Who We Serve Sales Managers

Description Challenges Best Practices

Sales managers are responsible for overseeing a sales staff, and helping both individuals and the sales group they are responsible for achieve sales targets. We include in this category all levels of management from direct supervisors up to the senior sales officer, who we will consider as part of senior management. The number and titles of those managers will vary, depending on a number of factors (e.g., the size of the organization, the industry, cultural norms, etc.). In some organizations, there may not even be a formal position of sales manager; but the function may be served by business owner, operations manager, etc. As with all simialr distinctions we make, the function is more important to consider than the actual job title.

Sales managers play a complicated role in an organization because they represent both the sales staff and management - two groups who often have very different perspectives. Being an intermediary between those two groups is a key responsibility for sales managers. At times, sales managers must advocate for the needs of the sales staff and defend their performance. They also have to convey to sales staff the goals and demands of management, and translate those directives into specific policies and actions. 

Although specific requirements may vary, there are two tasks that are core to all sales managers - achieving sales targets and providing reliable forecasts, or the metrics for forecasts, to senior management. To do all that, sales managers must:

  • Audit progress in accounts

  • Effectively allocate resources to opportunities, including their own time

  • Help reps understand how, not just what, to do better

  • Get new hires up to quota as soon as possible

  • Get reps to comply with documenation requirements

  • Manage the demands and expectations of sales reps and executive management

  • Lead and motivate their team

To accomplish all of that requires a diverse set of expertise and skills. The following is only a partial list of those skills to illustrate that diversity:

  • Sales managers have to know effective sales practices

  • They have to be able to articulate that information to educate others - typically using a variety of educational practices such as coaching, instructor-led courses, webinars or teleconferences, etc.

  • Sales managers have to manage and motivate both individuals and teams, so must have an understanding of the dynamics of each

  • Managers need analytical skills to generate the required metrics and reports

Few have all that it takes to be a successful sales manager when they are hired into the position. Those skills and expertise are detailed further in the 'Challenges' tab, and how they are developed and maintained in the sales manager development section.  

The role of intermediary - between sales staff and the rest of the enterprise (e.g., management, other departments, etc.) - creates many challenges for sales managers. The challenges arise from the diverse set of skills necessary to be the intermediary and from the competing demands of each of those groups. Select challenges from the intermediary role are discussed below. The second major source of challenges for sales managers is how to manage reps and help reps meet their sales targets - and meet those targets while containing costs. Key challenges that stem from those tasks are also reviewed, with particular emphasis on the one critical skills essesntial to helping reps improve performance that many managers lack. As noted previously, all of that requires a diverse set of skills that need to be developed and maintained. Our approach to that development and maintenance is detailed in the sales manager development section.  

For sales managers, control in making sales targets is complicated by the fact that they have to work through their reps - rarely an easy task. That relationship entails two key elements, managing them and helping them improve their sales performance. With respect to managing, sales reps tend to be strong-willed and independent minded, and usually have a good sized ego. As a group, they can be one of the most difficult to manage. Managing sales reps is often described as being like herding cats. To be effective, sales managers must establish credibility so that they can educate and persuade, but also be willing to exercise discipline when necessary. To make the task even more difficult, the authority of sales managers is frequently undermined by senior management or others - and sometimes by sales managers themselves - to appease top performing sales reps; stemming from the fear of losing the sales rep and the revenue s/he brings in. When faced with situations in which they are undermined, sales managers should take action quickly and decisively to address it and to prevent it from ocurring again. If not, the manager will be effectively lose their power and authority.

Sales reps also tend to be resistent to doing paperwork or other documentation. That presents another key management challenge. Documentation is how a manager gains insight into what is happening in accounts. It is critical that reps comply with documention policies and requirements - and to do so meaningfully and in the spirit of its intention, not just providing the minimal information required to meet the policy. Getting compliance involves designing a system that is easy to use, and implementing some type of incentive system.

Improving sales performance typically has two elements: the ongoing work a sales manager engages in with reps (e.g., call debriefings, account reviews, account planning, joint calls, etc.) and formal development programs that are often activities distinct from day-to-day working of accounts. It is in the former - ongoing sales work - that many managers lack a key skill. The research on experts indicates that there are two types of knowledge: procedural knowledge and declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is being able to do something. Declarative knowledge is being able to describe what you are doing. Those classified or recognized as experts have both. The typical career path to becoming a sales manager is to be promoted from rep because you consistently make or exceed quota - so the person has procedural knowledge. But, they often lack declarative knowledge - which develops out of extensively studying the sales literature and reflecting on their own behavior, being mentored well, or innate abilities which are not common. So the challenge for sales managers is that they know what should be done, and can likely model the behavior; but, they can not explain to the rep how to do it. That often produces frustration in both the manager and the rep. And, it is not likely to improve until the manager develops the language to describe how to execute the behavior. The worst case scenario is the manager repeatedly interjects during sales calls to "get it right" and undermines the authority of the rep in the eyes of the prospect.

With respect to formal development programs, they start with assessing needs and setting goals; culiminating in the establishment of a development plan. Services then need to be provided - through whatever internal or external resources - and the outcome evaluated. All of that requires a broad set of learning and development skills that most managers do not have in full. This is a prime instance in which it is useful for the manager to have additional resources, enablement services, to draw upon for assistance.

Another major source of challenges for sales managers is the previously described role of intermediary between sales staff and the rest of the enterprise. One of the most pervasive challenges in being an intermediary is managing expectations. Those expecations come from many sources and take many forms. Some examples are demands from senior management that close rates be improved, professional services complaining about the over-use or excessive discounting of pre-sales resources, or reps complaining about the quality of leads from marketing and demanding better. Sales managers typically play a key role in any addressing any of those situations. Playing the role of advocate for their team, effectively conveying and supporting changing expectations- especially when they don't agree with the changes - from management, resolving inter-departmental conflicts are all great challenges for sales managers.

The final challenge for sales managers that we will discuss is forecasting. To varying degrees, sales managers are responsible for generating the predictions of what opportunities will close and when - ultimately resulting in revenue projections that affect planning, stock price, etc. Because of their importance, sales forecasts need to be reliable. To be reliable, there needs to be a well-defined sales process, good historical data on sales, and - perhaps most importantly - good data going into the forecasts. The last point takes us back to the issue of documentation compliance by sales reps. We can not over-emphasize the importance of that compliance or the difficulty in achieving it. Down-playing or dismissing the issue of complying in providing good documantation puts the sales manager, and the entire enterprise, at a very significant risk.

Not surprisingly, best practices to address the challenges of sales managers are inter-connected. As previously discussed, achieving documentation compliance by sales reps will help guide efforts to improve sales performance, increase forecasting accuracy, and help resolve some inter-departmental conflicts - to name just a few of the benefits of compliance. Space does not permit a comprehensive elaboration of all the impacts from the following best practices. Contact us to discuss any of them in more detail or how to address a specific challenge you are facing. Given those qualifications, the following are some best practices for sales managers:

  1. Utilize standardized account reviews - based on established and auditable sales milestones - to assess progress and identify areas for development in reps.

  2. Use defined criteria to negotiate for and allocate resources to use in opportunities.

  3. Developing declarative knowledge - the ability to describe how to do things, not just what to do - is critical to helping sales reps improve their sales performance. Best practices to accomplish that include formal education and training to develop the nomenclature, and coaching or mentoring to tie that education to specific behaviors and practices.

  4. Define specific criteria to qualify opportunities based on functional needs, financial requirements, and political dynamics.

  5. Collaborate with reps to develop and implement account-specific competitive strategies in all five areas in which companies compete.

  6. Review with reps the demo and other proof resources available and strategize their relevance and timing for use in accounts.

  7. Collaborate with reps to develop negotiaion concessions and, if needed, practice negotiations with reps

  8. Develop and implement formal incentives for reps to comply with documentation policies.

  9. Be conscious of ways that they can undermine the authority of reps in accounts and actively work to avoid it

  10. Play an active role in the development, implementation, and evaluation of sales rep professional development programs.

  11. Base sales forecasts on the achievement of auditable sales milestones and enterprise (or department, if relevant) historical sales data.

You can also review our model for the development of a sales manager to understand better our approach and strategy in helping managers address the myriad and complex challenges they face.

We provide a comprehensive range of development services to help sales managers improve their performance. We can help with specific development efforts or assist in putting together an overall performance improvement plan. You can learn more about specific services and review our model of the development of a sales manager. To best accomodate your needs, we offer a variety of services. They include:

  • Instructor-led programs

  • Distance-learning programs (Web and telephone)

  • Individual coaching

  • Curriculum development

  • Self-paced workbooks and other instructional materials

  • Job aids and other support tools

  • Process mapping and process refinements

  • Change management

  • Project management




  • "HSG designed and implemented an online ordering and financial system for our client that far exceeded expectations." Jackie Townsend, President

    » Read more
  • "During our merger, Paul's guidance helped us navigate the challenges we faced integrating the two organizations." Jayne Hancock, President

    » Read more
  • "Paul's training, coaching, and tools helped me with specific accounts and grow overall as a sales professional." Rex Klein, Account Executive

    » Read more
  • "Paul's marketing and project management expertise was critical in successfully launching our first Security Summit." Michael Jones, President

    » Read more
  • "Revenue has increasd by 25%. New customers are coming in...We've developed new revenue streams and more are on the way." Steve Wilson, Proprietor

    » Read more
  • "...Paul gave us the crucial information, tools, and coaching to convert more of our enterprise level opportunities into wins..." Eric Albertson, President

    » Read more
  • "Paul helped us move into larger accounts, which resulted in an opening sale of $280,000." Rex Klein, Vice President of Sales

    » Read more
  • "Paul's...program reduced the time my new reps took to reach quota by two months..." John Sedlacek, Vice President of Sales

    » Read more

Tools & Tips

Sell unto others as you would have them sell unto you.

The Golden Rule applies to selling as it does to life.

» Read more

Common practices are not necessarily best practices

Learn what the top sales performers do to increase their win rate and consistently make quota.

» Read more