The role of a sales manager is complex and vital to the company it serves. And, while sales managers lead a team of sales professionals, the role differs in many ways from those same positions that the SM may have held earlier in their career.
A gifted salesperson may find themselves in-demand throughout their professional life. Sales skills and experiences are highly transferable across industries and organisations, and you’ll find “sales experience” on many a recruiter’s wish list of desired prerequisites for multiple job openings. But one move that is not always seamless is the one from salesperson to sales manager.
Achieving a management role within a sales organisation can be difficult because the field is narrower, and the qualifications more rarified. Becoming a sales manager requires a blend of leadership and management skills as well as experience and competence as a salesperson.
In this guide, we take a look at what the role of sales manager entails, the credentials needed to secure such a position, the job outlook for sales managers nationwide, and the tech tools that can help sales managers to succeed.
Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in this guide to understanding the role of a sales manager:
1. What Does a Sales Manager Do?
2. A Day in the Life of 3 Sales Managers
3. The Job Outlook for Sales Managers
4. How Much do Sales Managers Earn?
5. Educational & Experience Requirements for Sales Managers
6. 8 Traits & 4 Skills Sales Managers Need
The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which gives job seekers and developing professionals a sense of the experience, education, training and skills required for occupations, as well as a look at the job duties and work environments of those jobs. The OOH defines the position of sales manager as directing organisations’ sales teams by setting sales goals, analysing data and developing training programs for organisations’ sales representatives. The handbook lists a number of duties as generally represented within a sales manager’s position.
Sales managers will frequently be called upon to:
● deal with customer complaints about sales and service;
● set budgets and manage expenditures;
● evaluate customer preferences to properly focus sales efforts;
● analyse sales statistics;
● forecast sales and assess the feasibility of products and services;
● set pricing and plan for any discount cycles;
● develop customer acquisition campaigns, using such techniques as direct sales, cold calling, and in-person business-to-business marketing visits;
● divide up sales territories and create sales quotas for team members, and
● design and coordinate sales training programs for new staff and ongoing development programs for existing staff.
The OOH notes that in larger organisations sales managers may also oversee additional staff units, including regional and local sales managers and their employees. SMs may also be called upon to build and maintain relationships with dealers and distributors related to the products and services that they sell. They are likely to be called upon to collaborate closely with managers in other departments of their own company. Marketing, research and design and warehousing managers are among those coworkers with whom sales managers often need to work.
Sales manager positions differ from industry-to-industry and based on the size of the organisation that they work for. But the SM roles can be broken out into several categories. Business to business sales managers work for an organisation whose target audience is other companies–either businesses that then resell again to other companies or consumers or businesses who are themselves the end users. Their products may include everything from software to wholesale food.
Business to consumer SMs oversee a team of sales employees who are marketing a product directly to individuals. Most of these sales manager positions are located within a retail setting. Their products include automobiles and department-store items.
Regardless of the type of sales that they oversee, and the industry that they work within, the OOH reports that the role of SM comes with a good amount of responsibility, and perhaps a certain degree of stress. A full-time work schedule interspersed with additional evening and weekend hours are expected. And many SMs are required to travel regionally and nationally as a part of their roles.
Kevin Miller is a sales manager at Carolina Material Handling Services in Columbia, South Carolina. He sat down with the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association Journal and walked through what a typical day in his job looks like, at an organisation that sells forklifts.
Miller starts each workday at 5 in the morning and immediately makes himself available to the salespeople and customers who might need him via phone and email. If it’s a Monday, he’ll head into the office and arrive by 6:45 am, and then spend the day on a series of recurring weekly calls that he holds with the salespeople on his team. They review the plans they made on the prior week’s calls, discuss what’s happened since, and go over budgeting and forecasting. He asks each team member to set three goals for the week and how he can help them to achieve those goals. Each of those calls takes about an hour, and then he’s on to checking in with customers. Mondays find Miller headed home around 5:15.
Every other weekday Miller’s out visiting his team members in person. Every two months he plans out the next sixty days of ride-alongs with his employees. Most of the folks who Miller managers are within an hour and a half of his home base, so on days other than Monday he usually leaves the house by 6:00 in the morning and returns about 6:30 p.m. He uses the drive time between his home and the territory he’s visiting that day to make follow-up calls with team members and customers.
Michelle Omokaiye is sales manager of a convenience store in Cary, North Carolina called The Pantry’s Kangaroo Express. Omokaiye shared the story of an average day in her position with Convenience Store News.
She arrives at the store where she serves as sales manager a little before 6 a.m. each morning. Omokaiye spends some time checking out the parking lot, seeing how it survived the night. Next, she heads into the store to see how well the overnight shift, who have about an hour left to go before punching out, prepared the store for the morning rush. The store’s busiest hours come before 8:30 a.m., so Omokaiye goes right to checking the things she knows need to be perfect for that morning rush.
Once the rush is over, she’ll continue to interact with customers and team workers throughout the day. She’ll work on scheduling and also look at product demand. If she notes that customers are looking for a product that the store does not carry, she may spend some time on the phone with the company’s corporate office working outsourcing for that item. Omokaiye’s workday is meant to come to an end around 4 p.m., but she shares that she tends to stick around if her employees need her or if she sees that there’s more that needs to get accomplished.
Emilee Feldman is a sales manager at My MediaBox and works from home. Her days start with getting her two young children out the door to school, and feeding and walking her Schnauzer-Poodle mix puppy. Then she arrives at her office, about ten steps from the kitchen she’s spent most of the morning in.
Feldman begins her professional day by reading and responding to the emails that have come in overnight, and then she builds her to-do list for the day. Next, she’ll tackle the work she’s planned for the day which can include contract and proposal follow-ups and preparing responses to clients’ requests for proposals. Feldman also checks in each morning both with her company’s CEO and its account manager. Then it’s on to customer outreach calls. Since Feldman works with clients in many time zones, she prioritises her European clients in the morning.
She’ll eat lunch at her desk as she gets ready for a series of internal calls in the afternoon to coordinate plans for impending tradeshows and other calls to hear about future improvements in the company’s products. Then, Feldman will spend her afternoon on client calls and doing demos for customers on the West Coast as their workday is beginning.
She usually leaves her desk about 5:30 p.m., but may return later in the night to speak with a client in Asia during their workday. Any nighttime calls are usually finished by 10 p.m.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, there were 385,500 sales manager positions in the U.S. in 2016 (the last year for which data was available). The growth outlook for the role is projected to grow by seven per cent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Of course, the growth in job availability for specific sales manager positions will rise or fall primarily based on the increase or contraction of the industries that employ them. So, sales managers within retail organisations are likely to find a decrease in the availability of positions as companies move to reduce their storefronts.
Every year, the Occupational Employment Statistics program releases employment and wage estimates for over 800 occupations. OES produces job-specific estimates for the nation as a whole, as well as on a state and municipal basis. Nationwide, OES reports that the industries in which salaries are highest for sales managers are:
● securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments,
● oil and gas extraction,l
● legal services,
● scientific research and development services, and
● other information services.
The states where sales managers earn the highest compensation include New York, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and Colorado.
In 2017, the last year for which data was available, the OOH reports that the median annual wage for sales managers was $121,060. That means that, in 2017, half of the sales managers in the United States earned more than $121,060 and half earned less. The lowest 10 per cent of sales managers earned less than $57,590 that year, and the highest 10 per cent earned more than $208,000.
What complicates the comparison of salaries for sales managers is the difference in compensation methods based on the type of organisation and the actual product that it sells. Most sales managers are compensated using a combination of salary and commissions, or a salary-plus-bonuses structure. Commissions reward sales managers with a percentage of each sale made by their team. A bonus rewards a sales manager based on their own performance, or the performance of their team or even the company overall–but may not be explicitly tied to sales numbers alone.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook also offers information about the type of background typically required to ascend to the position. To be hired for a sales manager position a bachelor’s degree is often required, although a high school diploma may serve the educational credentialing requirements for some roles. The OOH shares that coursework in business law, management, economics, accounting, finance, mathematics, marketing and statistics can help to prepare a future sales manager.
In addition to education, the OOH shares that most hiring managers filling sales manager jobs are also looking for candidates who have actual work experience that has prepared them for the role. Generally, candidates with at least 1 to 5 years of experience in sales prior to application are most attractive to employers. Gateway jobs to sales manager positions include work in retail sales, wholesale and manufacturing sale and as purchasing agents. The path to the SM position, however, varies in length depending in part on the size of an organisation. Smaller companies will be limited in the SM roles that they hire for, meaning the trip from being an individual contributor to a manager may be long depending on the rate of turnover at the management level. Larger organisations may offer sales employees a faster transition from sales worker to sales manager.
According to the Forbes Business Development Council–an invitation-only organisation for senior-level sales and business-development executives–there are eight key traits that successful business managers have in common.
3. the ability to forecast,
4. active listening skills,
5. emotional intelligence,
6. the ability to challenge and inspire growth,
7. adaptability, and
8. a great understanding of their team’s core job.
These traits, according to Forbes, make succeeding as a leader much easier. Forbes ranked gravitas–or dignity and seriousness of manner–as the most crucial quality for any manager, not just sale managers, to have. The Occupational Outlook Handbook also weighs in on the types of competencies that employers typically look for when hiring a sales manager. Its list includes the four categories of abilities.
● Analytical Skills: Sales managers are called upon to build effective sales strategies through the collection and interpretation of complex data. Depending on the industry in which the role is based, the data that the sales manager is crunching will differ, and its precise uses will change. But the analytical skills required to use and understand it are consistent.
● Communication Skills: Given their positions at the helm of a team, as well as their required interaction with customers and potential clients, they need to be able to communicate with clarity.
● Customer-Service Skills. Sales managers must train and mentor their direct reports in the art and science of serving customers’ needs. To do so, they need to have developed and tested superior customer service skills of their own.
● Leadership Skills: Successful sales managers inspire and motivate their team members to meet sales goals. They also properly evaluate the abilities and performance of both potential and current employees. To do so, refined leadership skills are required.
The job description of a sales manager is vast and requires an interesting cross-section of skills and talents. The best sales managers understand, however, that those traits will only take them so far if they are not supported by a qualified, engaged and well-managed staff.