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Your introductory guide to sales management

By: Nicholas Mistretta

The sales management umbrella covers a lot of ground, from planning and strategy to hiring, training, and motivating staff. And since sales are the main driver of revenue for most businesses, you may not find a more important business discipline to any organization looking to grow and become more profitable.

Consider this guide as a high-level primer. Without getting too in-depth in any one area, we’ll be tackling some burning questions you may have, like what is the role of sales management in an organization, who’s in charge of this area, what is the importance of sales management, and what are some of the challenges? But first, let’s define it properly.


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What is sales management?

On a macro level, the concept of sales management includes planning and strategizing, setting sales goals and quotas, forecasting, and the execution of a sales plan. On a micro level, sales management involves the management of a sales staff – hiring salespeople, teaching the sales techniques your organization employs, and finding creative ways to keep your salespeople happy and hungry.

While other areas of business may be viewed as more exciting, like branding and marketing, sales management is critical for success.

Who’s in charge of sales management?

If this were Jeopardy (RIP, Alex Trebek), this question would only be worth a couple of bucks, and you’ve no doubt answered the question before reaching the end of this sentence.

A sales manager is in charge of the sales management process, which can differ slightly depending on your organization’s size, products, team, and resources. But, in general, a sales management process should include:

  1. Sales operations
  2. Sales strategy
  3. Sales analysis

Within these three areas, a few specific job functions of a sales manager include:

  • Coordinating all sales operations
  • Developing a sales team
  • Putting sales techniques into action
  • Reaching or surpassing sales targets
  • Analyzing and reporting on performance

It’s widely accepted that a sales team is only as good as its sales manager. A great sales manager must be many things at one time – an effective leader, a great motivator and communicator, and a supreme judge of character and skills to ensure the hiring process is top-notch.

Hiring alone encompasses many parts. You have to attract the best talent with a persuasive job description and a competitive compensation plan. You have to parse through the dozens or hundreds of applicants to find a few worth interviewing. Then you have to whittle that list down to one or two. You get it wrong, you start over, or worse, suffer through weeks or months of poor performance before finally pulling the plug.

From prospecting to closing, the sales manager is involved in it all, and this includes evaluating performance and finding creative ways to improve. It’s been said that sales is a number’s game. And the way you move those numbers in the right direction is by tinkering and constantly trying to gain a competitive advantage.

And since sales is very much a social science, a great sales manager often must be many things to different members of the sales staff – boss, friend, shrink, and father. Whatever gets the job done.

What is the role of sales management in an organization and sales department?

The purpose of a sales department can best be explained if we look at it in its simplest terms. It begins with lead generation or finding qualified prospects for your organization. Each prospect goes into your company’s sales pipeline. And if successful, someone on your sales team will close the sale.

The role of sales management is to maximize the success of each part of the sales process. This includes:

1. Lead generation

This is perhaps the trendiest of all sales and marketing phrases in the last few years. Somehow, lead gen has become a sort of superpower, and for good reason. It’s also step one in the sales process.

Where does your target audience live and hangout? How best can you reach them? What will motivate and persuade them to act? A good salesperson is skilled at mind control, or at least they think so, but you have to find your prospects before you can sell to them, which means getting answers to these important questions and others.

2. The pipeline journey

What does your sales pipeline look like? How are you getting prospects into your pipeline? Are you incentivizing their entry? How are you communicating with your prospects once they’re inside the pipeline, and what is the frequency of that communication? Are you giving up on them too quickly, or is it the opposite?

Don’t discount the beneficial effects of empathy. A sales manager and team that can think and feel like their prospects is off to a great start. A deep understanding of human psychology and persuasive techniques is next-level, which is why for many sales and marketing professionals, their manual for success is a book on psychology and persuasion, and not on sales.

3. Closing the deal

Is there a finer word than, yes? Not to a sales team. More books have been written on closing deals than algebra (maybe not). If you thought psychology was a key part of the pipeline journey, getting over that final hurdle often entails numerous tricks of the trade, like asking for the sale and shutting up … no matter how long that uncomfortable silence persists.

Sales management is a game of inches and fractions … a number’s game, to use that once more. And those numbers don’t have to move very far to positively affect the bottom line.

What is the importance of sales management?

The answer to that question is either quite simple or very complex, depending on your vantage point. To come up with an answer, let’s first look at the benefits of successful sales management.

Effective sales management has many benefits organization-wide, and these include:

  • Increased productivity per salesperson
  • Less sales staff turnover – more selling, less training
  • Improved sales forecasting
  • Greater customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Increased revenue and profits

The question above is complex because of all of the things that sales management includes. That question is also ridiculously simple, in that sales management affects revenue more directly than anything else when compared to other areas like HR, upper management, shipping, and logistics. Sales management isn’t the be-all end-all, but it’s close.

How has sales management changed over the years?

Imagine a great sales management team in the late 1980s. Did they operate differently than they do now in 2020? How many of those individuals were able to make the transition into the age of tech, and how many got left behind?

Sales management is not a fixed discipline. It’s extremely fluid. Times change, and nowhere is this more representative than the technological advancements we’ve seen over the last couple of decades. We’ve gone from offline and word of mouth to online and social media. Do you think sales management has changed much during this time?

There are also industry-specific changes, no matter the industry. It wasn’t that long ago that families went to Blockbuster Video to rent VHS tapes. Seemingly overnight, not only did VHS tapes become extinct, but so did Blockbuster Video. They failed to adapt. While Netflix changed so completely to become an entirely different company. And a successful one at that.

The difference between stagnation and growth (or total annihilation) is a sales management team that can change with the times and evolve to meet any future challenges that will certainly come.

What are the challenges of sales management?

Nothing affects revenue quite like sales. But like a great piece of machinery, all it takes is one bad gear to throw the whole machine out of whack. The same applies to the sales management process.

A better analogy: What happens when one Christmas light on the tree burns out? None of the other lights work, right? And while sales management effectiveness isn’t that dependent on every moving part of the sales management process, it’s not as far off as you might think.

For instance, let’s say you have a company that makes high-end corporate furniture, such as desks that cost as much as a Hyundai. Let’s also imagine that you’re looking for customers in low-rent office buildings. Does it really matter if your sales staff is the best in the business and trained up on the latest sales techniques?

Every single link in the sales management chain matters and this is perhaps the greatest challenge. For your organization to maximize its success, every part of the sales management process must be successful on its own. All it takes is one burnt out light.

Another challenge is the technology itself. It feels like advancements in this area are moving much faster than they did 30 or 40 years ago. We were in the Commodore 64 era for years before something better came along. And even then, better was only slightly better.

The sales management tools that sales professionals have access to in 2020 would overwhelm a sales staff from the 1980s. These tools are meant to make salespeople more effective and efficient, but are there too many?

Finding and implementing the best sales management tools will always be a challenge, as more apps and software become available every day. Not that long ago, sales staff training was something you did once. These days, training is ongoing and staying current is imperative for success.

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