Sales Management

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 Process

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:

  1. Sales Strategy and Planning: Sales managers are tasked with creating, writing, and implementing a sales plan that defines their sales strategy and includes their team structure, processes, and methodologies. Read more below.
  2. Hiring and Training: Sales managers are in charge of hiring sales reps and training them on the sales process, sales skills, the product, and more. Read more below.
  3. Sales Operations Management: Sales managers must manage operations and execute on their sales plan, which includes coaching and motivating their sales reps with things like quotas and commission plans. Read more below.
  4. Sales Reporting and Analysis: Sales managers use accurate reporting to analyze the performance of their team against the sales plan and find areas for improvement. Read more below.

1. Sales Strategy & Planning

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:

  1. Your Sales Team Structure: The organization and design of your sales team.
  2. Your Sales Process: The repeatable process your sales reps follow to turn leads into paying customers.
  3. Your Sales Methodology: The strategic framework guiding your sales reps and their approach each part of your sales process.

Sales Team Structure

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.

The Island Structure

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.

The Assembly Line Structure

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.

The Pod Structure

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:

  • Sales Development Rep: prospecting and qualifying.
  • Account Executive: managing and closing the deal.
  • Technical Specialist: provides technical support during the demo.
  • Account manager: account management and upsells.

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.

Sales Process

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:

  • Lead Generation: Finding and making initial contact with leads that fit your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) through inbound marketing, prospecting methods like cold calling, or a lead-generation tool.
  • Needs Assessment: Asking questions to learn more about prospects’ pain points, business processes, and goals in an effort to qualify them and start building a relationship.
  • Sales Presentation: Presenting your solution through either a demo or presentation.
  • Business Proposal: Making and delivering a formal proposal that outlines your offer and pricing for your potential buyer.
  • Overcoming Objections: Overcoming the objections to purchasing made by your prospects.
  • Closing the Sale: Making the prospect feel comfortable about purchasing your solution and taking care of legal and contractual elements of the deal.

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.

Sales Methodology

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:

  1. How are you going to generate leads?
  2. What is your method for nurturing those leads through the pipeline to close?

Lead Generation

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.

  • Inbound Lead Generation: The inbound method uses marketing materials like blog posts, webinars, or case studies to pull the best leads far into the sales cycle, usually the presentation stage. Then, sales reps take it from there.
  • Outbound Lead Generation (Direct Outreach): Through this method, sales reps call and email quality leads that they found through research. Sales managers can facilitate this outreach by providing reps with scripts, leads, coaching, and sales enablement.

Lead Nurturing

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:

  • SPIN Selling: SPIN Selling is all about asking the right questions at the right time to move prospects through the sales cycle. SPIN stands for these different types of questions: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need/Payoff.
  • Soft Selling: Soft selling is a methodology focused on building relationships with prospects by making them feel comfortable throughout the sale. The method relies on actively listening, being personable, and giving your prospects space to decide.

2. Hiring & Training

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.

How to Hire the Best Salespeople

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.

  1. Identify Your Ideal Candidate: Define the traits, background, and experience you want your new-hire to have.
  2. Create a Job Posting to Attract Them: Write the job description, desired experience, responsibilities, perks, and anything else you want to include in your posting. You are trying to sell salespeople on joining your team.
  3. Post to Relevant Job Boards: Post on job boards that attract people looking for your type of position.
  4. Follow a Detailed Hiring Plan: It’s important to go into hiring with a plan. Know what steps will be involved including the number of interview rounds and the types of questions you will ask. Also devise ways to compare candidates and their potential.

How to Train Your Salespeople

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:

  • Product or Service Knowledge: A deep understanding of your solution enables sales reps to think laterally, coming up with creative ways in which prospects can use the solution to solve their specific problem.
  • Industry Knowledge: Reps who can talk about the industry with their prospects can more easily build rapport and come across as an expert.
  • Sales Methodology: Whether you are using the Challenger, Sandler, Soft, or SPIN method, your sales reps need an understanding of how it works.
  • Sales Process: Your sales reps should each be following the same sales process. That way you can easily analyze its effectiveness and spot areas for improvement. Plus, they will know exactly what steps to follow to close a sale.
  • Sales Skills: Throughout their journey with your business you need to nourish their desire to improve as salespeople. Teach them how to overcome any objection and how to close a sale using different closing techniques.
  • Competitive Landscape: The better your sales reps know the competition, the more easily they can beat them.

3. Sales Operations Management

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.

Setting Quotas

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:

  • Activity Quota: Sometimes, managers will outline activity quotas such as dials made, emails sent, or demos held. These smaller quotas make sure sales reps are taking the right daily or weekly actions to hit their ultimate ones.
  • Volume Quota: Sales reps with volume quotas have goals for the number of units they sell or the revenue they generate over a certain time period. Usually, they are incentivized to sell as much as possible.
  • Profit Quota: This quota focuses on the salesperson or team’s gross profit or margin: revenue minus cost. The profit quota is calculated by subtracting selling expenses and the cost of goods sold from the final revenue number.

Incentivizing Sales Reps

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:

  1. Commission Structure: Sales managers take part in creating the commission structure for their reps. The structure outlines how reps are compensated on the sales revenue they bring in. It can also outline how they are compensated for other value-adds such as booking meetings or making upsells.
  2. Sales Leadership Boards: A lot of sales reps are very competitive. Sales leadership boards play to this mentality, as they display sales reps’ performance in different categories side by side with their teammates.
  3. Acknowledgment and Appreciation: Management guru Dale Carnegie once said, “Appreciation is the legal tender that all souls enjoy.” So give it to your reps. Find little actions that make you proud. If you overheard a rep make a great call, head to their desk, slam your palm down on it, and congratulate them. (Palm slamming is optional).
  4. Team Outings: Play on your reps’ desires to contribute to the group by rewarding them with a team outing to dinner or a ball game if they hit a certain goal. Not only will you see a higher performance, but you will also have built a tighter-knit unit.

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 Sales Reps

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:

  1. Ask Open-Ended Questions: These help you learn more about the thinking of your sales reps. Then add your take on their answers so that they don’t feel like they are being threatened. Ask questions like, “Hey, what do you think about the recent change to your selling strategy?”
  2. Q-Step: Never assume. Always ask questions and get to the bottom of whatever problem they are having or whatever area they are trying to improve. This is known as “Q-stepping”.
  3. Split Track/Playback: As your reps are answering your questions, parse out what they are trying to communicate and rephrase it by saying things like, “It sounds like you are having {struggle #1}, and {struggle #2} is worsening that problem.”
  4. Ensure There Are Shared Expectations: Make sure that you both share the same expectations about how to go forward. This could be about their performance, what is expected of them from now on, or how you both will continue working on solving the problem.
  5. Leave With Defined Next Steps: Define exactly what actions they need to take moving forward. This could be a change in how they handle a certain objection or an increase in the number of cold calls they make each day. What matters most is that it’s clearly communicated.

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.

4. Sales Reporting & Analysis

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:

  • Open Opportunities: How many open opportunities does each rep have?
  • Sales Cycle Length: How long does it take to close a qualified lead?
  • New Opportunities Created Every Month: How many new opportunities is each rep generating each month?
  • Sales Velocity: How fast are we turning new leads into paying customers?
  • Customer Acquisition Costs: How much is it costing our sales and marketing department to win new customers?
  • Quota Attainment: How are the reps doing against their quota?
  • Average Deal Size: How big revenue-wise is the average deal?

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.


Pro Tip:

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.

Analysis & Improvement

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:

  • What do our ideal customers look like?
  • Where are the best leads coming from?
  • Are there bottlenecks in our sales process, which part?
  • Are we on track to meet specific revenue targets?
  • What prospecting method is generating the most sales leads?
  • How did we do compared to previous quarters?
  • What is the number one reason we are losing deals?

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.

Pro Tip:

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

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:

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software

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

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

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

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

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.

Sales Management Responsibilities

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:

  • Planning: It’s the job of the sales manager to create a sales plan that outlines the overall sales goals and the strategies for achieving them.
  • Hiring: Then, managers are responsible for hiring a team of salespeople to manage operations and execute the sales plan.
  • Operations Management: Sales managers are responsible for the performance of the overall sales operations and team, including setting quotas and motivating people with compensation plans.
  • Coaching and Performance: All sales managers are required to coach individual and team performance, providing clear goals and directions as well as giving 1-on-1 time, feedback, and more.
  • Reporting: A sales manager is expected to create sales reports and analyze the performance of their operations, making iterations and improvements along the way.

Sales Management Strategies

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.

Establish Lead Qualification Standards

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:

  • A relevant pain.
  • The power to buy.
  • The budget to buy.
  • An agreeable buying process.
  • A reasonable timeline.

Train Salespeople To See The Customer’s Perspective

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.

Set Specific Goals For Your Team

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.

Improve Your Sales Process With Pipeline Analysis

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.

How to Become a Better Sales Manager

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.

1. Go Through Sales Management Training

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:

  • Define your target market.
  • Create a scalable sales process.
  • Build training programs for reps.
  • Develop your management style.
  • Build a winning sales team culture.

Plus, they will expand your vistas, introducing you to new sales methodologies, coaching strategies, incentivization tactics, and more.

2. Read Sales Management Books

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.

3. Test Different Management Styles

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.

4. Attend Meetups or Seminars

It helps to attend an in-person or virtual event with other sales managers who have had similar, or even different experiences, than yourself.

  • Learn From Other Sales Managers: There will be times when you had a management problem that someone at the meetup has overcome. They can then guide you through it.
  • Learn From Managers in Other Departments: Sometimes talking with managers across different industries or even professions can help you come up with new ideas for bettering your management.

Bottom Line

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.


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