From analyzing market trends and setting revenue objectives to negotiating contracts and fostering productive relationships, sales managers oversee the procedures, policies, and performance of a particular sales department or sales organization. As a leadership position, sales management commonly involves human resources tasks such as the assembly, training, guidance, and motivation of teams, including both sales representatives and support staff.

Below, we examine the range of abilities you need to pursue a career in sales management, as well as the various ways you might acquire or hone those abilities. Beyond helping you evaluate different degree and certification paths, this information could help lead you toward specific sales manager courses that stress the skills you most want to improve.

Master These Essential Sales Manager Skills to Excel in Your Career

Although management positions tend to require many of the same skills, specific skills become especially essential in the more specialized field of sales management. Many of us have a natural understanding of one or more of these areas, but all of us can develop greater insight through targeted training. Read on for a general discussion of the core professional skills every sales manager needs to succeed.

Leadership and Mentorship Skills

As team leaders, sales managers are only as good as the leadership tools they possess. From empowerment to incentivization, different tools will prove practical to sales managers on various teams. However, personalized coaching and mentorship are two areas of focus that every sales manager should prioritize. 

Whether accomplished through informal one-on-one interaction or formal group training sessions, managers who take the time to effectively coach and mentor their teams generally engender higher levels of work quality and productivity. Briefly defined, sales coaching and mentorship involves identifying areas that require improvement and then addressing those areas through training, activities, feedback, and other forms of ongoing support and encouragement.

Strategic Thinking and Planning

Managers will get far professionally with the ability to develop targeted tactics and strategies that meet given goals. Sales managers, in particular, must embrace strategic thinking to detect emerging market trends, prioritize customer needs, and delegate tasks logically. Through focused analysis in these areas and others, a sales manager can create comprehensive sales plans to guide them and their team members to the desired results. A key skill for any sales manager, sales planning involves setting revenue benchmarks, determining target consumers, and developing sales campaigns in alignment with overall objectives and values.

Analytical Abilities and Data Interpretation

Strategic thinking and planning are virtually impossible without the ability to understand information and assess it with specific goals in mind. Therefore, data interpretation and analysis are central areas of concentration for sales managers. Sales managers must be able to identify patterns, calculate probabilities, forecast trends, and translate information into clear courses of action to make effective decisions. 

Organizational Skills for Efficient Management

Whether they are tidying a desk or scheduling an appointment, sales managers must stay well organized to be successful. As a sales manager, you need to juggle numerous different goals, tasks, team members, customers, and prospective deals at the same time. Organizational skills are of paramount importance to prioritize all these responsibilities (and to ensure you don’t lose sight of anything).

Interviewing and Hiring Top Talent

A core component of forming and maintaining effective teams is hiring the right people. While you can learn a great deal about job applicants by reading their resumes and contacting references, the interview process is especially valuable for employing sales managers if they listen closely and actively during it. We will further touch on the importance of active listening when we address communication as a critical soft skill for sales managers.

Forecasting Sales and Setting Targets

From interpretation and analysis to strategy and planning, many of the skills detailed above are crucial if you want to set sales targets that are based on accurate consumer and market predictions. In fact, many sales managers use specialized software to assist with the complex sales forecasting process.

Adaptability in a Dynamic Market

Aside from learning to adapt their leadership styles to meet the situation at hand, sales managers must learn to adjust to notable economic, social, and market factors that are constantly in flux. Whether they are pitching to an unresponsive customer or responding to a supply chain shortage, sales managers must remain flexible in all their daily activities.

Desired Soft Skills in Sales Management

While there is considerable overlap in these categories depending on the specific job description, most skills for sales managers can be considered “hard” (essential and often technical) or “soft” (secondary and often interpersonal). Although they differ from the more complex skills listed above, the following soft skills can be just as critical, if not more so, according to Indeed:

  • Communication – Close and active listening skills are just as essential as speaking skills. 
  • Confidence – Perceptions of confidence and competence are closely related. 
  • Empathy – To work effectively with team members and customers alike, sales managers must be able to share in others’ feelings and appreciate their points of view.

How to Become a Sales Manager

Beyond honing the right set of skills to become a sales manager, you must be able to prove your overall competency to prospective employers. Most sales managers (particularly those with fewer academic or industry credentials) rise to the management level after working a number of years as professional sales representatives. To better chart your path to a rewarding sales manager position, it may be helpful to independently examine educational qualifications, professional experience, and network building.

Meeting the Educational Requirements

For those wanting to enter a sales management position with little professional experience and no influential personal contacts, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a sales focus can open some doors. There are no official degree requirements to obtain a sales manager position, but independent career resource site Zippia reports that 63% of sales managers hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

In addition to completing one or more academic programs at the college level, you can prove your capabilities by acquiring industry certifications such as the Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) and Certified Professional Sales Leader (CPSL) designations of the National Association of Sales Professionals.

Accumulating Relevant Experience

Aspiring sales managers with relatively low levels of education and training will need to demonstrate significant work experience. The standard route to a management position involves taking on leadership roles, exhibiting ambitious capabilities as a sales representative and then advancing within a given company. As you advance, you can further hone both your hard skills and soft skills.

Building a Strong Professional Network

While we all have personal contacts, professional networking includes a strategic component centered on acquiring and developing contacts who can help you gain career information, advice, and leads. Workplaces, schools, and industry organizations are great places to start establishing these connections. As you build a strong professional network, don’t be afraid to ask for referrals to secondary contacts.

The Role of an MBA in Sales Management

Few environments offer more significant opportunities to expand your professional network than a quality MBA program. An MBA with a concentration in sales management can help you hone your strategic vision and goals. Read on for brief explanations of other key MBA benefits:

How an MBA Enhances Leadership Skills

Sales managers with a relevant MBA can lead with the conviction that comes with knowing exactly how sales department operations fit into the larger business puzzle. MBA training can also help sales managers develop strategic growth plans, maximize productivity through efficiency, build a strong company culture, and address business challenges as they arise.

The Impact of an MBA on Strategic Thinking

From managing business change to defining consumer preferences, a good MBA program can help aspiring and existing sales managers develop the strategic thinking skills they need to succeed. It takes effective time and resource strategy to manage both academic and practical progress toward an MBA.

The Importance of an MBA in Analytical Skill Development

MBA students learn to master advanced analytical thinking skills and apply them within a variety of business contexts. To think strategically and lead effectively, sales managers must have the analytical capabilities needed to address complicated problems under highly competitive and constantly changing market conditions.

Using Essential Skills to Overcome Challenges in Sales Management

Now that we have identified and defined essential sales management skills, it should be apparent how sales managers can use them to address specific problems in the professional arena.

Here are just a few examples:

Using Leadership to Motivate the Sales Team

Many different leadership tools can inspire team members to achieve—from setting clear expectations to providing personal support.

Leveraging Strategic Thinking to Stay Ahead of Market Trends

From working within a risk analysis framework to performing risk mitigation and scenario planning, a solid background in strategic thinking is essential for those who want to make the most of current and future opportunities.

Applying Analytical Skills to Improve Sales Performance

Sales managers must develop strong analytical skills to effectively evaluate customer, company, and market data to detect causal relationships and generate valuable insights.

The Potential Career Progression for Sales Managers

As previously noted, there is no single route to a satisfying career in sales management. Your background, preferences, wants, and needs will (or at least should) dictate your chosen way forward.

Below are just a few ways you can further your professional horizons as a sales manager:

Opportunities for Growth Within an Organization

Along with promoting sales reps to management positions, companies often recruit from within their ranks when they need to fill advanced or specialized sales manager roles. Regional sales managers (serving large geographic areas), enterprise sales managers (serving large corporate clients), and e-commerce sales managers (serving online consumers) are just three examples of growth opportunities within the larger field of sales management.

Potential for Diversification Into Other Business Areas

In broad demand to head both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales operations, sales managers work in nearly every business sector around the world. As an established sales manager, you can expand or transition into the industry of your choice and work your way up to senior administration.

The Role of Mentors and Networking in Sales Management Career Growth

You are never too old or too experienced to benefit from a mentor’s advice. In addition to general career guidance, mentors can expose you to different perspectives and hold you accountable for your goal attainment. The value of networking needn’t be explained to any working sales manager; any sales professional who doesn’t emphasize networking won’t likely be a sales professional for long!

Pursuing Higher Education Opportunities

Just as it is never too late to lean on a mentor, it is never too late to further your sales management career with a college degree or advanced certificate in a relevant field.

Additional Careers in Sales Management

Beyond strict sales management, you could expand into a number of related roles as a sales manager. These include account managers (who go beyond mere sales to stress customer relationships) and sales directors (who focus more on strategy and less on operations). Because the fields of sales and marketing constantly overlap and depend on each other, the job title “sales and marketing manager” is becoming more common.

Ready to Develop Your Skills and Become a Sales Manager?

If you are serious about a career in sales management, consider a Master of Business Administration in Sales Management like the one offered at Salem University. To learn more about this fully online MBA option, fill out a short contact form to request more information today.

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