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What does a sales manager do? Complete career guide to skills, responsibilities, and success

A sales manager leads and supervises sales agents and runs the daily sales operations of a business. See the responsibilities and skills needed to succeed as a sales manager.

Af Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Senest opdateret June 15, 2023

The career path of a sales manager isn’t always linear—there are often twists, turns, and adventures along the way. But there are common checkpoints to reach while working toward your goal, like earning your degree and learning the ropes in an internship or entry-level position.

Our guide shows you what it takes to become a sales manager, describes the responsibilities of the role, and provides tips to help you stay on track. Whether you’re already in a sales position and looking to level up into sales management or a natural leader wanting to learn the basics, our guide can be a valuable asset as you embark on your sales manager journey.

What is a sales manager?

Sales manager, writing in notepad

A sales manager leads and supervises sales teams and oversees the day-to-day sales operations of a business. This person has a robust set of responsibilities, including developing the company’s sales strategy, setting sales goals, and tracking sales performance analytics.

What does a sales manager do? Top 5 responsibilities

A sales manager’s responsibilities vary by company and industry. However, most sales manager job descriptions share several common elements.

Sales manager, writing in notepad

When you secure a sales manager role, these five responsibilities are typically included in your job expectations.

Sales management skills employers look for

What skills do employers look for in sales managers?, circle of colored pencils

For sales managers to thrive in their roles, they need to possess a mix of hard and soft skills.

  • Hard skills are technical abilities you can quantify—like writing HTML or typing speed.
  • Soft skills are interpersonal characteristics or traits that you can’t necessarily measure—such as organizational skills or adaptability.

It’s important to know which sales manager skills employers look for—it allows you to improve on the talents you already possess or start developing the ones you need. Here’s a rundown of the top traits and sales skills employers want in a sales manager.

Top hard skills for sales managers

Focusing on certain hard skills allows you to position yourself for success as a sales manager. Understanding these skills and their importance can also help you know what to look for when finding talent for your sales team.

  • Sales forecasting skills

  • Product knowledge

  • Recruiting and hiring top talent

  • Leadership skills

  • Data analysis

  • Strategic thinking

  • Team management

  • Sales CRM knowledge and experience

Desired soft skills in sales management

Soft skills can be just as valuable as quantifiable skills—and in some situations, even more so. These sales management skills can help you connect with customers and teammates, enabling you to build stronger relationships and enhance the effectiveness of your hard skills.

  • Empathy

  • Resilience

  • Communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Motivation

  • Delegation

  • Active listening

Prepare for your sales interview

Want the answers to the test? Our comprehensive list of common sales interview questions will prepare you with the information you need to ace the interview.

How to become a sales manager

The road to becoming a sales manager will be slightly different for everyone, but generally, you’ll need to acquire relevant degrees and certifications, gain experience working as a salesperson, meet sales goals, develop your skills, and build your network.

How to become a sales manager

For those starting from scratch, follow these five tips to make your dream of becoming a sales manager a reality.

1. Satisfy the sales manager education requirements

Fulfilling the sales management education requirements is a common place to start. Although it’s possible to have a successful sales manager career without getting a college degree, the skills and years of experience you gain in the classroom are extremely valuable. A degree provides tangible proof of your training and can give you an advantage over candidates who took an alternate path. Plus, it looks great on your resume.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical education level of a sales manager is a bachelor’s degree—majors in management, marketing, math, finance, accounting, statistics, business law, and economics are most helpful. You can level up further by pursuing a master’s degree in sales management or business administration.

If you already have some sales experience and want to skip the advanced degree, you can get professional certifications to gain more expertise. This may signal that you’re ready to climb the ladder. Some available courses include:

2. Learn and develop sales manager skills

Becoming a successful sales manager goes beyond learning how to be a great salesperson. In addition to ensuring sales teams hit their sales targets, you must be a team motivator, strategist, leader, and mentor. Mastering the hard and soft skills that help you excel in sales will be invaluable throughout your career.

While working as a sales rep, make your intentions known to your mentor or sales leadership. A good boss will help you grow by giving you more responsibilities to prepare you for the sales manager role. They’ll also advocate for you when new opportunities open up.

Learning from those above you doesn’t stop when you move into a management position. Chalene Christian, manager of mid-market sales at Zendesk, believes mentors are crucial.

“I think the most important part [of growing as a sales manager] is to have a good manager and mentor who can guide you through the difficult conversations and situations that arise,” she says.

3. Gain relevant experience

Higher education can provide targeted knowledge for sales management, but that doesn’t have to be the path you take. You can work in a sales role for two to five years to get sales experience and build your skills and expertise.

If you’re working through college or climbing the corporate ladder from the ground up, it’s a great idea to apply for an entry-level sales rep position to gain on-the-job experience. Short-term roles like internships can also give you valuable experience that stands out on your sales resume.

4. Meet your sales goals

Being a high performer by consistently meeting or exceeding your sales goals is a surefire way to get noticed by your superiors. Set challenging but achievable sales quotas and communicate your progress to your manager or mentor. Be transparent and proactive with your manager to stay on track. Take the lead on projects and demonstrate the skills and ability to handle more responsibilities.

5. Network with sales professionals

Who you know can be just as important as what you know. It’s crucial to connect with other people in your industry so that when opportunities arise, your resume lands near the top of the pile.

Reach out to sales professionals on LinkedIn and engage with relevant posts regularly. Participate in business networking groups and meetups, and try to form meaningful connections.

How much does a sales manager make?

The median sales manager salary in the U.S. is $115,445 per year, with the range falling between $69,000 and $198,000. The average base salary for corporate sales managers varies based on several factors:

  • Experience and skills

  • Credentials

  • Location and cost of living

  • Business size and type

It’s also important to note that many managers aren’t actively making sales, so their salaries may not be supplemented by sales commissions. Some may receive bonuses depending on the sales growth rate of their team, while other companies could offer unique manager sales incentives.

What are the 5 types of sales management jobs?

Sales management jobs are projected to grow by five percent from 2021 to 2031, with an average of 41,900 available positions annually. With countless rungs on the corporate ladder and several leadership roles available across the landscape of sales management, finding your perfect fit is achievable. Here are five common types of sales management positions you can expect to see in all industries.

1. Account manager

Job overview: Account managers work directly with customers to address their business needs and build deeper relationships. They also collaborate with sales teams—like specialty sellers or sales engineers—and customer service teams to identify sales opportunities.

Roles and responsibilities: Monitor sales and sales goals, create sales reports, execute sales strategies, and manage customer relationships.

2. Sales and marketing manager

Job overview: This position oversees sales and marketing activities and is responsible for managing sales and marketing teams. Related roles include inside sales managers (who manage reps working in an office), outside sales managers (who manage field agents), product sales managers (who monitor the performance of a specific product), and more.

Roles and responsibilities: Research and implement sales and marketing opportunities, manage sales teams, oversee and meet sales targets, and train and mentor sales reps.

3. Sales support manager

Job overview: This person monitors and manages operations, sales management objectives, and processes that help support sales teams. They also oversee resource allocation and promotional strategies and develop commission programs.

Roles and responsibilities: Establish best practices, aggregate content for sales campaigns and workflows, create and update sales training materials, and track sales analytics for actionable insights.

4. Regional sales manager

Job overview: This person manages sales teams across several territories and regions. Additionally, regional sales managers oversee the budget and finances of the sales department and report to the sales director.

Roles and responsibilities: Create and implement sales plans, manage sales performance, perform regional sales forecasting, and achieve sales goals.

5. Sales director

Job overview: A sales director oversees sales operations and revenue growth across the business. Sales directors are talented salespeople and experts in managing company-wide sales teams.

Roles and responsibilities: Compile and analyze sales reports, develop sales strategies, ensure the business hits annual sales targets, and build relationships with sales team members and customers.

What is a typical sales manager work environment?

The sales industry is fast-paced, challenging, and exhilarating—for sales managers, these attributes are amplified. Taking on responsibility for a sales team means managers must be able to navigate multiple personalities and hundreds of deals while staying cool, calm, and collected.

The sales manager role is typically a full-time position, with some companies requiring work on evenings or weekends. Travel is often required, especially for field reps and regional sales managers. This includes customer meetings as well as conferences and training.

According to the U.S. News best jobs rankings, sales managers scored an overall job rating of 6.1 out of 10. They were ranked #2 in Best Sales and Marketing Jobs, #19 in Best-Paying Jobs, and #53 in Overall Best 100 Jobs. They also earned the following ratings for specific attributes:

  • Upward mobility(opportunities for advancement): Average
  • Stress level (combination of work environment and responsibilities): High
  • Flexibility (ability to move work schedule for life events): Below average

Sales managers may tell you that maintaining their work-life balance is tough, but the right candidate will feel that the invigorating environment and salary make the trade-off worth it.

From sales rep to sales leader

For the right person, the fulfillment of being a sales manager can often be worth managing the role’s challenges. It’s hard to beat the thrill of leading your sales team to meet or exceed their quotas and collaborating with others to grow the business.

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

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