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An external sales representative is someone who sells a product or service to help bring income to a company. As opposed to “inside” sales representatives, external reps leave the office--by foot, car or airplane--to secure a client or account. In other words, an external sales representative spends the majority of his workday in face-to-face meetings with potential customers, at times traveling all over the world to make a sale.
External sales representatives can be found in every type of industry, from automobiles to computers to clothing to furniture. In many industries, external sales reps receive most of their salary from a commission, or a percentage of what they sell. The top priority of a salesman is to explain a product's benefits to a customer, relaying a message that it is a product or service that the customer “cannot live without.” The salesman then must close the sale by getting the customer to agree to buy the product or service.
External sales reps should be motivated, outgoing and confident, and have strong communication skills. They should be accomplished problem solvers, work well on their own and be resilient, since even the best salesmen face rejection regularly. Mostly, a sales rep needs a thorough knowledge of the product or service she is trying to peddle.
While not every external rep needs anything beyond a high school diploma, many employers seek candidates who have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in marketing. Sales executives should be educated in business, accounting, economics, finance, statistics and other related courses. Some industries, such as the auto and retail industries, allow salespeople to learn on-the-job without specific education requirements.
Jobs for sales representatives are expected to increase by 7 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That is about as fast as the average for all other occupations. There is no hard data for external sales reps, but it’s assumed opportunities for them will grow at a similar rate to the rest of the industry. The BLS reported that more than 1.9 million workers were employed as sales reps in May 2008.
External sales representatives earned an average salary of $25,000 to more than $70,000 per year in February 2010, according to PayScale.com. Much of that income was based on the rep's experience and responsibilities, as well as the type of industry in which he worked. Meanwhile, the BLS reported sales reps earned a median annual wage of $70,200 in May 2008.