2 October 2023
By Roger Kennedy
Sales determine most businesses’ success today, making sales managers one the key people moving a company forward. But what do sales managers do, exactly? And what personal qualities and hard skills should they possess to ensure the organization’s success? The exact answer depends on the business specifics, of course. But the logic behind leading a successful sales team remains the same, whether you are selling vacation tours or automotive parts. After all, the key responsibilities, skills, and qualities a sales manager needs to succeed remain the same.
Understanding these qualities will help you find the best sales manager for your company way better than any ready-made list of sales coordinator interview questions (even though those will be useful for later interviewing, too). But before you even invite anyone to an interview, let’s see which tasks sales executives are responsible for, which skills can help them along the way, and which metrics can measure a sales team’s success.
Key responsibilities of sales managers
A sales manager is primarily responsible for leading a sales team, big or small, to achieve specific sales goals. In practice, that usually includes:
- Creating a sales plan
- Evaluating the best way to achieve the sales goals
- Balancing available budget to ensure the highest ROI
- Providing feedback and eliminating any obstacles
- Monitoring and analyzing sales team performance
- Leading customer relations
- Regularly analyzing solutions for measuring success
- Finding ways to attract new clients and retain previous ones
Ensuring all that is a full-time job, even in a small company — often with overtime. So, it takes a specific person to cope with the responsibility successfully.
Soft skills necessary to lead a sales team
Successful sales managers use soft and hard skills to compete in a constantly changing market. While both are important for boosting sales, personal qualities generally take the lead — especially since the market, the competition, and the metrics used to analyze constantly evolve. Here are the most essential qualities a sales manager needs to succeed.
Time management & organization
Even though today’s sales teams heavily rely on software and automation, selling a product or a service is still a creative undertaking. And, like all creative occupations, sales management is not about sitting in an office from nine to five and leaving the work behind at 17:00 sharp. But sales management is not about clocking extra hours either. Usually, the most successful managers are flexible people who can manage their own time and organize other people’s activities when necessary.
Ability to lead and motivate
Successfully organizing other people’s time and coordinating their activities is about leadership and motivation. If sales managers cannot lead, motivate, and inspire others, it’s unlikely that they will be very successful in their work. The company size does not matter here. Even when you have a single sales manager in your company, this person will still have to inspire others to pay for your product or service. And here, the ability to motivate is as vital as it is to encourage other people to search for creative sales solutions.
Setting priorities and delegating
Another critical skill for leading a successful sales team is prioritizing and delegating tasks. Without the art of delegation, it is impossible to keep one’s hand on the company’s sales pulse. Here, people skills also come in handy. It is impossible to properly assign and delegate the necessary tasks without understanding what other salespeople on a team can do.
One more vital skill for a sales manager stems from the qualities already described above. Without the ability to critically (and objectively) evaluate the situation, leading, inspiring, and organizing others would not be possible. Proper task delegation also relies heavily on the ability to think critically. Besides, searching for new and creative ways to highlight a product or service the team is selling is also about critical thinking.
Another essential trait is for leaders of all trades. Problem-solving skills are crucial whenever challenges with the sales cycle occur and when managing any misunderstandings within the team. The same problem-solving skills may work wonders in client communication, so this vital trait also relies on one’s listening and communication ability.
These personal soft skills are essential for sales managers, but are they enough to ensure a successful sales cycle? No, but the remaining hard skills, described in more detail below, are not that hard to master.
What tools can help sales managers succeed?
Personal soft skills are the backbone of every sales manager’s success, so the hard skills necessary for the job generally go down to proficiency with the analytics software that suits the company’s goals. Such software typically includes:
- Customer relationship management (CRM): this is the primary tool for managing customer relations, and there are plenty of examples to choose from depending on the company’s needs. The right choice will generally depend on the company size, but there are other purely technical aspects to consider when choosing the right CRM.
- Tools for growing customer database: CRMs are great for managing existing customers and leads, but where do you get these leads in the first place? Here, searching for the best email finder is a nice start. Professionally made email lookup tools can help build a sales database from ground zero — but only if managers understand who they market to and can segment the amiable into properly targeted categories.
- Analytics software: this is a very vast category of tools and systems that help effectively measure, analyze, and predict future sales. Usually, sales managers will have to rely on a combination of several tools to ensure the success of their teams. The exact choice of software will depend on business specifics, but we will look into the most relevant metrics to be analyzed in the section below.
Important metrics in the sales manager’s armory
The hard and soft skills mentioned above are a sure path to success, but how should sales managers measure this success? Here are the top metrics one needs to determine the efficiency of a sales team:
- Lead response time: even the hot leads can turn cold if their messages are left unanswered for a long time. Everyone on the sales team should have prompt, pre-written answers for anything concerning the products they sell.
- Future sales forecast: one more key metric that can help build future budgets and optimize sales. The predictions are not always 100% perfect, but they should not have a large error margin either.
- Conversion rate: this is the key metric that shows how successful the sales strategy is — the number of leads converted into paying customers. Here, it is important to understand that conversion rates will differ across different channels — for example, email marketing conversions are higher than social media ones. This, however, does not mean that the sales team should focus on email marketing alone — all relevant outreach channels must be covered.
- Lead quality vs. lead quantity: using email lookup tools like SignalHire can help expand the lead database, a major step in any sales campaign. But lead quality alone is of no use if those leads remain cold. That is why sales managers must carefully analyze their lead quality, too — how many of those cold leads are getting warmer? How many are getting cold?
- Upsell vs. cross-sell rate: if you sell just one product type with no variations, there will be no up- or cross-sales to analyze. If, like most teams, you offer different versions and add-ons to the product or service you market, you will have to analyze which of those sales bring you more profit — selling the more expensive version (upsell) or making revenue by providing additional services and products (cross-sell).
That covers the essentials, but of course, the most important quality any sales manager needs, whether in B2B or B2C, is the ability to adapt to change. Responsibilities and metrics keep evolving, to say nothing of the software tools used in successful sales teams. But a flexible mind and strong communication skills, topped with readiness to learn and adjust, never go out of style!