Sales Manager Skillset

A recent Gallup poll found that 82 percent of the time, companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for a management position. The research looked at managers for a wide range of industries, and in a wide range of roles and found the data was fairly even across the sample. “If great managers seem scarce,” Gallup writes, “It’s because the talent required to be one is so rare.”

The key attributes a top performing manager possesses includes the ability to engage team members and customers, a knack for keeping high achieving staff from leaving for another employer, and the ability to create a culture that embraces high productivity.

In sales, managers are responsible for key metrics that drive a business forward. Getting the right person who can consistently meet and exceed the position’s expectations can make or break whether an organization achieves its revenue goals.  So what makes a great sales manager?

Here are 3 of the top sales management skills:

1. Ability to Engage the team

Many attributes of great managers and inspiring leaders are difficult to measure, but a group of neuroscientists at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation are beginning to work on ways to discover how our brains are wired when it comes to leadership. An article in the Ivey Business Journal titled Neuroscience and the Link between Inspirational Leadership and Resonant Relationships outlines initial findings of tests they conducted. Executives volunteered for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) tests to see how their brain centers would activate on hearing statements about feelings and episodes they’d had at work. The testing revealed that resonant leaders had the ability to unlock the part of our minds that are open to new ideas, while dissonant leaders actually deactivate the part of our mind that accepts new ideas.

Demonstrating that we are hard wired to be inspired by optimism and repelled by pessimism gives us a good starting point for identifying potential leaders and managers. Peak’s experience having recruited high performing sales managers over the years tells us that some managers can seem fantastic on paper, but they may also be loners or less inspiring as managers. Companies that place an importance on hiring great managers recruit master motivators who boost a team’s confidence during sales slumps and rally them to work together in the pursuit of profit— and fulfilment. Our experience in the field tells us that it’s easy enough to train an employee who has the right personality on how to do the job – but almost impossible to make an uninspiring manager alter his personality.

2. Ability to Retain Employees

Hiring an inspiring, motivating manager is the first, and arguably the most important, step in retaining top performing sales people. Gallup’s research revealed that managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores across business units. “This variation is in turn responsible for severely low worldwide employee engagement,” notes the article, adding supporting statistics from other Gallup research which states that only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and only 13 percent are engaged worldwide. Mangers who can engage employees will have a much better opportunity to retain them when recruiters start calling.

Retaining employees, particularly in sales positions, requires more than just a good manager. As a recent report by the Society of Human Resources Managers found, it’s easier to retain employees who become embedded in their jobs and their communities. This supports Peak’s own experience in recruiting sales people for marquee employers.

Employees find it difficult to leave a job where they have friends and mentors, where they feel they fit well, and where they feel valued. A world-class manager will foster all of these traits within their team, but it’s also important to have corporate support all the way around – great manager’s work hard to rally for all the extras the sales team might need in order to foster a greater sense of belonging in team members. They try to get more budget for team building outings, for example, or better funding for team meals and entertainment.

Successful sales managers also know when to reach out to leaders within the company to help retain an employee – for instance working with HR to develop better incentive packages for top performers. And, following the old adage, if you love something, set it free, a good manager knows when it’s time to move a top performer up the ladder rather than out the door.

3. Ability to Create a Positive Work Culture

While it’s important for a manager to successfully oversee the large issues associated with managing a sales team, it’s a manager’s ability to successfully and consistently manage the everyday issues that will determine the long-term success of both the manager and the sales team. The Gallup poll outlines the mix of abilities a manager should possess in order to rally a team day-by-day. These managers have the ability to motive and they have an assertiveness to drive outcomes. They create a culture of accountability that’s easy to understand, and they build relationships with employees, co-workers and clients that foster an open dialogue. Finally, they make decisions based on what’s good for the company rather than what’s politic at the moment.

This is absolutely consistent with our own experience. The right culture leads to the right results and sales managers that understand this and can cultivate the environment for success are the exception to the rule.

It’s a tall order to find a manager who can shoulder the responsibilities that make a team excel, but there is hope. Gallup’s research showed that for every one manager in ten who possesses a natural talent for managing, there is another two people in ten who can function at a high managerial level if given the right kind of coaching and training. And with the right recruiting engine, these are not insurmountable odds.

Want more information on how to hire top performing sales managers? Check out these posts:

Useful Resources For Sales Managers:


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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