Sales Management 101 – Essential Skills to Master & Pitfalls to Avoid
If you’ve climbed the ranks in sales and now work in sales management, you know that the price of power is the weight of responsibility. The team depends on your leadership, and the stakes are high.
The art of sales management takes time and experience to master. But with this guide, you will gain a solid head start.
Keep reading for a deep dive on successful sales management, key skills to develop, and major pitfalls to avoid.
What is sales management?
Sales management is the development and oversight of all sales operations. This encompasses defining sales strategy and setting targets and quotas, all the way through closing deals and signing contracts.
Sales operations look different for every company. But when it comes to improving the performance of your sales organization, effective sales management processes are a must.
Wherever your company defines the “beginning” of the sales process, the management of sales is the tactical side of leading the sales team. Developing the strategy, then communicating it effectively to the team, and finally, overseeing that plan are the main objectives of sales management.
Sales management vs. sales leadership
While sales leadership is the umbrella that covers the vision, mindset and overall organizational tactic of the sales department, sales management is specifically the technical and practical side of the sales strategy and its implementation.
According to Inc.com, “the fundamental role of the sales manager is to develop and administer a selling program that effectively contributes to the organization’s goals.”
While the best sales managers are also incredible leaders, sales management requires extra emphasis on practical and concrete management skills.
3 must-have sales management skills
There are endless skills that are helpful for sales management, but these three are absolutely essential for success.
- Strategic – Making data-driven decisions based on carefully calculated metrics is a fundamental skill for projections and setting sales goals.
- Communicative – A comprehensive sales strategy will go nowhere without a manager who knows how to get their team on board. Communicating the plan is just as important as creating it.
- Agile – Although being goal-oriented is a given as a sales manager, being adaptable and flexible is just as important. Metrics often need to be adjusted and goals recalculated to match realistic expectations of the sales team.
The most common sales management pitfalls (and how to avoid them)
If one salesperson is struggling, you need to assess the problem and provide some individualized coaching. But if your whole team is missing the mark, that might be an indication that your current approach to sales management needs some refining.
These are some of the most common sales management mistakes that can undermine your team’s success. Armed with this foresight, you can avoid these pitfalls and guide your department to success.
1. Lack of knowledge about the product
Not all salespeople will easily grasp the technical elements of the products or services they are selling. Without adequate training, sales reps will be unprepared to answer prospects’ questions. In turn, this can negatively impact sales results and undermine your company’s credibility.
How to avoid it:
Ensure that your sales team knows the product or service inside out before they start interacting with prospects. A thorough understanding of the product will help them to sell the benefits and not just the features.
First, capitalize on the expertise already available inside your company. Ask product managers, developers, and senior leaders to host presentations where they can break down exactly what your product or service delivers, and how it works. Videos and digital presentations are easy to digest, especially for young new additions to your team.
Remember, training isn’t just for new hires — senior salespeople should routinely brush up on their knowledge of the product, especially as new updates and features roll out.
2. Poor communication between management and the team
Communication is crucial to a cohesive team and a lack of clear communication has serious ripple effects on sales success. Unfortunately, more than 74% of sales managers admit that they have poor communication skills, according to the Sales Benchmark Index.
Successful sales management demands effective formal and informal communication with the team. First, it’s essential for communicating the sales strategy, goals, quotas, and protocols. Beyond that, communication is the key to effective coaching and performance improvement.
When communication is sub-par, you’ll be able to see the negative consequences.
How to avoid it:
Create and cultivate a culture of communication within your team and with your salespeople. Make sure that there are designated and regular times to check in with each team member to clarify expectations for their individual role and as part of the team.
Maintaining an open line of communication should be a top priority as a sales manager.
You can help ensure your team has access to all of the right information by providing adequate resources to accompany meetings and presentations. Make sure that they can easily access this information afterward.
3. Inadequate onboarding to your CRM
Optimizing the use of your CRM platform is fundamental to the success of your team.
Viewing the entire customer journey, monitoring all of your company’s interactions with a customer, managing the pipeline, and monitoring progress are fundamental sales management practices handled by the CRM.
However, CRM systems are vast warehouses of information, and they can be difficult to navigate. They offer many valuable functions and insights, but that’s only if your sales team knows how to use it. If you don’t provide your team with proper software onboarding, your reps won’t be able to maximize the full breadth of your CRM’s capabilities and will subsequently lose out on key opportunities.
How to avoid it:
Training your team to fully utilize your CRM must be viewed as a continual effort, not a one-and-done event. To get the most out of a CRM, you should use a training solution that is designed to address the full range of functions, as well as the individual user’s needs.
A Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) provides on-demand support and interactive guidance so each sales team member receives the direction that they need to complete any CRM process easily and effectively.
4. Setting inaccurate sales performance metrics
Setting the right sales performance metrics is another fundamental part of sales management. This includes syncing with senior leadership on core business goals, using data to define sales objectives and targets, setting individual quotas, and tracking progress.
Understanding which data to track and how to track it is an essential sales management practice. Without it, you’ll face the chaos of misalignment among your team and a lot of stress over inadequate information.
How to avoid it:
Tracking the right metrics is as much of an art as it is a science.
With so much data at your fingertips, it can be overwhelming to sift through it all and know which information you need to calculate your metrics.
Here are the primary areas to take into account:
- KPIs (revenue brought by new business, existing customers, specific target categories)
- Lead generation (volume, amount of leads to follow and leads to drop)
- Conversions (deals won and deals lost)
- Sales productivity (sales cycle length, point of most lost opportunities, contract values)
- Software & training (amount of sales tools and software, amount of reps using each tool, time spent on training, time spent on troubleshooting, resources spent on onboarding)
Calculating and adjusting the correct metrics depends on both meticulous data analysis and also a smart sales strategy. Accurately monitoring sales metrics will enable you to evaluate your team’s performance, as well as guide decisions for the future.
5. Creating unrealistic targets for sales reps
Sales managers need to really understand how targets and incentives influence motivation and performance.
Your sales reps need ambitious but achievable goals. While it’s good to aim high, setting up your reps to continuously miss their targets will result in a team of unmotivated and disengaged salespeople. Incentives are a great tool for helping reps push past their “comfort zones” and increase performance. But if they can’t realistically win the reward, then the incentive goes to waste and your reps are left even less motivated to succeed.
How to avoid it:
Targets should reflect the key business goals and objectives, but also take into account the strengths of the individual sales reps.
Sometimes these targets will be ambitious and challenging for your reps to achieve. Show them that you see and recognize areas of struggle and offer extra coaching so that they are best positioned to succeed. Offering incentives for improvement in a rep’s weak areas can be very effective.
The Corporate Rebels advocate a newer practice of inviting sales team members to set their own targets and KPIs. They assert that like all sales objectives, the more involved the reps are in the process, the more motivated they will be to deliver.
6. Fear of failure – playing it too safe
Fearing failure is natural, but letting it influence your sales management approach too much will prevent you from taking necessary risks and optimizing your strategy.
Managers often fear failure because their team’s shortcomings reflect poorly on them. Some sales managers would rather avoid failing and instead just play it safe. This is a huge mistake as a sales leader, because the status quo will not get your team (or your company) past mediocrity.
How to avoid it:
The more information that you have, the more confident you will be in your approach. Take advantage of the tools and resources at your disposal to gather data and base your strategy on real numbers.
Besides metrics, read articles, listen to podcasts, and allow yourself to be inspired by corporate leaders that took risks and achieved incredible success. This is more about mindset than anything else. A manager who avoids failure at all costs will inhibit growth and development. Mistakes happen. Learn from them, but don’t strive for perfection because you will not achieve greatness without a certain readiness to fail.
Strike the sales management balance
Sales management requires strategic planning and meticulous execution, but also a particular sales mindset. The perfect blend of technique and knowledge can be developed with the right data and skills. Strike the right balance and you will lead your team to success.