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What sales managers do and the qualities they need to succeed

August 12, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is a sales manager?

What does a sales manager do?

How do you become a sales manager?

Must-have skills of a sales manager

What sales reps need most from a sales manager

Sales managers, like other frontline managers everywhere, are tasked with making the new hybrid work, work. 

This new sales landscape is so much more than just quotas and motivating speeches. Managers must lean into a range of skills that they may not have focused on before to best support their teams.

In this article, we'll look at what sales management is today, what exactly sales managers do, and how, despite having access to more technology and sales enablement tools, management is the crux of sales performance.

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What is a sales manager?

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. 

Median salary of a sales manager

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a sales manager was $127,490 in 2021. Keep in mind, however, that this number will fluctuate depending on where you live and/or where the company is based.

What does a sales manager do?

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

Challenges of being a sales manager

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.

Here are some examples of challenges facing sales managers in the current climate:


  • High quotas can make the job highly demanding
  • Serving as a middle manager in times of uncertainty and change
  • High turnover rates can strain current employees and a sales manager’s bandwidth to backfill roles
  • Often little organizational support or guidance
  • Everchanging business models and product offerings can be hard to keep up with

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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 training or certifications in sales leadership. 

Desired qualifications of a sales manager

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.

These are the most desired qualifications of a sales manager:

  • A bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field
  • At least two years of sales experience in a sales role
    • Additional experience in people management and employee retention are also a plus
  • A master’s degree or professional certifications can help boost some resumes and help you grow more quickly in your career, but this path is not a requirement.

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:

Coaching, training, and mentorship capabilities

Sales managers are responsible for setting their team up for success. A critical part of leading a sales team is developing and coaching 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 and ensure they have the sales skills needed to do their jobs well. 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 — guiding, inspiring, and motivating your sales team. 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.

Strategic thinking

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.

Communication skills

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.

Organizational skills

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.

Empathy

Like most good leaders, a sales manager should have the empathy to relate to their team. If a sales representative is falling short of their goals or is managing grief, a good sales manager should be able to listen, communicate, and remain empathetic to their situation.

Forecasting skills

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.

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What sales reps need most from a sales manager

As a senior account executive at BetterUp — and with more than 10 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,  develops relationships, 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 the success of a sales rep. 

Coach and empower their reps

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 with 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 the team’s 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 its goals or solve a business's 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.

man-in-profile-looks-to-future-CTA-get-started-future-ready-sales-team

Published August 12, 2022

Paymon Zarghami

BetterUp Senior Account Executive

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