Sales Best Practices

What is Sales Management?

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Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices

What is Sales Management?

Behind every successful sales team is a strong sales management process: One that relies greatly upon effective managers and leaders. Implementing the right strategy and process can help a business ensure its health and drive further growth. Without solid sales management, though, rep performance, employee engagement and retention, customer satisfaction, and — ultimately — revenue all suffer.

Because there are such heavy consequences to getting it wrong (and, on the other hand, so many incentives for getting it right), sales organizations typically invest significant time, money, and other resources into their sales management process. But their success is often limited by several factors, including an ever-changing industry, an unprecedented boost in remote work, shifting employee demographics, and an overwhelming abundance of technology options.

Here, we’ll take a close look at effective sales management, including key benefits, what a successful process entails, and how the right sales management system can help leaders and managers overcome some common challenges.

What is sales management?

In order to get sales management right, you must first have a detailed understanding of what it actually is. Sales management is the process of building and training a sales team, defining and coordinating a sales operation, and leveraging specific sales techniques to meet (or even exceed) both sales targets and larger business objectives.

Managing the sales process is a vital part of operating any business, and a successful strategy not only helps a company reach its goals, but also maintain a competitive edge. This idea is two-fold: with a strong sales management process, an organization can better serve its customers and offer an employee experience that attracts and retains its top talent.

This has become an increasingly complex feat, though, as buyer and employee preferences and expectations have shifted in the last decade. Instead of acting on experience and instinct, sales leaders and managers now need to master their ability to consume, analyze, and act upon key data. They must also implement a management process that focuses on empathy and accountability in the face of our constantly evolving socio-political environment while also fine-tuning their financial and operational skills.

Employee demographics are changing, as Gen Z has begun to enter the workforce, and many sales managers are new managers. Couple that with the fact that COVID’s impact has accelerated the move to digital-first and you’ll start to see why so many sales organizations struggle to implement an effective management strategy. Hybrid work environments are now the norm and likely won’t ever go back to the way they were. Many sellers who once spent time in the field or on the road must now adapt, and that shift requires both strong management and intelligent technology to optimize and scale managers’ onboarding and coaching efforts.

In a recent Forrester study, 85% of surveyed organizations stated that they’ve invested or plan to invest in internal sales training for managers, while 73% are investing in enablement training for managers. Firms are beginning to recognize the potential shortcomings (and opportunity for major growth) of their managers’ skill sets and management capabilities, and those who neglect to invest in upskilling and reskilling their leaders risk falling behind the competition.

Sales management can sometimes feel like a relatively broad, undefined concept, but getting a good grasp on the process (and how to improve it) starts with dissecting its most foundational role and key pillars:

What is a sales manager?

Each individual within a sales team is crucial to an organization’s success, but it’s truly the sales manager who most directly shapes their outcomes. A sales manager delivers predictable, cross-team production, champions their reps’ career development, and uses data to inform their coaching efforts. Armed with the right skills and tools for support, sales managers can embrace sophisticated management strategies to effectively boost rep performance (and revenue) in a cost-effective manner. Above all, an effective sales manager hires and retains a diverse team that reflects the world around them, which enables them to ensure both customer and employee satisfaction.

  • To do all of this properly, sales managers must:
  • Set challenging (yet realistic) goals for the team
  • Develop a sales management strategy to attain those goals
  • Execute that strategy while also motivating and managing their team members
  • Evaluate and report on their team’s results
  • Continuously make data-driven improvements to their sales strategy

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Sales operations

The first of the three most essential pillars of sales management is sales operations, which includes building the team, managing that team, and retaining talent. Sales managers of course seek to hire the most talented reps for their team, but keeping those reps engaged, motivated, and satisfied requires more than just a strong onboarding process.

Whether their reps are totally green or have years of deep experience, managers must equip them with the right tools and resources to progress their careers in a meaningful, measurable way. Reps should always feel as though they're a valued part of the team and the broader organization and that their efforts impact the company’s collective success. To nurture a highly collaborative, connected sales operation, managers should take the time to:

  • Identify individual and team-wide targets
  • Assign territories
  • Set goals, quotas, and rewards

Once a manager has outlined these parameters, it’s also his or her job to actually manage the process. This means tracking progress, intervening when necessary, and providing extra motivation to those who need it. An effective sales team management strategy is paramount here, since a structured, well thought-out approach ensures nothing (and no one) will fall through the cracks.

Sales strategy

While your sales team is the glue that holds everything together, your sales process is what actually translates into revenue. Regardless of industry, selling is a complex process that requires a well-established, strongly executed sales strategy for success. Depending on your company size, industry, product, competitors, and more, your process will have a varying number of stages within the sales cycle, but the goal remains the same: to conduct a set of tasks that help an organization’s product reach its intended audience.

To get it right, you need a sales pipeline that visually represents all the sales activities your team needs to complete in order to close a deal. A pipeline helps managers and reps organize and track their progress, better understand what works (and what doesn’t), and identify what’s needed to meet quota or revenue targets. Pipeline stages often include:

  • Prospecting
  • Qualification
  • Contact
  • Relationship building
  • Meeting, demo, sales call
  • Deal closing

By developing the right sales pipeline, managers can empower their teams to become more efficient, productive, and effective. Successful managers also use tools that improve pipeline transparency, offer real-time activity tracking, and determine how each activity influences the pipeline and impacts attribution.

Sales analysis

It’s not enough for managers to execute their sales strategy and call it a day. They must also use reporting to determine how that strategy impacts the business, where and how the team can improve, and which workflows and processes should be tweaked to optimize operations.

Accurate reporting relies on sales metrics that align with specific goals, objectives, and targets. For sales managers, it’s a lot to keep track of, especially on top of all their other responsibilities. Since simply measuring these metrics isn’t enough to ensure meaningful improvement, sales managers need sophisticated tools that help them use those data-driven insights to adjust their strategy. Yet, only 30% of organizations say their managers have mastered this skill.

Effective sales managers use technology to automate and simplify the sales analysis process, with tools that help them collect and analyze key data. They then use that information to tighten up the sales pipeline, streamline the sales management process, and optimize their workflows. The result is a more efficient salesforce that’s ready to provide excellent, data-driven customer experiences.

What is the sales management process?

While the pillars discussed above are essential to your process, it’s important to note that they act as umbrellas under which each part of the sales management process falls. The sales management process varies from one organization to the next, but typically includes:

  • Planning - In order for reps to achieve their goals, managers must first identify those goals and create a sales strategy for reaching them. This includes setting targets, assigning regions, developing lead gen tactics, and working with marketing to position products and services. This step helps managers and their reps cut out the noise so they can focus on selling to viable prospects instead of wasting time chasing their tails. Remember: Sales planning is an ongoing process that managers should revisit as market conditions change, new products are updated or released, and their team grows. Effective planning aligns sales and marketing, helps teams keep track of their progress, and boosts rep motivation. As you create your plans, make sure you identify relevant metrics and which tools you’ll need to track and analyze those metrics (e.g. CRM, marketing automation software, sales engagement platform, etc.). That way, key details won’t get lost in the shuffle and you’ll have the data to back up your plan’s results.
  • Recruitment - It’s not always easy to recruit and retain the best team for the job: In fact, the average turnover rate for sales reps is around 34%. The key is to build and manage a sales team where reps want to join, stay, and grow. Start by looking for candidates who demonstrate their curiosity, preparation, and thoughtfulness. Choose those who are open to feedback, as it shows they’re coachable and willing to adapt. After hiring, you’ll need a strong onboarding process that helps new-hires feel a sense of belonging, collaboration, and support. Equip them with all the tools and resources they need to succeed; without having to spend countless hours memorizing scripts, digging through sales decks, or asking their peers for clarification. Centralized platforms can help here, since they provide a single, easily-accessible source of truth for all things sales.
  • Training - Traditional sales training methods are no longer enough to keep your reps focused, productive, and successful. Today’s hyper-hybrid buying and selling environment calls for modern, ongoing coaching, and competitive organizations are taking note. In fact, 89% of sales leaders say they’re investing (or plan to invest) in rep training. Continuously upskill your reps to ensure they’re data fluent, capable of data-backed conversations, and possess strong relationship-building skills. Sure, leveraging a CRM that tracks sales data is a solid start, but managers also need to train (and re-train) their reps to transform that data into meaningful insights. Powerful sales enablement tools are your best option here, as they facilitate real-time training—even during sales calls—and help managers quickly identify areas of concern. Managers can quickly resolve issues at-scale, and reps can remain as productive as possible.
  • Directing - Being a sales manager is about more than offering training in those well-defined moments of need. It’s also about providing guidance during day-to-day operations and offering individualized feedback (both positive and negative). This might feel like a time-intensive, impossible feat for already-busy managers, but the key here is to create a culture of offering valuable feedback early and often. Managers should take the time to sit down with each rep to determine how they best receive feedback (i.e. format, cadence, pet peeves) and develop a system for delivering that feedback. This vital piece of the sales management puzzle is made infinitely easier by powerful tools that help track and analyze metrics, provide transparency into reps’ deals, and align salespeople with both their short- and long-term goals.
  • Evaluation - Your sales strategy is a living, breathing entity and should be treated as such. It’s important for managers to be able to objectively evaluate and improve upon their strategy to meet both customer and employee needs. They should keep a detailed eye on the sales pipeline, customer and employee feedback, and KPIs to determine what’s contributing to their team’s success; as well as their team’s failures. A good manager knows how to analyze and understand data and convert that data into impactful improvements. One way to do this is through buyer sentiment analysis, which provides visibility into a prospect’s emotional response to a sales engagement. Intelligent technology gives managers access to a wide range of data into reply sentiment, so they can quickly repeat their success or course-correct when needed.
  • Assessment - Optimizing the sales process requires deep visibility into your team’s performance so you can identify gaps and potential opportunities. There are several tools you can use to assess performance, but none is more powerful than a sales dashboard. Sales dashboards centralize, standardized, and visually represent all your sales data in a single, accessible platform. They help managers evaluate team performance and progress against their goals in real time, so they can more accurately forecast and set sales plans. With the right tool, managers can craft sales dashboards that utilize up-to-date data for more informed coaching on processes, tools, unique deals, and more. Plus, robust technology eliminates the time it would otherwise take to manually enter data, create reports, find account information, and more.
  • Compensation - It’s safe to assume that most of your sales reps aren’t working their tails off for the thrill of it. Sure, some might be motivated by the possibility of making an impact and pleasing customers, but the majority find inspiration in other rewards. Monetary incentives (e.g. gift cards, bonuses, a new iPhone), public recognition (e.g. team dinners, shout-outs, appreciation days), or even extra time off can make a huge difference when it comes to motivating your team. Flexible rewards programs improve employee engagement, and a highly engaged workforce leads to 21% greater profitability, so managers should take the time to discover what inspires each of their team members.

    Strategies for Effective Sales Management

    Now that we’ve nailed down the basics, let’s take a closer look at some winning strategies for implementing an effective sales management process.

    • Talent management and coaching - Finding reps with the right experience can be a time-consuming, frustrating, expensive challenge. But it’s well worth the cost to hire a talented salesperson who can represent your brand, build lasting customer relationships, and close those high-value deals. Make sure the candidates you hire are diverse, well-aligned with your organization’s values, and have the right soft skills (e.g. empathy, humility, and emotional intelligence). Once you’ve hired your dream team, invest in their success! Offer continuous training and support, give them the proper tools to do their jobs, encourage both their professional and personal development, and ask them how you can be a better manager. Reps want to feel like you have their backs, so show them you care by empowering them to grow.
    • Feedback channels - One-on-one feedback is important in some situations, while public feedback can foster healthy competition among your team. Sharing feedback on internal social networks, Slack channels, and other tools can motivate reps to boost their performance. But gathering that data and condensing it is labor-intensive without the right technology. A sales enablement platform makes it quick and easy to identify and share progress in real time, so team members can celebrate each others’ wins, offer guidance, and collaborate on tricky deals as they occur.
    • Intelligent use of data and forecasting - 60% of sales organizations say they don’t have a well-defined or scientific approach to forecasting. This leads to wasted time, underwhelming or inaccurate sales calles, and inefficiencies across sales, operations, marketing, and finance teams. Sales managers need the right tools that automatically capture and upload buyer and seller activities across the entire revenue cycle. That visibility empowers them to understand which deals are most at risk and save them before it’s too late. Intelligent forecasting is paramount for delivering predictable and efficient revenue growth, understanding pipeline heath, and getting back on track at a moment’s notice.

    Benefits of Effective Sales Management

    By leveraging strategies for success, managers can ensure a more effective sales management process, which results in some key benefits:

    • Increased employee and customer satisfaction - A strong sales management process is all about optimizing operations by identifying issues and areas for improvement and acting on those insights. Managers lead teams, and are thus capable of building processes and workflows that boost their reps’ productivity, ensure their engagement, and set them up with everything they need to do what they do best: sell. It’s no secret that all of this is grounded in robust data, which, when used correctly, can shed light on anything that might be hindering rep performance, contributing to their success, and supporting their efforts to deliver exceptional customer service. With modern tools that streamline data collection and analysis, managers can use those insights to tweak their processes, strategies, and training. The result is more prepared, confident sales reps who are ready and willing to go the extra mile for their customers.
    • Improved bottom line - Boosting revenue requires an in-depth understanding of pipeline health, which sales activities garner the best results, and how your customers are reacting to your sales engagement. With the right sales management process in place, these factors become part of a well-oiled machine, where managers and reps continuously observe, measure, and adjust their actions. Teams are always equipped to pivot in the moment, rather than waiting for a deal to fall through before they realize where they went wrong. Maximizing revenue is about leveraging a strategic, efficient sales operation, and an effective sales management process (backed by powerful tools) helps organizations do just that.
    • More accurate forecasting - Selling is both a science and an art. Intuition alone won’t get you very far in today’s competitive, digitally-minded landscape. As volatility increases in today’s environment, managers need processes and tools that help them get their forecasts right. Truly effective sales management relies on tools that give them greater, more accurate visibility into real-time data around deals, pipeline health, and forecasts, so they can shift their strategies and close more deals.

    What is a sales management system?

    At this point, you might be wondering how any sales manager can possibly implement a successful management process. With so many ever-changing factors, required data for support, and strategies to consider, it can seem overwhelming. Throw in the fact that reps are already toggling between so many disconnected systems and apps to complete their daily work, and leveraging an effective sales management process can feel like a pipe dream.

    Sales management systems can lighten the load, though, as they’re designed to simplify the process. These tools (sometimes referred to as CRM systems or sales management software) help reps manage their contacts, track deals, and automate the manual, time-consuming tasks that diminish their productivity.

    Some sales teams still use traditional tools (like spreadsheets) for their management process, but sales management systems take everything a step further. They centralize, analyze, and update all information on prospects, leads, and customers. Some tools even help teams execute a simple sales process. 

    Many sales organizations invest in sales management software in their efforts to, for example, improve collaboration throughout the sales process. Cloud-based CRMs can provide a clear view of a company’s sales funnel, so each rep can easily see available opportunities and future revenue. Most sales management systems offer a few core capabilities, including:

    • Sales forecasting and reporting
    • Integrations
    • Customizations
    • Data collection and synchronization
    • Customer intel (e.g. purchase preferences and interaction history)
    • Centralized data

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    Benefits of a sales management system

    While businesses who choose to stick with traditional, outdated tools will likely struggle to optimize their sales management process, those who choose to invest in a sales management system can reap a variety of benefits. 

    • Lead prioritization - Sales management software can help teams identify high-priority accounts and assign them to the right rep.
    • Better forecasting - Some sales management solutions help teams evaluate their sales cycle and determine the effectiveness of their strategies and tools. They analyze traffic volumes and conversation ratios, for instance, to help managers assess performance and uncover opportunities for improvement.
    • Data-driven customer insights - By centralizing customer interactions, each rep, marketing employee, and manager can better understand the customer journey. Using those insights, sales teams can adjust their engagement strategies for increased success.
    • Automated workflows - Most modern sales management systems can identify essential information in calls and emails and track responses in real time. Then, they automatically create followup reminders and calendar tasks so details don’t get lost in the shuffle.

    It’s essential to note that, while traditional sales management systems (like your CRM) are essential to the health of your business, they are not enough to boost your competitive edge. Today's revenue leaders need a powerful Sales Execution Platform that combines automation, total visibility, and AI. Together, they unlock actionable customer intelligence that guides sellers and managers to execute at their full potential. Only then can they win more deals with less effort, forecast without guesswork, and deliver a better customer experience.

    Sales Management Tools and Resources

    To help you improve your sales management process, techniques, and systems, we’ve gathered a list of helpful tools and resources:

      Powerful Technology for Effective Sales Management

      A successful sales management process is just that: a process. It’s not a fixed, unchanging checklist or a magical template, but an evolving practice that requires consistent measurements and adjustments. To get it right, managers must develop, evaluate, and tweak engaging strategies rooted in deep data. It’s an essential (albeit complex) process which can result in better customer and employee satisfaction, a healthier business, and an improved bottom line. 

      Outreach’s Sales Execution Platform eliminates the time-consuming, manual tasks often associated with sales management. With tools for total pipeline visibility, centralized sales process management, accurate forecasting and reporting, and real-time training and support, Outreach can help you go beyond an effective sales management process for a more efficient, productive, and profitable team.

      Learn more about how Outreach helps managers boost their predictability and growth, or request a demo today.