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What is a Sales Manager?

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Retail manager holding meeting with employees
Jon Riley/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Definition:

The sales manager is the person responsible for leading and guiding a team of salespeople. A sales manager's tasks often include assigning sales territories, setting quotas, mentoring the members of her sales team, assigning sales training, building a sales plan, and hiring and firing salespeople. In large companies, sales quotas and plans are typically established at the executive level and a manager's main responsibility is to see to it that her salespeople meet those quotas.

Some sales managers were managers from other departments who transferred to sales, but the majority are top-tier salespeople who were promoted to a management position. Because these former salespeople have little or no management training or experience, their main challenge is allowing their sales team to do the selling and offering whatever guidance the team members need.

Because a sales manager's compensation is tied to how many sales her team makes, she's highly motivated to get her salespeople producing. This often leads to a scenario where she micromanages her sales team, hanging over their shoulders and constantly asking for updates. It's especially common with former star salespeople, who tend to want to feel in control of every situation – particularly where their own salary is involved. Unfortunately, salespeople don't work well in this kind of environment, and their performance will suffer, leading to a vicious cycle where the sales manager becomes more and more frantic as her team fails to meet their quota. So sales management is a balancing act between providing guidance and direction without taking this to extremes.

Sales managers who are responsible for hiring and firing members of their sales team must learn some human resources skills. If a sales manager doesn't know how to critically review a resume, ask probing questions in the interview, or catch any red flags during the process, she will probably end up hiring salespeople who look good on paper but fail to produce. Firing an employee is never easy, but a sales manager must know when one of her salespeople simply isn't working out – either because he isn't a good fit for the company, or because he isn't a good fit for a sales position at all.

Knowing how to get her team motivated is a critical part of sales management. A smart sales manager has several tools in her arsenal, ranging from silly prizes like paper crowns to major monetary rewards for big producers. She must also know how to motivate a poor producer into getting back on track. And she must recognize when the problem is not a lack of motivation but something more basic, such as the lack of a specific sales skill.

Sales managers must also understand the 'big picture.' In all but the smallest companies, sales managers are usually at the middle management level of responsibility. They supervise a sales team, but are supervised themselves by a higher-level manager, often at the executive level. When a sales manager's team performs well, her supervisor will often give her the credit. But if a sales manager's team fails to meet their quota, that executive will expect her to provide a solution.

A sales manager must have excellent communication skills to succeed. She must be able to understand the sales plan and explain it clearly to her sales teams. She must also be able to understand her salespeople's needs and communicate those needs to the executive level. If a problem such as an unrealistic quota arises, she must be able to go to bat for her salespeople with upper management and get the situation resolved. When her salespeople do well she must show them that their hard work is appreciated, and when they falter she must uncover the reason and fix it.

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