A Career in Sales: The Big 5 Sales Roles + Management Paths

Illustration of a man standing before 2 paths, trying to determine the best way forward.

Embarking on a career in sales is a superb decision.

With confidence and commitment, you can create an incredible life for yourself and your family.

If you’ve had an entry-level sales job and tasted success, it may be time to level up and commit to joining the ranks of successful corporate sales professionals. (If you’re truly just starting, I recommend you read this article about first jobs to start a sales career).

This blog article will outline key traits and characteristics that are helpful for a committed professional to embody, and we’ll also explore the 2 key business development personality profiles, including the ideal sales skills for each.

I’ll outline each of the big 5 sales roles including inside sales, outside sales, account management, channel/partner sales, and sales engineering, along with the promotional tracks you can follow if you want to eventually manage others.

Last but not least, I’ll share answers to some frequently asked questions at the end.

Sales Professional Characteristics

If you think a career in sales is right for you long-term, here are some things to think about:

Personal Traits

Professional sales requires excellent communication skills, a charming personality, confidence, persuasiveness, willingness to work hard, resilience, competitiveness and commitment to ongoing growth and development.

Illustration of a man and a woman engaged in a tug-of-war, representing competitiveness.

Although extroversion is often helpful, I’ve known successful salespeople that consider themselves to be introverts. Skills like active listening, empathy, and understanding are also useful in sales. 

Aptitude for Pressure & Accountability

Sales jobs come with targets and quotas. In my experience, most people are very hesitant to having their performance scrutinized in such black-and-white terms.

If you thrive under pressure and appreciate being held accountable, a career in sales could be right for you.

Resilience Against Rejection

Rejection is a big part of any sales job. You need thick skin and the capacity to brush off rejection and failure every day.

My sales career has spanned over 20 years and I still recall some of my harshest rejections, although at this stage I’m able to remain focused and return to productivity immediately after painful rejections.

Commitment & Growth Mindset

Sales is all about learning, trying, failing, and adapting over time (learn more in this article). This begins in your very first sales job and continues as you become experienced and sell more complex solutions to more senior buyers.

The best salespeople are those who are committed to a successful sales career, have a positive growth-oriented mindset, and enjoy learning and improving.

Educational Achievements

While not always necessary, a degree in business, finance, economics, marketing, psychology, or communications would be helpful.

If you are interested in a particular field like the sciences, a related degree may be required.

For sales engineer and technical sales roles, an engineering degree is sometimes mandatory.

Illustration of a graduation cap.

Skillsets: Hunter vs. Farmer

In the sales universe, there are two main personality types: hunters and farmers. Hunters actively seek new business, while farmers nurture existing accounts.

It’s important to consider your own personality, strengths, and weaknesses when determining what type of role best suits you.

Hunting for New Business

Hunters are proactive business development reps who often thrive in competitive situations.

They’re constantly on the lookout for fresh leads and aren’t afraid to cold call or send unsolicited emails.

Illustration of a man on his phone getting a message.

Hunters take control of the sales process and lead their prospects through to a decision while overcoming all objections and challenges as they go.

Hunters tend to be goal and results-oriented, self-motivated, persistent, resilient, adaptable, confident, problem solvers, and good time managers.

Good hunters are important for most companies, and as such they’re paid very well compared to farmers. They tend to respond favorably to strong incentives.

Farming Existing Accounts

Farmers excel at maintaining client and partner relationships over longer periods of time, and smoothly upselling and cross-selling when the time is right.

They provide excellent customer service and address needs effectively.

Farmers tend to be patient, persistent, collaborative, trustworthy, strategic, relationship-oriented, customer-centric and have strong listening and communication skills.

They are customer retention-oriented problem solvers and know how to balance client needs with their employers’ objectives. 

Farmers are critical for maintaining long-term, happy client relationships that maximize revenue.

They aren’t paid as well as hunters because new client acquisition is generally harder than ongoing client management. 

The Big 5 Professional Sales Roles

Now that you have clarity on the key characteristics necessary for a career in sales, and the differences in personalities between hunters and farmers, let’s explore the main 5 professional sales roles.

Each of these roles is on the front lines of business development and are critical to the success of their organizations.

1. Inside Sales Rep (Hunter)

Inside sales refers to a team that sells from the office, using tech like phone & video calls, email, social media, etc.

Illustration of a man sitting at his desk, looking at a computer screen with a headset on.

Generally speaking, an inside sales rep is a hunter that pursues new business. There is less need to foster and nurture relationships in this role because prospects are identified, pursued, closed, and then usually handed over to account management.

Inside sales roles are great entry jobs for hunter personalities looking to start a career in sales.

Skill Set Required for Inside Sales:

To be a high-performing inside sales rep, you need to be adept at building relationships virtually, so verbal and video-based communication skills are important.

Virtual relationships are less dynamic, so demonstrating empathy, active listening, and fostering trust are more challenging.

Inside sales reps typically have lower base salaries than outside salespeople, but can still make significant commission-based income.

Often deal sizes are smaller with inside sales, but not always. I’ve closed $500k+ deals selling virtually.

2. Outside Sales / Territory Rep (Hunter)

Outside sales reps execute some work functions from a home office (like prospecting), but spend significant time traveling to meet with prospects face-to-face to close deals.

The amount of travel varies, but some outside sales reps are on the road as much as 80% of the time.

An average day for an outside salesperson might include car or air travel, meeting potential clients, giving presentations, negotiating terms and contracts, and closing deals.

Illustration of a person signing a contract.

Skill Set Required for Outside Sales:

Outside salespeople need to be highly organized to juggle work tasks and travel and be willing to spend long days on the road away from home.

They need to be professional, well dressed, and thrive on personal interaction. 

They must embody traditional sales traits like strong social, presentation, and negotiation skills, and have the ability to solve problems on their feet.

A good outside sales rep will command a large base salary and close major deals. Successful pros are some of the highest-paid salespeople in the world.

3. Account Manager (Farmer)

Account managers take over once the customer is in the door. Account managers specialize in bonding with clients, addressing issues, and expanding their spending over time.

A typical day for an account manager involves reaching out to existing clients to explore how things are going and identifying potential issues and methods for solving them (through free and paid services, add-on products, etc.).

Skill Set Required for Account Management:

Account managers are proactive customer service-oriented salespeople who support customers, and identify and address issues before they become a problem.

Account managers need to be personable, helpful, responsive, and confident in leading customers to solutions that will work. They also need patience in dealing with challenging customers.

Sales skills are also important, including being proactive, persuasive and having the ability to pitch benefits and close add-on deals.

Account managers earn through expanding accounts, and by hitting critical client retention objectives. When account managers fail, customers walk out the door, and nothing hurts a business more than losing previously acquired clients.

Illustration of a person tearing up a contract.

Outgoing people that enjoy customer service but want to transition to a career in sales are ideal for this type of role.

4. Channel / Partner Sales Manager (Hunter & Farmer)

Unlike direct selling where you interact with customers, channel sales involve leveraging partner organizations to sell your products or services to their prospects and clients.

The key to success in channel sales lies in building strong relationships with partners who can effectively market and distribute your company’s offerings.

Illustration of men shaking hands with an upwards arrow behind them, representing a successful deal.

Not every sales department has a channel team, but products that combine with other products to deliver total solutions are ideal for channel sales.

The Role of Channel / Partner Sales Professionals:

  • Identify Potential Partners: Find and partner with businesses that complement yours and could benefit from offering your product or service to their customer base. These relationships need to be win-win.
  • Nurture Partnerships: Maintain regular contact with partners, provide product & sales training and ongoing support, address concerns, and share updates about new features or improvements.
  • Evaluate Performance: Regularly evaluate how well each partnership is performing by analyzing metrics like revenue generated, margin, etc.

Skill Set Required for Channel / Partner Sales:

This role demands traditional sales skills, plus the ability to manage complex, long-term business relationships that have combined revenue objectives – making it one of the more challenging and strategic sales careers out there.

Depending on the role, often a blend of hunting and farming skills is required to prospect, pitch, and close new partners, and then nurture them to success.

Channel / Partner sales careers tend to offer larger base salaries due to the complex nature of the work, with smaller commissions or bonuses.

5. Sales Engineer / Technical Sales Rep (Hunter)

The sales engineer is a critical employee when selling complex, technical products. Most sales organizations refer to these professionals as SEs and they are the unsung heroes of technical sales.

SEs need a unique combination of technical knowledge about their products/services and selling skills to keep the sales process moving forward.

They are the bridge between potential customers and their product team and are invaluable when explaining technical product details.

The Role of Sales Engineers:

  • Partner with Sales Reps: SEs often work alongside sales reps to handle the more technical discussions that need to happen.
  • Demonstrate Products: They show how a product works in different scenarios, helping clients understand its usefulness and gain trust.
  • Identify & Address Customer Problems: With their technical background, they can identify customer problems and propose suitable solutions.
  • Negotiate: Using their comprehensive technical understanding, they help negotiate contracts for maximum profitability while ensuring client needs are met.

Skill Set Required for Sales Engineering / Technical Sales:

This role often demands a technical degree or related experience. It also requires excellent communication skills to explain complex concepts in simple terms, with the ability to go deeper depending on the audience.

To thrive in this field, SEs must be persuasive, personable, and excellent problem solvers.

They must stay updated on industry trends and technology advancements, and have in-depth product knowledge plus awareness of different tech environments their prospects & customers may be operating.

Sales engineers tend to command high base salaries with smaller commission and bonus packages, as they are rarely the lead salesperson on deals.

Sales Management Pathways

In this industry there are plenty of sales career paths you can take after gaining experience in any of the above roles.

It starts with being an individual contributor and performing well. From there you can decide if your sales career should move towards management.

Every organization is different in how they structure management levels and responsibilities.

In some cases, a manager will only oversee one type of salesperson (i.e. just outside sales reps) and in other cases, they will oversee all salespeople within a geographic territory or industry vertical.

Pay structures differ depending on the industry, company size, etc. In most cases managers will get a good base salary with variable compensation based on the achievement of team targets.

Illustration of a man in a business suit hitting a bullseye with an arrow.

Sales Manager

The Sales Manager oversees a sales team, usually based in 1 office. Managers are responsible for a team revenue goal, and they set individual targets, manage performance, and provide coaching when needed.

This is a good place to start for a successful salesperson that wants to get some experience directly managing a team. 

Regional Sales Manager

The next level up at larger companies is Regional Sales Manager, where the job involves overseeing multiple sales teams across different locations within a region.

The RSMs direct reports will be sales managers who in turn oversee sales teams.

Managing managers is a different experience, so this role will often help you decide if you like the idea of executive management, or if you prefer a sales career that is closer to the action.

Illustration of 2 business people looking at each other through a video conference meeting.

Sales Director

Depending on the size and complexity of the company, a rung higher than Regional Sales Managers are the Sales Directors.

They create strategic plans to improve product penetration and profitability within various markets and verticals and oversee execution by the RSMs and Sales Managers. 

Regional VP / Area VP / Vertical VP

These semi-executive roles usually involve overseeing all aspects of an organization’s sales operations within a particular region, like a segment of the country, or all accounts within a particular vertical like healthcare or retail.

Illustration of a manager standing in front of a business chart representing plans or results.

Vice President (VP) / Senior Vice President (SVP)

With great performance and plenty of ambition, your career in sales can lead to a VP or SVP role. These jobs typically include responsibility for all sales operations including direct sales, channel sales, and account management, within entire countries, continents, or across the globe.

Chief Sales Officer (CSO) / Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)

Many companies don’t have a C-level revenue officer, but when they do, the CSO/CRO works closely with other C-level executives to set company-wide strategy and goals, while overseeing global sales operations.

Although SVP & C-level sales executives rarely have full P&L responsibility (learn about P&L here) they will oversee large budgets.

Illustration of a man in a suit standing in front of floor to ceiling windows looking out at city buildings.

Sales Management Characteristics

There are a few key characteristics good managers must have, that need to be purposefully developed over time:

  • Strong Leadership: Ability to inspire and motivate others, provide clear direction, communicate effectively, and hold people accountable.
  • Administrative and Organizational Capabilities: Able to shift between different types of work like meeting with direct reports, analyzing results, identifying trends and issues, and conceiving of and implementing solutions.
  • Good Eye for Talent: Plus a knack for nurturing talented people to achieve success in their area of responsibility. The stakes go up as you climb the management tiers. 
  • Strategic Thinking: This becomes important as you move from tactical execution on the frontlines to making decisions that will impact progressively larger and more complex teams.
  • Business Acumen: Critical so you make sound decisions when considering a wide variety of variables.

Remember that each step up in management level involves not only increased responsibilities but also broader skills, and more pressure to make good decisions.

Climbing up the ranks requires a commitment to the job you’re in plus successful results that lead to your next promotion.


How do I know if professional sales career is right for me?

Some key traits you should have are confidence, resilience, competitiveness, openness to pressure and accountability, a growth mindset, a desire to be useful to both your employer and your customers, and you should be motivated to earn good money.

Illustration of a man in a suit with a briefcase walking by a question mark, representing his curiosity about embarking on a career in sales.

What’s the best way to start my career in sales?

Depending on your stage of career, it’s best to start with one of these entry-level sales roles and focus on exceeding expectations so your confidence grows.

From there, decide what industry you’re most interested in, the best sales job from the above list, and ensure you meet the minimum hiring requirements.

Then, start hunting for jobs!

What are the biggest challenges I can expect early on?

The biggest challenges I see in less experienced salespeople are a lack of confidence and a lack of resilience.

To get good at sales you must learn to accept failure as a critical step in your growth.

You must also commit to learning and evolving your sales skills continuously which will help your confidence. 

What challenges can I expect later in my career?

Usually, people that aren’t meant for a professional sales career are weeded out in the first 1-5 years. Once you get through the newcomer phase, the challenges will grow.

The deals will be more complex and the pressure will be greater.

You’ll be working with more stakeholders both internally and externally, and negotiating with savvier decision-makers.

You may need to travel more if you’re in an outside role, and at the management level you may be required to relocate for the best job.


Understanding the big 5 sales jobs is key so you can determine the best starting point (or next move) in your career.

Each of the roles outlined in this article features unique challenges and benefits, so think hard about which one(s) resonate most with you.

Decide first if you are more of a hunter or farmer profile, and then shift your attention to the industries and companies that interest you.

Good luck in your journey in building a successful sales career, and hit me up if you have any questions about this article!

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