Article | 10 min read

What does a sales manager do? The ultimate career guide

Learn the responsibilities and skills needed to succeed as a sales manager.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Last updated July 11, 2022

During your company’s all-hands meeting, you find out a sales manager role has opened up. As a seasoned sales rep, you naturally get excited to take on this next challenge—until you realize that you don’t know what a sales manager does or how to transition to one as a sales agent.

Stepping into the next stage of your career is never easy, especially if it requires you to flex new leadership skills. Ask any sales manager, and they’ll tell you the journey to leading a sales team isn’t easy. You need to be smart and flexible, and you need to learn and adapt on the job. You not only need to know how to sell but also how to guide an entire team to sales success.

Although the path to sales management may seem daunting, you can succeed in this role with the right attitude and skill set. But first, you must learn the basics:

What is a sales manager?

Sales manager, writing in notepad

A sales manager is someone who leads and supervises sales agents and runs the day-to-day sales operations of a business. They oversee the sales strategy, set sales goals, and track sales performance.

What does a sales manager do?

The specific responsibilities of a sales manager can vary from company to company. But typically, the tasks include sourcing talent, training and coaching agents, setting the sales strategy, and reporting on sales activities.

Hire sales team members

A core responsibility of the sales manager is recruiting sales agents. You’re expected to create a sales rep job description either on your own or with the help of HR. You’re also in charge of conducting interviews to find candidates with the right skills for the job.

As a sales manager, it’s critical to understand what makes a good sales rep. You don’t want to hire someone only to let them go a few weeks later. Bringing thoughtfulness and care to the hiring process means you’ll end up with a stronger team.

Train and mentor sales reps

Sales managers are in charge of providing their team members with the resources they need to close deals. You’re responsible for coaching all agents—both veterans and new hires alike—on the company’s products, services, sales processes, and techniques (like upselling).

To keep your team’s sales skills sharp, you’ll also need to provide regular training sessions, in-person workshops, conferences, or internal wikis. You’ll also want to schedule 1:1 meetings with agents to gauge their progress, help them through challenges, and improve development areas.

Oversee sales strategy

Sales managers outline the sales processes and best practices for their agents to follow. You’ll set target markets and then establish goals and sales quotas for the team. You’ll also map out the customer buying processes and determine the channels the team will use to close deals. Analysis, coaching, and a strong understanding of sales tactics are critical here.

Collaborate with other departments

Sales managers work closely with other customer-facing departments, such as marketing and customer support, to keep deals moving through the sales pipeline.

You’ll often collaborate with marketing to create sales enablement materials, develop customer personas, and build targeted campaigns. Sales managers help marketers better understand the customer by sharing their knowledge and giving them access to sales conversations. Additionally, you’ll communicate customer feedback to the product/engineering team so they can make improvements to the product or service.

What skills do employers look for in sales managers?

What skills do employers look for in sales managers?, circle of colored pencils

Now that you know the basics of the job, it’s important to know what skills you’ll need to develop to snag it. We asked experts to share what traits and abilities employers look for in a sales manager and tips on how to improve them.

  • Empathy

    To be a great sales manager, you must be empathetic. Empathy allows managers to identify underlying problems their team is facing and see challenging situations from their point of view. This understanding helps sales managers build better relationships with their agents.

    “If you lack empathy, you may apply too much pressure, and this can negatively impact your team—leading to poor performance, unhappy culture, and employee churn,” says Derek Cosgrove, senior account manager and sales team lead at seoplus+.

    According to Julie Thomas, President and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, one way to build empathy is by listening to others intentionally and respectfully. She recommends asking confirming questions, such as: “What you’re saying is that to get this done, ____ has to happen; is that right?” Or, “Let me make sure I have that right: You shared that ______, correct?” to ensure you understand the other person’s perspective accurately.

  • Resilience

    Sales is a high-pressure job, but sales management is even more demanding. You need resilience to lead your teams through tough times and to motivate them day after day.

    To build resilience, Cosgrove suggests setting a clear vision of where you want to lead your team. This will enable you to “push through the challenges,” he says.

    The American Psychological Association also recommends keeping things in perspective. Try adopting a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern instead of giving in to irrational thoughts when facing obstacles.

  • Servant leadership

    The sales manager exists to serve the customer and the sales team, not the other way around. Embrace this “servant leadership” mentality to make sure your team feels nurtured and appreciated.

    Develop this skill by being helpful and available. Cory Trent, sales manager at ShipMonk, recommends “taking the time to listen to individual needs, questions, and concerns.” You’ll be better able to help agents overcome their roadblocks.

  • Communication skills

    Being a sales manager means you’ll be communicating with a lot of people: marketing, customer support, management, and your team. You must be able to convey messages clearly and compassionately.

    Learn how to find the appropriate tone of voice for each type of situation. For example, you might use an assertive tone while giving out instructions but a reassuring voice while speaking to a disgruntled customer.

    And as we mentioned earlier, practice active listening. It pays to focus your attention on the other person—be it a teammate or a prospect. Wait until someone is done speaking so you don’t talk over them and miss important information.

    Strong public speaking skills certainly come in handy, too. You’ll need to make frequent sales presentations to other departments or companies, so confidence is key.

  • Problem-solving

    Sales management involves putting out fires that pop up during sales cycles, whether it’s a stalled deal or a disappointed new customer. You have to be skilled in anticipating problems and reacting accordingly and calmly.

    The first step is to remember you aren’t alone—get help from others to resolve complicated issues. It also helps to think outside the box when problem-solving; creativity can do wonders in a tight corner. Use critical thinking to come up with ideas that will turn chaos into order.

    Finally, develop a process that helps you determine the best solutions in high-pressure situations so you can make quick, well-informed decisions.

  • Motivation

    Sales agents often need an extra push to continue closing deals, especially after facing rejection. A great manager can step in to lift their team’s spirits and get everyone excited to go after their next lead.

    You can share uplifting sales quotes with your team on a hard day to encourage them. Or, take a junior salesperson or two under your wing and have regular coaching sessions to help them develop resilience.

  • Delegation

    Being a sales manager means you wear many hats. But sometimes, you have to take them off and entrust certain tasks to members of your sales team.

    Delegation frees up your time to concentrate on the most important parts of your job and allows team members to assume more responsibilities and grow their skills. This might not come naturally to you, but it’ll become easier as you build trust in others.

    Try assigning some extra work to junior sales agents who want to take on more responsibility. Support them and track their progress, but avoid micromanaging. You want to inspire everyone to stick to the sales plan—not force them.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

How much does a sales manager make?

Base salaries for sales managers vary by city and state, depending on the cost of living and the size of local businesses. The median salary for sales managers in the U.S. was $132,290 in 2020, with a low average of $89,720 and a high average of $185,200. Unlike many other salaries over the past decade, sales manager salaries have seen a steady increase that’s largely kept up with inflation.

The highest pay for sales managers in 2020 was recorded in San Jose, California, at $207,070. New York City was close behind at $202,700.

On average, sales managers make about $80,000 more than the sales reps they supervise, but they experience less work-life balance. It’s also important to note that many managers aren’t actively making sales, so their salaries usually aren’t accompanied by a sales commission. Some may receive bonuses depending on the sales growth of their team, but few companies will offer unique manager incentives.

What is a typical work environment for a sales manager?

Sales manager work environment, two employees speaking

The entire sales industry is fast-paced, stressful, and exhilarating. For sales managers, those attributes are amplified. Taking on responsibility for a sales team means managers must be able to navigate multiple personalities and hundreds of deals while staying cool, calm, and collected.

According to the U.S. News best jobs rankings, sales managers scored an overall job rating of 6.1 out of 10. They were ranked #2 in Best Sales and Marketing Jobs, #19 in Best-Paying Jobs, and #53 in Overall Best 100 Jobs. They also earned the following ratings for specific attributes:

  • Upward mobility (opportunities for advancement): Average
  • Stress level (combination of work environment and responsibilities): High
  • Flexibility (ability to move work schedule for life events): Below average

These ratings match up with the balance of high stress and high pay. While many sales managers may tell you that maintaining their work-life balance is tough, the right candidate will feel that the invigorating environment and salary make the trade-off worth it.

What does it take to become a sales manager?

You might be wondering what steps to take to land a sales manager role. While every path is different, the roadmap below hits on some of the most common points along the way.

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, public relations, or psychology (or another relevant field).
  • If you don’t have sales experience, work in a sales role for two to five years to build your skills and knowledge.
  • If you already have some experience, consider getting a master’s degree in sales management or business administration. Alternatively, you can get professional certifications to gain more expertise and signal that you’re ready to climb the ladder. Some available courses are:
  • Make your intentions known to sales leadership. A good manager will help you grow by giving you more responsibilities that will prepare you for the role and advocate for you when new opportunities arise.

From sales rep to sales leader

The fulfillment that comes with being a sales manager makes up for the challenges of the role. Nothing beats the thrill of leading your sales team to meet or exceed their quotas and collaborating with others to grow the business.

Don’t wait for the title of sales manager to start helping your fellow reps succeed, though. Being proactive and helping your team members will get you noticed and fast-track your entry into your dream job.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

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