How Big is the Sales Profession?


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At the most recent Sales 2.0 conference, there was reference made to the number of salespeople in the United States. We were told that there were 18 million salespeople in the United States and that, by 2020, there would only be 3 million. Given the fact that my livelihood is derived from helping salespeople sell better, that number piqued my interest.

So I did some digging…

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of salespeople has already dropped! They report 13,715,050 people are in sales and sales-related occupations. Seriously, a difference like that probably means a difference in how we define “salespeople.”

In any event, the BLS number means about 4.3% of the population is in sales! Because that includes retail and counter-sales positions, it makes sense that the number will be less by 2020. After all, retail and counter-sales positions are faltering as transactional purchases go online.

However, I was also interested in what’s going on in a few large pockets of the country, so I took a peak at the percentage of the population in sales jobs in the ten biggest Metropolitan Areas:

  1. New York: 4.5%
  2. Los Angeles: 4.3%
  3. Chicago: 4.7%
  4. Dallas: 5.1%
  5. Philadelphia: 4.8%
  6. Houston: 4.5%
  7. Miami: 5.2%
  8. Washington, D.C.: 4.5%
  9. Atlanta: 4.5%
  10. Boston: 5.4%

As an aside, my “science” was loose: the sales number came from the BLS and the population of each MSA came from the census bureau. I’m not a statistician, just a curious salesperson.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeb Brooks
Jeb Brooks is Executive Vice President of the The Brooks Group, one of the world's Top Ten Sales Training Firms as ranked by Selling Power Magazine. He is a sought-after commentator on sales and sales management issues, having appeared in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal. Jeb authored the second edition of the book "Perfect Phrases for the Sales Call" and writes for The Brooks Group's popular Sales Blog.


  1. Hi Jeb: Dave Brock mentioned the same statistic in his blog, too: 18 million to 3 million in the span of 9 years. Wow! That’s not attrition, that’s an out-and-out collapse of a job function! I haven’t seen a comparable obliteration of jobs since punch cards were rendered obsolete overnight by advances in interactive programming, and companies suddenly didn’t need keypunch operators. Shame that salespeople are experiencing the same fate. Some of my good friends are salespeople . . .

    Far be it from me to be a skeptic, but what’s driving the trend? No one has said. Just “18 million to 3 million” in 9 years. I wish I could get the same airplay by making equally far out predictions, without anyone asking me for supporting data. Clearly, something huger than huge is going on for which I am flat out clueless. It wouldn’t be the first time . . .

    I didn’t attend the Sales2.0 conference, which makes me wonder who made this bold prediction, and whether it was followed by a collective gasp in the room? Or just a thousand heads robotically nodding yes in unison. In other words, I don’t believe this claim.

    For starters, “Sales and related roles” is too vague. Here’s what it includes from the website you mentioned: First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Retail Sales Workers ; First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Non-Retail Sales Workers ; Cashiers ; Gaming Change Persons and Booth Cashiers ; Counter and Rental Clerks ; Parts Salespersons ; Retail Salespersons ; Advertising Sales Agents ; Insurance Sales Agents ; Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents ; Travel Agents ; Sales Representatives, Services, All Other ; Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products ; Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products ; Demonstrators and Product Promoters ; Models ; Real Estate Brokers ; Real Estate Sales Agents ; Sales Engineers ; Telemarketers ; Door-to-Door Sales Workers, News and Street Vendors, and Related Workers ;

    Gaming change persons and booth cashiers? Eee Gad! Heaven forbid if you have “Senior Account Executive” in your job title, you’re next! And they’re coming after you with pink slips! You better dust off your resume and look for work as a home health aid, or investigate some other fast growing field for a new career. Declining need for “Door-to-door sales workers” and “news and street vendors” (and “related workers,” of course)–now there’s a surprise!

    In fact, when I quoted the 2006 BLS statistic for the same job category for a blog I wrote in September, 2010, 78% of All Sales Statistics Are Made Up, the figure was 10,464,000 workers. Your 2009 figure of 13,715,050 is 3,251,000 higher!

    So the same “sales profession”– including all those door-to-door salespeople–has grown by 3.2 million in the past three years or so, and is now forecast to require only 16% the 2011 workforce by 2020? What’s next? Business leaders?

    Somebody must know something that I don’t. I think I’ll go back to earn a degree in Robotic Engineering so I can build the next generation RoboRep!

  2. I completely agree with your comments, Andrew.

    The data is way too soft to drill down into. Further, I don’t believe the sales profession is dead (or even dying). Instead, the numbers illustrate the very challenges with the claim that was made at S20.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. Hello Jeb,

    (1) To my knowledge the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment estimates do not include self-employed workers.

    (2) To my knowledge all of the sales and related occupations in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2010-11 Edition) with the exception of “Travel Agents” are expecting growth over the 2008–18 period.


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