Sales Management: What is it? How to nail it?

All you need to know to master sales management

Are you ready to turn sales from an art into a science?

Sales management is the practice of effectively bringing order in an inherently messy and deeply human profession: sales.

But why should we care? Can’t we just keep our sales jobs super spontaneous and fun?

Nobody said that you can’t keep sales fun while bringing good sales management to your company, but it certainly is a requirement if you want to scale your sales and your business.

In this guide we’ll quickly cover the following questions for you:

In case you only want to read up on a specific topic, you can click to the appropriate section above.

Ready to get the full briefing in under 10 minutes? Without further ado, let’s dive in. 👇


Definition of sales management: what is it?

Sales management is the practice of creating a successful sales team by continuously building that team, setting out strategies for it, tracking its results, adjusting its processes and coaching its members to consistently hit your business’ sales targets.

Splitting it up, this means that sales management generally covers three areas:

  • People management: building, coaching and retaining the sales team
  • Leadership: develop effective sales processes & sales strategies
  • Sales data analysis: track, report and adjust

If you effectively take control in these three areas, it will make sales more predictable for your business. No more accidental wins. You’ll have a solid and successful business.

Sounds good? Let’s explore what this means day to day and what concrete steps you can take.

Photographer: Campaign Creators

Functions and responsibilities of a sales manager

What does a sales manager need to do on a day-to-day basis to ensure the success of his sales team?

Well, here’s the different sales management responsibilities you need to pick up.

 

1. Recruiting, compensating, retaining and evaluating a sales team

Sales is human interaction. And no sales greatness is achieved without a solid sales team.

This means you need to:

  • Bring great players on the sales team
  • Motivate them to perform with the right sales compensation
  • Keep them in the team
  • Evaluate their performance and take measures

 

2. Planning & directing

Even a great team can not perform if they are not giving a strategy, a plan or a direction.

Your job is to decide what areas to focus on, how to go about it, when, etc.

This includes:

  • Setting targets (more on that later)
  • Defining lead generation tactics (more on that later too)
  • Assigning reps to different geographic areas, sectors, accounts, …
  • Refining the sales process
  • Any other help your reps require

Take charge, provide guidance and make sure everyone is looking in the same direction.

 

3. Coaching sales reps

There’s higher level guidance, and then there’s coaching sales reps to improve their daily practice.

Depending on whether you do inside sales or field sales, this will mean you’ll have to listen into sales conversations on the phone (either live or recorded) or join them on the road to take part in meetings. Based on this you can help them with how to approach sales conversations and be more effective. This practice is called “shadowing”.

It can also involve coaching them on how to write more effective emails, how to write better proposals, how to negotiate better deals, etc.

 

4. Aligning and working with other departments

Your sales team is probably not alone in the company. And as you serve the customers, you need to interface with most of the other departments to do this better: marketing, finance, product, …

Your job is to represent your team as well as possible. It is to make sure that you work well together with the other teams and that information is exchanged as easily as possible, but also to give your team the necessary space and protection to do their job as well as possible.

 

5. Reporting & analysis

Last but not least: you need to be on top of the numbers. Know exactly where you are versus targets, how well your team is performing, and where you can adjust or refocus to increase sales.

This of course means you’ll need to have all the data to support this, which is exactly the first thing to implement when building a strong sales management system:


Sales management system: processes & strategies to make those numbers

Now that we know what sales management means and what your responsibilities as a sales manager are, let’s look at some processes and strategies you can implement to be successful at it.

 

1. Gather all the necessary data to stay organized and test strategies

If you don’t know what’s happening, it’s very hard to properly take up most of your tasks. That’s why gathering data is one of the key steps you should take.

Ideally, you should have data on:

  • What companies your sales reps are in touch with, what the status of each is and how each conversation is progressing
  • How many opportunities you have in the sales pipeline, in what stage, of what value, for how long, etc.
  • How active your sales team is and through which channels
  • How many deals you’re winning and how many new opportunities you’re adding to your pipeline
  • Where leads come from and why opportunities are generally lost
  • Which companies bring you most revenue
  • Which opportunities are slipping

A good sales CRM can offer you that information in its dashboards.

If you’re using Salesflare, you have a Revenue dashboard:

As a sales manager, it's important to keep an eye on your revenue metrics.
Track your revenue metrics: from the deal flow, over revenue forecasts, to your top lead sources & lost reasons.

And there’s a Team dashboard:

Keep an eye on your sales team metrics to manage it well.
Keep an eye on your team metrics. Know how active they are, how they are progressing to their targets and what opportunities are slipping.

Of course, you need to gather the data first, and most CRMs require your sales reps to input the data manually. This requires a huge amount of time, energy and discipline.

That’s actually why we created Salesflare: to automate that data input and easily provide you with all the data you need, without stressing out your sales team. But more on that on our website.

 

2. Provide continuous feedback to your sales team

Data is no good if you keep staring at it and don’t put it to use.

Use it to track exactly how your team is doing. Figure out how they can improve. And then, by all means, talk to them about it.

Create strong feedback loops to keep your sales reps sharp and ever improving. Make sure they know how they are doing and what the main points are they can work on to be more successful.

Don’t forget to put positive feedback loops in place as well. You can for instance hook up your CRM to Slack to communicate and celebrate wins. This can both bring a great atmosphere to your team and spur their competitive drive.

 

3. Guarantee a good lead inflow into the sales pipeline

Without a good inflow of leads, your sales team’s performance can quickly drop to near zero.

If your sales reps are both responsible for creating new leads and for closing them, you’ll find that the team will naturally start working in cycles: first they have a lot of leads in the pipeline and they’re only working on closing them, then they run out of leads and start filling the pipeline again, after which the cycle restarts. This creates a lot of instability in the way your sales team functions.

To build a sales organization that runs like a clock, it’s best to take responsibility over this area as the sales manager.

Either you work together with the marketing team to provide these leads, or – as one of the books in our below selection, Predictable Revenue, prescribes – you can divide the tasks of creating and closing leads in two different roles.

 

4. Hire and retain a stellar team

This one might seem obvious and we’ve touched upon it above, but we need to stress it again: building the best sales team is key.

It’s also more difficult than it might seem, because:

  • Great sales people aren’t easy to find; and if you find them, they’re pretty good at selling themselves to other employers too.
  • They’re also generally not that easy to retain, so you’ll need to go out of your way for this.
  • If you make the wrong hiring decisions, you can’t keep up with bad hires forever. And firing people is notoriously hard to do.
  • Even if you have the right people on board, they might lack motivation, direction, … or anything else that prevents them from being successful.

We therefore recommend that you spend at least one third of your time working on building your team and its capacities.

 

5. Set goals, forecast and track

Much easier to implement and key to any great sales organization: goals to work towards.

The most essential target metric is a yearly sales target per sales rep. That way every sales rep knows exactly what they need to work towards and when they are deemed successful.

Whether you buy into the philosophy of setting lower, more attainable goals to boost the confidence or your sales reps (which you gradually increase), or into the philosophy of setting big hairy audacious goals to push them to new heights, you need to set the bar.

After you’ve defined the targets, set them in your CRM and track them in dashboards that are internally visible to everyone in the sales team, so they can all clearly see where they’re at.

It should be visualized on the individual level:

Manage every sales rep individually on their progress vs quota.
Individual targets visualized in Salesflare.

And on the team level as well (with all targets summed towards one team target):

Keep track of the overall revenue goals to be an effective sales manager.
The team target visualized in Salesflare, showing how much is won and how much can still be expected to be won based on what’s in the pipeline.

To zoom in on the progress towards these goals, a good sales manager will usually plan weekly or biweekly meetings with his individual sales reps to run through their opportunity pipelines. At this moment, you can decide together with the rep what deals to focus on and what next steps to take.

Such sales pipeline would typically be visualized as a drag-and-drop Kanban board in your CRM.

Keep sales management overview with a sales pipeline.
The drag-and-drop sales pipeline in Salesflare.

Software tools for sales management: CRM and beyond

While data is critical to many responsibilities of a sales, in these days, luckily a lot of new software tools pop up to help sales managers with tracking that data better and more easily.

Central to all this is the CRM, but it’s definitely not all there is to help you.

 

1. Choose a Sales CRM

While there are many categories of CRMs out there, a dedicated sales CRM will make your life easier.

A good sales CRM provides the sales reps with a practical tool to organize their sales (while an enterprise CRM is more focused on providing value to management), which means that they will be more prone to use it and you will have the data you need.

When choosing the right one, we suggest selecting based on these criteria:

  • User experience: Again, if your sales reps don’t use the CRM, you can as well not have one.
  • Mobile accessibility: If you want them to really use the CRM, you can’t keep them chained to a computer.
  • Automation capabilities: Automation can boost sales productivity, but also bring you more data with less work.
  • Pricing: What do you pay for all this value?
  • Support: Can you expect help when you’re in trouble?

To save you some time, we’ve compared the most popular CRM options for you here.

Spoiler: these are the criteria we genuinely believe are most important, so you will quite objectively find that, when it comes to these criteria, Salesflare beats the other ones out of the water. This is especially the case when it comes to automating data input for your sales reps, which will eventually make sure you have all the data you need.

 

2. Coach reps with call tracking software

To make the job of “shadowing” your sales people’s phone conversations more easily at scale, in recent years software companies have been founded like Refract.ai and Gong.io.

The software will record and analyze sales conversations and provide you with some handy insights, like what your top performers do in conversations that makes them successful. It will also give you recommendations on how individual reps can become better at their conversations.

While these platforms are definitely pricey, it becomes interesting to look at them as soon as you scale your team to around 5 inside sales people or beyond.

 

3. Spread and track the use of sales material

If you have a big sales team and you don’t know:

  • Whether your sales reps carry and use the latest material
  • How they are using this material with customers

Then you might want to look at sales enablement software like Showpad or Clearslide.

It will not only help you solve these issues, but for instance also assist your reps with finding the right material for the right customer at the right time.

Again, this is also mostly meant for bigger companies. If you’re small and lean, you probably won’t need this and won’t want to put down the money.

 

4. Complement this with many other sales tools

There are many other tools out there that can bring you increased sales productivity.

That’s why we compiled a list of the top sales tools you can look at.

If you’re using Salesflare already or would be looking to use it as your CRM, check out some of our integrations with other tools here. You can connect Salesflare with 1500+ other tools using Zapier, Integromat or PieSync.


Sales management books: the best 5 resources (and a bonus)

We’re not leaving you without some of our personal recommendations for further learning material. Below are 5 of the best sales management books you can read, plus some amazing podcasts.

If you’re into sales books in general, check out our selection of the best sales books as well.

 

Sales Management. Simplified.: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team, by Mike Weinberg

Mike Weinberg believes that managing sales teams doesn’t have to be complicated. In this book he highlights what to do and what not to do to be a great sales manager. It’s an honest read full of practical tips and can be easily read in a few takes.

 

Sales Manager Survival Guide: Lessons From Sales’ Front Lines, by David Brock

If you’re looking for a slightly meatier book, endorsed by the author of the previous book, this book by David Brock might be what you’re looking for. It’s a full guide to front line sales management, that covers many of the points we’ve touched above in a lot more detail. If you’re looking for a sales manager handbook, grab this one.

 

Predictable Revenue, by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler

Aaron Ross, previously a guest on our Founder Coffee podcast, explains how to build a modern sales organization, just like the one he helped building out at Salesforce. His main premise: separate your sales team into different roles. But that’s not all he discusses in the book. If you’re looking to improve your team’s sales processes, we recommend you read Predictable Revenue.

 

Coaching Salespeople Into Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives, by Keith Rosen

Want to improve your sales coaching skills? Keith Rosen’s book covers exactly that topic, with a lot of detail. It might not be the most exciting book to read, but it’s an absolute must read for sales managers (and maybe even managers in general).

 

Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance, by Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana

Finally, this book is all about sales metrics. A highly detailed book, that might get a bit repetitive towards the end. Nevertheless, pick it up, read the first part, and start measuring and managing your sales performance like never before.

 

Bonus: Prefer listening? Here’s some great podcasts.

Spending some time on the go? You probably are. So why don’t you listen to some podcasts and keep your brain moving.

We’ve listed all the best sales podcasts for you.


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Jeroen Corthout

Co-Founder at Salesflare
I'm Co-Founder of Salesflare, the simply powerful CRM for small businesses. I love growth, automating sales, and building beautiful products.

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