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A Day in the Life of a Service Sales Representative

A service sales representative sells the services her company offers, reaching her customers over the telephone, in person, and through letter-writing efforts. A service sales rep can work for nearly anyone: A communications company, an upholsterer, a computer engineering firm, or a caterer, to name only a few who has a service (as opposed to a good) to sell. Service Sales Representatives have to be good communicators, persuasive talkers, and excellent listeners. The most important quality of a service sales rep, however, is the ability to sell. Indeed, her paycheck depends on it-many service sales reps work from a low base salary plus either commissions on sales or a potentially large bonus. This means a high-pressure environment, but pressure, as one rep told us, “is what turns coal into diamonds.” Sales representatives must first and foremost be confident with their knowledge of their product lines. “Most of your job as a sales rep is answering questions,” wrote one respondent, “and if you don’t have answers for your clients, how can you expect them to trust you?” The issue of trust is central to any purchaser/vendor relationship. For the sales rep, having information at his disposal is the only way he can demonstrate to the potential client that he understands the product’s uses and limitations. To maintain these high levels of credibility, many companies require that sales reps engage in internal education programs that keep them up to date on changing product lines and improved product features. Sales reps not only have to adjust themselves to their product lines, but also to the needs and sensibilities of their clients. “You don’t sell to a mom and pop store the way you’d try to sell to IBM,” said one telephone service sales rep. The best way to learn that skill? “Experience is incredibly valuable in sales,” wrote a ten-year veteran. Two aspects of the job were recorded as most frustrating on our surveys. First, simply by virtue of what she does, a service sales rep often encounters rejection and puts effort into many deals that do not close. It’s important to be able to see that a failed deal is not necessarily a personal failure. Second, the job breeds a certain amount of isolation. “No one is a salesman’s friend,” wrote one manager of service sales reps, adding “it can be a very lonely job.” Many reps spend a lot of time on the road, in meetings, and at client dinners, and many of these hours are clocked on the weekends. The price they pay is returned in the form of bonuses, commission, and control over their schedule if not the number of hours they work.

Paying Your Dues

No professional certification is required for service sales representatives and there are no formal educational requirements, but it’s becoming more and more common for them to have a college education. Coursework that sales representatives found helpful to them in their profession included marketing, business, economics, finance, public speaking, sociology, and psychology. Most large employers run established training programs for newly hired service sales reps that last between three weeks and three months. These training programs educate newcomers about product lines, the techniques of successful sales representatives, and accounting procedures, and generally include interactive exercises to give future representatives some sales experience. Smaller places may not have training programs but will instead pair a newcomer with an experienced sales rep. Employers look for prior experience that demonstrates a self-motivating personality and strong interpersonal along with organizational skills.

Present and Future

Service sales representatives are a product of urbanization. As greater numbers of people needed more services, competition began to increase between shops, and expanding the sales base became critical. Service sales representatives should be positioned well for the twenty-first century. Service industries are expected to grow faster than all other industries in the U.S., and each company is expected to spend significant capital attempting to expand its customer base. Creative and motivated people should find opportunities available that reward their hard work and selling skills.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Those reps who’ve been through training programs are having more success than those who have not, due to both superior education in company strategies and generally superior sales rep support. Hours are long and success is limited, but many point to one or two difficult sales that went through as turning points. It’s hard work to maintain relationships with existing clients and recruit new ones as well. Satisfaction is average and salaries are low to average.

FIVE YEARS OUT

This is the period in which a sales rep distinguishes himself in the field. Many spend long hours hunting clients, but with high levels of success. Skills acquired in the field prove invaluable in years three through seven, and salaries can rise significantly. Some attain the title of “senior” service sales representative and are put in charge of those more junior. Satisfaction is high; the five-year survivor is, generally, at the top of his game.

TEN YEARS OUT

Those who’ve managed to last ten years in this field must love the challenge of selling, as many tell us that by years eight and nine the profession becomes a bit more difficult. The nature of the work does not change, but the long hours that seemed effortless before are less exciting, and the frustration at deals not closing gets less bearable. Many successful sales reps consider managerial or executive shifts at this point, eschewing life in the field for the stability of the office. Salaries can decrease overall for those making this shift, but become more reliable as well. Hours decrease; satisfaction drops, then improves.