Sales jobs vary widely based on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. You might be providing a software solution to solve a company’s efficiency issues, offering a medical device to minimize mistakes in surgeries, or helping a family find the perfect home.
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But at the core, sales is about identifying a client or customer’s problem—and then convincing them that whatever you’re selling is the solution to that problem. When you work in sales, “it’s your job to uncover the client’s pain point, understand the vision of what they want, and be able to explain how your product will bridge [the gap] from pain point to vision,” says Betty Kempa, an executive career change coach that specializes in helping people transition into their dream careers—including sales.
Another thing many sales roles have in common? Major income potential.
Let’s take a look at seven of the highest-paying sales jobs you can pursue—and what you’ll need to get your foot in the door.
How We’re Defining “High-Paying”
Before we jump into the high-paying sales roles you may want to pursue in your career, let’s quickly cover how we’re defining “high-paying.”
We used data from salary and compensation resource Payscale to evaluate the income potential of a variety of sales roles. When you account for base salary, commission, and bonuses, each of the roles included on this list has a total income potential well over the median household income in the United States, which was $63,179 in 2018, the last year with available data. (Payscale’s database is updated nightly; the figures below reflect the latest information as of May 2020.)
Now, let’s jump into those lucrative sales roles, shall we? They’re listed here from highest to lowest total average compensation.
1. Enterprise Sales/Account Executive
Average salary: $75,000
Salary range: $54,000–$133,000
Average commission: $64,709
Average bonus: $32,500
Average profit sharing: n/a
Total average compensation: $172,209
Enterprise sales executives work in B2B (or “business-to-business”) sales and are responsible for selling to and managing their company’s largest customers—also known as enterprise accounts. Because enterprise clients typically buy in large quantities (for example, while a smaller customer might buy software licenses for 25 employees, an enterprise client might buy licenses for a team of 5,000), the income potential for enterprise sales executives is higher than a lot of other sales roles. But because they’re dealing with a business’ biggest and often most important clients, there’s also more responsibility and pressure.
Generally, salespeople have to work their way up to the enterprise level—although candidates with an MBA, for example, may be able to get their foot in the door.
2. Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
Average salary: $81,798
Salary range: $50,000–$118,000
Average commission: $20,268
Average bonus: $23,974
Average profit sharing: $6,904
Total average compensation: $132,944
Pharmaceutical sales reps visit doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities in their given territory to build relationships with doctors and educate them on the drug and pharmaceutical company they’re representing, with the ultimate goal being to drive a higher rate of prescriptions.
Pharmaceutical sales jobs are extremely competitive, and a bachelor’s degree from a top-tier school and a high GPA are generally needed to break into the industry.
Average salary: $54,451
Salary range: $24,000–$150,000
Average commission: $40,963
Average bonus: $3,600
Average profit sharing: $9,826
Total average compensation: $108,840
A realtor is someone who works in real estate sales. Realtors can represent buyers, sellers, or both—and any time they help someone buy or sell a property, they make a percentage of the sale price in commission. (If a realtor represents both the buyer and the seller in a real estate transaction, they would receive commissions from both sides). As a selling agent, realtors handle everything from listing and marketing the home or commercial space to hosting open houses to managing closing paperwork. As a buyer’s agent, realtors help their clients find properties, negotiate offers, and close the sale.
You don’t need any specific degree or background to become a real estate agent, but you’ll need to pass a licensing exam in the state where you want to buy or sell real estate. To call yourself a realtor, you must be a member of the National Association of Realtors.
4. Medical Device Sales Representative
Average salary: $60,138
Salary range: $41,000–$98,000
Average commission: $31,123
Average bonus: $14,740
Average profit sharing: $1,200
Total average compensation: $107,201
Medical device sales reps sell medical devices to doctors, surgeons, and other medical professionals. Depending on the type of medical device, sales reps do everything from visiting hospitals or doctors’ offices to give presentations on their product to standing in the operating room during procedures to ensure doctors are using their devices correctly.
While medical sales reps don’t need to have a background in medicine, they typically need to have a bachelor’s degree, an in-depth understanding of their device’s medical implications, and a tolerance for watching medical procedures.
5. Sales Engineer
Average salary: $72,953
Salary range: $50,000–$112,000
Average commission: $19,490
Average bonus: $8,213
Average profit sharing: $4,045
Total average compensation: $104,701
Sales engineers hold a unique role that’s a hybrid of sales, engineering, science, and technology. Typically, sales engineers are employed by companies that sell complex technology related to equipment or mechanical systems. Sales engineers have a variety of responsibilities, including evaluating a client’s equipment or mechanical systems, getting a clear understanding of each client’s individual needs, and delivering customized product or service solutions.
Because sales engineers need to have an in-depth knowledge of a variety of mechanical, science, and engineering concepts, a bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering (or equivalent experience) is typically required.
6. Software Sales Representative
Average salary: $51,782
Salary range: $36,000–$93,000
Average commission: $23,945
Average bonus: $10,000
Average profit sharing: $5,000
Total average compensation: $90,727
Software sales reps work for technology companies and are responsible for selling the company’s software to other businesses, professionals, and/or consumers. Generally, this role is a combination of inside sales (like cold calling potential clients to try to set up meetings) and outside sales (like visiting a prospect to give a software demo and close the sale). That means they have responsibilities similar to those of sales development representatives (SDRs) and/or account executives, with the exact mix depending on the role and seniority.
While there’s no specific background or education you need to get into software sales, many companies want at least a bachelor’s degree—and because you’ll be selling software, which can be complex, you need to be tech-savvy enough to understand, explain, and tout the technology.
7. Major Gifts Officer
Average salary: $69,295
Salary range: $50,000–$95,000
Average commission: n/a
Average bonus: $2,986
Average profit sharing: $50
Total average compensation: $72,281
Major gift officers work to drive charitable giving for nonprofits, focusing on gifts from individuals rather than grants from foundations and other institutions. A major gifts officer might not be something you’d think of as a classic sales role, but it uses the same skills, talents, and structure. While you may not be selling a product or service, you are selling the company’s mission—and you use those sales skills to drive large donations for the nonprofit.
In order to work as a major gifts officer, you’ll need at least a few years of experience working in fundraising for a nonprofit—so this isn’t an entry-level role. But if you’re committed to finding a way to combine sales and mission-driven work, this could be the perfect (and high-paying!) hybrid role.
The Top Qualities You’ll Need to Win in Sales
A career in sales can offer a ton of opportunity and financial potential. But working in sales isn’t for everyone; there are certain qualities you’ll need to succeed.
Despite popular belief, you don’t have to be the most outgoing or extroverted person in the world in order to thrive in sales—but you do need strong interpersonal skills. The ability to connect with the person you’re selling to is crucial. “At the end of the day, you are selling to another human,” says Kempa. “So you have to be a great listener, ask the right questions, and tap into their emotions.”
You also need to be ready and willing to get turned down—a lot. Successful salespeople know that rejection is par for the course—and that every “no” is just a learning opportunity that can get you closer to a “yes.” In fact, some salespeople are so enthusiastic about learning from their nos, they “see how many ‘nos’ they can hit instead of ‘yeses,’” says Kempa.
There’s also a lot of pressure in sales roles. Because most of these jobs are either partially or fully commission-based, you’re going to constantly be pushing to hit your sales quotas. If you want to thrive in a sales role, you should make sure that this kind of numbers-driven pressure “doesn’t stress you out, but...excites you,” says Kempa.
There are plenty of sales opportunities out there. And now that you know about some of the highest-paying sales jobs (and what you’ll need to get your foot in the door), all that’s left to do is get out there, sell yourself, and land one!