What Sales Managers Do
As one of the many unique career opportunities within the sales niche, sales managers are responsible for ensuring sales teams meet their quotas. An effective sales manager does this through monitoring sales reps, guiding them on how to perform better, and incentivizing performance.
Sales managers look for new ways to enhance processes and procedures to improve performance, then implement new practices too. It’s also up to the sales manager to deal with repeated performance issues that aren’t being resolved with coaching. In these cases, the sales manager must know when to let go of non-performing employees for the sake of the company’s bottom line. The career path typically begins with work as an individual contributor sales rep and continues through the VP level and beyond for those who aim for corporate leadership roles. Sales managers move away from managing customer accounts to overseeing team performance of a group of sales reps.
Who would enjoy a career in Sales Management?
As with any career path in sales, individuals must possess a great deal of tenacity and be able to think quickly on their feet. They not only need to understand the product they’re selling incredibly well, but also have a deep understanding of the consumer mindset, their pain points, and how the product benefits them most.
While charisma, negotiation skills, and empathy will go a long way in sales, professionals should understand psychology and marketing, plus be comfortable with various forms of technology, such as CRM and marketing software, and be highly organized. As the career shifts from making sales to overseeing sales teams, leadership, planning, and an analytical mindset will come in handy too. Advanced education is necessary for higher level positions, as understanding business operations as a whole, how departments contribute to company goals, and strategy become increasingly important.
Who mightn't like the career?
Finding avenues that work while facing constant blocks and rejections from prospective customers can be stressful, so the position is not a good fit for someone who lacks perseverance. A good salesman is always refining his skills and trying to find new ways to reach the consumer, and this doesn’t change even after a management position is attained, so it’s also not a good career path for someone who lacks confidence or isn’t committed to continual self-development.
As an individual climbs the career ladder, the job duties change drastically, from the actual selling of the product through leading those who sell. These roles require markedly different skills, so those who do have their sights set on advancement won’t get there by simply being good in their jobs; what make a good sales rep is not all it takes to be a good manager or VP.
Lastly, those who climb the ranks will have to make hard decisions, such as letting non-performing employees go. It can be challenging consistently hitting sales targets, keeping a team motivated and managing low-performers who aren’t hitting their sales goals, so those who can’t separate out the emotion for the betterment of the company will not do well in the upper levels.
Sales reps don’t always have a formal education, though it’s quite common for someone to take a sales rep position after obtaining a degree in sales or marketing. Others may have a degree befitting of the industry they work in. For example, someone in a sales career in the tech industry may have a background in technology, as it would give them a better understanding of the product being sold and/or the customer’s needs. Those who progress up the ladder to sales manager or higher levels typically have degrees, often in business management and administration. For further reading, see: The Career Path of a Sales VP and Interview with a Successful Sales Manager.
Because most people begin this career track as a sales rep, candidates are typically expected to “sell themselves” to the interviewer by making a strong sales pitch as to why they’re the best candidate for the role. It’s also beneficial to research the company and its products, particularly the one(s) which relate to the position in advance. Those applying for upper levels, such as sales manager, will be expected to demonstrate leadership expertise and discuss previous issues one has solved while managing a sales team. For further reading, see: “Sales Manager Interview Questions,” “5 tough sales job interview questions and how to answer them,” and “How to succeed at a sales job interview.”
Moving into Sales Management from another career
Anyone with a comprehensive understanding of the product, sales, and customer service can make the switch, though those with sales leadership experience will have an easier time making the transition. For further reading, see: “Job To Consider For A Second Career,” “Why a Sales Career in Midlife,” “A Career in Sales Management,” and “How to Land a Career-Changing Job in Sales.”
Sales Development Rep (SDR)
Role: Most sales managers begin their careers as sales representatives, typically sales development reps (SDRs) or business development reps (BDRs), to be more specific. The SDR role is different from other sales-related positions because it focuses purely on outbound sales prospecting.
Individuals are still responsible for “selling” their product or service, which may be done through channels like phone, email, and social media, but they’re part of a broader sales team and focus more on bringing leads through the pipeline. In this case, their job is usually to identify the pain points of specific potential customers and explain how their company might be able to address the issues. They use relationship management tools and other forms of software to help track potential leads and keep the lines of communication open.
Leads with potential are then transferred to sales professionals, who are responsible for closing the deal. After demonstrating proficiency in an SDR role, individuals usually have two options; to move into more of a customer retention role, and become account managers or “farmers”, or to stay in direct sales and become account executives or “hunters”.
Role: Account executives are expected to close the deals the SDRs forward to them. They often use the same relationship management tools and software as the sales reps to see where a prospect is within the sales funnel and what types of contact they’ve had with the individual before, but they’ll also perform demos, give presentations, and do other things to show the value of the product or service they’re offering.
Account executives are sometimes given the ability to negotiate special deals for customers in order to increase customer buy-in. Unlike the sales reps who are rewarded based on how many qualified leads they send through the sales pipeline, account executives are rewarded for closing the sale.
Role: While many people remain satisfied in account executive roles because they can be quite lucrative, a manager position is next for those who want to take leadership roles. Account executives can sometimes slide into channel manager positions, in which they’re responsible for specific markets, but most will move into sales manager positions.
Sales managers oversee the account executives and SDRs on their teams, ensuring that both are as productive as possible. The may host educational sessions, perform one-on-one training, create goals, or enhance processes in order to support the team and help make them more effective. They’re also generally responsible for handling disciplinary issues, such as determining when to let go of employees who don’t meet quotas despite additional training.
Payment structure varies from one company to the next, but sales managers are typically rewarded when their teams meet specific goals. It’s quite common for there to be junior and senior-level sales manager positions.
Role: Like the sales manager role, there are typically junior and senior-level directors as well. Individuals typically move into sales director roles after demonstrating their proficiency as leaders and have shown they can cultivate effective sales teams.
Sales directors oversee managers and establish quotas and goals for them to meet. They’ll also generate the overall plans, policies, and procedures for sales teams, using a mixture of best practices and ingenuity. This position also marks the first leap from thinking purely about how an individual team functions to how the sales team supports the company’s overall goals. Directors work with other department heads to maximize the use of each department, create budgets, and talk with the executive team to get approval for expenses and provide information on the results the sales team is generating.
Sales Vice President
Role: Sales Vice President (VP) roles are often broken up into junior and senior levels as well.
The VPs are responsible for all employees in the sales department. Strategy becomes increasing important in this position and the role shifts even more to supporting business goals and ensuring sales teams have what they need to meet all expectations and are held accountable when they don’t. VPs may create employee management programs ranging from training, to reviews, and disciplinary procedures.
Effective VPs are also seen more as mentors, offering the teams guidance and cultivating a positive environment. It’s rare for VPs to have a direct hand in sales, though some will help manage high-profile clients or will perform duties to demonstrate to less tenured employees how jobs should be done. At the VP level, individuals can often be awarded bonuses more based on company or organisational performance than on the performance of the sales department, but each company will have a different structure. For those on the executive track, the positions of Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), followed by Chief Operating Officer (COO) or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are next.
Whilst salespeople often travel frequently, sales managers aren’t required to travel as extensively as their direct-reports do. In saying this, directors and above may visit customers at the locations their company does business at, or is considering expanding into.
As a career, sales management tends to be transferable internationally, particularly for those working in global companies where the product or service being sold is the same or highly similar between countries.
It’s worth noting that the salaries displayed below are averages and the company one works for, as well as the location, will impact pay significantly. For example, individuals working for relatively unknown startups with modest budgets may earn about half the total take-home pay as another might, while a proficient sales professional working for a large established corporation could earn twice the amount outlined.
Sales Development Rep: Data from PayScale indicates that salaries average USD $51,000 in the United States, ₤28,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$40,000 in Canada, and AU$57,000 in Australia.
Account Executive: USD$51,000, £22,000, CAD$50,000, and AU$52,000.
Sales Manager: USD$54,000, £33,000, CAD$65,000, and AU$66,000.
Sales Director: USD$97,000, £62,000, and CAD$91,000, and AU$144,000.
Sales Vice President: USD$133,000, £89,000, and CAD$120,000, and AU$160,000.
Bonuses, profit sharing, and commission are a large part of the take-home pay for someone on the sales manager career track, with these combined typically increasing income by a one-third margin. By the time an individual reaches the sales manager level, it helps push them into the six-figure annual mark.
Why Sales Managers move on
Any type of sales career tends to be high-pressure and high-stress due to the quota requirements. While this alone can cause those in lower-level positions to leave sales entirely, people who enjoy the salary, negotiations, and thrill of a sale will likely remain on the career track as long as they feel their needs are being provided for by senior management and that the goals defined are realistic.
Those who don’t enjoy sales will likely move into another field altogether or choose an area like digital marketing or customer relationship/ account management due to the reduced pressure and lower amounts of outbound marketing. Customer service and marketing jobs may also provide a smooth transition. For further reading, see: “6 Most Common Career Changes for Salespeople,” “How To Shift Away From A Career In Sales,” and “Leaving Sales- Where to Go.”