5 Essential Skills of Exceptional Sales Managers

October 25, 2023
5 Essential Skills of Exceptional Sales Managers

Exceptional sales management is key to an organization’s success—yet the role of a sales manager is one of the most challenging. Leading a sales team has become more difficult due to an evolving business landscape, technological advancements, changing customer expectations, and a host of other factors.

The past few years have seen these challenges intensify as the business environment becomes more complex and dynamic. It’s not that sales managers don’t want to lead effectively. But many simply haven’t gotten the training, support, or knowledge they need to help their team succeed.

World-class front-line managers report an average annual quota attainment of 105% compared to 54% for underperforming sales managers (Harvard Business Review).

Successful sales managers must adapt to changes, continuously improve their skills, and lead their teams effectively to achieve sales goals in this challenging environment. This post offers the five most important sales manager skills needed to overcome obstacles, lead a team effectively, and thrive in any selling environment.

5 Most Important Sales Manager Skills

Skill 1 | People Management

The biggest misconception that many sales managers have, especially if they are new to their role, is that their job is to set sales professionals on the correct path.

Sales managers often believe that since they were successful as a sales professional, the things they did will help everyone become successful. They may think there’s only one right way to succeed at sales.

Instead of collaborating with each team member, they focus on directing their sales professionals what to do. This may lead to an emphasis on what they’re doing wrong, instead of recognizing strengths and skill gaps.

World-class front-line managers have a team effectiveness factor of 81% compared to 55% among underperforming sales managers (Harvard Business Review).

Consistently focusing management attention on negatives can lead to tension between sales managers and their team members or even turnover. This approach is clearly not the most effective way to manage salespeople.

Effective sales management is not a one-way street. Successful sales managers use an adaptive approach to manage their people. An adaptive approach means that instead of prescribing what their team members should do and how to do it, managers vary their recommendations based on each individual’s personality type.

This is a collaborative approach to sales leadership that facilitates communication and feedback, two crucial elements of success for managers.

It is vital that sales managers recognize that what works for one salesperson may not work for everyone. A one-size-fits-all approach to management can cause serious challenges and will lead to frustration for sales managers and sales professionals alike.

Incorporating personal assessments into your sales management strategy gives you access to this information and allows you to tailor your style to match their unique needs.

Skill 2 | Sales Activity Management

The ability to focus on high-gain activities and skills training is crucial for a successful sales manager because it maximizes the efficiency and effectiveness of the sales team. The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, suggests that approximately 80% of outcomes result from 20% of causes.

In the context of sales management, this principle implies that a small portion of activities and efforts often yield the most significant results.

Some examples of activities that fall in the 20% for sales managers include:

Sales Coaching and Training

Providing targeted coaching and training to sales representatives to enhance their selling skills and product knowledge.

Strategic Planning

Developing and fine-tuning sales strategies, setting clear objectives, and identifying key market segments and target accounts.

Sales Lead Qualification

Focusing on lead qualification and ensuring that the sales team spends their time on leads with the highest potential for conversion.

Customer Relationship Management

Building and maintaining relationships with key customers and accounts that contribute significantly to revenue.

Performance Analysis

Regularly analyzing sales performance metrics and identifying areas for improvement, then taking action based on these insights.

Sales Process Optimization

Continuously refining and optimizing the sales process to reduce bottlenecks and improve efficiency.

By focusing on these high-gain activities, sales managers can lead their teams to perform at a high level, achieve sales goals, and ultimately contribute to the organization’s success. It’s about working smarter, not harder, and maximizing the return on investment of time and effort.

Skill 3 | Sales Process Management

Sales process management is a critical skill for sales managers to master because it directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of a sales team.

World-class front-line managers are 67% more likely to closely monitor and enforce their sales process (Harvard Business Review).

Understand the Sales Process

A sales manager should have a deep understanding of the sales process within their organization.

Document the Sales Process

It’s essential to document the sales process, creating a clear and standardized roadmap that sales representatives can follow.

Customize for Your Team

Sales managers should be able to adapt and customize the process to align with specific goals and challenges.

Train and Onboard

Sales managers are responsible for training new hires and ensuring that existing team members are well-versed in the sales process.

Measure Performance

Sales managers need to establish and track key performance metrics related to the sales process.

Manage Pipeline

Effective sales managers focus on pipeline management including the progression of leads and deals through the sales funnel.

Pivot and Adapt

Sales managers should be adaptable and open to making adjustments to the sales process when necessary.

Sales process management is about defining, optimizing, and overseeing the steps involved in selling a product or service. A sales manager who excels in this skill can help their team operate efficiently, increase conversion rates, and achieve sales targets effectively.

Skill 4 | Sales Coaching Management

Sales coaching is the practice of evaluating and instructing sales professionals to improve productivity, reinforce sales skills, and ensure consistent performance and success.

World-class front-line managers focus their sales coaching on improving core performers or the middle 60% of managers (Harvard Business Review).

The core of effective sales coaching is evaluating behavior and providing feedback to improve sales performance. Meeting with each sales team member individually—on a weekly or monthly cadence—is a critical component to motivating sales professionals and keeping them engaged.

5 Sales Coaching Recommendations

Follow these five recommendations to increase the likelihood your team will respond to your assessment and act on feedback in the field.

Anticipate Nerves: You can reduce the stress of being evaluated by reminding your team coaching check-ins are for their individual skills development and training. Communicate that the purpose of your conversation is to help your team members grow and improve their skills.

Structure Feedback: Instead of delivering feedback in a long, unprioritized list, group your observations in three chunks to make them more acceptable and actionable.

  • Keep: Keep the feedback positive by starting out with three examples of things they are doing well and should keep on doing.
  • Stop: Follow with one thing they should stop doing in order to increase their success.
  • Start: End with one thing you recommend they start incorporating into their sales calls.

Focus on Specifics: Focus on the top eight to ten competencies that create the highest gain and score sales people’s performance with a numeric value. This ensures clarity and will help you prioritize skills development and track improvement over time.

Collaborate on the Solution: Your sales professionals will be more willing to change their behavior if they have an active hand in the improvement plan. Make the evaluation a collaborative process by asking questions that get to the root of the issue.

Plan Then Execute: Have your salesperson write out a plan of action after your evaluation and revisit the plan at your one-on-one meetings. Ownership will lead to better execution of the new strategy.

World-class front-line managers coach each team member 3-5 hours per month (Gartner).

Skill 5 | Technology Management

Technology management is an increasingly important sales manager skill due to the profound impact that sales tools and software have on modern sales operations. Familiarity with sales tech is crucial.

Sales managers should know how to leverage Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, sales automation software, and analytics tools to streamline and optimize the sales process.

Here are several key technology management skills for sales managers:

Integrate Sales Tools: Sales technologies can significantly improve the efficiency and productivity of sales teams. Ensure that these technologies are effectively integrated into the sales process to streamline tasks, reduce manual data entry, and free up more time for actual selling activities.

Take Advantage of Data-Driven Insights: Technology provides access to vast amounts of data related to customer behavior, sales performance, and market trends. Sales managers must be proficient in using analytics tools to derive meaningful insights from this data.

Leverage AI and Predictive Analytics: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have revolutionized sales by enabling predictive analytics. Sales managers should understand how AI can be applied to lead to better sales outcomes.

Make Full Use of Your CRM: Sales managers should not only be skilled in using CRMs but also in configuring them to align with the specific needs of their team and organization.

Connect Communication Tools: Sales managers need to ensure that these tools are integrated seamlessly with other sales technologies, allowing for smooth and efficient communication with prospects and customers.

Train and Foster Adoption: Sales managers play a pivotal role in ensuring that their sales team is proficient in using technology tools. This includes providing training, ongoing support, and encouraging adoption to maximize the benefits of these tools.

In today’s digital age, technology management is integral to optimizing sales processes, improving customer interactions, and achieving sales targets. Sales managers who master this skill can lead their teams to adapt and thrive in a rapidly evolving sales landscape.

Improve Your Skills with our Sales Manager Training Program

Exceptional sales management is key to an organization’s success—yet the role of a sales manager is one of the most challenging.

Our Sales Leadership Accelerator training program will give you the critical sales management skills you need to succeed in your role.

Contact us at The Brooks Group to level-up your sales management skills.

Learn More

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Written By

The Brooks Group

The Brooks Group teaches straightforward, actionable sales training skills to sales managers and their teams. Our IMPACT Selling® Sales Training Program has been taught to over one million sales professionals nation-wide, and we've been recognized as one of the top sales training companies annually since 2010. We also provide various behavioral and selling assessments to aide sales managers making hiring or management decisions.
The Brooks Group teaches straightforward, actionable sales training skills to sales managers and their teams. Our IMPACT Selling® Sales Training Program has been taught to over one million sales professionals nation-wide, and we've been recognized as one of the top sales training companies annually since 2010. We also provide various behavioral and selling assessments to aide sales managers making hiring or management decisions.

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