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The 11 Sales Manager Skills That Drive Real World Results

Sales enablement

a female sales manager sitting at a desk looking out the window on a sunny day, thinking about which skills to use to improve her team's performance.

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Sales Manager Skills Go Beyond Selling

It’s a common assumption that top-performing sales reps will automatically be top-performing sales managers - in reality, this idea is far from the truth. Effective sales managers possess an entirely different skill set.

It’s true that a deep understanding of the sales capabilities reps need to deliver results is key. Still, sales managers' skills extend beyond selling to things like the ability to create a sales culture, instill accountability, motivate the team, and coach – in the field, in one-on-ones, and during difficult conversations.

The table below summarizes the skills sales managers need to develop to be effective.

Management CapabilityKey Sales Management Skills
Coaching and Development
  • Coaching with agility
  • Leading one-on-ones
  • Increasing motivation
  • Navigating vital conversations
  • Managing different people differently
Building a Sales Culture
  • Driving salesperson accountability
  • Leading team meetings
  • Strengthening sales culture
Driving Performance
  • Coaching in the field
  • Reviewing pipelines
  • Reviewing opportunities

In the following sections, we will explore each of these skills in greater detail. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your sales management team develop these skills contact us here.

Coaching and Development

A successful sales manager focuses on achieving targets by committing to the professional growth of their team. This involves providing relevant and constructive feedback and personalized development plans.

The specific coaching skills sales managers need to develop include the ability to:

  • Coach with agility
  • Lead meaningful one-on-ones
  • Inspire motivation
  • Navigate vital conversations
  • Manage different people differently

Coach with Agility

Effective sales coaching can happen at any time, in formal meetings, or spontaneously when an opportunity for a developmental conversation arises. The emphasis of these conversations is relevancy and immediate application.

A sprint methodology – a cycle that helps sales managers agilely adapt to the needs of their sellers – ensures effective coaching. The Sprint Sales Coaching methodology is comprised of three phases Prepare – Engage – Advance.

  • Prepare: The sales manager ensures they have an action plan and the right mindset for a coaching conversation.
  • Engage: The sales manager and rep engage in a collaborative coaching conversation to build alignment, explore challenges and solutions, and formalize the next steps.
  • Advance: The sales manager reflects on the conversation, records their notes, and completes follow-up actions.

This agile coaching framework emphasizes incremental growth, adaptation in the moment, and collaboration.

click here to download the white paper: coaching your team to find their stride with sprint coaching

Lead Meaningful One-on-ones

Conducting a strategic one-on-one meeting enhances the seller's skills and strengthens their relationship with the manager.

Since time is always limited, it’s imperative to make one-on-one meetings meaningful and productive.

A world-class one-on-one consists of six parts:

  1. Look at the Big Picture: Discuss one or more strategic goals to create the opportunity for the seller to share information that might not come up during more tactical points in the conversation.
  2. Define What’s Working: Discuss the things the seller is doing well to balance positive and negative feedback.
  3. Define What’s Not Working: Discuss roadblocks or potential opportunities for improvement to build a mutual understanding of the seller’s specific challenges.
  4. Celebrate Achievements: Review the progress the seller has made against the action plan discussed in the previous one-on-one.
  5. Identify where Help is Needed: Transition to solving mode and ideate potential solutions to the seller’s identified challenges.
  6. Outline the Action Plan: Co-create a formal action plan defining specific, measurable, timely goals and a follow-up cadence.

This structure ensures one-on-one sessions are organized and useful. The sales rep and manager leave the conversation with clearly defined action items and timelines that can be used to inform the next conversation.

Inspire Motivation

Motivating sales teams requires an understanding of each sales rep’s drivers - intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic drivers like compensation or recognition are more easily controlled through formal policy, intrinsic drivers can be a bit trickier because they come from within the seller.

Many sales managers believe tapping into their team’s intrinsic drivers is impossible, but, in reality, they can exercise a degree of influence over intrinsic motivation by helping the seller see how the characteristics of the job connect to whatever inner drivers they have.

McClelland's Theory of Needs identifies three dominant categories:

  • The need for power: The individual seeks reputation and control.
  • The need for achievement: Individual seeks challenges with clearly defined goals.
  • The need for affiliation: Individual seeks interpersonal relationships and teamwork.

Sales managers attuned to these needs can tailor their talk tracks to make them resonate with the individual and foster intrinsic motivation.

Navigate Vital Conversations

No one likes to have a conversation about underperformance, but these conversations are a critical part of a sales manager’s job. Developing the skills needed to navigate these conversations helps alleviate the stress around them and leads to better outcomes.

The key to having productive conversations about performance is manager preparation skills. To prepare for these types of conversations sales managers can focus on answering four questions.

Is the conversation necessary?

Answering this question ensures the issue is a frustration that has been discussed in the past and has remained despite requesting a change.

What facts and data demonstrate the performance issue?

Surfacing facts and data supporting the existence of the problem removes subjectivity and emotional bias from the conversation – these facts further confirm the need for the conversation to take place and establish a baseline to define what good looks like.

What is the talk track?

Preparing a talk track organizes the key points to be covered and the data supporting those points. Since these conversations are likely to get emotional, over-preparing the script helps sales managers maintain focus and diffuse defensiveness.

Will this plan work?

Before having the vital conversation, managers can take an extra preparation step by seeking feedback on their talk track from a peer. Doing so helps further identify and eliminate bias or emotion and creates an opportunity to reflect on the plan before having the conversation.

Manage Different People Differently

Exploring and celebrating the unique personality dimensions that define individual sellers helps managers get more from their reps and fosters deeper relationships. These dimensions might include things like introversion vs. extroversion, motivation drivers, ethnicity, cultural values, professional experience, and skill level.

Building this understanding is instrumental in helping sales managers construct individualized management plans accounting for factors like:

  • The right frequency for one-on-one meetings
  • How to position praise and feedback
  • The level of formality and tone of meetings
click here to download the article: how diversity, equity, and inclusion principles are becoming a part of selling

Building a Sales Culture

Leadership skills are fundamental to the success of a sales manager. The sales manager's ability to nurture personal accountability and build a robust sales culture is crucial.

The specific skills sales managers need to develop to build a strong sales culture include the ability to:

  • Drive salesperson accountability
  • Lead team meetings
  • Strengthen sales culture

Develop Personal Accountability

To foster accountability, sales managers must ensure sellers have a well-defined understanding of their expectations.

Getting sellers to hold themselves personally accountable begins by defining clear goals tied to desired outcomes. The definition of these goals should include the specific metrics and the methodology that will be used to measure performance. The sales manager can then partner with the sales enablement team to determine the right tools to use to track and measure performance.

Next, it’s the job of the sales manager to provide a clear articulation of the purpose of the goals and make performance data visible across the organization. Visibility encourages sellers to track their progress against the progress of the team so they can understand if they’re falling short.

Individualizing goals and making sure they resonate is another key to building accountability. This helps sellers view individual and team goal attainment as reflections of their specific actions, promoting a sense of personal responsibility.

Lead Sales Team Meetings

To prevent sales team meetings from becoming routine obligations sales managers need a strategy to encourage engagement. Focusing on simplicity, recognition, and capability building helps drive desired attention and participation.


Organization is the key to simplicity. It helps the sales manager maintain a brisk pace which keeps the team members engaged. Varying the topics covered in the meeting also helps keep the content fresh for sellers and it avoids the trap of getting bogged down in the details of a single topic which can overcomplicate the conversation.


Taking time in every meeting to recognize the achievements of individual team members is a great way to foster morale and highlight best practices. By bringing team-wide visibility to a seller's success, recognition establishes a clear connection between the selling methodology and a closed deal.


Focusing on developing a single capability at every meeting is another way to maintain structure without sacrificing variety. Capability development brings an interactive element to the meeting and empowers the team by reinvigorating their sense of control over outcomes.

click here to download the article, the sales capabilities required to compete today

Build a Healthy Sales Culture

Building a sales culture is an intentional process with three critical steps.

  • Collaboratively defining the desired culture within the team and across organizational functions.
  • Distilling the intended culture into a concise mission statement and developing an implementation plan
  • Reinforcing the culture by fostering skills that support the intended culture through consistent practices.

Building a healthy sales culture is not a one-time event, maintaining it requires regular revisitation of the sales culture statement to prevent drift and address resistance.

click here to read the article: how to lead teams with a winning sales culture

Driving Performance

In the ever-changing business environment sales managers who commit to consistently driving performance improvement are the ones who attain long-term success.

Three activities that promote continued performance improvement are coaching in the field, collaborative opportunity review, and a focus on pipeline development.

Coach in the Field

Field coaching is fundamentally different than one-on-one coaching because it is specific to a moment. It occurs while a pursuit is in play and is focused on specific details of a particular deal. This contrasts with one-on-one coaching, which examines broader performance trends.

Though field coaching happens in the middle of a sales action, it’s not spontaneous. It begins with preparation before moving to coaching and then feedback.


Field coaching starts with thorough preparation. Sales leaders collaborate with sellers to understand the nuances of the active deal, they use that understanding to identify the skills needed to get the deal over the line and to determine how they can best support the seller during the sales conversation.  They might decide to act as an observer who offers post-meeting feedback, a model who actively demonstrates the behaviors they would like to see from the seller or a subject matter expert who jumps into the conversation to provide insights during critical moments in the conversation with the customer.

Coaching with Feedback

Strategic interventions characterize field coaching, addressing pivotal moments in a pursuit. The coach refrains from unnecessary interventions, fostering the seller's critical thinking and autonomy.

Feedback recognizes successes, discusses strengths, and outlines improvement plans, ensuring a balanced, honest, and direct coaching process.

Elevating sales performance through strategic field coaching ensures targeted skill refinement, building an agile sales team ready to navigate the complexities of real-world selling.

Review Pipelines

In the sales manager's toolkit, pipeline management is pivotal for gaining early insights into potential challenges. This process involves tracking opportunities, prioritizing the right deals, and expediting closures for overall success.

To effectively review pipelines sales managers need to understand the components of a healthy pipeline, how to analyze it, and how to practice proper pipeline discipline.

  • Components of a Healthy Pipeline: Starting with a clear goal, effective pipeline management focuses on building a well-balanced pipeline in terms of deal sizes, product mix, and alignment with business objectives.
  • Analyzing the Pipeline: Thorough analysis identifies and addresses common challenges like gaps, blockages, and leaks, ensuring a robust and effective sales pipeline.
  • Pipeline Discipline: A disciplined approach involves regular reviews, proactive problem-solving for common challenges, and tailored solutions to enhance overall pipeline health, creating a proactive and strategic sales environment for sustained success.

Strategic pipeline management empowers the entire sales team by serving as a driving force for identifying challenges and accelerating sales velocity.

Review Opportunities

Even the most exceptional selling skills fall short unless they are applied to the right pursuits. Opportunity reviews play a pivotal role in enhancing deal qualification, forecasting accuracy, and resource utilization which leads to higher-value sales. Consistent and well-executed opportunity reviews are the cornerstone of efficiency for both individual sellers and the entire sales team. To maximize their effectiveness, sales managers should adhere to three key principles:

Emphasize Outcomes Over Activities

While activity volume provides a sense of progress, quantity doesn't always equal results. The most impactful opportunity reviews focus on identifying strategic actions required to build momentum to the close.

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Relying on subjective judgment of the health of an opportunity leads to inconsistent outcomes. Effective opportunity reviews demand an objective approach rooted in data. Sellers must maintain updated CRM data that can be used by the sales manager to coach the seller on the best next step.

Be Selective About What Opportunities to Review

Recognizing that it's impractical to review every opportunity, sales managers must exercise discernment. This involves considering factors such as the financial value of a pursuit, the alignment between the solution and the customer, and the seller's access to key stakeholders. Strategic prioritization ensures opportunity reviews are focused on the most promising and impactful pursuits.

click here to learn about richardson's crm-enabled workflow tools

Effective sales managers have a multifaceted skill set that transcends the art of closing deals. By honing the skills discussed in this article sales managers can position themselves as effective leaders capable of navigating the ever-evolving landscape of sales to achieve peak performance for themselves and their teams.

click here to view sales management training solutions from Richardson
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