5 Things You Should Know About Sales Managers

5 Things You Should Know About Sales Managers

We all know the challenges of a sales career. And many know the difficulties of management. That’s what makes the sales manager position unique. In some ways, it can seem like merging opposites. Many sellers, like teachers and doctors, work best alone. Sales managers, however, not only work with their teams. They also work with other mid- and high-level managers. That’s a lot of people, and it requires a different temperament. Indeed, it takes a special person to achieve success juggling these two worlds.

For anyone contemplating such a career, there’s much to consider. In addition, there are many misconceptions of what a sales manager’s role entails. Here, we’ll break it down to five things you should know about sales managers:


Let’s start with some data. To anyone not in sales management, these points may be surprising. For example, according to leveleleven.com, a sales manager’s time breaks down as follows:

  • 32 percent managing people
  • 26 percent managing information
  • 23 percent customer interaction
  • 15 percent administrative tasks
  • 4 percent personal

Obviously, the role of sales manager is not for those who like free time.

Further, according to HubSpot:

  • 76 percent of sales managers oversee their own accounts
  • 38 percent see selling skills as their number one focus
  • 96 percent agree sales coaching impacts performance

Of course, many sales managers have been salespeople at one point in their careers. Perhaps the most surprising statistic is how many managers still oversee a few of their own accounts. Selling is tough enough. Combined with managing a sales team, it’s easy to see how sales managers must be special.

Top Salespeople Do Not Always Make Top Managers

One of the biggest assumptions is that great sellers make great sales managers. They may. But in truth, they often do not. Of course, this idea is not limited to sales. Many assume great basketball players, like Michael Jordan or Lebron James, would make great coaches. And they are often disappointed.

That’s because the skills required to coach are different than the skills needed to play. A coach doesn’t need to set a hard screen to run an effective offense. The same for sales managers. Plus, the required temperament is different. The single-minded drive and determination of athletes and salespeople often hinder coaching, which requires a broader view. For example, in sales, consider the following:

  • Action oriented vs. critical thinking
  • Data driven
  • People focused

Selling is an action-oriented profession. From prospecting to closing, successful sellers follow a series of steps to net the best outcomes. Of course, top sellers must incorporate critical thinking into their sales process. But for sales managers, the mental approach is different. For example, relating daily activity to long-term goals.

Much of a sales manager’s job is data driven. This starts with defining goals and quotas for sales professionals relative to the demands of the C-suite. Managers must not only convey these goals to the sales team. They must also motivate and guide the team to achieve results. On top of that is tracking numerous KPIs per salesperson and each’s strengths and weaknesses.

However, sales is never just a numbers game. It’s not only selling this number of products to that number of clients. Instead, between building relationships and establishing trust, sales is a people-centered profession. This is also true for managers, who must build trust and develop relationships with their teams.

In that sense, they are the liaison between the sometimes-conflicting worlds of data and people. Often, this involves walking a fine line and speaking/translating two distinct languages.

Recognize and Develop Sales Managers

Although top sellers do not always make great managers, most managers have been sellers. They might not have landed the biggest clients or closed the most deals. But they typically had solid sales careers in multiple positions, industries, and verticals.

Many sales managers also had important mentors or worked with influential leaders. In addition, most organizations can spot potential when they see it. And often the best choice is staring right at them. When this happens, forward-thinking leaders should do the following:

  • Recognize traits
  • Develop skills
  • Mentor
  • Team build

Often, the same traits that make successful sellers also make successful managers. The difference is in the application. For example, let’s consider several traits of successful sellers and managers, highlighting key differences between the two:

  • Confidence: Sellers should be confident of their ability to find solutions and help clients. Managers must be confident in their sales acumen and ability to lead others.
  • Empathy: As sellers must empathize with a client’s pain points, managers must empathize with a seller’s weaknesses and struggles. When personal problems become professional liabilities, managers can help.
  • Forecasting: Sellers must forecast the needs of clients, including time, resources, and budgets. Managers forecast short- and long-term goals of their organizations, including a seller’s activity, targets, and sales goals. They must also balance these with the personal and professional needs of their sales teams as well as their own.
  • Active listening: Sales managers must connect with individual team members. Like sellers, managers must listen more than they speak and understand nonverbal communication, such as body language.
  • Adaptability: Sellers must adapt to changing sales environments and client needs. Managers adapt to changing work environments, sales teams, and organizational goals.
  • Motivate and inspire: Top sellers motivate and inspire clients to act. Managers motivate and inspire teams to achieve.

In addition, managers must help sales reps develop the following skills:

  • Leadership
  • Deal strategy
  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Training and coaching
  • Plans and processes
  • Forecasting
  • Emotional intelligence

With skill development, mentoring is critical to managing a sales team. When considering a potential sales manager, note their own willingness to learn. To effectively mentor others, they must be receptive to new ideas, including sales training and coaching.

Team building is another consideration. Of course, managers are tasked with recruiting, hiring, and onboarding team members. Forward-thinking organizations can prep potential managers by giving team members a seat at the table.

In addition to building a synergistic team, managers guide new recruits. Sales managers occupy a unique position in an organization’s hierarchy. They are the middle managers between your sales team and the C-suite. Seek out the team member who most understands and appreciates your organization’s culture and values.

Promote Organizational Values

All organizations have their individual cultures and values. Of course, this should start at the top. Leaders and directors should exemplify these values in their behavior and demeanor.

In the same way, managers are the leaders of their sales teams. Some important considerations are as follows:

  • Being a team player
  • Leading by example
  • Relationships with other managers
  • Relationships with sellers

The best leaders—and the best managers—check their egos. Real leaders know their authority. They don’t flaunt it. The best sales managers, like the best athletic coaches, are team players.

If a star athlete or seller has a bad quarter, coaches don’t point fingers. Instead, the discussion starts with “we”: “We didn’t do enough.” They also accept blame and deflect praise.

Sales managers must lead by example. They set the tone for their team members’ attitudes and, often, their moods. If sales projections are down, a dour manager means a dour sales team. Instead, a “can-do” attitude inspires productivity and creativity.

Another key responsibility of a sales manager is working across departments. Often, this includes marketing, product development, and L&D. In this way, a sales manager can facilitate the content their teams need. They know their products and services. In addition, sales managers must work well with upper management. As with sellers and their clients, this includes the ability to disagree and push back.

A sales manager’s relationship with their team is paramount. Team members must trust managers to have their backs. They must have faith in the manager’s knowledge, experience, and ability to lead. In turn, managers must balance the needs of their organizations with the needs of their teams. They must trust their sellers want to improve, want to achieve, and want to succeed.

Continued Training and Development

Top sales organizations know the value of ongoing sales training and coaching. While this is often discussed in terms of sellers, it also applies to managers. Whether a sales manager has their own accounts or exclusively manages others, continued training and development are essential.

In fact, leveleleven.com cites an important statistic. Companies that allocate 50 percent or more of their training budget to management outperform goals by 15 percent. Here are some ways sales managers benefit from coaching:

  • Participate in sales training
  • Receive specialized training/coaching
  • Align sales training with sales coaching

Sales managers should participate in sales training. This ensures managers are up to date on best practices. It also ensures managers can effectively coach the training and provide ongoing support for sales reps.

Today, top training programs include specialized training/coaching for managers. With sales training, retention is a challenge. As such, sales managers must be equipped with reinforcement tools and strategies to make sales training stick.

In addition, sales managers must align their coaching with sales training. Today, too many organizations view training solely for sales reps, resulting in haphazard coaching and mixed messaging. Instead, sales training and coaching should work together to ensure reps and managers receive the most benefit.

As you can see, the role of sales manager is complex. In fact, in a Venn diagram of sales, it’s the intersection of products, data, and people. This is what makes the role challenging. It also makes sales managers special. While not suitable for all sales reps, for the right rep, it’s a natural step up. For sellers ready to rise or organizations ready to promote, we hope this helps you make the right choice.