8 Skills You’ll Need to Become a Sales Manager
So you want to become a sales manager? First you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right skills, experience, drive and track record at the helm in both selling and at managing others—in order to back yourself up.
Making the leap from sales practitioner to sales manager doesn’t have as much to do with being a rock star that boasts the highest close rate so much as your ability to motivate, lead, and elevate others to achieve more.
While all sales managers undoubtedly need hands-on experience converting prospects into customers themselves, there are a wide range of other (equally important) sales manager skills you’ll need to command to excel in this role.
Want to get a ready-made set of resources to manage a sales team effectively? Download our sales management toolkit, which contains checklists, templates, scripts, and more.
First and Foremost, What Exactly is a Sales Manager?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sales managers industry is expected to grow around 5 percent between 2021 and 2031, which means its a pretty good time to move up the ladder.
What does a sales manager's day look like? Their day-to-day schedule includes activities like:
- Setting sales goals
- Managing individual and team quotas
- Creating a sales plan and proactively experimenting to improve execution
- Monitoring progress in real-time and analyzing data
- Overseeing the organization’s sales training
- Keeping an active watch over (and involvement in) key accounts
- Mentoring individual sales reps and administering incentive programs
- Recruitment, hiring, and firing of sales reps
- Managing budgets for things like travel, hiring, and training programs
Some of these sales manager responsibilities can overlap with those of other related roles, depending on your organization's size and internal structure.
Especially when it comes to titles like Sales Director or Head of Sales positions, which tend to be more senior and concerned with organizational strategy than the average sales manager role.
Check out this side-by-side comparison between an open sales manager role and an open head of sales role to see the subtle (and not so subtle) differences:
While there are a lot of similarities between two roles—like developing and supporting revenue targets, overseeing the sales process for your team, setting trends and monitoring projections—it’s also clear that the head of sales role is much more senior than that of the sales manager. A head of sales reports directly to the CEO and keeps the company on track for internal growth projections.
On the other hand, a sales manager spends most of their day working directly with sales reps, helping them close more deals and achieve revenue targets.
So once you know exactly what type of role you’re going after and the corresponding title that best fits, you can begin positioning yourself to stand out from the crowd and make a powerful first impression on hiring managers.
Now, let’s talk about the eight most important skills you’ll need to take on a sales manager position.
8 Required Skills to Become a Sales Manager
On average, a sales manager has a bachelor's degree and at least five years of experience as a sales rep. But, that's not to say a degree is required. If you want to become a sales manager, start with perfecting and then showcasing these key skill sets throughout your interview process.
1. Interviewing and Hiring Talented Sales Reps
While much of your job as a sales manager will be focused on enabling your existing team to continue performing better over time, keeping new candidates coming in the front door to replace those that either move up or out—and add to the strength of your sales team—is just as important.
Like a fine wine, you’ll get better over time as you recruit new reps. Start today, and you’ll be an expert sooner.
Take the initiative to form a more active part of your company’s sales hiring process. Sit in on interviews with your manager. Reach out to potential candidates. Take an interest and predict which people make it the furthest in the interview process. Who goes on to become a top-performing rep? Which qualities, traits, characteristics, and motivations contribute to their success?
When sourcing candidates for internal sales jobs, keep these factors in mind:
- Real-world results reign supreme. If a candidate you’re interviewing for a sales role can’t clearly articulate a tangible result they’ve achieved at a current or previous sales job, that’s a major red flag. Certifications and degrees are great, but real-world experience can trump education.
- Preparation and organization are key. Another mark of a strong salesperson is their level of organization and how prepared they are when showing up for a presentation, sales call, or meeting—and an interview is the perfect testing ground to gauge this critical quality.
- They’ve been tested and challenged. Don’t hire the person with the perfect record who’s never been through failure before. Rejection is painful, and it comes with the territory in sales—which is why you’re doing yourself no favor when choosing someone who’s constantly sold products that are excessively easy to move.
The more you can work collaboratively with internal hiring managers during the sales rep recruitment process, the more (and faster) you’ll begin to learn what makes for strong hires.
2. Being a Real Leader, Not Just a Boss
Ah, to be a leader… simply don a fancy hat, grab a microphone, display some swagger, and you’re a leader, right?
The act of proudly standing at the front of your ship doesn’t have any bearing on your ability to empower, motivate, or manage your crew. And that’s what true leadership entails.
True leadership requires managing, motivating, incentivizing, and empowering your sales team.
If your reps are underperforming or unhappy with their work, that’s on you. As a sales manager, it’s your job to be occupied with doing everything you can to make each individual member of your team successful.
Want to demonstrate your leadership skills? Try mentoring another sales professional on your team with less sales experience. Start a purpose-driven club for entry-level team members or organize events that get other employees to take action. Experiment within your own role with ideas to spearhead positive change, rather than waiting for top-down change to come your way.
Remember, once you become a sales manager, your voyage won’t always go exactly according to plan (OK, that’s enough sailing metaphors). Rather, it’s in remaining humble and showing you’re human, too, that will help you build rapport and maintain healthy relationships with your team.
The best salespeople are often competitive by nature, and a great way of channeling their competitive energy into productive activities is to have a sales leaderboard reps can use to keep score.
One tip to get the most out of sales leaderboards: Don't just track results (deals closed, revenue generated, etc.).
Instead, also track activities that drive results: Number of calls made, number of emails sent, number of opportunities a sales rep created, and so on. The purpose of a leaderboard is not just to celebrate your top performers, but also to acknowledge those who are putting in the extra effort.
Your job isn’t to do everything for your team, but to build the right team that can excel when given useful tools, guidance, and incentives. That’s what leadership is.
3. Training and Coaching Your Team
Beyond just leading your team, it’s your job as a sales manager to effectively train your team members and continue helping them grow professionally.
Do you have personal experience developing or improving upon your current organization’s sales process? How about coaching fellow reps through a particularly challenging deal?
Great sales managers can easily toggle between zooming in (to work in a rep’s world) and back out to see the bigger picture of how things are going more broadly on your team.
Are multiple reps experiencing the same challenges? What kinds of blockers are standing in the way of hitting quarterly targets? Grow in your ability to not only identify but answer these kinds of questions, and your value as a sales manager will be all but proven already.
Another skill you can start working on today is the ability to help out individual reps when they need it. Look for someone on your team that’s either new to the company, going through a rough quarter, or less experienced in sales. Or, maybe someone who needs help troubleshooting the best way to negotiate around an objection.
Ask if they’re up for you to partner with them and start listening to their call recordings in order to provide constructive feedback and finesse their pitch, rebuild their cold outreach emails, and help weigh in with advice, routines, tactics, and habits that help you perform better.
It doesn’t matter how much you consistently beat quota in your current position if you can’t make the jump up to also help other people to increase their sales performance.
Remember—as a sales manager, you’ll need to be OK with stepping out of an active selling role. Your primary mission will be helping others sell.
4. Creating (and Implementing) Sales Plans
Like it or not, implementing processes and regular planning are both essential to maintaining a successful business model as your sales team grows and the company scales over time.
When I ran a sales team for the first time, I was admittedly a pretty lousy sales manager. I was a talented salesperson myself, but I couldn’t translate that skill into training others.
I learned that it was more important to have everybody do a really good (consistent) job than to just have a couple of sales rock stars while everyone else falls behind. My reps were failing because they couldn’t replicate what I did—and what I did was unique to me.
Having an easy-to-follow sales plan, packed with process documentation, scripts, templates, and ongoing training ensures your team members are all on the same level, makes sure your team performs consistently (and hedges against the likelihood of some reps falling behind others).
No matter how hard you hope, wish or pray, a sales plan will never be one of those set-it-and-forget-it organizational documents. A sales plan is a living instrument that’s actively shaped in real-time as your organization grows, changes, and learns.
At their core, all good sales plans are comprised of three distinct sections:
- Sales forecasting and goal-setting
- Market and customer research
- Prospecting and partnerships
Each aspect of your plan naturally works itself into the next, starting with the team’s high-level sales targets, then taking into consideration market factors, and finally looking at who you know, and how to find more prospects to help hit your sales goals.
As a sales manager, it’ll be your job to maintain, update, and enforce your team’s go-to-market plan. You’ll need to analyze the metrics and see whether your team is on track regarding sales quotas and company goals.
5. Communicating Successfully Both Up and Down the Ladder
Most sales manager job postings today clearly highlight just how much you’ll have to hop on the phone, show up for presentations, dive into partnership development, and otherwise be involved in the sales process and problem-solving with key accounts from start to finish.
Therefore, strong interpersonal and communication skills are essential. Though that doesn’t mean we’re all very good at these skills.
Often, the more skilled you are as a salesperson, the more difficult it can be to put yourself back in the beginner’s mindset. making it more difficult to effectively communicate with reps who aren’t quite on your level yet. Known in academia as the curse of knowledge, this cognitive bias can make it more difficult to effectively communicate with reps who aren’t quite on your level yet.
If this kind of communication isn’t a strong suit of yours, fear not. You can start flexing that muscle today by purposefully going out of your way to over-communicate (within reason) with your fellow co-workers.
When mentoring a rep going through challenges, make it a point not to assume they have the same base of knowledge and experience you have. Start further back than you normally would, verbally express what’s happening inside your head, and explain the logic and reasoning behind the troubleshooting steps you take.
Take the time to build a stronger relationship with the marketing manager--maybe discuss sales data or share areas where sales and marketing could align better.
6. Organizing Your Tasks & Sales Team
Once you become a sales manager, there will be a lot of demands on your time throughout the day. That means you can’t always fly by the seat of your pants, accepting every meeting request that comes your way, right there on the spot.
While your role (and daily activities) have completely changed as a sales manager, it’s also easy to default to going about your day with the same routine as when you were still an individual contributor.
Take a step back every Monday morning to thoughtfully plan out your schedule. Leave time to interact with your team members. Block out the space you need to work on other key activities like forecasting, planning, experimenting, and training.
If your reps aren’t organized and staying on-task, you can’t expect them to always perform at peak capacity and hit their numbers (sales management tools like Close can help with that). If you’re not organized, can you really expect your reps to be?
Part of being an effective sales manager—and leader—is showcasing your values and clearly articulating your priorities to your team members. Share exactly what’s expected of them, how you’ll be measuring their performance, and rewarding them.
Equally important is establishing how you want your team to work. Don’t assume everything will just fall into place and you’ll magically hit your targets. Going back to communication here, take the time to explain in detail how you want your team to work. Set the right expectations and enforce your sales process.
Becoming more organized at work starts with your physical space. Keep your desk area uncluttered, have everything you need within reach, maintain control of your email inbox, start your day with a list of your top priorities, and try to avoid the mania of multitasking.
7. Forecasting Sales Results (Within a Reasonable Margin of Error)
Be transparent and specific when communicating the direction your team is going in and what needs to be done on an individual level.
Showing your higher-ups that your team can reliably perform based on those expectations and predictably hit goals is equally important to your success as a sales manager.
While there are a lot of different sales forecasting strategies you can adhere to depending upon your type of business model, industry, length of sales cycle, and otherwise, here are a few of the most common:
- Lead-driven forecasting: The lead-driven method relies on understanding the relationship your leads have with your company, and what they’re likely to do based on that relationship. Here, you’re analyzing each lead source and assigning a value to that source based on what similar leads have done in the past.
- Opportunity stage forecasting: This method takes your sales pipeline, chops it up, and assigns a percentage value to each one based on how likely a lead is to close. So, a new prospect might have a 10% potential close rate, whereas someone who has gone through a product demo might be at 80%.
- Multivariable forecasting: This method takes the best aspects of most forecasting methods, and puts them together into one complex, analytics-driven system. Let’s say you’ve got two reps hustling similar accounts. The first one is working a $10,000 deal and has just finished a successful product demo. Based on your rep’s individual win rate for this stage of the deal, your multivariable analysis says he’s 40% likely to close the deal this quarter, giving you a sales forecast of $4,000. Your second rep is selling a smaller, $2,000 deal and is earlier in the process, yet their win rate is through the roof, also giving them a 40% chance of closing the deal this quarter and a forecast of $800. Your total sales forecast at this point for the quarter would be $4,800.
Even if you’re not great at forecasting sales today, there’s still hope for you yet.
Hands down, the best way to get better at forecasting your own monthly and quarterly results is to dig deep into the numbers—take a look at results from previous periods, calculate win rates, develop and refine your own multivariable forecasting model to see how accurate it can become at predicting your own results.
Over time, you’ll improve and can continue refining your model by testing it out with other members on your team, presenting it to management, and getting feedback.
8. Managing Your Time + Helping Your Team Do the Same
Time management is one of the most crucial sales manager skills, because without it, you won’t be able to effectively address points 1-7. Here are some of the most important time management strategies to employ today.
- Set and maintain boundaries: Other people don’t like boundaries, because it means they get less of what they “need” in the moment. Too bad, though. If you want to be a good manager, you need to learn to set your boundaries and then hold them unless there’s a true fire. That means don’t schedule extra meetings, don’t allow anyone to barge through your door all day, and never miss client-facing obligations unless you truly can’t help it.
- Block out time for day-to-day tasks: Most of us find that once the day begins, there’s a good chance it will get away from us. That’s why it’s important to prioritize and do the hardest tasks first. If you plan to get one big thing done in the morning and one big thing done after lunch, then you’ll have a pretty good day - even if everything else goes to pot.
- Do advanced diary planning: Knowing what’s coming down the pike will make the above much easier, so always look through your calendar the day before.
- Avoid multitasking: Multitasking is a myth. Your brain is not capable of doing two things at once; it is merely capable of making you think it can by switching between them really, really fast. However, that time it takes to switch is time you could be using on just one task, if you keep your calendar simple and complete things one at a time. Let go of the myth.
A sales manager who can show these time management principles in action will inspire sales representatives and increase overall team efficiency, so hone these sales skills today.
Qualities of a Good Sales Manager
Wondering what qualities you’ll need to succeed as a sales manager? Both interpersonal skills and soft skills come into play, including:
- Active listening and strong communication skills
- Customer relationship management skills using a high-quality CRM
- Strategic planning and analysis skills
- Proactive lead generation and prospecting skills
- Ability to develop new sales strategies and implement them
- Willingness to take feedback and use others’ ideas
- Collaboration and delegation skills
- Analytical skills and attention to the bottom line
Keep in mind that a successful sales manager may need to spend some time developing some of these qualities. Not all sales leaders will perform perfectly in each of these, especially if you’re are newer to the field.
Do You Have What It Takes to Become a Sales Manager?
You don't need a master's degree to become a successful sales manager.
What you do need are the right skills and base of experience and the ability to position yourself as the perfect candidate.
As Professor Emeritus Andris A. Zoltners explained in a 2019 article, even sales managers need more training to develop the skills required to lead sales teams effectively.
When you’re moving from sales rep to sales manager, you probably don’t have the ability to talk about your experience managing a sales team (unless you’ve taken on interim management roles in the past). So, what’s the next best thing?
While you’re not yet a sales manager in title, you can still show you’re performing many of those activities at work.
Remember all of the sales manager skills we just talked about here? You can start sharpening them and putting each of them into practice, even in subtle ways, at your job today.
Is your company’s go-to-market plan due for a refresh? Show your initiative by taking a pass at updating some of your process documents based on the situation on the ground today.
Build a forecasting model to start predicting your team’s results out into the future. Refer high-quality candidates for new sales roles to your hiring managers. Get more organized. Keep improving with communication.
What's more, you want the right sales management software to help you accomplish all this! In an ideal world, the tool you use to manage your sales team is the same tool your sales team uses to sell.
Most importantly, it’s crucial to document all of the changes you’re creating. Keep track of all the different ways you’re practically a sales manager already, and you’ll build a compelling case for why you deserve a promotion—or the leveled-up title at a different company.
The next step to becoming a sales manager? Download our ready-made set of resources to manage a sales team effectively: