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Services sales agents.

Services Sales Agents

Services sales agents sell a wide variety of services, ranging from linen supplies and cable television services to educational services and telephone communications systems. They usually concentrate on a particular kind of service; the following are among the largest specialties.

Sales representatives for data processing firms sell complex services such as inventory control, payroll processing, sales analysis, and financial reporting.

Educational services sales agents sell materials on topics such as licensing examinations for insurance agents and brokers.

Hotel sales agents contact representatives of government, business, and social groups to solicit business for the hotel; they contact prospective clients and determine their needs, outline the types and prices of services offered by the hotel, and prepare contracts when clients reserve space at the hotel.

Fundraisers plan programs to raise money for charities or other causes such as the Special Olympics. They write, telephone, or visit potential contributors and persuade them to donate money by explaining the purpose and benefits of various programs. They may also organize volunteers and plan special events to raise money.

Sales representatives for temporary help services firms locate and acquire clients who will hire the firm's employees.

Telephone services sales representatives contract and visit commercial customers to review their telephone systems, analyze their communications needs, and recommend services such as additional telephone instruments, lines, and switchboard systems.

Other services sales agents sell advertising, automotive leasing, public utility, exterminating, burial, printing, shipping, protective, and management consulting services.

Nature of the Work

Despite the diversity of services being sold, the jobs of virtually all services sales agents have much in common.

Agents develop lists of prospective clients by studying telephone and business directories, asking business associates and customers for leads, and looking for new clients as they cover their assigned territory. Sometimes, sales representatives acquire clients through persons who call to inquire about the company's services.

All sales agents must fully understand and be able to discuss the services their company offers. Sales agents meet with clients and explain how the services being offered can neet their needs. Agents may use literature or demonstrations to describe their company's services.

Sales representatives answer questions about the nature and cost of the services and try to persuade potential customers to purchase the services. Agents who fail to make a sale on the first visit may follow up with more visits, letters, and phone calls. After making a sale, they call on their customers to see that the services meet their needs, to determine if customers need additional services, and to obtain referrals.

Because services sales agents obtain many new accounts through referrals, it is important that agents maintain regular contact with their clients to ensure that they are satisfied with the services. Developing a satisfied clientele who will continue to use the services and will recommend the services to other potential customers is an important key to success in this field. Like other types of sales jobs, a services sales representative's reputation is very important to his or her success.

Selling highly technical services such as communications systems or computer consulting services usually involves a more complex and lengthy sales process. In these situations, sales representatives usually operate according to policies outlined in the company's marketing and business plans. Such work plans identify prospective clients, establish marketing strategies, and set forth staff responsibilities and timetables to achieve set goals. In selling technical services, sales representatives must become familiar with the intricacies of their customers' operations in order to best serve their needs.

Sales representatives often work as part of a team and receive technical assistance from support personnel. For example, agents who sell data processing services might work with a systems engineer, and telephone services sales representatives might receive technical assistance from a communications consultant. Because of the length of time between a sales representative's initial contact with a customer and the actual sale, agents who sell technical services generally work with several customers at one time. On the other hand, some sales agents deal exclusively with one large client. Selling less complex services such as linen, detective, or exterminating services generally involves a simpler and shorter process.

A sales representative's job can also vary with the size of the company. Those working for relatively large companies generally are more specialized and are assigned territorial boundaries and specific products and accounts. Sales agents at smaller companies generally have more independence and are not restricted by territorial boundaries. Agents for small companies may have administrative and public relations responsibilities in addition to their sales duties.

A sales representative's job also depends on the size of the sales territory. A linen supply sales representative may serve a small territory in a large city. A sales representative for a national educational services organization may be responsible for serving several States.

Earnings and Working Conditions

In 1986, median annual earnings of full-time advertising sales agents were about $23,600. Agents selling other business services had median annual earnings of $20,600. Earnings of agents who sell technical services, such as computer or communications services, are generally higher than those who sell nontechnical services.

Earnings of experienced sales agents depend on performance. Successful sales representatives can quickly establish a clientele and build up their income. Experienced sales agents often earn more than managers in their firm. Some sales representatives earn over $100,000 a year.

Sales representatives work on different types of compensation plans. Some get a straight salary; others are paid solely on commissions based on the dollar value of their sales. Most firms use a combination of salary and commissions. Many sales agents have expense accounts to cover meals and travel, and some have a company car. Some employers offer bonuses, extra vacation time, trips, and prizes for sales that exceed company quotas.

Because sales are affected by changing economic conditions and consumer and business preferences, earnings may fluctuate from year to year.

Working conditions for sales representatives vary. Representatives responsible for a large territory may spend a great deal of time traveling. They may be away from home for several days or weeks at a time. Agents who are responsible for a small territory may work fairly steady hours. They spend a certain amount of time in the office each day keeping records, preparing various documents, and setting up appointments with customers. Agents who sell exclusively by telephone spend all their time in the office. Agents must call at the time most convenient to customers and may have to work or travel at night or on weekends. However, many agents have the flexibility to set their own schedules so long as they meet their company's goals.

Selling is stressful work. Sales representatives face competition not only from sales representatives of other companies but also from agents in their own company. Companies may set goals or quotas and hold contests with prizes for those who make the most sales.

Employment and Outlook

Services sales agents held 418,000 salaried jobs in 1986. Most were in business services industries. Significant numbers of sales agents work for firms that offer a wide range of other services.

The number of workers in this group is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the mid-1990's in response to the continued rapid increase in demand for services in general. However, growth of services representative jobs is directly related to employment growth in the particular services industries where they are found. For example, employment of agents who sell data processing services is expected to grow very repidly due to the continued rapid growth in factory and office automation, and representatives who sell personnel supply services are also expected to grow rapidly in response to the growth of temporary health firms. Employment of representatives who sell advertising, hotel services, and personal services such as laundry and drycleaning services is expected to grow at a somewhat slower pace but still faster than the average for all workers due to the continued increase in demand for their services. On the other hand, employment of educational services sales agents is expected to grow only about as fast as the average for all occupations in response to growth of the school-age population.

In addition to growth in demand for sales agents, many openings will occur each year because of the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. As in other sales occupations, turnover is relatively high--particularly among agents who sell nontechnical services. Each year, many new services sales agents discover that they can't earn enough money at selling and leave the occupation.

Prospective services sales agents with a college background or a proven sales record should have the best job opportunities.

Qualifications and Advancement

Many employers require that services sales representatives have a college degree. Requirements vary depending on the services that a particular company sells. Employers who market advertising services seek individuals with a college degree in advertising or a master of business administration degree. Companies that market educational services prefer individuals with an advanced degree in marketing or related fields. Many hotels seek graduates from college hotel administration programs. Companies that sell computer services and telephone systems prefer sales agents with a background in computer science or engineering. Courses in business, economics, and marketing are helpful in obtaining most jobs as services sales agents.

Some employers hire sales representatives with a high school diploma if they have a proven sales record. This is particularly true for those agents who sell nontechnical services such as linen supply, exterminating, laundry, and funeral services.

Many firms conduct formal intensive training programs for their sales agents. Individuals learn about the company's operations and its products and services. They also receive instruction in various sales techniques such as prospecting for clients, probing customer needs, interviewing, sales presentations, and closing a sale. They may also receive motivational and sensitivity training to help them understand different personality types and make them more effective in dealing with people. Sales representatives may also attend seminars on a wide range of subjects given by outside training institutions such as technical schools and colleges and universities. Many sales representatives receive periodic training when new company products and services are introduced and on sales techniques to maintain and update their skills.

Many large companies prefer to hire sales representatives directly out of school, while smaller companies prefer to hire individuals who have a proven sales record. Smaller companies generally lack the resources to provide training programs for their sales agents.

Sales representatives must have a pleasant, outgoing personality and good rapport with people. Good grooming and a neat appearance are essential. They must be well organized and efficient in scheduling their time because prospective sales might be at different stages of the sales process. Self-confidence, reliability, and the ability to communicate are also vital characteristics. Sales agents should be highly motivated and have the ability to work under pressure to meet sales goals.

Sales representatives who have good sales records and leadership ability may advance to sales supervisor, branch manager, or district manager. Those with managerial ability eventually may advance to sales manager or other executive positions; many top executives in industry started as sales workers.

Frequent contact with business people in other firms can provide sales workers with leads about job openings, thus facilitating advancement possibilities. Some go into business for themselves as independent representatives. Others find opportunities in advertising and market research.

Related Occupations

Services sales agents must have sales ability and a knowledge of the service they sell. Workers in other occupations that require these skills include buyers, real estate sales workers, insurance sales workers, securities sales workers, wholesale and retail trade sales representatives, telephone solicitors, and travel agents.

Sources of Additional Information

For details about employment opportunities for services sales agents, contact employers who sell services in your area.
COPYRIGHT 1987 U.S. Government Printing Office
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Author:Dillon, Hall
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1987
Words:1973
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