Learn the ins-and-outs of sales management, including the processes, tools, responsibilities, and skills needed for sales leadership success.
A good sales manager can grow a business; a bad one can hold a sales team back from its full potential. Sales management is the process of creating a sales plan, hiring a staff, executing sales strategies, managing team performance, and analyzing results. Sales managers are responsible for overseeing this process, relying on specific tools and skills to excel as a leader.
Check out this high-level overview of sales management and a detailed breakdown of each sales management area:
Sales management is typically broken down into a process comprised of four major components: creating a sales plan, hiring and training a team, managing sales operations, and analyzing the results of operations. A sales manager is responsible for each of these components in an effort to hit or exceed established team revenue targets or other team sales goals.
Let’s take a look at each component in a little more detail:
Sales managers are in charge of creating a sales plan — a written document that outlines the entire sales strategy for selling your product or service. This sales plan guides the creation of your sales team and their actions by defining processes and best practices to follow. Whether you are managing a team of two or 100, your sales plan should include the following:
The sales team structure outlines how you’ll organize your sales team, including a breakdown of each member’s responsibilities. Sales managers need to pick the right structure that fits their business goals and culture. There are three popular sales structures to choose from: the island, the assembly line, and the pod.
In this sales structure, each sales rep controls the entire sales process for themselves, from prospecting and qualifying to closing the sale. Each reports directly to you. Sometimes reps will even continue to manage the account post-sale, making this a great structure for building long-term personal relationships with clients.
Who’s it for: The sales reps in the island structure tend to be experienced self-starters who relish being lone-wolves. It is best suited for companies that sell into established markets with high levels of competition where personal relationships are essential. Think real-estate, financial services, or insurance organizations.
In the assembly line structure, your sales reps are split into teams that each take on specialized roles and smaller segments of the overall sales process. This enables sales reps to master their specific role in the process, whether it be cold calling, giving demos, or managing the account post-sale.
For instance, you might have a business development representative team in charge of lead generation and qualification. And once one of them qualifies a lead, it goes to an account executive team member who takes them through the rest of the customer journey.
Who’s it for: Most startups will find some variation of the assembly line that works for them as it’s a great structure for increasing the scalability of the sales team. Startups’ sales cycles also tend to be slightly complex, so every few steps might need a specialist, especially at higher-priced solutions. This also goes for companies with complex solutions.
In the pod structure, managers group sales reps into teams by specialties or regions. So, across your entire sales team, you might have three pods, each selling to different locations, like territory sales, or account-values, such as grouping teams by customer-type.
Each pod might consist of four different types of reps, like the following:
A benefit of a pod structure is that it builds strong relationships between the team members, which keeps team members motivated and facilitates idea generation.
Who’s it for: It works well for companies that have already tried the sales assembly line model and want to evolve it into something more flexible. What it loses in efficiency it gains in versatility, which, if you are already established in the industry, can help you beat competitors to opportunities.
A sales process is a repeatable set of steps that salespeople follow to turn leads into paying customers. This process is a crucial part of your sales plan because it gives your reps a step by step process for efficiently hitting the company goals outlined in your sales plan. Most sales processes have these six steps:
Regardless of what steps you include, your process should be standardized across your team. Businesses with standardized sales processes see up to a 28% increase in revenue compared to those who do not. When each rep is using the same process, you can analyze the effectiveness of each stage of the process and gain more accurate insights about its success.
A sales methodology outlines the strategic approach your salespeople take to each step of the sales process. It can be thought of as a sort of strategic philosophy, laying out principles and best practices that guide each interaction with a potential buyer. In your sales plan, your sales methodology section should answer two questions:
Your sales methodology should outline your method for generating quality leads. You could do this through two broad lead generation strategies: inbound and outbound lead generation.
After a meeting is booked, the lead is now in the needs assessment phase of the sales process. From there, reps nurture them to a close using a sales methodology chosen by their sales manager. Some of today’s most popular sales methodologies include SPIN Selling and Soft Selling:
Sales managers are responsible for hiring sales reps that fit the strategy and structure outlined in their sales plan, onboarding them, and training them throughout their time with the company. Most sales managers follow a four-step process for hiring the right salespeople and enact a 30/60/90 onboarding plan through which they teach their new hires about the product, company, and anything else they deem important.
Sales managers have to hire the best people for the team. To do so, they follow a four-step hiring process where they identify the ideal candidate profile, create a job posting, post to relevant job boards, and follow a detailed hiring plan.
Sales managers are responsible for creating and administering a sales training program that covers every facet of a new rep’s job, from product and industry knowledge to sales process and methodology. To teach them this information, most managers use a 30/60/90 onboarding program.
A 30/60/90 onboarding plan lays out benchmarks for your sales reps to hit 30 days in, 60 days in, and 90 days in, when they should be operating at full capacity. This structured onboarding gives reps an idea of what is expected of them within each time frame. Here are some things to cover in your 30/60/90 training plan:
Another aspect of sales management is ensuring that your team is executing and performing operations to hit the company goals outlined in your sales plan. Sales managers do this by setting quotas, incentivizing team members to hit those quotas, and coaching them through difficult deals and times of struggle.
A sales quota is a financial or quantitative target that your salespeople must reach in a certain period of time, usually a quarter or a month. The quota could be revenue closed/won or the number of meetings booked, and will depend on goals outlined in your sales plan. A common rule of thumb is that 80% of your sales reps should be able to hit the quota.
To set these quotas sales managers analyze past sales years’ data, account for potential sales growth, and assess current goals to land on the number that pushes the team to meet those goals. There are different types of quotas you can set, including the following:
The main way to incentivize your sales reps to reach their quotas is through a commission plan: a monetary reward that is dependent on performance. But, salespeople care about things besides financial gain, such as earning respect, advancing in their careers, and contributing to the team’s success.
So, it pays to incentivize them through a variety of methods along with commission. Consider including the following in your incentivization plan:
Every sales rep is motivated by different factors. We all operate from a different value compass. So, when you add diversity to your incentivization plan, you raise the chances that each rep is motivated by it.
Coaching your sales reps involves helping them push deals over the finish line, holding 1-on-1 sessions, and showing them ways to improve. Coaching can be one of the most rewarding parts of the sales management position. To make the most of these coaching sessions and the one on ones with your reps, employ these five tactics when talking to them:
Sales managers can also find ways for reps to improve by sitting in on their meetings or calls. Of course, when sharing these insights, it’s best to start with what they did well, so as not to discourage them.
Sales reporting gives you an overview of different activities within your sales team. Most of your reports will be done in your CRM. You can report on many factors that will give you answers to important questions including:
Sales reporting will also enable you to create accurate forecasts, which will help managers plan their goals for the months or years ahead. Creating reports can usually be done through your CRM system.
Keeping data standardized is critical if you want it to tell the whole story. Therefore, inform your sales reps of their data responsibilities. For instance, if you want to learn more about the reasons why sales are being lost, tell your reps to document every reason for closed/lost deals.
Reading and analyzing data allows you to ream insights on potential problems with your sales process, areas of improvement for individual reps, or opportunities to capture.
Analyzing data can help you answer questions like the following:
With the answers to these questions, you can make adequate changes to your sales strategy. And once you implement the change, you can report on it again, and continue this iteration process over and over, marching steadily towards optimization.
Pick a few of the most important metrics and go over them with your team during a weekly meeting. This will help you make sure everyone is on track to hit their goals. And you can help anyone struggling.
Sales management software is a category of tools that help you and your sales team increase effectiveness, report on activity, and automate repetitive processes. Sales tools include CRMs, sales engagement platforms, lead generation tools, and many more.
Here are a few of the most important types:
CRMs help businesses of all sizes organize their client information such as their name, details, past purchases, and contact information. Sales managers use CRMs to track their reps’ deals and activity, run reports, and facilitate knowledge-sharing across the team.
Sales engagement software is technology that streamlines the sales process by integrating different communication channels and by enabling sales reps to automate parts of their outreach. Sales managers use it to increase the efficiency of cold outreach, track sales activity such as calls made and emails sent, and analyze which cadences and messaging work best.
Sales enablement software allows your team to access all of your content and sales materials, from case studies to pricing info, from a central online location. Sales managers can create, share, edit, and manage these resources with ease. It also allows you to coordinate with the marketing team and provide your reps with the materials that help them sell the solution.
Helpdesk software creates a point of contact where prospects or customers can send their questions or problems. It allows businesses to resolve customer concerns and track the progress of the resolution through a ticket system. It also provides your staff with support and tools that allow them to quickly respond to queries so that you maintain happy customers and spot opportunities for sales.
Lead generation software automates the process of sourcing and researching leads by scraping the web for contacts or businesses that fit your ideal customer profile and sending you their contact information. Sales managers can then streamline the research process for their reps, allowing their team to spend more time talking with leads rather than searching for them.
All sales managers have a core set of responsibilities that mirror the sales management process. While the specific responsibilities of a sales manager may differ across different companies or industries, most sales managers will typically be responsible for:
Sales managers are responsible for developing and carrying out sales team strategies that support their overall business goals and appeal to their target market. Here are some sales management strategies that highlight each of the four components of the sales management process.
Sales managers should set qualification standards for their leads so that reps qualify out the ones that might be time-sinks. Then reps can devote their time to high-priority deals. Qualification standards could take into account the prospect’s type of company, urgency to buy, and power to make purchasing decisions.
Shopify’s GM of Revenue, Loren Padelford, shared that one of his secrets to such successful sales growth is his qualification process. The sales team follows a strict qualifying threshold, where leads must have 4 out of 5 qualification attributes listed below. If the lead fails, they’re disqualified:
One of the best things managers can do during training is teaching their reps how to see from the customer’s point of view. If reps can think in terms of their prospects’ wants and needs, they can position the product or service in a way that captivates and satisfies them.
Hubspot designed a sales training program that would force reps to become familiar with their customers’ main pain points, which usually occur while they build websites and drive traffic to them.
To broaden their reps’ perspectives, Hubspot sales managers have their reps create their own websites. Through this process, reps familiarize themselves with the challenges and subtle frustrations that plague buyers. This allows them to more sincerely relate to their pains and hold better conversations.
Sales managers should set clear, SMART goals for their sales reps, which are: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific goals using this method, you will be able to relay to your team exactly what they need to do to hit them.
For instance, if you want to close 50 new accounts this quarter, you can use last year’s data to figure out the number of opportunities your sales reps have to generate. Perhaps it’s 250. And then, you can estimate how many calls and emails it will take to reach that number of opportunities.
A great way to improve your sales process’s effectiveness is through pipeline analysis, where sales managers assess why prospects succeed or fail in passing through certain parts of their sales process. Most importantly, the analysis tells you where most deals are getting stuck.
For instance, if you find that the majority of your closed/lost deals fail in the presentation phase of your sales process, you can try to tease out why, and remedy the issue. Maybe your reps need training on how to demonstrate value or hold attention in their presentations.
There are many great ways to become a better sales manager. You can try sales management training, read books, attempt new styles, and attend meetups. You can also reflect on your learnings at the end of each day. Here are some of the best ways to improve as a sales manager.
Sales managers can either take online courses, attend in-person training sessions, or meet with a sales manager in their network from whom they want to learn. Most sales training programs will help you do the following:
Plus, they will expand your vistas, introducing you to new sales methodologies, coaching strategies, incentivization tactics, and more.
Through books, you can learn a lot about sales management. Many sales managers have come before you, and they have been kind, or enterprising, enough to document their journeys, setbacks, and lessons from their experience. Here are four sales management books recommended for new or aspiring sales managers.
As a sales manager, you need to be able to positively influence your sales reps. Management styles help you do that. According to David Jacoby, Managing Director of Sales Readiness Group, “Management style is the approach you use in different situations to achieve desired results through your salespeople.”
He continues to explain how there are four main management styles to use to influence your sales team in different situations: directing, selling, participating, and delegating.
You might use a direct style, pretty much telling the rep what to do, when interacting with a newer less-experienced rep. In contrast, you might use a delegating style, giving them autonomy to make their own decisions, when attempting to influence a more experienced rep.
To figure out which style works best to influence each rep, test them out.
It helps to attend an in-person or virtual event with other sales managers who have had similar, or even different experiences, than yourself.
Sales management requires you to devise a sales strategy, hire and train the right reps to execute that strategy, motivate them to achieve company goals, and analyze the strategy’s results to find ways to improve. Managing a sales team can be one of the most fulfilling parts of your career, as you watch your team members, under your tutelage, grow as professionals and salespeople.