Business would not be able to operate without the profession which brings in the money. Sales is the centre of any organisation and without it, no one would get paid.
Sales may not scream out to graduates as the obvious career choice. However, the fact is that sales roles need people with the transferable skills that a degree teaches, and so it is a career that most graduates can step into fairly naturally. It is also a career which can offer highly rewarding salaries as well as good prospects. For this reason it’s no surprise that sales is now seen as an excellent move after university, with more graduates than ever moving into this area.
Getting into the industry isn’t easy. Although some telesales experience can be useful, an employer will want to see examples of a candidate successfully selling or persuading a client/customer to do something. Alternatively, experience and so knowledge of a particular sector can be extremely useful when applying for some roles. There is the opportunity for some to work within, or closely related to, their areas of study such as in IT or pharmaceutical sales, however most roles can be entered by graduates from any background.
B2B and B2C
At its simplest, sales can be split into two areas: business to business sales (B2B) and business to customer sales (B2C).
Business to Business
Sales is the selling of a product/service to another business. It offers graduates the chance to get to know the workings of businesses, researching sales opportunities and often having to give presentations about their product to a client, face-to-face. This is the typical area for graduates to go into, as the rewards tend to be higher and the opportunities greater.
Business to Consumer
Sales is the direct selling of goods to the consumer and is not as common an area for graduates to go into. However, increasing numberers of retailers look for graduates to join their fast-track graduate management schemes.
Sectors you can go into
Generally split into fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and durable goods, this involves the selling of a businesses product generally to retailers. An FMCG is a product that will generally be sold at relatively low costs, however in such large quantities that profits can be large. This includes products such as food and drink and contributes to around £125 billion of consumer expenditure annually. Durables are products such as electrical goods that will generally sell in lower quantity but at higher costs.
What to expect
There can be a lot of face-to-face presentations that require in-depth knowledge of the sector worked in, as you are persuading a client to go with your product as opposed to one of your main competitors’. For this reason there can be a lot of pressure to hit targets and the lifestyle can involve a large amount of time on the road, however if successful the rewards can be great.
‘It’s so exciting being presented with a new product, exciting the trade about it and then almost immediately going ahead with the launch’.
Vanessa Palmer, Commercial Director, Garnier/Maybelline – L’Oréal.
This sector involves selling advertising space for use in the media industry. It may involve working for a magazine publisher, a newspaper, a TV or radio company or for an agency that specialise in media advertising. Most media sales will now also include online advertising, which has boomed in the last few years helping to make the UK’s media into a £23 billion industry.
What to expect
Most time will be spent researching potential new advertisers as well as account handling. As deadlines approach a lot of time will be spent closing deals over the phone. Good communication and teamwork skills are therefore a must. This becomes especailly needed at busy times when juggling various products and clients as well as often working closely with other colleagues in sales and sometimes with other departments such as in production and marketing.
The UK pharmaceutical industry is worth around £4.3 billion and specialises in distributing drugs, generally for health purposes, to GPs, hospitals and retailers. The top companies will bring in upwards of £10 million of sales each year, meaning it is a sector where the role of those working in sales is crucial.
To work for a pharmaceutical company in sales it is important to have a keen interest in medicine and health, and although traditionally a scientific background was necessary, now in-house training is generally so comprehensive that employers are looking for candidates that demonstrate wider ranges of competency, rather than just a scientific degree.
What to expect
Pharmaceutical sales representatives spend much of their time on the road, often on their own, selling to potential clients face-to-face. This can raise the pressure to hit targets and, although rewards can be very high, with great earning potential, as well as other excellent benefits such as company cars, the lifestyle can be tough.
‘This role involved calling on customers (GPs and nurses) on a daily basis to discuss respiratory care in their surgery.’
Kimberly, Sales and Marketing Scheme, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
This sector is particularly suitable for graduates with an IT related degree, or a particular interest in this sector, as it involves liaising with technical and purchasing staff to understand clients’ IT related requirements. This is an ever evolving sector, as IT solutions and products constantly develop, which means the potential for career advancement is huge.
What to expect
‘I worked on a variety of projects, from increasing customer satisfaction to measuring performance of sales people, and success in one of these projects prompted the head of field sales to offer me a job driving his strategy and transforming his area.’ Hamzah Khan, Business Improvement and Campaign Manager, BT.
This is a strictly regulated sector to work in, where you would be selling a range of products such as pensions, life insurance, mortgages and savings schemes, as either an independent financial advisor or as a representative of a financial institution. Entrants into this sector are often required to pass the Financial Planning Certificate (FPC) parts 1, 2 and 3 within their first year of work in order to become licensed and approved to work by theFinancial Services Authority (FSA).
The need for a professional qualification means this is a highly lucrative and valued sector.
What to expect
‘My second year saw me moving into commercial lines, handling bigger industrial risks in a corporate environment. I was able to become more involved in projects modelling. I really enjoyed the intermediary side where I was selling insurance to brokers and was being given projects for high net customers.’ Elena Fedotova, Business Development Online Manager, Aviva.
Sales ability is just as important in technical sales roles as in other sectors, but due to the technical nature of the position and the need to fully understand client requirements and respond accordingly, graduates need a relevant degree to apply for sales roles within engineering or the petrochemical sector. The international nature of many of the companies in this sector can mean that these positions often involve international travel or periods working overseas.
What to expect
‘My role involved collecting intelligence to help those in senior positions with their sales tactics and competitive positioning.’
James Barry, Head of Customer Business, Rolls-Royce.