Sales managers are the conductors of a company’s revenue engine. They create and nurture high performance sales teams, and lead them to generate hit revenue forecasts and meet customer needs.
To understand the responsibilities of a sales manager, it’s important to understand their position in the organization and the intangible roles and characteristics they embody.
In this article, we’ll discuss the high-level importance of a sales manager, also called a first-line manager or FLM, and then get specific by providing a complete list of typical sales manager activities and duties.
Skip to section:
- The value of a sales manager: Sales managers keep the revenue engine running through their sales representatives.
- Three roles of a sales manager: A sales manager is a people manager, customer manager, and business manager.
- Characteristics of a top sales manager: What skills, aptitudes, and traits do great sales managers have?
- Day-to-day activities of a sales manager: A detailed list of sales manager duties.
- How to get promoted from sales rep to sales manager: Are you a sales rep? Prepare for a promotion to manager with these tips.
- Hire a sales manager: Sample Job Description Template: Is your company hiring a sales manager? Attract better talent with this powerful job description.
First and foremost, let’s start with a high-level look at why sales managers are so important to an organization.
To understand the value a sales manager brings to their company, ask this: Is it more important to have an excellent sales manager and average salespeople, or to have excellent salespeople under an average manager?
Consulting and research firm ZS Associates argues that it is more important for a company to have a top sales manager than to have great salespeople.
Average managers bring their sales representatives down to their level, whereas the best sales managers bring excellence to all their territories. A great manager who inherits average salespeople know how to coach, advise, motivate, or replace reps until they have created a high performance sales force.
Data supports the idea that sales managers have the power to drastically improve the quality of their employees. A study of top sales managers showed that their new sales hires, after 20 months on the job, performed better than the new sales reps hired by average manager (these were more likely to show declining performance over time). Why? Because top managers have the ability to identify and attract talented salespeople, as well as onboard, train, coach, and nurture them until they are effective producers. Research also showed a positive correlation between the amount of time a sales manager spends coaching their reps, and the reps’ ability to outperform neighboring regions coached by other managers.
The topline objective of a sales manager is to meet company revenue targets through the activities of their sales representatives. In other words, they harness the power of their direct reports, driving sales force productivity and extracting the best performance from each individual employee.
A sales manager achieves this objective through a mix of approaches. For example they:
- Are responsible for motivating and advising their reps to improve their performance, as well as hiring and training new sales representatives.
- Achieve their objectives through effective planning, setting sales goals, analyzing data on past performance, and projecting future performance.
- Ensure that the sales department works cross functionally with executives from other departments. For example, they collaborate with marketing to generate new lead sources and expand the target customer base, or with product and research teams to make sure customer needs are met.
A sales manager simultaneously plays three key roles:
- People manager: Recruit, build and nurture a team.
- Customer manager: Strategically foster customer engagement.
- Business manager: Steer the business.
Of these three roles, the #1 focus should be people management.
Some executives believe that a sales manager should continue to sell like other reps, just with higher-value accounts. However, a sales manager is most powerful when they enable their team of account executives. Their power and insight is scalable when they empower 5 to 10 reps that report to them, and more sustainable and long lasting as roles shift in the company. Successful companies minimize a sales manager’s selling responsibilities, placing the onus on the sales reps that report to them.
A successful sales manager’s characteristics, skills, and aptitudes are different from those of a successful sales representative. In fact, most sales reps make bad managers. The key characteristics of a sales manager focus less on selling ability and more about the interpersonal skills that enable leadership.
Rather than “doing it themselves,” they teach and coach others how to do it, enabling the sales efforts of others. They develop their own leadership, hiring, and training skills while ensuring their team is using the correct selling behaviors and activities to meet their revenue objectives.
Typical characteristics, skills, and traits of a sales manager include:
- Communication skills: they listen first and speak second. They don’t chastise in public or private. They are aware of the message they transmit to their team, how it’s delivered, and how it’s perceived.
- Integrity and trust: they never ask their reps to do something immoral, illegal, or something that goes against a company’s core values.
- Ability to build relationships with peers, cross-functional counterparts, and upper management: They are committed to helping others be successful.
- Empathy and ability to understand customer viewpoint and customer service
- Ability to unite a team under a shared vision and know what motivates each member.
- Analytical skills: They use data-driven reports to spur sales coaching sessions and empower reps to take ownership of their opportunity pipelines. They understand pricing, margins, and discounting impacts.
- The ability to prioritize and effectively manage time
What makes a good sales manager great?
Research shows that the best sales managers exhibit slightly different characteristics than average ones.
Top sales managers are more likely than average sales managers to be:
- High achieving, ambitious, and results-oriented
- Innovative, generating original solutions and lots of ideas
- Decisive and comfortable making decisions quickly
In contrast, average sales managers are more likely to:
- Be detail focused, methodical, and organized
- Focus on following the rules
- Solely make decisions based on facts, figures, and data analysis
(Source: ZS Associates [p. 14])
Typical qualifications for a sales manager include:
- Demonstrated track record of meeting/exceeding goals as an individual contributor.
- Successful experience building a territory from little or nothing
- Skilled at building rapport, opening doors, and understanding business requirements of senior decision makers
Here is a list of typical duties of a sales manager, including daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly repeating tasks. The exact activities may vary depending on industry, company, and team culture:
- Set targets, performance plans, and rigorous, objective standards for sales representatives.
- Meet with reps one-on-one weekly to review performance, progress, and targets. [Weekly]
- Deliver deep performance reviews for each individual rep once or twice per year. [Semiannually or annually]
- Coach individual sales representatives one-on-one through phone work and prospecting help sessions to help them improve sales performance. [Weekly]
- Participate in spontaneous sales call rides and planned field days. [Semimonthly or monthly]
- Counsel, support, discipline, and fire underperforming sales representatives.
- Develop a scalable sales process and ensure representatives adhere to it correctly.
- Ensure that reps use sales technologies, such as a CRM, correctly.
- Plan and implement training programs. Hold regular skills training sessions with internal or external sales trainers. [Monthly]
- Plan and preside over weekly sales team meetings. [Weekly]
- Hold team building events onsite or offsite. [Monthly]
- Recruit, select, onboard, and train new sales reps.
- In some cases, oversee regional and local sales managers.
- Motivate and engage the sales team with monetary and non-monetary (intrinsic) motivational tactics, such as sales contests, lucrative incentive packages, prizes, and public recognition.
- Unite the team: Ensure reps work as a positive unit and share their best practices.
- Set a good example for the team. Work according to company culture and values, prioritize ruthlessly, use good communication, and deliver results effectively.
Managing customer needs
- Maintain a deep understanding of customer needs and monitor their preferences.
- Resolve escalated customer issues and customer complaints regarding sales and service.
- Provide expertise when setting and adjusting pricing plans and discount rates.
- Provide advanced negotiation expertise.
- Connect company headquarters with customers and salespeople in the field.
Managing the business
- Determine and assign sales quotas, targets, and/or goals. Project and forecast annual and quarterly revenue and for one or more sales territories.
- Develop sales strategies to acquire new customers or clients.
- Track sales team metrics and share them with company leadership.
- Analyze sales data on sales results and develop plans to address performance gaps.
- Collaborate with marketing executives to develop lead generation plans.
- Prepare budgets and approve expenditures.
- Monitor competition, economic indicators, and industry trends.
- Advance one’s own professional and technical knowledge by attending workshops and other educational trainings, participating in professional societies and industry networks, and reading professional and industry publications.
If you are a current sales representative who is interested in getting promoted to a sales manager role, prepare early. Here are some helpful resources to point you in the right direction.
20 sales experts share how sales reps can prepare to be promoted to manager.
“Leadership skills are significantly more important than sales ability to succeed in a sales management role. If you’re looking to make yourself more attractive as a potential candidate for a sales leadership role, spend more time developing your leadership abilities and resume than your sales acumen. Take on a tough project at work. Join a board of a nonprofit or ministry. Come up with solution to a vexing problem at your company. The harsh truth is that there is very little similar about an individual producer sales role and a sales management role. It seems counterintuitive, but getting better at your existing job isn’t preparing you to get promoted.”
“Actively share sales tactics, set up lunch and learn sessions or a sales book club, volunteer to coach and mentor newer reps, etc. When you demonstrate a willingness to coach and an investment in the success of your peers, you demonstrate your ability to manage and lead a team.”
— Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Meetup
Dive deeper into what it takes to be a great sales manager. Learn about three advanced focus areas: engaging a team, retaining sales representatives, and creating a positive work culture: 3 Skill Sets Only the Best Sales Managers Possess.
Hiring a sales manager for your company? A powerful and accurate job description will help you attract higher quality job seekers, get closer matches to your ideal candidate, and set shared expectations.
This is a sample B2B sales manager job description, which you can customize for your own company with the free step-by-step template guide here:
Sales Manager Job Description Sample
Company X provides Target Customers with Company X offering. Founded in Year and headquartered in Location, we have accomplished Accomplishment A and Accomplishment B due to our unique offering. Currently, Company X is generating an annual revenue of X dollars and is growing at a rate of X%. In the next five years, Company X plans on growing to X employees and will be an estimated worth of X dollars. Our key clients include Customer A, Customer B, and Customer C.
We are looking to hire a sales manager to hire’s objectives in the Location area. In addition, travel is expected to be X% and the compensation associated with this position is competitive with the market and will be decided during the interview process based of skills and experience.
- Manage, coach and lead a team of _ salespeople
- Increase market share North America distribution by _% by the year 20__
- Drive $__ of new net revenue over the first fiscal year
- Maintain sales costs within __% of the target identified by the executive team
- Responsible for overall sales growth of __%
- Work with the senior management team to set revenue and sales goals on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis
- Increase customer satisfaction ratings by __% and create innovative programs for upselling
- Work with senior management to devise and implement innovative go-to-market strategies
- Become a mentor to the sales team and nurture relationships with each associate in order to help them achieve their goals
- Selling _______ (product/service or related product/service) to _____ (buyer/ group)
- Closing __-figure deals
- Managing a team of __ + salespeople
- Utilizing a CRM to manage team sales tasks, pipeline, and closing
- Demonstrated ability to hire high performing salespeople
- Strong ability to coach sales reps to higher performance
- Ability to accurately forecast future sales volumes
- Excels at selling intangible solutions into the B2B market
- Driven, energetic
- Sense of urgency
- Competitive nature
Latest posts by Keith Johnstone (see all)
- How HR Can Build an Integrated Approach to Sales Talent Management - November 15, 2017
- Responsibilities of a Sales Manager: The Ultimate Guide - May 16, 2017
- Beyond Hiring: How HR Can Build an Integrated Approach to Sales Talent Management - March 14, 2017