Sales Manager Career Overview

| Amy Boyington Updated on August 3, 2022

Sales Manager Career Overview

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Sales managers oversee sales teams, supervising sales personnel to ensure the successful execution of a company's 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.

Because this is a 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 hold a graduate-level business degree, such as an MBA.

The leadership responsibilities of sales management positions lead to higher-than-average salaries: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports sales managers earn an annual median wage of $127,490 as of 2021.

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 career path.

What Does a Sales Manager Do?

Sales managers lead and manage sales teams. Typical duties include coaching sales personnel, tracking and analyzing relevant data, and devising strategies to improve efficiency. 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 function as coaches for sales teams. Successful managers understand how to oversee their team effectively, 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 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. As corporate sales director Lee Crockett explains, "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."

The section below outlines some important hard and soft skills for sales managers.

Key Skills for Sales Managers

Soft Skills

  • Leadership: Sales managers need strong leadership to manage their sales team effectively. They need to support and motivate their team in all circumstances.
  • Communication: Sales management requires strong communication skills, as managers must communicate effectively with clients, sales teams, and other managers.
  • Delegation: Sales managers often take responsibility for large sales teams, and they must be able to prioritize and delegate tasks effectively among their subordinates.
  • Organization: Sales managers must possess strong organizational skills to manage other sales personnel, keep track of sales plans, and determine effective sales strategies.

Hard Skills

  • Business Statistics: Sales managers need strong math and business statistics skills to make decisions about budgets, profitability, pricing, quotas, and other sales data.
  • Sales Forecasting: Effective sales 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. A typical day may include training new employees, analyzing data to formulate new sales strategies, and offering individual support to sales personnel.

Crockett says, "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. [...] 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."

The list below highlights common tasks for sales managers:

Typical Sales Manager Tasks

  • Training New Salespeople

Managers are often responsible for hiring and training new salespeople. Even experienced salespeople need training to familiarize themselves with organizations' sales methods.

  • 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.

Sales Manager Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS projects sales manager careers to grow 7% from 2020 to 2030, on pace with the national average growth projection 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 an 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.

Crockett explains her journey from an entry-level management role to her advanced position as a corporate sales director: "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. [...] Each role that I took gave me greater responsibility and a larger sales portfolio."

She continues, "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."

Salary Expectations for Sales Managers

As of 2021, the BLS reports that sales managers earn a higher-than-average annual median salary of $127,490. Salaries vary based on factors such as experience, location, and education.

Annual salary levels for sales managers also vary by industry. For example, sales managers working for finance and insurance companies earn an annual salary of $161,520; advertising, marketing, promotions, and public relations managers earn an annual median salary of $128,160; and retail sales managers earn an annual wage of $80,340.

Where Can I Work as a Sales Manager?

Sales managers can find employment in most business sectors across the U.S. However, opportunities can vary by location. The following sections offer an overview of employment prospects for sales managers by location and industry.

Locations

Sales managers typically command higher-than-average salaries, 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 average annual 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, Illinois, and Florida.


Settings

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, need thorough knowledge of the entertainment industry.


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 can play a role in job advancement, sales managers often grow their careers by building solid sales experience. Most companies seek sales managers 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.

Crockett credits much of her success to her MBA program. "Getting my MBA enhanced [entrepreneurship and small business management] skills and helped me take things to the next level. [...] I developed and launched programs at work in new markets and was able to secure business we had never had before," says Crockett.

"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."

Sales professionals may seek industry certifications to hone their expertise. Professional certifications, such as the National Association of Sales Professionals' certified professional sales person credential, SMEI's certified professional salesperson credential, or SMEI's certified sales executive credential can help sales professionals progress to management positions.

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.

Sales Manager Requirements

Given the job's responsibilities and 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

Though some sales personnel advance to managerial roles without a college degree, most sales manager positions require candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Often, these professionals major in business or a related field, such as marketing, advertising, or economics. However, professionals 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 advanced degrees like MBAs can make it easier for candidates to find management positions. An MBA builds comprehensive knowledge of business principles along with management strategies, both of which serve sales managers well.

Candidates interested in a specific industry may pursue specialized MBA concentrations, such as international business, organizational leadership, or sports management.

Required Experience

Sales professionals usually need 1-5 years of sales experience before advancing to sales manager roles. 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 sales ability and leadership potential, they may be able to move into sales management positions.

Crockett reinforces the idea that sales positions can be stepping stones toward more advanced roles: "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."

In addition to experience, graduate-level education can help candidates move into management positions. A graduate business degree, such as an MBA, builds high-level business knowledge and management skills relevant to sales manager positions. Many MBA programs also draw clear connections between advanced business concepts and students' own jobs, giving them a deeper understanding of sales management practices.

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). Alternatively, 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 applicants distinguish themselves from other candidates. According to July 2022 Payscale data, salaries for these positions range from $102,740 as a sales director to over $156,340 as a CEO. Managing consultants earn $122,770 annually.

Professional Organizations for Sales Managers

American Association of Inside Sales Professionals

Serving virtual and remote sales representatives, the 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 network of sales leadership professionals, the Sales Management Association 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.

Common Questions About Sales Managers


What are the challenges of a sales manager?

Professionals must have diverse sales manager skills, including communication, time management, and creativity. Enhancing these skills requires time, education, and work experience. Sales managers must also use problem-solving skills to find the best solutions for organizations and customers.

What is the most important role of a sales manager?

The primary role of a sales manager is to innovate ways to generate leads and revenue for an organization. However, they are also essential in coaching and managing sales teams, nurturing customer relationships, and finding creative solutions to enhance sales processes.

What is the next position after being a sales manager?

A sales manager role generally leads to a sales director position. Sales directors report to organizations' executives and act as liaison with sales teams and executives. They play an integral role in a company's sales initiatives and customer relationships.

Who works under a sales manager?

Sales representatives work under a sales manager. The sales manager is responsible for training and coaching, delegating tasks to, and overseeing the performance of sales representatives.

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Professional Spotlight

Lee 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 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 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 focuses on instilling processes and the "how-to" component of learning and development.


Featured Image: skynesher / E+ / Getty Images

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