Industry Outlook

Employment growth in sales tends to be consistent with the growth of the overall economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 2 percent growth for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives, and a 2 percent decline in employment for retail sales workers through 2028.

When the economy is growing, businesses perceive more opportunities to sell their goods and services and therefore hire more sales workers. Because many sales workers' income is at least partially derived from commissions, they also tend to earn more as the economy expands. But the reverse is also true: When the economy experiences a downturn, the jobs and earnings of sales workers tend to suffer. Not all sales jobs are equally sensitive to these ups and downs because some kinds of purchases are necessary at all times. In addition, different kinds of economic crises can affect sales in different industries; for example, the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 hurt real estate sales for years.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected sales across most industries. With the closures and re-openings of businesses across the U.S. and around the world, there has been a rise in unemployment and a subsequent economic slowdown. According to a July 2020 McKinsey report, "it could take more than five years for the most affected sectors" to recover to pre-pandemic numbers. The sectors that have been hit particularly hard are manufacturing, retailing, and restaurants, all of which "could be facing a long, hard recovery."

The accelerated distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 is expected to bolster the economy. Sales in most sectors are projected to regain ground lost during the pandemic, as businesses reopen and corporate profit increases. The telemarketing and call centers industry in the U.S. will have average growth through 2025, according to market researcher IBISWorld. Increased consumer spending in the retail sector, coupled with improvements in downstream markets like health care and information technology industries will contribute to growth in telemarketing and call centers. Growth will be slowed somewhat by the offshoring of domestic operations and rise in Web-service technologies. The U.S. wholesale trade industry was projected to have decline in revenue in 2020, however, strong growth was expected in the medical supplies sector due to the surge of demand during the pandemic. Wholesale trade will experience growth through 2025 as the domestic economy rebounds and the recovery of commodity prices increase demand. In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress in 2020, will provide different types of loan assistance to industries and small businesses affected by the pandemic.

In general, the sales jobs most sensitive to the state of the economy are probably those in business-to-business (B2B) sales that involve capital goods: equipment used in manufacturing and in other production processes. When the economy is contracting, manufacturers can't find buyers for their current level of output. They will still purchase supplies, such as raw materials, that they will need to maintain some amount of output, but they will not add to their production capacity by purchasing more capital goods.

In B2B sales of scientific and technical goods and services, sales workers can gain credibility with customers by acquiring expertise in a specific industry, and it is easier to acquire specialized knowledge and skills for a relatively small business field. On the other hand, specialization can limit a sales worker's horizons: The narrower the targeted industry is, the smaller the market is.

Outside sales workers' jobs depend on face-to-face interactions with customers, so these jobs are not likely to be lost to overseas workers. Nor are computers likely to substitute for the personal relationships that human sales workers create. Mail-order catalogues did not eliminate the need for sales workers, and neither will new technology, although electronic marketplaces are growing rapidly. Customers for technical and scientific goods often need creative problem-solving skills that only humans can provide.

For sales representatives of wholesale and manufactured goods, the outlook across employers in all industry is for slower than average employment growth through 2028. For those selling all kinds of services, the BLS projects little or no change in employment through 2028. The fastest-growing occupation in this group is insurance sales agents, with 10 percent employment growth through 2028. Sales agents in securities, commodities and financial services will have 4 percent employment growth in that same time frame.

The BLS projects 5 percent growth for sales managers through 2028. The jobs tend to be more secure than many other kinds of managerial work. Strongest growth is expected in business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer sales.