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Sales Management: The Ultimate Guide

Even the most talented, hard-working, persistent salespeople only bring in so much revenue. They’re limited by their time. With a set number of selling hours in the day, a great rep can sell twice as much as an average performer -- probably no more.

But a great sales manager? They can unlock huge returns from their team. If a manager can help each of her 10 reps sell 20% more, she’s “created” two new salespeople. That’s why being a sales manager can be incredibly rewarding … and simultaneously challenging.

In this ultimate guide to sales management, you’ll learn:

Sales management objectives

The ultimate KPI for a sales manager is revenue. If her salespeople meet or exceed the team quota, she succeeds. If they miss, she fails.

Of course, making that target is far from a sales manager’s only responsibility. Like all jobs, her role depends on the size of the company, its products and business strategy, how many salespeople she’s managing, and more, but generally she:

  1. Coaches her salespeople on their behaviors, skills, and techniques
  2. Trains and onboards new sales hires
  3. Recruits reps
  4. Acts as a go-between for her team and upper management
  5. Forecasts sales performance for the month, quarter, and year
  6. Creates sales and revenue reports
  7. Evaluates and tweaks the sales process
  8. Advocates for her reps when necessary

How to become a sales manager

Most sales managers are former front-line salespeople who were promoted after stellar performance. There are benefits and drawbacks to this promotion path. On the one hand, your reps are likelier to trust and respect you if you’ve had their job and can relate to their experiences.

On the other hand, the skills required of a sales manager are vastly different than a rep. The latter revolves around people management, leadership, and data analysis, while the former calls for people skills, communication, time management, and grit.

These days, it’s challenging to get a sales management job without an undergraduate degree. (Although if you have 10-plus years of work experience, you may not need a degree.)

Having one to five years of sales experience (in sales and/or sales management) is also recommended. Some companies may ask for more.

Sales manager daily routine

Wondering what a sales manager does all day?

Coaching: This is arguably the most important part of your role. Help your salespeople maximize their performance by figuring out where they could improve, teaching them new skills, role playing common scenarios with them, surfacing relevant resources, introducing them to more senior salespeople who can serve as mentors, etc.

Recruiting: Good sales managers are always looking for potential new members of their team. After all, hitting your targets is hard enough when you have the headcount. Consistently recruiting ensures you’ll always have a ready pipeline of candidates when the time comes to replace a salesperson or grow your team. Spend an hour every day browsing LinkedIn, reaching out to people you’d like to recruit, having coffee meetings, etc.

Shadowing: Catch burgeoning issues before they become big ones, identify best practices and fresh strategies to share with the wider team, and learn valuable information about your reps’ current opps by shadowing them. Depending on your sales process, listen to their calls and/or go to their meetings.

Meeting and aligning: Sales touches almost every other aspect of the business, so make sure you’re always on the same page with Marketing, Product, Customer Support, and any other relevant department. You should also regularly meet with your VP of Sales to share how your team is performing.

Reporting: A major component of your job is creating and analyzing data. How far are you to goal? What’s your projected weekly, monthly, and quarterly performance? Are you seeing deals slip out of the funnel at one point in particular? Has the number of new opportunities declined? Is average win rate steady or climbing? Not only should you look at the numbers across the team, you should also dig into individual rep performance. Check out the progress they’ve made on quota, what their volume and activity is like, and if their deal velocity is faster or slower than usual.

Time management

It’s all too easy to let your day become consumed with putting out fires. To be an effective sales manager, you must master time management.

Many sales managers I know refuse to use chat platforms like Slack. Instead, they rely on email and “office hours” to answer questions from their reps. Sales consultant Jeff Hoffman highly recommends this approach, explaining “Instant message tools enforce LIFO: Last In, First Out. In other words, the most recent message tends to get the first reply. It’s unproductive and unfair.”

Asking salespeople to book time on your calendar for requests or come by your desk during office hours guarantees they’ll only come to you with issues they can’t solve on their own. It teaches them to be more autonomous and saves you time -- win-win.

Although you might miss the glory deals of closing deals, resist the urge to take over any of your reps’ opportunities. You might help them win, but in the long run, you’re not doing them (or yourself) any favors. Remember the adage, “Give a man to fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? That applies here. Jumping in robs your salesperson of the chance to learn and means you’ll have to do the same next time around. It’s ineffective, and equally harmful, your rep sees you don’t trust them to get the job done.

Finally, prioritize. With so much going on, it’s easy to run around tackling the most visible or time-sensitive tasks. Yet those are rarely the most important. At the beginning of every day, organize your to-do list by impact and urgency. The top items should be both impactful and urgent, the next should be impactful but not urgent, the next should be urgent but not impactful, and the final ones (i.e. what you’ll do at the end of the day if you have any time) should be neither urgent nor impactful.

Sales management books

Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives

By Keith Rosen

This incredibly useful book will help you coach your salespeople into top performers more quickly than you thought possible. It includes case studies, a one-month “Turnaround Strategy” for struggling reps, coaching scripts and templates, and pre-written questions.

Amazon Review: “Best book ever on sales coaching! I have purchased this book at least 20 times because I love it so much I gift it to people who seek me out about my best practices. It changed my life personally and professionally; I have not had turnover and our sales keep increasing since I invested in this book and began executing coaching the way Keith talks about in the book.”

The Accidental Sales Manager: How to Take Control and Lead Your Sales Team to Record Profits

By Chris Lytle

Were you promoted into management from the front lines -- but aren’t getting much support on managing the transition? This common issue is known as the “sales management trap. The Accidental Sales Manager will show you how to get out of doing your old and new job at the same time. You’ll learn how to stop selling for your team and get them selling on their own.

Amazon Review: "Chris's writing style is such that you feel like he has his arm around you and feels your pain. He's never condescending, or preachy, quite the contrary. His style is motivational, makes you feel safe and comfortable trying new things, and his logic just turns on the light bulbs in your brain."

Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance (Business Books)

By Jason Jordan

If you’re looking for a practical guide on managing a sales team -- from the metrics and processes you should be tracking and optimizing to prioritizing competing sales goals -- look no further. Jordan’s comprehensive resource will change both your day-to-day and yearly results.

Amazon Review: "This book gets down the nitty gritty of sales management, and that might make you uncomfortable. This is not a lightweight sales book, it is a process-oriented book that may take a couple of reads before it sinks in. I plan on revisiting it in a few weeks but there were enough pearls of wisdom to justify your time/money and I recommend this to an intermediate/advanced sales management student."

Sales Management. Simplified.: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team

By Mike Weinberg

In this book, Weinberg reveals why sales teams fall short of their goals and how your management style and tactics may be to blame. He combines straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is advice with entertaining anecdotes -- making this an educational yet interesting read.

Amazon Review: "If you want feel good fluff or easy system gimmicks, this book will probably not be for you. But if you are searching for a dose of reality, a hard look in the mirror, or very precise guidelines to start building a winning sales culture, this book hits the nail on the head."

Being a sales manager isn't easy. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of intricacies, and a lot of fires to put out. But with the right strategies and processes, you can handle this role with aplomb. 

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