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The role of a salesperson is pretty straightforward, right? Sell, sell, sell. So what is the role of a sales manager and what do they do? As the work environment and the sales function itself evolves, with changes both related to the pandemic and not, the answer isn't so simple.
With more than 10 years of experience as a sales professional, I've seen that the success of the sales team is often directly related to the skill of the sales manager. And a successful sales manager doesn't exist without a successful sales team. The entire organization succeeds based on having skillful and successful sales managers.
But it's never been harder to be a sales professional. It might be even harder to be a sales manager.
Sales organizations are experiencing extreme transformation.
There's high pressure to hit quotas, an ever-growing array of competing demands on time and attention, and little guidance or support in many organizations. Practically overnight, sales, like everything else, became virtual — the "people" people were told to stay home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, turnover in sales has never been higher and average tenure is declining.
Sales managers are right in the middle. They're caught between companies with changing business models and more complex products and services to sell and sales representatives with new stress, uncertainty, and concerns in their personal lives and higher expectations for their employers.
Sales managers, like other frontline managers everywhere, are tasked with making the new hybrid work, work. And they're doing it against a backdrop of increased demands for inclusivity, diversity, development, and well-being.
The new sales landscape is so much more than just quotas and motivating speeches. In this article, we'll look at what sales management is today and how, despite more technology and tools, management is the crux of sales performance.
Defining the sales manager role
Sales managers are responsible for the success and development of the sales representatives on their sales teams and for the performance of the team itself. "Manager" is in the job title and this is definitely a people management role.
As part of their day-to-day, they guide and direct sales efforts for a subset of the organization. That generally means handling hiring, training, assigning sales territories, quotas, and the development of sales team members.
The sales manager position officially includes a range of responsibilities, but the manager is often involved, if not responsible, for all of the following:
Sales manager responsibilities
- Plan and coordinate sales programs for the staff
- Oversee local and regional sales staff
- Run sales training programs and determine areas of improvement
- Set sales goals and profitability targets and identify the leading metrics to track progress to goal
- Prepare, approve, and reconcile budgets and manage up to the sales director and regional sales manager
- Coordinate sales enablement efforts
- Collaborate with other departments, working closely with marketing managers, and bringing in (and sometimes shaping) market research and other content
- Analyze sales statistics and ensure that the CRM is being used by the team and is generating actionable information and accurate reporting
- Monitor customer preferences and market trends
- Determine discount rates, bulk, wholesale or special pricing
- Handle human resources for the sales department, including interviewing, performance evaluations, retention strategies, and payroll
How do you become a sales manager?
There are a few different paths to becoming a sales manager. Many sales managers are former sales leaders, with extensive experience in the field. Traditionally, many were star performers promoted into management with little training or support to develop managerial and leadership skills. Some do have formal trainings or certifications in sales leadership.
Organizations often prefer to hire and promote sales managers that have at least a bachelor's degree in business administration or marketing. However, even with a degree or certification, an aspiring sales manager will need to have at least some hands-on sales experience. In addition, given the tight talent market, multigenerational sales teams, and the higher turnover in the profession, experience in talent management and retention may be key for success in this role.
Must-have skills of a sales manager
Sales management requires a variety of skills. You must be able to manage details while keeping the big picture in mind. You need to be able to balance personalities with skill sets. You’re responsible for your sales team, your clients, and the company’s success. It can be a lot to juggle.
As with most other frontline managers, sales managers also increasingly need to do 1:1 development of their teams, to lead inclusively and create environments of connection, belonging, and psychological safety in order to encourage productive risk-taking and innovation and to be the first stop for team members struggling with well-being or mental health issues.
Here are the key skills that every sales manager needs to have:
Ability to coach, train, and mentor
A critical part of leading a sales team is developing up-and-coming sales leaders as well as your solid middle-of-the-road contributors. Regardless of how long they’ve been in the industry (whether they’re seasoned or brand new) a good sales manager can handle their concerns. It helps if you know what their concerns are and how they're doing.
As a leader, you’re part cheerleader, part confidante, and part coach — motivating, guiding, and inspiring. A good sales manager can see and facilitate mentoring opportunities between team members with varying strengths and experience levels. Managers also handle the day-to-day of salaries, benefits, and communicating with HR.
Implementing and innovating sales plans
You can think of a sales plan like a business plan for the development of your sales strategy. A sales plan helps your team set goals, determine how best to meet those goals, and outline any potential obstacles. Sales managers help to set those revenue targets and plan the sales efforts that will support the sales team to achieve them.
The nature of the product, the buying preferences of customers, and the expectations of the salesforce are all contributing to a changed sales function.
Today, many organizations are shifting to value-selling and team-based account models led by an account manager. In addition to attaining quota overall, sales managers are expected to broaden quota attainment across the team to be less reliant on one or two superstar sellers. They also give more attention to building pipeline, which means working with reps to identify the right opportunities for overall quality coverage and a speedier sales cycle.
Any sales leader needs excellent communication skills, but even more so if you’re a sales manager. You need to be able to communicate not only features and benefits, but also get your team to buy into the company’s vision. Sales managers need to stay ahead of both trends in the market and changes at work, and must inform and empower their teams with equal ease.
Depending on your industry, you’ll need to keep track of licenses, advertising regulations, renewals, and continuing education. Every sales organization needs to stay on top of clients, leads, revenue, close rates, training, and other important metrics. The sales manager is the one that keeps everything organized and running smoothly.
Forecasting sales results
Sales forecasting is predicting future sales for a given time period by looking at the team’s historical performance. A sales manager needs to be able to estimate the amount of business the sales team will close, along with how marketing and industry changes will affect those numbers. Having a good handle on historical sales data will help the manager set appropriate targets for revenue and growth.
What sales reps want their managers to know
As a senior account executive at BetterUp — and with more than ten years of experience — I’ve worked with all kinds of people. I pride myself on self-accountability, setting and working hard to achieve ambitious revenue goals, showing up with curiosity and empathy with buyers, and maintaining high performance. I safeguard my authenticity when selling, because showing up in every interaction with clients as the fullest version of myself builds trust, relationship, and enables me to close more business.
Even still, my sales manager can do so much to create conditions for my success. I want to share 3 things a sales manager must do to ensure my success as a sales rep.
Coach and empower me
The extent to which a manager asks powerful questions, models problem-solving, and presents relevant insights allows me to arrive at the right conclusions for my work. This motivates me, and I can approach my work with more enthusiasm because I am in the driver’s seat of my development journey. The extent to which my manager enables me to make decisions and control how I manage my work accelerates my productivity and performance.
Spruce my ability to forecast accurately
An excellent sales manager is obsessed about accurate forecasting. They regularly ask me questions about the likelihood of deals closing, to ensure what I have committed to closing will actually close within the quarter. Companies thrive on predictable business. Accurate forecasting enables this.
Bolster my ability to create innovative and strategic business proposals
A business proposal sets a vision for how a company’s solution will help an organization achieve their goals or solve a business pain. This is particularly important when a buyer has to galvanize internal decision makers and resources to purchase my company’s solution. As such, the degree to which a manager can help me craft a business proposal that communicates how our solution will enable the client company’s success and includes the investment amount associated with that success matters tremendously.
If you are considering becoming a sales manager, I implore you to confirm that you are passionate about unlocking the potential of others by focusing on their strengths. You should be comfortable and confident with coaching your sales reps on how to forecast accurately. You should also be excited about helping craft compelling business proposals that excite buyers to become more urgent about purchasing your company’s solution.
Succeeding as a sales manager
Being a successful sales manager means paying equal attention to your team and your numbers — that is, both the people and the bottom line. It’s not an easy line to walk, and it’s not for everyone. But when done well, sales managers are the secret to a profitable, thriving, organization.
At BetterUp we believe that while tools, training, and incentives are important elements for the field, companies must also prioritize investment in the mindsets and behaviors that impact sales performance for individual contributors and sales team leaders.
BetterUp Senior Account Executive