What Does a Sales Assistant Do? A Closer Look at This Entry-Level Sales Springboard
You’ve always been excited by a challenge. When someone disagrees with you, it’s an opportunity to flash your charm, throw in a few well-made points and help someone come around to your point of view. A career in sales might be a good fit for your tenacity and confidence, and an opportunity to develop as negotiator and a shrewd business mind.
Sales is a dynamic and fast-paced field. To be a successful salesperson, you need to think creatively, work well with a diverse range of people, and have a thorough understanding of your product and market.
For the right kind of worker, a career in sales promises to never be boring. A successful sales career can also bring with it a high financial reward. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives in 2018 was $61,660—and $124,220 for sales managers.1 Of course, you’ll need to climb the career ladder to reach the level of a sales manager—so how do you get there?
One common first step is through building experience as a sales assistant. In this article we’ll talk about what sales assistants typically do and how this role can help set the stage for a sales career.
What is a sales assistant?
A sales assistant is an entry level position on a sales team. Often, a sales assistant works on the sales floor supporting other members of a sales team as they negotiate deals and manage customer questions and needs. This work can include answering phone calls and emails, providing additional logistical and administrative aid, facilitating the relationship between a sales and production department, assisting customers, and processing orders. The day to day work of a sales assistant is dependent on the needs of the sales team. A sales assistant must be flexible and responsive.
Even in an entry-level position, working as a sales assistant requires the same interpersonal skillset that allows sales professionals to meet their goals. Sales assistants often work closely with clients, drawing on critical thinking, active listening and social perceptiveness to provide good service.
“I loved meeting new people from all over the world and forming new relationships with clients and colleagues,” says Beverly Friedmann, whose experience as a sales assistant led to her current work as Content and Web Sales Manager for ReviewingThis. “It is a truly invaluable part of any sales role.”
Where do sales assistants work?
There are many settings that require sales assistants—this is particularly true for industries selling more complex or technical goods or services. Technology, pharmaceuticals, financial tech and consumer packaged goods are only a few of the industries that depend on sales workers to function. As a sales assistant, you have a unique opportunity to learn about your product from within the industry and pick up on habits of established sales professionals.
Francis Côté now works as the co-owner and sales manager at Ideal Fence. He began his career by installing fences during college before working his way into a sales role and beyond. Côté says he drew on the knowledge he built as a sales assistant and took a company that made less than $100,000 in contract sales to a business taking in more than $2.5 million in sales.
Working in sales offers unique opportunities for advancement. With a commitment to whatever product you work with, you have the opportunity to build a wide client base and a more influential company.
What are the opportunities open to a sales assistant?
“Those who are consistently successful in sales can write their own ticket,” says Côté.
Experience as a sales assistant can open doors that would otherwise be closed to someone outside the industry. “Corporations need numbers, and they don’t like to waste money on hiring and training unless they must. A proven track record, industry knowledge and established contacts make salespeople indispensable, and can lead to advancement.”
Sales is a field that thrives on human relationships. A sales assistant who nurtures their customer and professional relationships is well positioned to advance to higher-level roles in sales. For instance, if you work for an organization that sells materials to a company that builds and sells its own products, you have the opportunity to not only impress within your own organization, but also make connections and potentially earn recommendations for sales roles within the organizations you’re selling to. Networking is a natural part of the job that can lead to unexpected opportunities.
Friedmann says hard working sales assistants have strong prospects for continuing on into fields like sales and marketing as they continue building relationships.
“They can become sales managers, regional managers, marketing professionals, and even pivot their careers into content management and other related fields,” Friedmann says.
What skills do you need to be a sales assistant?
Working in sales is all about thriving in a dynamic work environment. A sales assistant needs to enjoy an ever changing workplace and stay aware of new customer expectations.
“The sales landscape has dramatically changed in the last 10-15 years,” Côté says. “The pace is faster, and consumers generally prefer to communicate over email rather than phone.”
Additionally, Côté says familiarity with customer relationship management (CRM) software is a big plus for sales professionals as it helps them maintain and build relationships with clients by storing and organizing important customer information.
In the age of technology, sales workers need to stay ahead of new trends such as artificial intelligence as a customer interface.
“Sales will change over the next several years as technology evolves, and those working in the industry will evolve alongside these shifts,” says Friedmann. “As we see the rise in AI and other technological advancements, salespeople will generally need to focus even more on providing an outstanding customer experience for the experiential factor consumers crave.”
Beyond a comfort level with technology, sales assistants need to be organized, dependable and excellent communicators. They’re often facilitating sales calls, filing order paperwork and following up with additional information—the last thing a salesperson wants is to have a potential customer relationship sour because of a mistake in these areas.
What training and education do you need to work as a sales assistant?
When it comes to the training and education needed to become a sales assistant, the answer can vary quite a bit depending on employer preferences and the industry you’re pursuing this role in. Our analysis of the minimum required education for over 30,000 sales assistant job postings reflects that—51.5 percent were seeking those with a high school diploma, while the rest were seeking candidates with an associate’s degree or higher.2
Roles selling higher-end technical products are often more lucrative—and as a result, more sought-after—so employers for these positions may be more selective about their candidate pool.
Is a sales career in your future?
“Ultimately, sales is a very goal-driven vocation,” says Cole. “In my experience, some people are not meant for it at all, while others excel tremendously.”
If you’re leaning toward pursuing a sales career, a sales assistant position can be an excellent starting point. You’ll build experience, learn the ropes of the sales process and have a chance to plan your next steps. For many those next steps include pursuing a college education. Check out our article, “9 Ways a Marketing Degree Can Boost Your Sales Career,” to learn more about the potential benefits.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed October, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 30,081 sales assistant job postings, October 9, 2018 – October 8, 2019).