Sales Manager Career Overview
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Sales managers oversee sales teams, supervising other sales personnel to ensure the successful execution of a company’s overall sales strategy. Often former salespeople themselves, sales managers must address the logistical challenges of sales, such as quotas and projections, while providing support and leadership to their staff.
A challenging mid-level management position, sales managers require strong communication, leadership, and organizational skills. Sales managers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, but others possess a graduate business degree, such as an MBA, which can help managers advance in the field. The leadership responsibilities of sales management positions lead to strong salary potential; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that sales managers earn an annual median wage of $126,640.
This page offers an overview of how to become a sales manager, including education requirements and industry-standard certifications. It also covers information on typical sales manager duties and answers to common questions about this lucrative career path.
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What Does a Sales Manager Do?
As their job title implies, sales managers lead and manage sales teams, coaching sales personnel, tracking and analyzing relevant data, and devising strategies to improve efficiency and customer service. Sales managers may also develop sales plans, assign territories, and set quotas. They often perform HR-related work, including hiring, training, and evaluating members of the sales team.
Sales managers often function as coaches for sales teams. Successful managers understand how to oversee their team without micromanaging, knowing when to offer guidance and when to sit back and let their salespeople sell. Sales managers most frequently interact with members of their sales team, though they also communicate with other managers and executives to determine high-level sales strategies.
As they move up in an organization, professionals may take on greater responsibility for a company’s overall sales strategy. Experienced managers who advance to positions, such as vice president of sales, typically direct other managers.
Successful sales managers must be able to inspire and support their sales team while addressing logistical challenges. The section below outlines some important hard and soft skills for sales managers.
Key Soft Skills for Sales Managers
- Sales managers must provide strong leadership to manage their sales team effectively, and they must be prepared to support and motivate their team regardless of circumstances.
- Sales management requires strong communication skills, as managers must communicate effectively with clients, sales teams, and other managers.
- Sales managers often take responsibility for large sales teams, and they must be able to prioritize and delegate tasks effectively among their subordinates.
- Sales managers must possess strong organizational skills to manage other sales personnel, keep track of sales plans, and determine effective sales strategies.
Key Hard Skills for Sales Managers
- Business Statistics
- Often making decisions about budgets, profitability, pricing, quotas, and other sales data, sales managers need an understanding of math and business statistics.
- Sales Forecasting
- Strong managers must understand the major principles of sales forecasting, predicting sales figures within a reasonable margin of error and making plans to meet projections.
- Employee Training
- Sales managers often design and implement employee training programs for sales representatives. Managers must identify key concepts and determine effective methods to train employees.
- Technology Skills
- Sales managers need proficiency in common business productivity software, such as Outlook, Word, and Excel. They also use more specialized tools to analyze sales data.
A Day in the Life of a Sales Manager
Sales managers perform a variety of roles, and they must strike a balance between supporting their sales team and navigating logistical and administrative challenges. On any given day, they may train new employees, analyze data to formulate new sales strategies, and offer individual support to sales personnel. This list highlights some common tasks for sales managers.
Typical Sales Manager Daily Tasks
- Training New Salespeople
- Even experienced professionals need training to familiarize themselves with an organization’s sales methods. Managers are often responsible for hiring and training new salespeople.
- Communicating with Other Executives
- Sales managers frequently interact with other management personnel to ensure cohesive company-wide sales strategies. They typically receive directions from sales directors and VPs of sales, serving as a link between upper-level management and the sales staff on the ground.
- Supporting Sales Staff
- Managers offer all types of support for sales team members, including identifying areas of growth, providing advice on improving sales techniques, and coaching staff through difficult sales situations.
Lee Anne Crockett
Lee Anne Crockett is a corporate sales director and has been successfully leading teams of all sizes for over a decade in both the manufacturing and CPG industries. Throughout her career, Lee Anne has created and implemented several learning and development initiatives, including ongoing sales development, onboarding, culture development resources, employee resource groups, and other training and development programs. Lee Anne is also a leadership development and career strategist. She works with women to develop their leadership skills and help them get promoted faster. In all that she does, Lee Anne focuses on instilling processes and the “how-to” component of learning and development.
Why did you become a sales manager? What initially interested you about the field?
I became involved in sales in high school. My first job was working for Wilson’s Leather in the local mall. Unlike most jobs in the food court (where I wanted to be), Wilson’s was different in that I had to approach customers and work with them to find something they might like. In many instances, they had no idea what they wanted, but I had to pitch them different jackets, purses, and wallets to try to find something that interested them. This was my first introduction to consultative selling, way before I even knew what that was. I loved being able to talk to different kinds of people and make a connection with them. I had to get them to trust me, and I liked the challenge of having to try to close the sale.
How does your current role as a sales director vary from past sales manager roles?
My current role differs from previous roles in that I have a larger portfolio of business and much more decision-making power. I am also selling into a higher office — many times I am working directly with the owner or CEO of a company, versus in previous roles, I was selling into a lower level manager or VP.
What does your typical work day look like?
Each day is different, depending on the needs of the business. Generally, I’m working with my customers (in person, on the phone and via email) to strategically grow their business, which may mean buying more of current items or selling new items for future projects. I am my customer’s main point of contact, so I also work closely with customer service, A/R, pricing, and any other department that is involved to resolve issues quickly.
I also have a close relationship with our manufacturing plants and production teams and work closely with them to improve efficiencies and service to our customers. When I am not working with existing customers, I am reaching out to prospects to schedule appointments, as well as running financial analyses on my business portfolio to identify opportunities for improvement.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working in sales? Some of the most challenging aspects?
The most rewarding aspect of working in sales is being able to help other people and building lasting relationships. My customers depend on me and trust me to be able to help solve their problems. I love hearing a customer tell me that I am one vendor they never have to worry about, or that they know that I will take care of their issues right away.
The most challenging aspect about being in sales is finding a way to take care of all of [customers’] issues right away. We operate in a fast-paced environment, and it can sometimes be challenging to provide a solution that works for both the company and the customer. I have to be able to leverage rapport internally and externally and have a backup solution (or two) in my pocket to help resolve an issue.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I decided to pursue an MBA because I felt like I was not advancing in my career at the rate I should, given my performance results. I felt that getting an MBA would help propel me forward much faster and would equip me with the knowledge I needed to be able to handle making decisions that carried much larger financial implications. I wanted more responsibility and thought that an MBA would be the differentiating factor between me and other applicants for future positions.
How did your MBA prepare you for your current career?
Getting my MBA further developed my business acumen and reinforced my entrepreneurial instincts. I concentrated in entrepreneurship and small business management during my undergrad studies and had considered myself intrapreneurial during my early career. Getting my MBA enhanced those skills and helped me take things to the next level. I was able to look at my business at work like it was my own personal business, and as a result, I was able to think outside the box.
I developed and launched programs at work in new markets and was able to secure business we had never had before. I also worked on a new label rebranding and launched the first national branded campaign in the company’s 20-year history. I would not have been able to think so creatively if I was not in the MBA program at the time.
What was your career path that led you to this position? What do you think helped you most on your journey to become a sales director?
I began my career as a district sales leader, responsible for a team of route sales representatives. I held this front-line leadership position for four years and then entered a leadership development candidate role at another company. This was a rotational experience with the goal of placement on the executive leadership team.
I started in an operations management role (unit leader), then transitioned to a zone sales manager role. After about six months, I was asked to take over a key account development manager role. Shortly after this time, the leadership development candidate program was discontinued, and I left the company to take a sales manager role at a different company.
Each role that I took gave me greater responsibility and a larger sales portfolio. After graduating with my MBA, I took on my current sales director position at another company. Getting my MBA helped me make the leap from sales manager to sales director, not just because I had the title, but because of the projects I was able to successfully launch while in school. Adding these to my resume made me a much more impressive candidate and showed that I was able to use what I learned in school in the real world to grow a business.
What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a career as a sales manager?
There are a host of opportunities available to you if this is the kind of work you love to do. People associate sales with the standard stereotypes — the used-car salesman, the insurance salesperson, etc. However, at its core, sales is forming connections and developing relationships. You become a trusted advisor, an advocate, and a partner in helping someone grow their business.
Sales can be the gateway to many opportunities because it exposes you to many different functions like finance, operations, marketing, etc. If you can excel at sales in an authentic way, then your career can branch out into higher-level leadership and beyond (like starting and growing your own company), because all of these positions are predicated on being able to recognize opportunities and position yourself to capture them.
Sales Manager Salary and Career Outlook
The BLS projects careers for sales managers to grow 5% from 2018-2018, which is on pace with the national average for all jobs. Several factors affect the demand for sales positions, including online shopping, which has decreased the need for sales personnel. To compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores have increased their focus on customer service, in turn creating increased need for sales managers. Online retailers and other companies also need sales managers, ensuring continued demand for the position.
As they gain experience, sales managers often take on increased responsibilities, managing larger teams and more complex dimensions of an organization’s sales. With increased experience and expertise, sales managers may be able to transition into other upper-level management positions or sales management positions with larger organizations.
Salary Expectations for Sales Managers
The BLS reports that sales managers earn an annual median salary of $126,640, while advertising, marketing, promotions, and public relations managers earn a slightly higher annual median salary of $128,870. As with most careers, salary level can vary widely based on factors such as experience, education, and industry.
Annual salary levels for sales managers vary greatly depending on their industry. For example, sales managers working for finance and insurance companies earn an annual salary of $156,060, while retail sales managers earn an annual wage of $86,180.
Next Steps on the Career Path
Sales managers can move into more advanced roles, such as sales director, taking on responsibility for managing larger sales teams and directing other sales managers.
They may also eventually progress to top-level management positions, such as VP of sales, chief revenue officer (CRO), or chief executive officer (CEO). Alternately, sales managers may move into related roles in areas like consulting.
These positions typically require substantial experience and a proven record of sales success. They may not explicitly call for additional education, but an advanced degree, such as an MBA, can help candidates distinguish themselves for promotion. Salaries for these positions can range from about $100,000 as a sales director to over $150,000 as a CEO. Managing consultants often earn around $120,000 annually.
Where Can I Work as a Sales Manager?
The inherent role of sales in the business world ensures that sales managers can find employment just about anywhere, with positions available in all U.S. states and most professional sectors. However, opportunities can vary widely by location. The following sections offer an overview of employment prospects for sales managers by location and industry.
Sales managers command strong salaries in general, but some states offer higher wages than others. As with most careers, higher pay rates typically correspond to a higher cost of living.
States on the east coast offer the highest pay for sales managers, occupying all five positions on this list. New York offers the highest annual mean wage for sales managers. Sales managers can expect to find the most job opportunities in major urban areas and states with high populations, such as California, Texas, and Florida.
|Top-Paying States||Annual Mean Wage|
|Top-Employing States||Number of Sales Managers Employed|
As the accompanying tables demonstrate, a sales manager’s industry can impact their salary. While fundamental sales principles typically remain the same across different industries, sales managers may need specialized skills and knowledge to succeed in many top-paying industries. Managers for artists, entertainers, and athletes, for example, typically need strong connections and knowledge of the entertainment industry.
|Top-Paying Industries||Annual Mean Wage|
|Securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities||$203,480|
|Agents and managers for artists, athletes, entertainers, and other public figures||$194,840|
|Motion picture and video industries||$191,600|
|Scientific research and development services||$185,330|
|Top-Employing Industries||Number of Sales Managers Employed|
|Management of companies and enterprises||31,610|
|Computer systems design and related services||22,620|
|Merchant wholesalers, durable goods||17,820|
How to Become a Sales Manager
Most sales management positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Many managers major in business, but students from other backgrounds can progress in the field through professional experience.
While education certainly plays a role in career advancement, sales managers often grow their careers by building solid sales experience. Precise requirements vary, but most companies seek candidates with 1-5 years of relevant experience.
Earning an advanced business degree, such as an MBA or a master’s in marketing, may enable candidates to progress faster in the field, skipping over entry-level sales positions and moving straight into lower-level management.
Sales professionals may seek industry certifications to hone their expertise. Professional certifications, such as certified professional sales person, SMEI certified professional salesperson, and SMEI certified sales executive, can help sales professionals progress to management positions.
The Sales Manager Job Hunt
Prospective sales managers can find job opportunities through job fairs, professional organizations, mentor recommendations, and other networking opportunities. Many business programs also include internships, which enable students to build professional experience and connections that can aid their job search after graduation.
Online resources such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor can help candidates identify sales manager job opportunities as well. The following list outlines industry-specific job boards.
- SalesJobs.com Describing itself as the world's largest sales jobs employment site, SalesJobs.com enables users to browse millions of sales positions and submit resumes to thousands of sales recruiters.
- SalesHeads.com Another major job board for sales positions, SalesHeads.com boasts thousands of job listings, with thousands of new jobs posted weekly.
- AA-ISP Known as the Global Inside Sales Association, AA-ISP hosts a career center that offers job listings along with professional certifications for sales managers.
- Rainmakers A platform for recruiting sales professionals, Rainmakers enables users to create a profile and receive job offers in the form of bids from potential employers.
- Ladders Focusing on high-paying positions, Ladders features listings for jobs with $100,000+ salaries, making the site an ideal choice for experienced sales managers.
Sales Manager Requirements
Given the job’s high pay, significant responsibility, and inherent leadership requirements, most sales manager positions call for candidates with a strong professional background and credentials. This section outlines the various requirements to become a sales manager, including education, experience, and professional certification requirements.
Education Requirements for Sales Managers
Most sales manager positions require candidates to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In some instances, particularly talented sales personnel may advance to the level of manager without a college degree, but this is increasingly uncommon.
Most sales professionals major in business or a related field, such as marketing, advertising, or economics. However, students from other backgrounds may find success in the field if they can demonstrate effective customer service and leadership skills.
In general, knowledge of business principles, such as management, accounting, finance, and marketing, is crucial for sales management positions. Specialized knowledge in mathematics, statistics, and economics can also help managers succeed.
Not all sales manager positions require candidates to hold a master’s degree, but graduate education in the form of an MBA or other advanced degree can make it easier for candidates to advance to management positions. An MBA builds comprehensive knowledge of business principles along with management strategies, both of which can serve sales managers well. Candidates interested in a specific industry may pursue specialized MBA concentrations, such as international business, organizational leadership, or sports management.
License and Certification Requirements for Sales Managers
While companies don’t uniformly require sales managers to hold professional licensure or certification, earning these credentials can help managers improve their professional skills and distinguish themselves for promotion opportunities.
Several sales manager certifications exist, catering to different professional needs and career stages. For example, the American Association of Inside Sales Professional’s certified inside sales professional certification serves early- to mid-stage sales executives and account managers.
Other certification opportunities include the National Association of Sales Professional’s certified professional sales person program, Sales and Marketing Executives International’s professional sales and marketing certification, and the American Marketing Association’s sales management certification.
Required Experience for Sales Managers
In general, candidates need around 1-5 years of sales experience before advancing to most sales manager jobs. Sales managers typically start out in other sales-related positions, such as retail sales worker, purchasing agent, or wholesale and manufacturing sales representative. After building experience and demonstrating both sales ability and leadership potential, they may be able to move into sales management positions.
While experience serves as a common path to a sales manager career, an advanced education may help candidates move into management positions with fewer years of experience. A graduate business degree, such as an MBA, builds high-level business knowledge and management skills relevant to all sales manager positions. Many MBA programs also draw clear connections between advanced business concepts and students’ own jobs, enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of sales management practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a sales manager?
Most sales manager jobs require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes about four years to earn, along with 1-5 years of relevant professional experience.
What degree is needed to be a sales manager?
Most organizations require sales managers to hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum, typically in business. Students from other backgrounds may be able to progress in the field with professional experience.
Do I need a master's to become a sales manager?
While a master’s degree is not always required to become a sales manager, earning an advanced degree, such as an MBA, can help candidates progress to management positions more easily.
How much does a sales manager make?
Salaries for sales managers vary based on factors like experience, education, location, and industry, but the BLS reports that sales managers earn a median annual salary of $126,640.
What requirements are there to become a sales manager?
Sales managers typically need a bachelor’s degree and 1-5 years of professional sales experience. Some positions may call for additional experience, education, or professional certification.
What makes a good sales manager?
Sales managers must possess skills in leadership, customer service, organization, and communication. They must also be able to analyze sales data and support their sales team.
Professional Organizations for Sales Managers
- American Association of Inside Sales Professionals Serving virtual and remote sales representatives, AA-ISP offers exclusive job listings, networking events and webinars, and regional chapter meetings around the country.
- National Association of Sales Professionals Describing itself as the world's largest online community of sales professionals, NASP offers career coaching, online certifications, and continuing education resources.
- Sales Management Association A global association of sales leadership professionals, SMA provides online training and workshops, trade publications, professional development resources, podcasts, and annual conferences.
- Sales and Marketing Executives International Bringing together sales and marketing professionals, SMEI offers certifications, professional training and workshops, conferences and events, and career resources.
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