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What Does a Sales Manager Do?

Sales managers train and lead teams that connect customers to goods and services. They exercise a combination of business and marketing strategies in their role, as well as analytic and interpersonal skills.
A sales manager sitting with a client going over paperwork

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

The profession of sales management is about connecting products and services to consumers in a meaningful way, while coaching and training others to do the same.

Sales management is a tactical leadership role. To be successful as a sales manager, you need strong communication skills and the ability to build consensus.

And you’ll need to do it with astute analytical, marketing and business skills as well as a clear understanding of how to leverage rapidly changing digital technology to meet your team's sales goals.

Having a clear understanding of the need for connections between business and consumer is critical for success. “Once I understood the importance of connection between a business’ target market and how their product is used by consumers, I was able to develop successful sales strategies,” said Dr. Bridgett Clinton-Scott, adjunct faculty with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

Clinton-Scott is also an experienced sales manager and has created and executed sales strategies for medium to large retailers. The strategies she developed focused on engaging the customer so they might connect to the product being sold in a meaningful way.

What is a Sales Manager?

Dr. Bridgett Clinton-Scott with the text Dr. Bridgett Clinton-ScottA sales manager is a person who connects goods or services with customers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This role encompasses a variety of industries, from manufacturing to finance, from fashion to motor vehicles. If something needs to be bought or sold, talented sales managers are needed to market the product effectively and lead teams to find the right buyer.

In addition to being savvy at sales themselves, sales managers build, manage and coach teams of other sales professionals. “The primary purpose of a sales manager is to lead, manage and mentor sales representatives and assist with the development of sales strategies for a company,” Clinton-Scott said.

According to Clinton-Scott, the specific role of a sales manager will vary from business to business. Depending on your industry, your role may involve more marketing activities along with overseeing sales, in addition to leading teams.

What are the Responsibilities of a Sales Manager?

Sales managers are primarily people managers in the field of sales and marketing. To be successful, they need a solid foundation of what makes a good salesperson, and from there can work as managers to lead teams. According to BLS, sales managers generally work in two different broad capacities:

  • Business to Business, known as B2B, where they oversee sales from one business to another business. For example, selling groceries wholesale to supermarkets.
  • Business to Consumer, known as B2C, where sales managers oversee teams who sell goods and services directly to customers. For example, selling items in a retail store, or selling cars on a sales floor.

There’s no such thing as a typical day for a sales manager, according to Clinton-Scott, but in general, you might expect to do some combination of the following when serving in this role:

  • Analyze sales data generated by the sales team. This is to determine the effectiveness of sales strategies.
  • Advise the sales team on ways to improve sales performance. This may include overseeing staff by providing training, coaching and overall leadership.
  • Collaborate with managers from other departments within the organization. They might collaborate with the marketing team to ensure that sales activity is consistent with the company’s brand identity. Or they might collaborate with the buying and procurement team to ensure that inventory levels align with current and projected sales.
  • Communicate with the sales team. Sales managers may lead conversations about the efficacy of existing campaigns or lead brainstorming sessions about new sales campaigns.
  • Develop new sales strategies. This could include executing and monitoring sales strategies with the assistance of sales representatives.

Is Being a Sales Manager a Difficult Job?

The biggest challenge for sales managers is the unpredictability of the market, regardless of industry. There are many factors beyond your control that can lead to an unpredictable business environment. According to Clinton-Scott, some specific challenges related to that unpredictability include:

  • Change in consumer preferences. “Much of what sales managers do is impacted by consumer spending,” Clinton-Scott said. When consumers change their minds or start to follow different trends, that can affect sales.

  • Economic instability. “There are many economic factors that can impact consumer spending,” Clinton-Scott said. These include inflation, which has driven up the price of food, household goods and mortgage interest rates. “These things directly impact consumers’ living expenses,” she said. Rising prices have also made consumers more aware of their personal expenses and led to many people being more cautious about their spending.

  • Stress. As with many professions, sales management involves a lot of responsibility, which can lead to stress, according to BLS.

  • Work schedule. Hours can be long and can include evenings and weekends, according to BLS. Sales managers also may have to travel for their role.

Despite these potential challenges, Clinton-Scott feels that sales management is a great career choice for anyone with strong communication and business skills who has an interest in marketing.

She notes that continuous advancements in technology allow sales managers to use sophisticated software to analyze data on customer shopping habits. They use that data to identify customers more effectively.

“Leveraging technology allows sales managers more time to facilitate sales through customized sales pitches to individual consumers,” she said.

Some examples of technology used in creating these customized pitches shared by Clinton-Scott include digital media such as:

  • Email
  • Social media
  • Text messages

Clinton-Scott views social media as one of the greatest opportunities for sales managers working today. “Digital technology has created more career paths in sales specifically related to the promotion of goods and services,” she said.

What Qualifications or Skills Do Sales Managers Need?

To get your foot in the door, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, retail or another related field, according to BLS and Clinton-Scott. To move into management positions, at least five years of work experience in the field is necessary along with a bachelor’s degree, she said.

Gaining entry-level experience in addition to your education is also invaluable for building a career in sales management.

“During my time in retailing, I realized the importance of gaining a clear understanding of a business’ target market. I also recognized how their product is used by consumers,” Clinton-Scott said. This led her to start her own online business, Fashion Experiment.

In addition to education and experience, Clinton-Scott recommends that people interested in careers in sales have the following skills and interests:

  • Interpersonal skills. “You should be creative and possess good communication skills. This will help you pitch sales strategies as well as train others in how to best execute sales goals,” she said. Interpersonal skills are also essential because so much of what a sales manager does requires communication with others.

  • Leadership skills. The role of the sales manager hinges on developing genuine connections with their staff. “Training and coaching are necessary parts of the role of sales manager, and both require excellent communication skills,” Clinton-Scott said.

  • Understanding of analytics. “This is important especially with regard to assessing the effectiveness of sales and marketing strategies,” she said. For anyone interested in pursuing a career in sales management, Clinton-Scott recommends completing the free Google Analytics Academy. This may provide a foundation for marketing and analytics, help boost your resume and help you decide if a career in sales management is right for you.

While the coursework in the specific bachelor’s degree you pursue may vary, it’s not uncommon for bachelor’s degrees that lead to sales management positions to include coursework in data analytics, marketing plans and business strategy. These are all skills that will you help you build a successful career in sales management.

What is the Job Outlook for Sales Managers?

Infographic with the text "the median annual salary for sales managers is $127,490, according to BLS". The occupational outlook for sales managers is strong. According to BLS, the median annual salary for sales managers is $127,490. The field is expected to grow 5% between 2021 and 2031, which is in line with the national average for job growth. Also according to BLS, with many in the job force expected to retire in coming years, demand for this career field is growing.

Because businesses of all types need customers, effective sales teams are needed to grow businesses, keep businesses steady and identify leads for business growth and development.

The increase in online shopping in recent years has added to this demand, according to BLS. Sales managers are needed to help businesses thrive in online or brick-and-mortar environments as well as weather changes in business needs as technology and consumers change.

Looking Forward to a Career in Sales Management

Recognizing a need and determining how best to fill that need to connect consumers with the goods and services they desire is at the heart of the sales management field.

The profession is about so much more than simple transactions, though. Everything about sales management has to do with making meaningful connections with your team, with your organization and with your customers.

Discover more about SNHU’s bachelor's in marketing: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.

Marie Morganelli, Ph.D. is a freelance content writer and editor.

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