What does an Outside Salesperson do?

Sheri Cyprus

An outside salesperson is responsible for bringing in sales for a company. He or she works outside the office speaking with potential customers at their stores or other places of business. Outside salespeople are usually assigned a geographical area; they're expected to find new customers as well as increase sales amounts for existing clients.

Outside salespeople often have to cold call prospective clients to generate new leads.
Outside salespeople often have to cold call prospective clients to generate new leads.

In order to make and increase sales by meeting with business people, an outside salesperson must keep up to date on his or her represented products or services as well as the clients' industry. In between client meetings and sales calls, outside salespeople are likely to attend industry workshops. Salespeople must also usually attend regular company meetings.

Many companies employ inside and outside sales staffs in order to sell their products.
Many companies employ inside and outside sales staffs in order to sell their products.

Outside salespeople typically report to a sales manager. The manager assigns each outside salesperson a sales territory. Meeting sales quotas, or expected amounts, set by the manager is a main goal of each salesperson. Salespeople aren't expected to turn every sales lead into a new customer or increase the amount purchased by each existing customer. They are expected to reach a certain sales percentage considered reasonable by the sales manager, as well as the owner or president, of the company for which they work.

Visiting retailers in their stores is a common outside salesperson task. Many outside salespeople work for wholesalers whose business is to provide retailers with their products. The salesperson typically meets with the retail owner or buyer and brings product samples as well as pricing information. Salespeople must have a likable communication style as well as a knowledge of their products. Understanding the needs of their clients is crucial in meeting outside sales goals.

Cold calling is a part of the job descriptions of many outside salespeople. Usually, the salesperson has a list of potential clients in his or her area and contacts them by telephone. This contact is considered “cold,” as there is no sales lead, but rather just a name on a list. The objective of the cold call is to get an appointment with the buyer or owner to discuss products and hopefully make a sale.

When the outside salesperson gets appointments from cold calling, he or she must prepare for them. Preparation for a sales call includes choosing products that the customer is likely to need before gathering relevant product information for the potential new client. Brochures and catalogs are common informative materials that outside salespeople use as supporting information when selling products to customers.

Outside salespeople typically report to a sales manager.
Outside salespeople typically report to a sales manager.

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I'm not sure if this will help, but my company (I'm a contractor with a door to door sales team) is testing this app called "canvassmate." The actual app launches sometime in late May or early June of '12 and it's free to use if you sign up on their website. Good luck!


My boss keeps a tight lease on the salespeople, probably because they are paid so much that he wants to make sure they are earning their money. He makes them keep a written record of every moment of their day. They turn this report in at the end of each week.

Once, a salesperson reported that she went to visit a customer, but she actually went to a hair appointment instead. The customer just happened to run into the boss, who asked him how he liked the new line of products. When he said he had not seen it yet and that the saleslady hadn’t come by on Friday, she got fired.


Though the salespeople in my office do have to visit people in person a lot, they also conduct business by email. They only do this when the client requests it, though, because the manager actually prefers that the salespeople talk to the customers face to face or at least on the phone to add a more personal touch.

Some clients prefer to have salespeople email them about special deals or new products. This saves the clients time and the stress of having to say “no” in person. However, they do buy a lot of our products online, so this technique works.


My sister works at the front desk of a vet’s office, and she is the one who speaks to the salesperson from the drug company that supplies the clinic. She said that the lady is well-informed about the products she markets, and she can always answer any questions that my sister has.

Also, she accepts “no” for an answer. I think this is a very important quality in a salesperson. It helps them keep a good relationship with their clients by respecting their decisions. Also, they won’t try to run away from this type of salesperson.

She brings free samples of new products to the clinic, and often, the vet ends up buying the products. This saleslady is just well prepared and likeable, two very good traits for this job.


The office that I work for made a mistake when they added a new job responsibility to the outside salespeople, in my opinion. I am good friends with one of the salespeople, and she told me that they expect her to be the one who goes out and collects the money that clients owe.

She says that it is nearly impossible to establish a good rapport with clients when she is the one banging down their door to collect past due payments. She said she feels like she works part-time as a salesperson and part-time as a collection agent.

Many of her customers that loved her before avoid her now. They never know whether she is coming to sell them something or nag them about the bill. This is just a very bad setup.


@indemnifyme - I'm sure you're right. I would be on edge all the time if I didn't get a base salary, I think.

That being said, I've worked in sales before and it wasn't really for me. I worked as an outside salesperson, mostly from an office. I just hated making all those phone calls! Cold calls were my least favorite.

And, as most people will tell you, cold calling is essential to grow any business that is based on sales. A lot of people will tell you no, but you will get some people who say. Warm sales and cross sells are great, but a completely new customer is the best way to grow your business. Then you can eventually cross sell them other products too!


@LisaLou - Some sales jobs are straight commission, but in a lot of sales jobs you get a base salary too. I work in insurance sales, and I get a base salary as well as commission.

My base salary isn't much, but it's enough to pay my bills. I think it actually helps me make more sales because I'm not desperate to make a sale, you know? I think the best sales people are able to appear relaxed and avoid pressuring the client. I know I've been turned off of buying something by a pushy sales person before!


@Sneakers41 -The people that often have low sales figures are probably the ones so focused on making a sale that they don’t pay attention to the customer and try to do the same sales presentation to every customer they see. Customers can tell when a salesperson is desperate and are often turned off by this.

This is a job that requires enormous confidence and faith in yourself because the numbers might not show up right away and you have to believe that the sales will come.

An outside sales career can have its ups and downs but when you do finally make that sale the feeling that you get is like nothing else because you know that you earned that sale.


@Suntan12 -I agree and I also think that a salesperson's requirements have to include building a rapport with their prospect. No one likes dealing with salespeople because they feel that they are going to end up with something that they don’t need.

I was in sales and I was successful because I always tried to establish a rapport with my prospects and talked to them about something that was not business related. It could be as simple as asking them about their children if I happened to see pictures of kids on their desk. This really got my prospects to relax with me.

When they relaxed I knew that I would have the best chance to find out a little about them and eventually explain how my product or service could help them. I always tried to find out what the client’s problems were so that I could present him with a solution that involved my products or services.

This is why a good salesperson always listens carefully to everything that their prospect is saying because they are essentially giving you a roadmap of how to offer your sales presentation.


@LisaLou -I think that the reason that you see a lot of openings for sales jobs revolves around the fact that sales involves a certain degree of rejection that not everyone is comfortable with.

Most people that start a sales job take the rejection personally and as a result become dissatisfied with their job because they view the rejection as a personal dislike of them instead of thinking that the prospect might not be in the market for the product.

In sales, rejection is part of the job and a true salesperson knows this. They accept rejection and don’t dwell on it because they know eventually someone will buy.

A great way to counter this negative thinking about rejection is to know statistically how many appointments you generated based on the number of calls that you made. For example, if on an average day you made 100 calls that yielded ten appointments and of those ten appointments you generated two sales then you learn to anticipate the rejection and realize that if you wanted to make ten sales a week you would probably have to make about 500 calls along with 50 appointments. Sales are a numbers game. It is more about persistence than anything else.


No matter how hard it can be to find a job, it seems like there are always salesperson jobs available. The hardest part about these jobs is when they are straight commission.

Sometimes when you are starting out, you will be paid for your training time and a small salary while you are learning.

Most salesperson jobs are 100% commission though, and that is why it can be so hard. I like to know how much money I have coming in every week and would have a hard time with this.

You also have to be a good money manager. If you have a good week of sales, you can't spend all of your money. You would always have to have some in reserve for the weeks that you didn't make very many sales.

I admire those people who can make a living as a salesperson. It would take more persistence and motivation to be successful than what I have.


My son has always enjoyed sales and spent a few years working as an insurance salesperson. I know I would not make a very good salesperson, but he had the right personality and drive for it.

You have to be pretty disciplined and motivated or it won't work very well. Most of his leads were "warm" leads and he didn't have to do any cold calling, but this is still hard for many people to do.

Sometimes there was quite a bit of driving involved and the hours were crazy. Since he was meeting people in their homes, he had to schedule appointments when they were home. This meant that he worked a lot of evenings and weekends.

When he wasn't meeting with people, he was in the office making his phone calls to set up appointments and catch up on his paperwork.

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