February 2, 2010

Selling Power 500: The Largest Sales Forces in America

Every year, Selling Power magazine’s research team ranks companies according to the estimated number of salespeople they employ. The 500 top companies in America – which employ the world’s largest sales forces – depend on 20.1 million salespeople to achieve their revenue goals, and this year marks the first time that the number of salespeople has topped the 20 million mark. This research shows that, without question, the men and women who make up each company’s sales force produce the revenue responsible for fueling this country’s economic engine.

The 2008 listing of the SP 500 includes the top 200 companies in the manufacturing industry, the top 200 companies in the service industry, the top 50 insurance companies, the 30 largest direct-selling companies, and the top 20 automotive-dealer organizations (megadealers).

Every year, new companies make the list while others drop off. The total number of salespeople employed by all 500 companies listed adds up to 20,174,122, which represents a modest 3 percent increase of 539,117 compared to last year. This overall change is due mainly to an increase in the direct-selling area, as the other categories showed little change. The direct-selling category, which had posted a sizable 12 percent increase in 2007, posted a much smaller 2.5 percent increase this year. The number of salespeople remained almost unchanged in the manufacturing category and posted small increases in the service and insurance categories of 5 percent and almost 8 percent, respectively. The automotive industry posted a slightly higher increase in the number of salespeople than it did in 2007, 3.7 percent over last year. Overall, without the direct-selling numbers, the number of salespeople posted its second straight increase, this year coming in at about 5 percent.

The states with the largest numbers of SP 500 companies are New York (56), California (51), and Illinois (32). The states in which the SP 500 companies employ the largest number of salespeople are New York (5,732,453), California (3,890,432), and Michigan (3,033,221). These states account for about 28 percent of the total companies and a whopping 63 percent of the total salespeople.


Our research team continued to find that salespeople employed by manufacturing firms contribute a far higher amount of sales revenue compared with other industry segments. The top 200 manufacturing firms employ 501,839 salespeople and produce more than $3.7 trillion in sales. That’s an average of $7.4 million in sales per salesperson. This represents a substantial increase (5 percent) in productivity compared to the previous year and five consecutive years with significant increases in productivity. It should be noted that manufacturing companies gained just 1,486 salespeople over last year and just 9,852 total employees, which seems to be signaling a slowdown in the manufacturing industry for both salespeople and all other employees in those companies.

The top 200 companies in the service sector reported an increase of 33,499 salespeople, for a total of 669,552 salespeople. While the number of salespeople increased by 5.3 percent, total revenues were more than $3 trillion, for a modest 6.1 percent increase. This represents almost $4.5 million in sales per salesperson and a negligible 1 percent increase in productivity, ending a four-year run with double-digit productivity increases. The total number of service sector employees posted its first decrease of more than 500,000, or 6 percent, of the service industry workforce for those companies included in this year’s listings.

The top 20 automotive megadealers reported increases across the board this year. The top 20 firms own 1,389 dealerships (up by about 4 percent), employ 20,835 salespeople (an increase of 3.66 percent), and produce more than $86.4 billion in sales (up by a sizable 10 percent). This brings the average annual sales per salesperson to $4.1 million (up by more than 6 percent). The productivity growth in the automotive category was only 1 percent last year.

The top 50 insurance companies show a total sales force of 732,248, with an average sales volume per salesperson of $930,892, which represents the second year of declining productivity, dropping this year by just over 5 percent. The number of salespeople posted an increase of about 8 percent over 2007.

The top 30 direct-selling companies reported 18.2 million salespeople, continuing a trend of increases in the number of salespeople over the last seven years.  This year’s increase of 450,500 salespeople is much smaller than last year’s increase of 1,921,000 salespeople.

Overall, the numbers show the signs of a fragile economy, with flat employment in manufacturing, a decline in the service sector’s number of employees, declining productivity in insurance, and a decline in the rate of increase in the direct-selling sector


It is important to note that each salesperson in the service or manufacturing industry supports, on average, 12.9 other jobs within the company in 2008. That figure marks its first decline of about 6 percent from last year’s number. These companies employ a total sales force of 1.2 million salespeople, who produce almost $6.7 trillion in sales and ensure the employment of more than 16 million people. This once again highlights the fact that the sales forces of America are responsible for helping to sustain and ensure future growth in our economy.


TOP EXECUTIVES: Use the SP 500 to benchmark your company’s productivity per salesperson. Find out how you measure up to your competition and the average in your industry. Check which companies have decreased their sales forces and which companies are gearing up for expansion.

SALESPEOPLE: Use the SP 500 as your best-prospect list. There is no other source that gives you access to those companies that purchase products for a large number of salespeople. This is your ideal list if you sell sales training, sales incentive services, CRM solutions, automotive fleets, sales meetings, or trade show services. Begin your account planning by researching company Websites.

JOB SEEKERS: Use the SP 500 to plan your sales career. These 500 companies employ the largest sales forces in America. Large companies invest significant amounts of dollars in recruiting, training, and rewarding their sales staff. For job openings, log on to the companies’ Websites.

EDUCATORS: Use the SP 500 as a tool to build next year’s curriculum. Every year, SP 500 companies will seek to recruit more than 500,000 college graduates. There are more than a dozen colleges that offer sales curricula, and their graduates can look forward to solid careers in sales. Prepare your future students for a lucrative career. (Note: Media research shows that the average Selling Power reader has a college degree, works in sales management, and has a household income of more than $174,000 per year.) •

Special thanks goes to our corporate research team for collecting the data. To have your company listed in the Selling Power 500 next year, please write to SP 500 Research, PO Box 5467, Fredericksburg, VA 22403.