8 Skills You’ll Need to Become a Sales Manager

It doesn’t matter if you’re a fresh-faced SDR, or a Senior AE — moving into sales management is one of the most common topics salespeople talk about. But talk is cheap, and it doesn’t take you any closer to your goal: advancing into the manager role. 

That’s why to avoid becoming stagnant, it’s important to keep your goals in mind and make a concerted effort to move upward on the career ladder at your organization. One tool that can help you is a vision board; your company’s career ladder is another to help you measure and reach objective qualifiers that show you’re ready. 

But a career ladder doesn’t always define the specific skills that you’ll need if and when you become a sales manager. While the nitty-gritty tasks that are specific to your organization may vary, there are a few that are standard across the board. 

The exact definition of “sales manager” can vary between organizations, but the essence of one’s responsibilities boils down to this: building, leading, and managing a team of salespeople. With these three things, your brain is probably already spinning up ideas of what skills are going to be needed — that’s good. Stick with it and read on.  

8 skills you’ll need

1) Leadership

Just holding a title doesn’t make you a leader. It’s a skill that needs to be exercised and developed. True leadership involves being able to empower, motivate, and manage your sales team

You’ll need to take initiative to do these things on a regular basis. It’ll be your job to do everything you can to make every member of your team successful. You can easily start practicing this in your current role. 

Mentor less-senior reps that need support or guidance. Try out new ideas that will generate positive change, instead of waiting for ideas to come down from the top. There are a few other things you can work on, too:

  • Self-esteem — make others feel important.
  • Become a good listener
  • Get better at planning

2) Management

No, managing is not the same as leadership. While related — as all the skills in this list are — management focuses on oversight and accountability. You need to be able to manage the day-to-day sales operations: function, team, ensuring metrics are met and KPIs improved. It also includes the soft skills of leadership. 

To improve your managing skill, practice those same soft skills mentioned in the last section. Alongside that, focus on a few other areas

  1. Get more organized
    1. Prepare your schedule
    2. Set and keep deadlines
    3. Beware of the “make up for it later” bargaining
  2. Get better at planning. Make goals: 
    1. Specific
    2. Achievable
    3. Time-sensitive 
  3. Stay ahead of the game
    1. Do market research
    2. Ask questions
    3. Observe others to determine their talents

3) Interpersonal + communication

The bulk of your time as a sales manager will be spent meeting with, talking to, and actively solving problems with team members. So you need to be able to work well and collaborate with others. 

Studies have shown that people doing the talking to a group typically overestimate how much of what they say is actually sinking in with their audience. Making it worse, the better you know a subject, the worse this gets (“Curse of Knowledge”). To combat this, you need to put yourself in a beginner mindset. 

Improving your communication skill is actually pretty simple, though: just over-communicate with your colleagues, within reason, of course. If mentoring, explain your logic and reasoning to help your mentee get some context and gain that background knowledge you already have. 

4) Find, recruit, and develop (the right) top talent

Spotting and incentivizing top talent is a skill that develops over time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on it already. Request to have an active role in your organization’s hiring process. Ask to sit in on interviews. Spend a few minutes each day to reach out to potential candidates. 

The little things add up and you’ll have a headstart when you move up.

5) Train + mentor your team

Being able to coach your sales team, effectively train them, and continue helping them grow is a big part of the role. Good sales managers are able to “zoom in” and out on individual team members’ worlds and the big picture for the team. 

To train this skill, volunteer to mentor new- and less-senior team members. Learn to listen to them, help them troubleshoot a difficult objection, and provide constructive feedback. 

6) Create, implement, and adjust sales plans

As a sales manager, you’ll need to develop an easy-to-follow sales plan full of processes, scripts, templates, and ongoing training. Then, you’ll need to implement it and make sure the team follows it consistently. During implementation, you’ll have to throw out what doesn’t work in favor of what does and tweak things to make them better. 

You can work this skill by creating your own version of a sales plan and documentation. Or, you can ask to update an existing plan yourself. Regardless, practicing developing a sales plan is a great experience for the day when you have to do it yourself. 

7) Forecast sales results

You’ll need to clearly communicate to your team the direction that they need to go in the next quarter, as well as what individuals need to accomplish. Being able to show your senior management that your team can hit goals predictably is just as important. 

You can use different forecasting methods to determine those numbers, depending on your organization’s business model, industry, sales cycle length, etc. Do some research, then start forecasting your own monthly and quarterly results by digging back into the results you’ve gotten in previous periods. 

Calculate your win rates and develop and refine your own multivariable forecasting model to see how accurate you are. You’ll get better over time. 

8) Organization 

Yes, we talked about this briefly, but it’s important enough to bear mentioning again. With the sales manager role, your daily activities will change completely. Key activities will include forecasting, planning, experimenting, and training. You’ll need to be organized. 

To practice this now, start by taking a step back at the beginning of each week. Take the time to plan out your schedule, accounting for interactions with other team members. In addition, start thinking about how you’ll have to prioritize your time and tasks when you’re a manager. 

Summary

The bottom line is that moving into a sales manager role has less to do with being the best salesman on the team, and more to do with leadership and management skills. Although it may seem counterintuitive, there’s actually a lot you can do to build these skills starting now, even if you’re starting from entry-level with big aspirations. 

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James Meincke

Director of Marketing @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.