What does a sales manager do? (+7 must-have skills)

Learn the responsibilities and skills needed to succeed as a sales manager.

By Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Published October 4, 2021
Last updated March 12, 2022

During the company’s all-hands meeting, you find out a sales manager role has opened up. As a seasoned sales rep, you naturally get excited—until you realize that you don’t know how to transition from a sales agent to a sales manager. You begin to wonder, Do I have what it takes?

If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone. Ask any sales manager, and they’ll tell you the journey to leading a sales team isn’t easy. You have to take on challenges and consistently learn on the job.

Although the path to sales management may seem daunting, you can succeed in this role with the right attitude and skill set. But first, you need to learn the basics of the job.

What is a sales manager?

A sales manager is someone who leads and supervises sales agents and runs the day-to-day sales operations of a business. They oversee the sales strategy, set sales goals, and track sales performance.

What does a sales manager do?

The specific responsibilities of a sales manager can vary from company to company. But typically, the tasks include sourcing talent, training and coaching agents, setting the sales strategy, and reporting on sales activity.

  • Hire sales team members

    A core responsibility of the sales manager is recruiting sales agents. You’re expected to create a sales agent job description on your own or with the help of HR. You’re also in charge of conducting interviews to find candidates with the right skills for the job.

    As the sales manager, it’s critical to understand what makes a good sales rep. You don’t want to hire someone, only to let them go a few weeks later. Ensure you’re thoughtful and careful throughout the hiring process.

  • Train and mentor sales team

    Sales managers are also in charge of providing their team members with the resources they need to close deals. You coach all agents—both veterans and new hires—on the company’s products or services and sales processes and techniques.

    To keep your team’s sales skills sharp, you’ll need to provide regular training sessions, in-person workshops, conferences, or internal wikis. You’ll also have to schedule 1:1 meetings with agents to gauge their progress, help them through challenges, and improve development areas.

  • Oversee sales strategy

    Sales managers outline the sales processes and best practices for their agents to follow. You set target markets and establish goals and sales quotas for their team. You’ll also map out the customer buying processes and determine the channels the team will use to close deals.

  • Collaborate with other departments

    Sales managers also work closely with other customer-facing departments, such as marketing and customer support, to keep deals moving through the sales pipeline.

    You’ll often collaborate with marketing to create sales enablement material, develop customer personas, and build targeted campaigns. Sales managers also help marketers better understand the customer by sharing their knowledge and giving them access to sales conversations. You’ll communicate customer feedback to the product/engineering team, too, so they can make improvements to the product or service.

What skills do employers look for in sales managers?

Now that you know the basics of the job, it’s important to know what qualities you need to succeed. We asked experts to share the skills employers look for in a sales manager and tips on how to improve them.

  1. Empathy

    To be the best sales manager, you must be empathetic. Empathy allows managers to identify underlying problems their team is facing and see challenging situations from their point of view. This understanding helps sales managers build better relationships with their agents.

    “If you lack empathy, you may apply too much pressure, and this can negatively impact your team—leading to poor performance, unhappy culture, and employee churn,” says Derek Cosgrove, senior account manager and sales team lead at seoplus+.

    According to Julie Thomas, President and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, one way to build empathy is by listening to others intentionally and respectfully. She recommends asking confirming questions such as: “What you’re saying is that to get this done, ____ has to happen; is that right?” Or, “Let me make sure I have that right: You shared that ______, correct?” to ensure you understand the other person’s perspective accurately.

  2. Resilience

    Sales is a high-pressure job, but sales management is even more demanding. You need resilience to lead your teams through the tough times and to motivate them day after day.

    To build resilience, Cosgrove suggests setting a clear vision of where you want to lead your team. This will enable you to “push through the challenges.”

    The American Psychological Association also recommends keeping things in perspective. Try adopting “a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern” instead of giving in to irrational thoughts when facing obstacles.

  3. Servant leadership

    The sales manager exists to serve the customer and the sales team, not the other way around. Embrace this “servant leadership” mentality to make sure your team feels nurtured and appreciated.

    Develop this skill by being helpful and available. Cory Trent, sales manager at ShipMonk, recommends “taking the time to listen to individual needs, questions, and concerns.” You’ll be better able to help agents overcome their challenges.

  4. 7 secrets of sales leadership

    Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

  5. Communication skills

    Being a sales manager means you’ll be communicating with a lot of people: marketing, customer support, management, and your team. Your ability to convey messages clearly and compassionately can’t be understated.

    Learn how to find the appropriate tone of voice for each type of situation. For example, you might use an assertive tone while giving out instructions but a reassuring voice while speaking to a disgruntled customer.

    And as we mentioned earlier, practice active listening. It pays to pay attention to the other person—be it a teammate or a prospect. Wait until someone is done speaking so you don’t talk over them and miss important information.

  6. Problem-solving

    Sales management involves putting out fires that crop up during sales cycles, whether it’s a stalled deal or a disappointed new customer. You have to become skilled in anticipating problems and reacting accordingly and calmly.

    The first step is to remember you aren’t alone—get help from others to resolve complicated issues. It also helps to think outside the box when problem-solving; creativity can do wonders in a tight corner. Use critical thinking to come up with ideas to turn chaos into order.

    Finally, develop a process that helps you determine the best solutions in high-pressure situations so you can make quick, near-accurate decisions.

  7. Motivation

    Sales agents often need an extra push to continue closing deals, especially after facing rejection. A great manager can step in to lift their team’s spirits and get everyone excited to go after their next lead.

    You can share uplifting sales quotes with your team on a hard day to encourage them. Or, take a junior salesperson or two under your wing and have regular sessions to help them through their problems.

  8. Delegation

    Being a sales manager means you wear many hats. But sometimes, you have to take them off and entrust your tasks to members of your sales team.

    Delegation frees up time to concentrate on the most important parts of your job and allows team members to assume more responsibilities and grow their skills.

    This might not come naturally, but it’ll become easier as you build trust in others. Try assigning some extra work to junior sales agents who want to take on more responsibility. Support them and track their progress, but avoid micromanaging.

What does it take to be a good sales manager?

Follow the sales manager tips above to build your skills, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a sales manager. But you might be wondering exactly what steps to take to land the role. Here’s how to become a sales manager:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, public relations, or psychology (or another relevant field).
  • If you don’t have sales experience, work in a sales role for two to five years to build your skills and knowledge.
  • If you already have some experience, consider getting a master’s degree in sales management or business administration. Alternatively, you can get professional certifications to gain more expertise and signal that you’re ready to climb the ladder. Some available courses are:
  • Certified Sales Executive certification

    Challenger Sales & Marketing development program

    Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) certification

  • Make your intentions known to sales leadership. A good manager will help you grow by giving you more responsibilities that will prepare you for the role and advocate for you when new opportunities arise.

From sales rep to sales leader

The fulfillment of being a sales manager makes up for the challenges of the role. Nothing beats the thrill of leading your sales team to meet or exceed their quotas and collaborating with others to grow the business.

Don’t wait for the title of sales manager to start helping your fellow reps succeed, though. Being proactive and helping your team members will get you noticed and fast-track your entry into your dream job.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

Learn more