Do You Need a Degree to Work in Sales?

With the continuing advances in technology, finance and business-compliancy concerns, the demand for an educated sales force has risen. While not all sales careers require education beyond high school, many do. While certain sales industries may demand a specific degree, there are college degrees that are widely accepted and sought after in the sales industry.

Pharmaceutical Sales

Close-up view of graduation tassel and diploma
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I started this article out with the one industry that almost always requires a college degree. Practically every pharmaceutical company that employs a sales force has a minimum requirement a bachelor degree. While a degree in biology or chemistry ​is best suited for a career in the pharmaceutical industry, most any degree will suffice.

Unless you have a 4 year (or more) degree, you may not want to spend much time, energy or money pursuing a sales position in the pharmaceutical industry.

Bachelors of Finance

In sales, a degree in Finance is king. In sales, you will be designing solutions and proposals that will involve the transfer of money. Having a finance background allows sales professionals to more fully understand the financial impact to both the sales professional's company and the customer's. Understanding the financial impact of a transaction also improves the rapport that sales professionals can build with their client.

The more complicated the financial side of a transaction is, the more a finance understanding comes into play. Working with lease rates, depreciation schedules, ​a total return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) are all-important financial factors that many potential clients will want to know.

Masters of Business Administration

A Masters in Business Administration is a degree that often opens up doors leading to senior leadership. In MBA courses, students learn much more than the basics of running and managing a business and how to design a marketing program. This advanced degree prepares students for leading and managing several key areas of an organization:

  • Finances
  • Compliancy
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing
  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Continuation and Disaster Recovery
  • Public Relations
  • Employee Compensation and Retention

Having an MBA is often overkill for many sales positions, but organizations that offer vertical advancement and "responsibility expansion" opportunities will often prefer a candidate with an MBA to most other degrees.

Bachelors of Marketing

Marketing and sales go hand in hand, and the greater understanding of how to effectively market a product or service a sales professional possesses, the greater likelihood will be that the sales professional will be successful. Most sales-based companies have either an entire marketing department or a team of marketing-minded employees that are responsible for several key areas:

  1. Product or Name Branding
  2. Go to Market Strategy
  3. Pricing Levels
  4. Sales Compensation
  5. Product Replacement

Having the understanding of how a product or service is marketed and why certain go to market approaches were chosen (or not chosen,) could give a sales professional a unique advantage over others employed with the same company.

Liberal Arts

For sales industries that are non-specific in nature, a degree in Liberal Arts is a well-rounded education that shows some degree of proficiency across many different lines of study. Many colleges and universities offer "concentrations" that augment a liberal arts degree. For sales careers, the best concentrations are in business management, finance, marketing, and, if available, sales.

Specialty Certifications

Beyond the education earned in a classroom (or on-line,) another valuable component of a sales professional's education is certifications and training. There are several certifications available for many different industries, and each is very targeted for a specific part of an industry. For the IT industry, for example, CompTIA offers several certifications that sales people selling IT services and products should consider.

To find what certifications are in demand in your chosen industry, search the Internet for certifications available for your industry. The more times a specific certification comes up in the search results, the more likely that certification is one that you should consider.