Ultimate Guide to the Sales Management Process: Strategies, Tools & More
No matter the size of your company—a startup working from your spare room, or a multi-conglomerate with HQ offices on each of the seven continents—if you sell a product or service, then you need a sales team. That means you need to think about your sales management process.
Maybe your sales team consists of one sales rep. Maybe you have hundreds, or even thousands. In any case, this fact is true: For your sales department to run at full speed, you need a sales strategy with sales goals, quotas, established processes, and KPIs. And once you have all of those things running, you’ll need a plan to keep everything—and everyone—in line. Welcome to sales management!
Whether you're a new sales manager or a seasoned pro, this article defines what sales management is, how to implement a sales strategy, and various sales management tools and resources you can use to create rockstar sales teams.
What is Sales Management?
Yet sales management goes beyond sales forecasting and measuring metrics and profitability. A sales leader's primary job is leading people and increasing the sales team's bottom line through inspiring and motivating employees, coaching them, teaching them through sales training, and hiring (and firing) them.
How to Implement a Successful Sales Management Strategy
It may seem common sense, but before a sales manager can successfully implement a strategy, they must plan the strategy and implementation. And it wouldn’t hurt to plan for a few inevitable challenges—remember, you're dealing with people who have their own thought processes, and sometimes situations may be out of your control.
Next, you should research and establish critical goals for your department:
- Your Sales Department Budget: The financial needs of your department, including salaries (totaling sales reps’ base pay, commissions, spiffs, bonuses), monthly recurring costs, any special events and travel, etc.
- Training & Technology: Your company should provide various resources for your sales department, including technology (both hardware and software tools), training, and process documentation for your sales cycle, sales scripts, and other company best practices.
- Sales Goals: Establish challenging but realistic goals for your team, and provide a strategy for your sales reps to attain those goals.
- Reporting Needs: The sales metrics you will need to measure, analyze, and review quotas, monitor sales funnel conversion rates, the rate each team member is closing deals, gauge new customer satisfaction, and evaluate employee and team performance.
With all of these needs determined, you’ll be in a good place to define deliverables and success criteria for both your department overall, and your sales reps as they take prospects through each stage of the sales cycle. You can effectively establish challenging, realistic goals for your team, develop the sales management strategy to attain those goals, execute the strategy, manage and evaluate team members, and continually work to improve.
The best sales managers work with their marketing team to plan ways to generate leads and with the human resources department to keep staff motivated.
Strategies for Effective Sales Management
Now, let's look at the most effective sales management strategies every sales manager should implement at their company.
Define Your Sales Goals
Novice sales managers may look at the company budget and use the phrase, "Well, the minimum amount of sales we need to generate to keep the company afloat is..."
... but that is a terrible way to set a sales goal.
Sales managers must have a growth mindset. With this kind of thinking, the best sales goals live at the intersection of realistic and challenging. Essentially, sales goals should be achievable based on multiple factors, such as the industry you're in, marketplace conditions, competitive position, company reputation, current customer base and referral network. But all that said, sales goals can’t be so easy that your sales team isn’t challenged by them, or simply crushes through them (that means you’re leaving money on the table).
Streamline Sales Team Onboarding
Finding and retaining top sales talent is the leading operational priority of a sales manager. This is made especially hard due to sales staff turnover. According to The Bridge Group, the annual attrition of sales team members is 34%. In addition, 20% of turnover is involuntary, and in 12% of companies, the attrition exceeded 55%.
That same report showed that a new sales rep at a SaaS company takes 5.3 months to reach total productivity. The onboarding process is critical to keep your sales rep from costing (instead of making) your company money for the least amount of time possible. This starts with a detailed job description that outlines just what a sales team member is—and is not—responsible for doing. The new sales rep has to understand your company's value proposition. They need to understand the pain points and problems your customers had before your solution solved them. They must also learn the ins and outs of your sales process and your company's best practices around sales funnel management.
Different sales organizations have different roles. For example, if a new employee is used to working in an environment where they stay with the customer through onboarding, but your organization has an account manager take over as soon as the contract is signed, they may not plan their time well. Therefore, being clear about roles and expectations should take an early priority.
Finally, we know you want good retention numbers, but sometimes it's just not a good fit. A good sales manager knows when potential is present and can assess whether a sales rep can improve over a few days, but when someone doesn't work out, it's best to let them go as soon as possible to make room for a high-performer who hits all the sales objectives.
Establish Sales Operations & CRM Procedures
Sales managers are responsible for managing sales activities and operations, from pipeline management to lead generation to close. This is often done using a customer relationship management system or CRM. But, as the saying goes, a system is only as good as the data. We'd also add that it only works if the information is entered and tracked the same way for each record—that’s key for reporting later. (Having a CRM like Close, which automatically captures and tracks prospect- and customer- interactions, will result in more accurate data, and help reps spend less time on manual data entry.)
It’s up to the sales manager to plot out the procedures for how sales operations work. Some sales teams even have a sales operations manager who handles data management and becomes the go-to person for CRM issues.
The sales manager will look at pipeline activities and identify what happens at each phase, who is responsible, and timeline parameters. Then, within your sales playbook, break down these activities with examples and a short explanation of each step. It's also a good idea to create a quick reference that sales reps can use at-a-glance.
Provide Sales Training for Sales Reps
Creating a sales training manual is crucial as it becomes part of each sales representative's playbook. They'll use their training manual as an ongoing reference and guidepost—part sales script and part objection management document. In addition, provide your reps with battle cards and other sales enablement materials.
Start with the 10-15 most common questions your customers ask and the 10-15 most common sales objections you hear from customers, plus concise (2-3 sentences) responses for each. Next, have your reps study the manual and then test them.
As we said above, different companies use different sales management strategies. Therefore, your playbook should include details on the metrics you will use to evaluate sales performance and monitor sales activities. Your playbook should also detail, with written examples, your team's most effective sales techniques.
As a sales manager, you should continually review your industry's latest trends for general selling and sales. In addition, you should be reviewing metrics and extrapolating ways to help your team improve.
Define SDR Salary and Commission Structures
In most cases, sales development representatives are motivated by financial rewards. The more they sell, the more they make. A sales manager will develop the salary and commission structures for the team members. Implementing a pay structure for sales reps has several things to consider, including:
- Competitiveness: How does your sales structure compare to other organizations in your field and locality?
- Performance expectations: What are your expectations for commission? Is there a quota that one must reach before a higher commission rate?
- Do commissions apply to existing contracts? When selling monthly or annual contracts, does a salesperson receive additional commission from retention or only on new sales?
- Is it a commission, spiff, or bonus? Unlike commissions, a spiff is a fixed payment for achieving a specific goal, and a bonus is a performance-based one-time payment that may be a fixed or variable amount.
The sales manager may also work closely with the financial manager or CFO to align the sales team's compensation and commissions with company-wide financial interests.
Mentor Sales Team Members
In the next training phase, you should have new salespeople shadow experienced mentors to see these techniques in action. These experienced mentors can allow the new people to shadow them on cold calls, meetings, sales calls, and throughout the sales cycle.
Having a CRM with built in call coaching features makes it easy to offer your team the training they need to constantly level up their game.
You want to come up with a strategic approach to using call monitoring to train your reps.
Mentors should engage team members in roleplay with different scenarios and test new salespeople using the questions and resources from the playbook. They should use real-world scenarios based on their experience.
Once a salesperson is off and running, a good mentor can reinforce that they're not off selling on their own. They will continue to have lots of support from their organization, mentor, and sales manager.
- Motivator and Cheerleader: Motivate, encourage, and celebrate successes.
- Ally and Confidant: Actively listen, be trustworthy, stable, and consistent.
- Truth-Teller: Provide honest and helpful information, offer suggestions, and identify patterns that could lead to failure or success. We’re strong proponents of radical candor in sales.
- Role Model: Use themselves as an example of successful behaviors and processes.
- Problem Solver: Identify potential problem areas, assist their protege with problem-solving, and teach by demonstration.
- Resource Broker: Link to other resources, training, co-workers, and others.
- Peer Mentor: Provide support as someone who has "been there, done that."
Finally, pulling your best salesperson away from selling to mentor new salespeople may seem counterintuitive. Still, this short-term investment can have substantial long-term returns as your best salesperson will mentor a new sales rep into being a top-notch sales professional! Just make sure to reward and compensate them. If you’re asking them to spend their time mentoring instead of selling, don’t have them shoulder the lost revenue.
Even the most helpful and supportive salesperson won’t be happy to spend less time selling (the activity that helps them get earn a larger commission), if you they’re paying for it out of their own pocket.
Implement Frequent Sales Reporting
A sales manager must clearly view each salesperson's sales funnel. They must monitor lead quality, the progress of each lead, prospect, opportunity through the sales cycle, and new customer satisfaction with their sales professional. The way to do this is with actionable, real-time sales reporting.
A robust CRM will have a good collection of sales dashboards. These provide a real-time, quick visual representation of your most important sales data so your team can make good decisions faster. Dashboards will include the sales metrics your team regularly views during the day or during meetings. Be sure to learn how to create and share a sales dashboard catered to your sales team.
The dashboards also provide links to detailed reports that dig deeper beyond the dashboard's top lines. A sales manager should review the dashboards throughout the day and the information in the underlying reports at least once daily. Key reports are:
- Sales targets & closed opportunities
- Pipeline status
- Calls & emails per sales rep
- Leads by source
- Win/loss rate
- New business vs. upsells
- Sales cycle
- Open opportunities
- Past due opportunities
- Open activities
- Open cases
- Average deal size
- Average profit margin
- Sales by region
- Sales by close date
Practice Sales Pipeline Management
Sales pipeline management maximizes the salesperson's organization and helps them move prospects through the sales process. This is done by tracking and managing every sales opportunity through every stage to a successful close. A rockstar sales manager will consider all the factors that affect sales, learn the ones they can control, and use that knowledge to maximize bottom line sales.
Starting with the prospecting phase of the sales cycle, a sales manager will work with the marketing team to drive quality leads. They will look at their ideal customer profile and their influencers to target them appropriately. Examples include advertising in trade publications, websites, and social media, attending trade shows and industry events, and joining and participating in industry-leading trade groups in person and on LinkedIn.
As a prospect moves through each phase of the sales process, the sales manager will determine strategic steps. They will figure out the resources and procedures needed to drive efficiency. An example in the qualification phase might be hiring a scheduling administrator to call all new leads, rank their quality, and schedule follow-up appointments with the appropriate salesperson.
Once the salesperson has qualified a prospect and gotten the prospect to the proposal phase of the sales pipeline, the sales manager may decide to use a sales operations manager to create the proposal and send it on behalf of the salesperson. This keeps the sales rep on calls with their prospects while someone with a talent for proposal creation does that simultaneously. Then, using a rich-featured CRM, they can send the proposal on the sales rep's behalf.
Benefits of Successful Sales Management
Some may look at the outcome of successful sales management as more bottom-line sales, but we know that its effects reach far beyond just one metric. Successful sales management:
- Rewards hard workers and top-performers. Sales managers recognize their top performers with big commission checks and impressive bonuses. They also get a chance to shower praise, encouragement, and admiration on their team.
- Inspires the sales staff to work harder. True, your team will see hard workers and top-performers and be challenged and encouraged. Be sure your sales staff notices how much work the sales manager(s) put into improving the sales cycle, especially that the quality is going up while difficulties go down.
- It makes it easier to hit sales targets and quotas. Now that the sales team is working harder, sales management helps them work smarter. Streamlining processes, creating tweaks to each phase of the sales cycle, and an atmosphere of continuous improvement drives your sales team to work smarter. This makes it easier to hit sales targets and quotas every month.
- Prepares and grooms future sales leaders. As your company grows, hiring additional salespeople means needing more sales leaders to step into leadership roles as sales managers, trainers, operations managers, and more. The salespeople who come to their managers with good ideas to improve the system, mentor others, take direction and coaching well, and perform well are great candidates for leadership positions in your sales department.
- Improves customer relationships. The most important benefit of sales management is enhancing customer relationships. Each interaction your sales team has with customers builds rapport and deepens the investment they are already making in choosing and supporting your company. Good relationships with customers result in upsells and referrals.
Using Sales Management for Continual Growth
As we've mentioned, sales management is an area for continuous improvement within your company. It is also an opportunity for continual growth. As you onboard, train, mentor, and produce high-performing sales professionals, the net revenue they generate is reinvested into the company's growth and development. Adding new products/services and features and developing and embracing emerging technologies (like mobile apps and social media channels) means growth opportunities for the company.
Sales managers should always try to refine and improve sales workflow and team growth and utilizing established, and new technologies help. Companies in the startup and growth phase of their lifecycle are constantly innovating. This often allows a sales director or VP to evaluate and test new, emerging, or shifting sales management techniques such as sales enablement content, virtual reality training programs, AI-driven sales tools, and big-data-driven sales forecasting.
Sales Management Tools and Resources
The sales manager must also become an expert in using the sales management system to streamline sales operations and processes, build and interpret sales reports, and monitor sales rep performance. They also must be able to interface with the company's marketing team to communicate and build on top-performing lead sources while de-emphasizing poor lead sources.
Often companies will use various tools and resources to manage varying parts of their sales operation and management. They'll use some form of sales management software to track leads, opportunities, and closed sales. They'll use another system to generate contracts and send them to the prospect. It's hard to believe that companies selling the latest high-tech products are tracking their sales figures in Excel or, worse, on paper.
Today, high-powered customer relationship management (CRM) systems automate everything from sales template management, follow ups, making sales calls with predictive dialers, and sending email sequences.
Want to see how the right CRM can help you level up your sales management process? Check out 10-minute on-demand demo, where you will see how technology can help you implement and optimize best practices for your team.