The functional areas of sales and customer service have always been linked. When you're shoe shopping, for example, the pushy salesperson who tells you how great you'd look in loafers that cost a month's rent -- or the opposite, one who ignores you completely -- is more likely to run you out of the store than to make a sale. The patient sales associate who doesn't follow you around, but makes himself available when you need three different sizes in five different styles, on the other hand, will probably have a better chance at winning you over.
The notion that good sales people must provide great customer service has only been solidified by the current state of the economy. Overall, whether they're purchasing used cars or advertising space, people expect a lot out of the products and services they buy. Both businesses and consumers have a new perspective on the value of a dollar and are more discerning with how they spend their money -- meaning sales reps must offer solutions to problems instead of superlative spiels on their products.
The bottom line? If you're a people-person, a persistent problem-solver and you have a positive attitude, now is a great time explore a career in sales.
Why you should consider it
Since salespeople directly contribute to a company's bottom line, sales roles were considered to be one of the most important during the recession. Even so, many companies were forced to cut back their sales staff. Now, as businesses finally start to get back on their feet, head count in this essential department will begin to increase again. In fact, according to CareerBuilder's 2011 Job Forecast, 27 percent of hiring managers surveyed said they plan to hire workers for sales positions in 2011 -- more than any other job function.
Besides the good job prospects in the coming year, taking a sales position can also be a lucrative career move. Since a lot of sales jobs are commission-based, earning potential is high.
Jobs to consider
If you're thinking about making a career move, here are a few jobs to consider in the sales and customer service industry:
1. Pharmaceutical sales
These sales reps promote and sell their company's prescription drugs to doctors' offices, hospitals and pharmacies. Because pharmaceutical sales reps must have an in-depth understanding of both the chemistry of the drugs they sell, as well as the conditions they are used to treat, workers in pharmaceutical sales often must have a related college degree.
Average annual salary: $96,292 *
2. Regional retail sales manager
Regional managers oversee sales, marketing and customer service initiatives in stores within a designated geographic area. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while a college degree can expedite advancement in this field, it is also common for retail workers without a college degree to work their way up to management positions.
Average annual salary: $105,841
3. Insurance sales agent
In addition to selling insurance policies, insurance sales agents serve as a resource for their clients, providing them with policy information and customized insurance plans to fit their needs. According to career planning resource MyPlan.com, insurance sales agents -- especially those in life insurance -- are increasingly offering additional services like estate and retirement planning.
Average annual salary: $52,549
4. Sales manager
Sales managers are responsible for overseeing a company's sales representatives, analyzing sales trends and setting sales goals. Employers prefer job candidates with either a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration or a related field, according to the BLS.
Average annual salary: $107,475
5. Advertising sales manager
Advertising sales reps either work for an agency or a corporation, selling advertising space across media like magazines, television and the Internet. According to the BLS, workers with a college degree will have the best chance at employment in ad sales.
Average annual salary: $119,006
* Salary information provided by CBSalary.com