year.
  • Real Estate: Sales associates in the real estate industry can earn high salaries due to the high value of the properties they sell. Sales positions in commercial and residential real estate can offer salaries ranging from $50,000 to over $100,000 per year.
  • Advertising and Marketing: Sales associates in advertising and marketing industries can earn high salaries due to the high demand for advertising and marketing services. Sales positions in media, advertising agencies, and digital marketing can offer salaries ranging from $50,000 to over $100,000 per year.

In these industries, sales associates often earn a base salary plus commission, which can significantly increase their overall earnings. Additionally, many companies in these industries offer additional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and bonuses based on performance.

Ways to improve earnings

  • Pursuing education or training: Pursuing additional education or training, such as obtaining a degree or certification in sales or customer service, can also lead to higher earnings.
  • Networking: Building a strong professional network can help sales associates learn about new job opportunities and connect with potential clients. Attending industry events and conferences can be a great way to meet new people and build relationships that can lead to increased earnings.
  • Specializing in a niche: By specializing in a specific industry or product, sales associates can become experts in their field, which can lead to higher earnings. Customers are often willing to pay more for products or services when they perceive the sales associate to be knowledgeable and trustworthy.
  • Developing a strong online presence: Sales associates can improve their earnings by developing a strong online presence through social media, blogs, and other digital platforms. By creating valuable content and engaging with customers online, sales associates can attract new customers and build a loyal following.
  • Negotiating higher commissions: Sales associates can negotiate higher commission rates with their employers, especially if they have a proven track record of success. By demonstrating their value to the company, sales associates can often negotiate a higher commission rate or additional bonuses based on their performance.
  • Improving sales techniques: Sales associates can improve their earnings by honing their sales techniques, such as learning how to close deals, overcoming objections, and identifying customer needs. By becoming more effective salespeople, they can generate more sales and earn higher commissions.
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Note: Sales associates may also receive bonuses or other incentives for meeting or exceeding sales targets.

The Benefits of a Commission-Based Salary for Sales Associates

A commission-based salary is a type of compensation plan in which an employee earns a percentage of the sales they generate. Sales associates are among the most common professionals to work under a commission-based salary structure. Here are some benefits of this type of compensation plan for sales associates:

  1. Motivation: A commission-based salary provides sales associates with a strong motivation to sell. Since their earnings are directly tied to their sales performance, sales associates have a strong incentive to perform at their best.
  2. Earnings potential: Commission-based salaries allow sales associates to earn more money than they would on a traditional salary. The more they sell, the more they earn.
  3. Flexibility: Many commission-based salary plans offer flexibility in terms of scheduling and workload. This can be especially beneficial for sales associates who need to balance work with other commitments.
  4. Accountability: With a commission-based salary, sales associates are accountable for their own success. They are responsible for generating sales and meeting or exceeding their sales targets.
  5. Fairness: Commission-based salaries can be seen as fair because they reward sales associates for their hard work and success. Sales associates who work hard and generate a lot of sales are compensated accordingly.
  6. Focus on customer satisfaction: Commission-based salaries encourage sales associates to focus on providing excellent customer service. By building strong relationships with customers and meeting their needs, sales associates can generate more sales and earn more money.
  7. Career growth: Successful sales associates can advance to higher-level sales roles, such as sales manager or account executive. A commission-based salary provides a clear path for career growth and advancement in the sales field.

 

Job environment 

 

Sales Position

Work Environment

Tools and Technology Used

Work Schedule

Retail stores

Fast-paced, customer-facing environment

Cash registers, inventory systems, product scanners

Work schedules may include evenings, weekends, and holidays to accommodate peak shopping times.

Call centers

Busy, office-like environment

Telephones, computer systems, customer relationship management (CRM) software

Work schedules may include shift work or flexible hours to accommodate customer needs.

Outside sales

Variety of settings, such as customer offices, trade shows, or product demos

Laptops, tablets, product samples

Work schedules may include frequent travel and irregular hours to accommodate customer needs.

Virtual sales

Remote work, interacting with customers through video conferences, phone calls, and email

Web-based sales software, virtual meeting platforms, e-commerce platforms

Work schedules may be flexible and remote, but may also include occasional in-person meetings or events.

 

Overall, sales associates typically work in dynamic and fast-paced environments that require strong customer service skills, product knowledge, and sales techniques. They may use a variety of tools to interact with customers, process transactions, and generate sales, and their work schedules may vary depending on the specific job and industry.

 

Education 

 

  1. Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree is not always required for sales positions, but some employers may prefer candidates who have completed a degree in a related field such as business, marketing, or communications. The timeframe to complete a bachelor's degree is typically four years of full-time study.
  2. Master's Degree: A master's degree is not typically required for sales positions, but it can be helpful for career advancement in some industries. Master's degree programs in business administration, marketing, or sales management can provide valuable knowledge and skills. The timeframe to complete a master's degree is typically two years of full-time study after completing a bachelor's degree.
  3. Ph.D.: A Ph.D. is not typically required for sales positions, but it can be helpful for career advancement in research or academic positions. Ph.D. programs in marketing or sales can take 3-5 years of full-time study after completing a master's degree.

Professional Associations

Joining a professional association can provide sales professionals with opportunities to expand their professional network, learn about the latest trends and best practices in sales, and gain access to industry-specific resources such as job boards or research reports. Many professional associations also offer certification programs, which can be a valuable way for sales professionals to demonstrate their expertise and stand out from other candidates.

Here are some additional examples of professional associations for sales professionals:

  1. Association for Talent Development (ATD): ATD is a professional association for individuals and organizations focused on employee training and development. Their Sales Enablement Community provides resources and networking opportunities for sales professionals looking to improve their skills and knowledge.
  2. National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP): NASP is a professional association that provides resources, training, and certification programs for sales professionals. They offer a variety of membership levels, including student, professional, and corporate.
  3. Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI): SMEI is a professional association for sales and marketing professionals. They offer a variety of certification programs, including the Certified Sales Executive (CSE) and Certified Marketing Executive (CME) certifications.
  4. Sales Management Association (SMA): SMA is a professional association for sales managers and leaders. They provide research, best practices, and networking opportunities for their members.
  5. Women in Sales and Business (WISB): WISB is a professional association for women in sales and business. They provide training, networking, and mentoring opportunities for their members.
  6. National Retail Federation (NRF): NRF is a professional association for retailers, including sales professionals working in retail settings. They provide resources and networking opportunities for their members, including the annual NRF Retail's Big Show event.
  7. Institute of Sales Management (ISM): ISM is a professional association for sales professionals in the UK. They provide training, certification, and networking opportunities for their members.
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Note: Note In some industries, such as real estate, sales associates are required to be licensed by their state or country.

Licenses and Certifications

Some sales positions may require licenses or certifications. Some examples of sales-related licenses and certifications include the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) certification offered by the Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) and the Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) certification offered by the National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP)

Obtaining a license or certification can require meeting specific education or experience requirements, passing an exam, and maintaining ongoing professional development. Licenses and certifications can provide sales professionals with a competitive advantage in the job market and can demonstrate to employers that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their roles.

The timeframe for obtaining a license or certification can vary, but typically requires passing an exam and meeting other requirements set by the licensing or certifying body.

 

Career Development

 

There are several ways for sales professionals to advance their careers and increase their earning potential. Some common paths for career development in sales include:

  • Moving into a sales management or leadership role
  • Specializing in a particular product or industry
  • Pursuing advanced education or certifications
  • Starting a sales consulting or coaching business
  • Transitioning into a related field, such as marketing or business development

Subfields and  specializations

There are many subfields within sales, including:

  • Business-to-Business (B2B) Sales
  • Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Sales
  • Inside Sales: Sales professionals who work remotely and sell products or services over the phone or online.
  • Outside Sales: Sales professionals who travel to meet with clients and make sales in person.
  • Retail Sales: Sales professionals who work in a retail setting, such as a store or mall.
  • Technical Sales: Sales professionals who sell complex or technical products, such as software or machinery.
  • Financial Sales: Sales professionals who sell financial products, such as insurance or investments.

Specialization

Sales professionals can also specialize in a particular area to increase their expertise and marketability. Some examples of specializations within sales include:

  • Account Management: Sales professionals who focus on building and maintaining relationships with existing clients.
  • Lead Generation: Sales professionals who specialize in identifying and pursuing new sales opportunities.
  • Sales Operations: Sales professionals who focus on optimizing sales processes and strategies.
  • Sales Training and Development: Sales professionals who specialize in coaching and training other sales professionals.

Alternative careers and similar jobs

Job Title

Responsibilities

Account Manager

Build and maintain relationships with existing clients, identify new sales opportunities, and provide support to ensure customer satisfaction.

Business Development Representative

Identify and qualify potential new customers, generate sales leads for their company, and assist in the development of sales strategies.

Customer Service Representative

Handle customer inquiries and complaints, provide product or service information, and ensure customer satisfaction.

Marketing Coordinator

Support the development and implementation of marketing campaigns, conduct market research, and analyze data to evaluate campaign effectiveness.

Retail Store Manager

Oversee the daily operations of a retail store, manage staff, and ensure sales goals are met.

Real Estate Agent

Help clients buy, sell, or rent properties, negotiate contracts, and provide market analysis.

Recruiter

Identify and attract potential candidates for job openings, screen applicants, and assist in the hiring process.

Financial Advisor

Provide investment advice to clients, assess their financial goals, and develop financial plans to help them achieve their objectives.

Sales Trainer

Develop and implement training programs for sales staff, teach sales techniques, and provide coaching and feedback to improve performance.

Event Planner

Organize and coordinate events, manage vendors, and ensure the event runs smoothly.

 

Job Market 

 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics employment of retail sales workers is projected to show little or no change from 2021 to 2031. Despite limited employment growth, about 594,400 openings for retail sales workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

The outlook for sales associates largely depends on the industry they work in. For example, sales associates in retail may face challenges due to the growth of e-commerce and online shopping, while those in healthcare or technology may have more opportunities due to industry growth. In general, sales associates with strong skills in customer service, communication, and technology are likely to be in higher demand.

Top industries with the highest employment

The number of jobs available in sales can vary by industry, company size, and region. As of 2021, the top five industries with the highest employment of sales representatives, including sales associates, in the United States are:

  1. Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives: This industry involves the sales of goods and products to businesses, retailers, and distributors. It employs the highest number of sales representatives in the US, accounting for over 1.8 million jobs.
  2. Retail Sales Representatives: This industry involves the sale of goods and services directly to consumers through retail outlets. It employs over 4.4 million sales representatives in the US.
  3. Financial Services Sales Representatives: This industry involves the sale of financial products and services such as insurance, investments, and banking services. It employs over 750,000 sales representatives in the US.
  4. Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales Representatives: This industry involves the sale of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and equipment to healthcare professionals and institutions. It employs over 300,000 sales representatives in the US.
  5. Real Estate Sales Representatives: This industry involves the sale and rental of residential and commercial properties. It employs over 230,000 sales representatives in the US.

It's important to note that the number of jobs available in sales may fluctuate based on economic conditions and industry trends. Additionally, the level of competition for sales positions can be high, so having relevant skills and experience can be important for landing a job in this field.

Part-time and Remote

Part-time job opportunities for sales associates are common in many industries, especially in retail and hospitality. Part-time work can offer flexibility and a good entry point for those new to the workforce or looking to supplement their income. However, part-time positions may offer fewer benefits and career advancement opportunities compared to full-time roles.

Remote job opportunities for sales associates are also becoming more common, especially with the growth of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not all sales positions are suitable for remote work, as some require face-to-face interaction with clients or customers. Remote work can offer flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere, but it may also require strong self-discipline and communication skills to stay connected with colleagues and clients.

 

Job satisfaction 

 

Job satisfaction for sales associates can vary depending on a variety of factors, including company culture, compensation, job duties, and personal preferences. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of being a Sales associate:

Advantages

  • Potential for high earning: Sales associates often have the potential to earn commission or bonuses based on their sales performance, which can lead to higher earnings than many other entry-level positions.
  • Transferable skills: Sales associates develop skills in communication, customer service, and problem-solving that can be valuable in a variety of other industries and job roles.
  • Opportunities for advancement: With strong performance and experience, Sales associates may be able to advance to higher-level sales positions, such as Sales Manager or Account Executive.
  • Flexibility: Sales associates may have the ability to set their own schedules or work remotely, depending on the company and industry.

Disadvantages

  • High-pressure environment: Sales associates may face pressure to meet sales quotas or targets, which can lead to a high-stress environment.
  • Inconsistent income: Sales associates may have variable income depending on their sales performance, which can make budgeting and financial planning more challenging.
  • Challenging work environment: Sales associates may work in a fast-paced and competitive environment that can be challenging for some individuals.
  • Lack of stability: Sales positions may be subject to market fluctuations or changes in company strategy, which can result in job insecurity or uncertainty.

Overall, job satisfaction for sales associates can be influenced by a range of factors, including company culture, compensation, job duties, and personal preferences. It's important to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of being a Sales associate and determine whether this career path aligns with your goals and interests.

 

Government Program

 

There are a few government programs available to support sales associates, such as:

Program

Description

Job Training Programs

Offered by community colleges, vocational schools, or other training centers to help sales associates acquire new skills or upgrade existing skills.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Programs

Various programs to support small businesses, including those that employ sales associates. These programs may provide funding, mentoring, or other resources to help small businesses grow and succeed.

Unemployment Insurance

Benefits provided to sales associates who lose their job through no fault of their own. These benefits can help cover living expenses while they search for a new job.

Tax Credits

Various tax credits offered by the government to businesses that hire and train employees, including sales associates. These tax credits can help offset the cost of hiring and training new employees.

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Programs

Provides funding for job training and placement programs, which can benefit sales associates looking for new job opportunities or seeking to improve their skills.

It's important to note that the availability and eligibility requirements for these programs may vary depending on your location and other factors. It's always a good idea to check with your local government or business organizations for more information about the specific programs that may be available to you.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Sales associates are responsible for providing excellent customer service, generating sales, and maximizing revenue.
  • Sales associates need to have a deep understanding of the products or services they are selling, and should be able to explain features, benefits, and differences between products.
  • The average annual salary for a retail sales associate in the United States is around $29,180.
  • Sales associates in technology, finance and investment, pharmaceutical and biotech, real estate, and advertising and marketing industries can earn high salaries.
  • A bachelor's degree in a related field may be preferred for some sales positions, while a master's or Ph.D. can be helpful for career advancement in some industries.
  • There are many subfields and specializations within sales, such as B2B or B2C sales, inside or outside sales, and technical or financial sales.
  • Alternative careers that share some responsibilities with sales include account management, business development, customer service, marketing coordination, retail store management, real estate, and recruiting.

FAQ

What are the duties of a sales associate?

Welcoming customers, listening to their needs, recommending products, answering questions, providing product information, handling transactions, maintaining store cleanliness, and restocking merchandise.

What are the key skills required to be a successful sales associate?

Excellent communication skills, the ability to listen actively, the ability to build rapport with customers, and strong negotiation skills.

What are the career opportunities for a sales associate?

Sales associates may advance to a supervisory or management position, or they may specialize in a particular product or service. Some sales associates may also transition into a career in marketing or advertising.

What is the typical education requirement for a sales associate?

There is typically no formal education requirement for sales associates, though a high school diploma or equivalent is usually required. Some employers may prefer candidates with a college degree or previous sales experience.

What is the earning potential of a sales associate?

The earning potential of a sales associate can vary depending on the industry and location. In general, sales associates can earn a base salary plus commissions based on their sales performance.

What are some common sales techniques used by sales associates?

Building rapport with customers, asking open-ended questions to understand their needs and preferences, highlighting the benefits of products or services, and using persuasive language to encourage customers to make a purchase.

by Yevheniia Osmakova

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