Published: August 21, 2017

For those who thrive under pressure to perform, sales is a magnetic profession. These are the people on the frontlines, directly responsible for winning customers and bringing in revenue. Sales pros are judged upon results, plain and simple, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sales managers take this accountability to another level.

What is Sales Management?

In a sense, the sales management definition is self-explanatory. Sales managers oversee a company’s sales operations, and are responsible for making them run smoothly.

The specific functions this label entails can vary on a case-by-case basis. Sales management duties often include the following:

  • Setting goals and objectives

  • Recruiting and training sales staff

  • Creating budgets and sales forecasts

  • Evaluating organizational resources

  • Planning and implementing sales strategies

  • Establishing salesforce policies

  • Motivating personnel and improving performance

We are currently in a period of flux. The sales manager’s role is changing along with the business landscape, and this digital age requires adaptability.

Once upon a time, the job was about sending your reps out into the wild, setting up meetings, and manually compiling reports. Today, technology has helped make us more efficient by automating or at least streamlining many processes that previously consumed much of our time. But on the flip side, the position’s scope has expanded dramatically.

We are all now inescapably entangled in the World Wide Web, and so sales management strategies must encompass all things internet. Social selling, CRMs, and sales tech are all parts of the puzzle. But the underlying principles of sales management remain relevant, and always will.

Our goal here is to bridge the old with the new, providing a resource for helping you develop the most effective sales management strategies in the modern era. Keep scrolling and you will find recommended reading, indispensable tools, and tips that can help sales managers lead their teams to new heights.

10 Sales Management Strategies that Move the Needle

The objectives of sales management are aligned with the overall goals of any business: grow pipeline, convert leads, increase revenue. Sales managers have the ability to directly impact each of these critical initiatives, and can make themselves invaluable by taking steps to positively influence them.

Which sales management techniques are proven to move that needle and drive results in today’s marketplace? Here are a few that everyone should be embracing to avoid falling behind the pack:

1. Build a social selling culture

Despite social selling statistics clearly indicating that this strategy must be part of the effective salesperson’s toolkit in the current environment, we still see too many teams lagging behind with adoption. Understandably, traditionally trained reps can be a bit reluctant to embrace these new-age tactics, but it’s important to establish daily habits around social outreach and engagement. There are low-barrier methods for bringing over social media skeptics.

2. Eliminate cold outreach

It simply doesn’t work anymore, or at least not enough to justify the time and energy it requires. Today’s sales managers should be encouraging their teams to warm up introductions, and avoid calls and emails with no context or personalization. Nailing down item No. 1 is a key step toward succeeding with this imperative.

3. Foster sales and marketing alignment

Channeling Ronald Reagan, the time has come to tear down this wall. When the two departments are siloed, it causes friction and organizational discord, preventing a unified approach to achieving goals and winning business. Focus on strategies for sales and marketing collaboration, and encourage your team to embrace this alignment.  

4. Incorporate wide-reaching analytics

Measure everything. There are emerging metrics that go well beyond simply counting closed deals and revenue attained, so make sure you’re taking advantage of the ability to assess every element of your operation and your team’s performance. This can help you identify and address subtle snags that may be holding back your results.

5. Feed the top of the pipeline

When sales is completely dependent on marketing to send over leads and prospects, it will inevitably be at the mercy of lulls and dry spells. The most vital component of a consistently productive sales funnel is a robust top end that continually provides opportunities to pursue. Sales lead management is a critical aspect of successfully guiding the ship.

6. Encourage relentless relationship-building

This has always been a central objective in sales, but it’s especially valuable now. Social referrals and LinkedIn mutual connections go a long way toward building familiarity and trust in the faceless internet era. Encourage your salespeople to make intros and attentively maintain relationships, even with non-prospects who could help uncover opportunities elsewhere.

7. Opt for collaboration over competition internally

The business of sales will always be competitive in nature, and to an extent this can be very healthy. There’s nothing wrong with some friendly competition, and many teams experience great returns with sales gamification strategies. But avoid moving too far toward an every man for himself, or every woman for herself, scenario. Incentivize team-based achievements and not just individual ones.

8. Reward innovation and outside-the-box thinking

When something has worked in the past, it can be tough to move away from it. Sales habits are often deeply ingrained, especially among the more seasoned pros, and experimentation isn’t all that appealing when you’re searching for consistency and reliability in closing deals. However, gaining a competitive edge means beating others to the punch, and that requires some level of risk-taking. Give your team the freedom, and even the impetus, to do so.

9. Establish goals and clear paths to achieving them

Does everyone have a precise idea of what they are working toward? Work with your team members one-on-one to create success plans for each of them. Create target benchmarks around specific habits, not just final results (e.g., new LinkedIn connections, social media posts, referrals). Studies consistently show that when people are working toward clearly defined goals, they are more motivated and more likely to perform.

10. Provide extensive sales enablement tools

While the selling climate has generally become far more complex and challenging, we are lucky to have more support at our fingertips than ever before. Sales pros can access a vast array of sales enablement tools that can make them more efficient and effective sellers. Advanced CRMs can automate tedious tasks. Sales Navigator streamlines the social selling process on LinkedIn. Email widgets can bolster communications greatly. Investments in such software will most definitely pay off if you’re seeking out the right options for your team.

Sales Management Quotes That Ring True Today

These words of wisdom from notable thought leaders are highly relevant when it comes to understanding how to manage a sales team in modern times. Let these quotes help guide your sales management strategy.

“You know you are running a modern sales team when selling feels more like the relationship between a doctor and a patient and less like a relationship between a salesperson and a prospect. When you go in to see your doctor and she asks you about your symptoms, you tell her the truth. You trust that she can diagnose your problem and prescribe the right medication. When she says, "This is what you have. Take these pills," you don’t say, “Let me think about it” or “Can I get 20 percent off?” You take the medication. It's no longer about interrupting, pitching and closing. It is about listening, diagnosing and prescribing.”

- Mark Roberge, HubSpot (source)

“Social selling is not just a small-business play. It’s not just a large-business play. It’s a play for every business in every segment of the market. Develop training modules. Celebrate successes. Share social-selling best practices throughout your entire company. And track the results.”

- Liz Gelb-O'Connor, ADP (source)

“Sales managers struggle with motivating their teams because it is often assumed that motivation can only be driven internally from the person or that it requires a coin-operated model, such as prizes and rewards. However, we've seen companies increase sales productivity by leveraging properly structured competition and recognition programs to create motivation and engagement within their teams.”

- Mike Smalls, Hoopla Software (source)

“Big mistake #1 will be to tell your team to do it like you, or repeatedly say, ‘This is how I did it.'”

- Alice Kemper, Sales Training Consultants (source)

“Every sales manager knows they need a solid plan, the right people, and a pipeline to be successful. But successful sales managers learn to balance the three.”

- Whit Gaither, Needle (source)

“Have an action plan to identify and overcome problems before they become systemic to the whole team.”

— Robert Minskoff, Minskoff Growth Strategies (source)

Sales Management Books - Our Favorites

The best sales management books approach the subject in unique and thought-provoking ways. These texts are worth a read if you’re looking to take in some fresh perspectives.

Sales Management. Simplified.: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team, by Mike Weinberg

"Sales Management. Simplified." a book by Mike Weinberg

Synopsis: Weinberg is a longtime consultant with a great understanding of the attitudes and attributes conducive to stellar sales performance. He drills down to the essentials in this guide to sales management, with actionable tips on goal-setting, handling underperformers, and the delicate balance between managing and selling.

Money Quote: “The very best sales managers are Multipliers. They subdue their own egos for the sake of their people. They understand that their mission is to win through their salespeople. They don’t micromanage every detail. When necessary, they ask insightful questions that challenge the status quo and a salesperson’s approach. Instead of jumping in and taking over at every chance, they look for coaching opportunities. Great sales managers deflect the credit; they don’t steal it. And they often jump in front of the bus to protect their people rather than throwing them under it so they look good themselves.”

Cracking the Sales Management Code," a book by Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana

Synopsis: It might be more than five years old, but Cracking the Sales Management Code maintains much of its relevance now. Jordan and Vazzana cover the five core sales management process steps, and elaborate on how to optimize each one. You’ll find plenty of evidence-based strategies outlined in these pages.

Money Quote: “With extremely rare exception, the best sales managers we’ve encountered are unconsciously competent scientists. They hold formal meetings with formal agendas on formal schedules. They set rigorous expectations for their salespeople and track progress against those goals with equal rigor. They manage by analysis rather than anecdote and by measurement rather than gut. They are continuous-improvement experts with action plans galore. While their lower-performing peers try to manage with the same artistic flair that served them well as salespeople, high-performing managers adopt a more scientific approach to management that enables them to get consistently higher performance from their team.”

Sales Manager Survival Guide: Lessons From Sales' Front Lines, by David A. Brock

Sales Manager Survival Guide: Lessons From Sales' Front Lines, a book by David A. Brock

Synopsis: In his foreword, Mitch Little establishes the credibility of the book’s author in forthright terms: “Dave Brock has street cred! No BS, no hype, no simply theory. Dave has knowledge gathered from real life as a salesperson and leader.” This truly is the basis for Survival Guide; it’s a collection of insights and experiences gathered from a career spent in the trenches.

Money Quote: “Every day, there are new tools and technologies being announced that help sales people and sales managers. But without rock solid operating principles, great thinking, and relentless execution, these tools are worthless. They are, in fact, often distractions that divert your concentration from the basics of your job and its responsibilities.”

Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives, by Keith Rosen

"Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives," a book by Keith Rosen

Synopsis: “Sales training doesn’t develop sales champions. Sales managers do.” With this mantra in mind, Rosen’s playbook hones in on the fundamentals of sales coaching, and instilling winning philosophies. In this thorough overview, he discusses six universal principles of masterful coaching, six fatal coaching mistakes, the seven types of sales managers, the seduction of potential, and much more.

Money Quote: “I ask managers, “What exactly is it you manage?” Although they say they manage people, the truth is that managers today spend most of their time managing processes, projects, data, problems, and information. If you do not have a defined process that moves your people forward so they can achieve greater results, then what is it you are managing? You’re managing the status quo. You’re manager a ledger entry in your company’s P&L statement. You’re managing sales reports and activity. Ultimately, under this antiquated model, when it comes down to your people, you are managing the mediocre and the underachievers.”

So, How Will You Manage?

At the end of the day, every sales leader must choose their own style and tact. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and ultimately you need to adopt techniques that feel natural and comfortable for you. Hopefully the information and resources above will help point you in the right direction.

Keep these five overarching takeaways in mind as you venture forth:

  • The digital marketplace requires new thinking and openness to change

  • Striking a balance between collaboration and competition will yield stronger results

  • If you get too caught up in processes and production, you’ll lose sight of the people

  • Those who fail to set specific goals and measure everything are at a disadvantage

  • Sales enablement tools can add tremendous efficiency and take away the tedium