What’s the role of the Sales Manager?

Many Sales Managers look for a magic process or formula with which to manage their sales teams. Perhaps a way in which they can manage their salespeople based purely on how their people have performed against their targets, or how they can manage them without leaving their office, so they can get on with their own ‘day job’. So, what’s the role of the sales manager?

If you remember the Dirty Harry movies, Harry was constantly being called into his boss’s office to be reprimanded for not following process or procedure. On one such occasion and having received the reprimand, Harry looks at his boss and says “I never put much credence into things said by people whose ass is the same shape as their chair.”

Sales Management is about getting out of your office and observing the game where it’s being played – that is when your salespeople are in front of customers & prospects. If sales is hard work, sales management is just as hard, or should be!

Interestingly, the definition of the sales managers’ role can vary greatly depending upon who you talk to. Businesses will say that they want their sales managers to be sales coaches and mentors, yet in reality we find that sales managers spend very little time performing this function, often less than 5% of their time. 

So why the disconnect? In our view people struggle with people. Every individual is different and it’s easier for sales managers to let their team ‘get on with it’ than to work with them to help them become more effective. Many salespeople will say ‘I’m better left alone and not managed’. This is complete nonsense and managers that fall for it will fail. Salespeople that say it should get their heads out of the sand.So, what should sales managers do? Here are a few thoughts:

Well, the first thing they shouldn’t do is to tell their salespeople what their activity should be. Your salespeople are bright people, get them to develop their own activity plans, based around the 3 main components of sales activity

  • Yes the Sales Manager should provide input into the plan, but the salesperson should own it.
  • The Sales Manager should check in regularly with their sales teams in terms of progress made with the plans, at least monthly in 1:1s, but more regularly on an informal basis, at least once or twice a week.
  • Role model the behaviours you require of them. If you’re not a salesperson, learn the skills.
  • Arrange joint customer calls with the salesperson for the sole purpose of giving the salesperson feedback on their sales skills. Set it up with the client and make sure the client knows the salesperson is running the meeting, not you.
  • As the senior person, the client will defer to you during the meeting, you should answer their question but give the control of it back to the salesperson as soon as you can. Meet with the salesperson over a coffee beforehand to establish your approach to the client meeting. Meet with them again immediately afterwards to coach them on their sales skills.
  • Listen in to phone calls. Give them feedback on their telephone sales skills.
  • Attend networking events with them and give them feedback on their approach.
  • Manage by walking around. Listen to the buzz in the office. What do you hear? Is it positive or negative?
  • How do your salespeople react when they lose a deal? Reactions can be very telling.
  • As human beings one of the main ways we learn is by making mistakes and analysing these mistakes. The role of the sales manager is to help their sales team improve by observing their behaviours and giving them feedback on their skills and attitudes. Practically helping them to be better.

So, what’s the role of the Sales Manager? We believe that what it isn’t is remaining at his or her desk and ticking off tasks without observing their teams in action. It’s all about developing your people as individuals and as salespeople. And your bottom line will be better for it!


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Brendan Walsh