What is Sales Management?

In recent years, Sales Management has changed more rapidly as a practice and profession than ever before.  A lot of this has to do with the rapid disruption in the sales industry and a transition to Inside Sales, which as a model is much more measurable and transaction driven. I thought now would be a good time to redefine what sales management is and the new roles of sales managers.

Things changed for many reasons, some due to the information asymmetry from the days before the Internet, which has transmuted into information parity that is now the prevalent de facto standard, not to mention the fact that the buying cycle is 70% complete (according to Corporate Executive Board) before a buyer even speaks to a sales representative. Additionally, there has been a disruptive change within the Inside Sales model, which is growing 10x faster than traditional field sales as a profession – more and more sales are done over the phone rather than in person. Thus, the practice, approach and science of sales management have fundamentally changed forever.

Defining Management as a Practice

So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.

—Peter Drucker

Management in business is typically defined as both an art and the science of coordinating people and resources to accomplish desired objectives efficiently and effectively. The late management guru and visionary Peter F. Drucker stated in his classic “The Practice of Management” (which created the discipline of modern management practices) that management’s first function is improving economic performance. Management’s second function is to create a productive enterprise through people and resources. Management is a practice, not merely a theoretical discipline or area of study.

So What Does a Manager Do?

The manager is responsible for setting objectives and helping make people more effective than they would be without him or her. While a manager is administering, organizing, directing, controlling, planning, budgeting, coordinating, communicating and motivating, ultimately they are there to make things better than they would be otherwise.

A manager’s primary role is to inspire people to do their best and establish an environment that allows employees to reach their goals. Managers remove obstacles and obtain resources and training that helps their team be more effective.  The best managers don’t tell people how to do things, but act as coaches who guide and encourage people to achieve their goals.

Who is a Sales Manager?

As Chris Lytle says in his book The Accidental Sales Manager: How to Take Control and Lead Your Sales Team to Record Profits: “Your title is a misnomer. You are not managing sales; you are managing the people who make the sales.”

At the executive level, a sales manager is the person responsible for leading and guiding a team of salespeople and is focused on the 5 essential foundations of the role:

  1. People
  2. Planning
  3. Process
  4. Pipeline
  5. Performance (incl. Goals & Analysis)

We will expound on The 5 Essential Foundations of the Sales Manager’s Role in a later blog post.

At a more specific level, a Sales Manager is someone who is responsible for building a high-performance sales organization using a repeatable process that generates predictable revenue. Building a repeatable or formulaic process requires measuring it because, as Peter Drucker put it, if you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it.

What Makes a Good Sales Manager?

Whatever you are, be a good one.
—Abraham Lincoln

Things have really changed for sales management and many of the old management practices generally do not work as effectively in today’s environment. Today, it has been confirmed that the single most important sale management activity that drives sales performance is coaching. Coaching requires the manager to understand each individual rep’s sales metrics in order to help gauge their performance and then improve it.

A good sales manager is a master at “coaching” and has a unique coaching approach for each individual, avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Thus, they are data-driven and run the business by the numbers — they monitor individual sales rep’s KPIs, ultimately looking to achieve the highest performance with each rep.

Good sales managers are analytical and carefully track metrics. One simply can’t set right goals, build a predictable, repeatable and scalable process or manage the sales team efficiently or effectively without looking at real data and measuring performance. A good sales manager generates predictable revenue as a result of coaching based on knowing metrics and improving performance based on this knowledge.