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How to manage a sales team - Prima Resource

Call it a sales team or a sales department, it’s a major component of any business. Nowadays, with advancement of technology affecting every industry, the sales team acts as the business’s central nervous system.

Before getting into the details of how to manage a sales team, let’s look at some basic elements.

How to manage a sales team? In this guide you’ll learn:

What is a sales force?

In its simplest form, a sales force represents the sales team, all representatives of the company, and their managers.

In its broader definition, these are all elements of a business that contribute in some way to sales. In this sense, the structure of the sales force may include recruitment, compensation, training, the process to follow for every opportunity, as well as the performance indicators to define, etc.

PRIMA - Conversion rateConversion rates are one of the KPIs to follow in sales – Photo credit: PRIMA

The sales force can be organized in various ways—direct sales, indirect sales, internet sales— all according to the company’s business strategy.

What is the difference between direct and indirect sales?

Direct sales involve the salespeople and sales managers employed by the company. Salespeople can fulfill different roles, though mainly that of hunter, farmer, and account manager. If the business strategy includes indirect sales, a channel manager will also be part of the internal sales team.

The size of the sales team varies according to several criteria, including the objectives and difficulty level of the environment in which the company evolves.

Indirect sales involve an intermediary between the company and the client; it’s a distribution network made up of exclusive or non-exclusive agents, retailers and distributors.

This strategy yields excellent results, provided the company invests enough time and respects some basic rules in order to maintain control over the performance of these external agents.

The internet and the sales force: A multi-channel hybrid strategy emerges

Many businesses, especially in manufacturing sectors like B2B and B2B2C, use either direct or indirect traditional sales strategies. These methods often leave them lagging due to emerging web channels.

To stay in the race, many are setting up multi-channel hybrid sales strategies, thus integrating the internet to connect with their clients.

To achieve such a strategy, the challenge is to respect consistency so the different channels remain united. Sales leaders must ensure that every opportunity follows the same strategy.

The mission, objectives, responsibility, and role of a sales force

The mission of the sales force is to generate revenue and/or gross profit.

Its objectives, to begin with, are to protect the company’s existing revenue (or gross profit) and market share, and then to increase that revenue in profitable manner.

Its responsibility is to reach the sales objectives set by the company leaders, by conserving existing clients and by acquiring new ones. The sales force must support the business strategy which differs from one organization to another.

Every business chooses different growth and development strategies. Many focus on global revenue or gross profit. Others are motivated by acquisition, aspiring instead to increase their market share.

In a more difficult context, for example, when the economy is not doing well, the objective can shift from growth to maintaining its activities. The company will then ask its sales force to try to retain existing clients and to acquire new ones in order to compensate for those who are leaving.

The role of a sales force, as obvious as it may seem, is to sell. More specifically, the representative sells the value of a product or service using a consultative approach based on a detailed, milestone-centric sales process.

You must be careful not to blur the boundaries between each department, which all play different roles.

The marketing and sales departments work hand in hand to reach the business’s objectives, although they don’t intervene at the same stage of the sales process. Marketing works as an upstream process.

In the same vein, a salesperson isn’t a product specialist who is part of the R&D or engineering team.

The structure of a sales force

There are a few ways you can structure your sales team – by territory, market, product, technology, client base, etc. The best architecture to adopt depends on strategy and market positioning, meaning that the business who sells product expertise would most benefit from establishing a structure based on product type.

The structure of the sales force must be flexible to allow for rapid change, suffice to follow the business’s evolution and bring modifications to the structure when needed, while staying in sync to the needs of its clientele.

A unilateral or varied approach?

We’ve observed a tendency to stick to a unilateral approach in the architecture of the sales force. For example, structuring based on territory, and then applying it everywhere else.

Instead, I’d advocate for a hybrid model. A strategic conflation of various operation modes. To create an efficient architecture, we must consider the ensemble of elements and regroup them according to the sales process.

Take for example a company selling 5 different products.

It’s possible that several representatives are responsible for 4 of them, as they demand a low level of expertise. These reps will then be assigned territory to optimize travel.

The 5th product, demanding a very specialized expertise, is represented by a single salesperson responsible for all territories.

Sales management roles

Managing a sales force touches many aspects, all which come with their own challenges.

The role of the sales manager

Sales managers have representatives who are accountable to them. If this isn’t the case, then we’re not talking of a real sales manager. The role and responsibilities of sales managers are mainly to ensure that the representatives correctly execute the strategies.

There are 10 focus areas, but concretely, 80% of sales managers’ time must be devoted to the following 4 main areas:

  1. Coaching salespeople;
  2. Holding the team accountable;
  3. Motivating the team;
  4. Recruiting new salespeople.

The role of the sales leader

Does the sales leader (VP of sales, President, CEO, etc.) have at least one sales manager accountable to them? If only representatives are accountable to them, then they are in fact, a sales manager.

The role of sales VP is challenging, but in general the sales leader plays a strategic role.

For example, the VP of sales or President must develop strategic planning, build calculated alliances and partnerships, plan the management of sales channels, elaborate product strategies, coach, hold accountable, recruit and motivate sales managers, ensure consistency between sales and marketing, etc.

How to manage a sales team effectively

There are 10 core areas to focus on when managing a sales team:

  1. Coaching salespeople;
  2. Motivating the sales team;
  3. Holding salespeople accountable;
  4. Recruiting and hiring salespeople;
  5. Optimizing the sales cycle;
  6. Helping reps sell consultatively;
  7. Helping salespeople sell value;
  8. Helping salespeople close;
  9. Helping salespeople follow an effective sales process;
  10. Helping salespeople accurately forecast sales.

Coaching salespeople

Coaching is the most difficult sales management competency to learn and master. Yet, it’s become the single most important element of sales management. Sales managers are now required to spend 50% of their time doing it – coaching and debriefing sessions should be done often and consistently.

Sales Coaching Competency - Objective Management GroupPercentage of sales managers who are strong in the Sales Coaching Competency – Objective Management Group

Coaching can be done on an ad hoc or regular basis. In the first case, the director will accompany the salesperson along the stages of the company’s milestone-centric sales process, and this, with different prospects.

Coaching sessions should be flexible and sales managers need to learn to control their emotions during coaching sessions. Incidentally, sales managers shouldn’t let their reps see them sell as way to coach them. In fact, good coaching sessions allow reps to fail without being rescued.

Ultimately sales coaching sessions should teach reps to uncover their prospects’ compelling reasons to buy, how they make buying decisions and getting prospects to make those decisions.

Motivating the sales team

Today’s salesperson is a different breed than one from even 15 years ago. It’s important to understand how your salespeople are motivated, what motivates them, and when to motivate them.

There are three motivational dimensions that impact your rep’s performance:

The level of motivation

The sales force evaluation gives a score for each element of the will to sell, of which motivation is a part of. This helps in determining the rep’s level of motivation.

The type of motivation

There are 3 main types of motivation in sales (extrinsic, intrinsic and altruistic), and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. It’s a question of knowing which corresponds to each of your salespeople, to know how to motivate them.

Motivational trends

Motivational tendencies indicate the representative’s preferences, but by no means guarantee a productive way of functioning.

For example, if the salesperson would rather pressure themselves than get pressure from their leader, it doesn’t mean this strategy will produce better results. Usually external pressure is more effective because it creates discomfort.

To effectively motivate sales reps, a sales manager needs to know what compels each salesperson and what they want from life to remind them what they are working for. To do this, sales managers need to develop strong relationships – not only build rapport.

Most salespeople are motivated intrinsically so things like praise and recognition go a long way.

Types of motivation - Objective Management GroupTypes of motivation by sales quotient – Objective Management Group

Holding salespeople accountable

Holding salespeople accountable to measurable, forward-looking behaviors and metrics is very important.

Effective sales management means not accepting mediocrity and demanding more from the sales team.

To do that, sales managers can’t need approval from their team and they have to be able to take responsibility as well as learn how to manage behaviours (not only dollars and orders).

They have to listen attentively and ask their reps tough questions and manage the team’s pipeline.

Recruiting and hiring salespeople

Most sales management challenges can be eliminated when the ideal salespeople are identified, selected, hired and effectively on boarded. Hiring salespeople should be done based on their ability to sell and not just because a sales manager or leader likes them.

There is nothing wrong with hiring people when dictated by expansion or replacement. However, an ongoing effort to attract the finest possible candidates will keep current employees on their toes.

Consistent recruiting can also provide bench strength, allow sales managers to replace a salesperson on a moment’s notice, and allow them to interview from a position of strength rather than weakness.

Sales recruitment includes these 5 steps:

  1. Clearly identify your needs for the position.
  2. Find your candidates.
  3. Evaluate all your candidates.
  4. Qualify the best candidates.
  5. Have your qualified candidates pass an interview.

Sales training

Companies are increasingly sensitive to the need to train their employees and managers. Whether these courses are provided by internal members, external experts or suppliers, the goal is to help improve skills and competencies.

Businesses have this perception that training specific to sales is necessary, but it’s difficult to get an idea of the results this training should produce.

In general, it’s necessary to define the expected results, to provide adequate follow-ups, and not to neglect accountability. It’s also necessary to ensure that the coaching of sales managers supports the training received by the salespeople.

Optimizing the sales cycle

Effective sales management finds ways to shorten and optimize the sales cycle. Sales cycle can be shortened by following a formal, structured milestone-centric sales process.

To optimize their sales cycles, sales managers need to avoid accepting put offs and excuses from their salespeople. They need to have in depth conversations about money with their reps and have a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to what their reps are saying.

As long as managers remain optimistic about outcomes and skeptical about what they’re hearing, they’ll prevent their salespeople from misleading them and consistently get more accurate answers to tough questions.

Helping reps sell consultatively

Consultative selling is the most misunderstood term in all of sales with most people believing that a salesperson must ask questions, identify an issue and present a solution.

This isn’t wrong, but it falls short of the intended meaning, and most salespeople aren’t actually selling this way. Instead, they have some prepared questions, ask some of them, and when a question leads to an issue, they begin to talk about a solution.

When Consultative selling is properly executed it can help salespeople and sales managers differentiate, sell value, and sometimes be viewed as a trusted advisor. This can only occur after the salesperson has asked enough questions to go as wide and deep as possible, leading to a discussion of issues, opportunities, implications, the people they affect, and potential outcomes. As much as consultative selling relies on highly developed questioning skills, equally well-developed listening skills are an even more important component.

Helping salespeople sell value

When salespeople feel they need more competitive pricing or the lowest price to win business, the chances are quite good that they aren’t effectively selling the value.

To help their salespeople sell value, sales managers need to focus on getting the team to learn why prospects buy, focus on value instead of price, get comfortable talking about money and so on.

Helping salespeople close

Closing tends to focus on what reps are able to do at closing time, but closing has much more to do with factors that precede the closing step of the sales process:

  • Consultative selling skills
  • Qualifying skills
  • Sales process
  • Posturing

Sales managers need to help their reps with all of these elements.

Closer Competency - Prima ResourcePercentage of salespeople who are strong closers – Prima Resource

Helping salespeople follow an effective sales process

It is of the utmost importance to have a customized, milestone-centric sales process. Without it, so much time can be wasted with a given.

An effective process assures consistent, favorable outcomes and tends to prevent reps from wasting valuable time on opportunities that are unlikely to close, especially when sales cycles are long.

Without a doubt, a powerful sales process with clearly defined milestones provides more consistent, predictable and profitable results.

Helping salespeople accurately forecast sales

The pipeline is a commonly used term for the flow of opportunities being pursued. New opportunities enter the pipeline and sold or lost opportunities exit the pipeline.

It’s a very simple concept with major implications. The pipeline can be represented as a useless spreadsheet or it can be the single most important predictor of success in the entire business. When used effectively, sales managers will always know whether the number of opportunities in the pipeline is sufficient to support your goals or quotas.

It’s vital that sales managers help their salespeople learn to qualify their opportunities. When reps are qualifying effectively there will be improved accuracy when it comes to forecasting revenue and projected closing dates.

The role of CRM

Companies that don’t have a CRM that supports a formal sales process have no idea of the number of sales that are possible in the short, medium and long term.

Improvised customer management methods (Excel charts, miscellaneous notes, scraps of paper, etc.), encourage chaos. Management doesn’t even know if the activity level of the sales force is high enough to generate 1st base meetings, which, much more than closing ratios, determines the success of growth objectives.

Companies must choose a CRM that matches their business reality, but they must make sure its usefulness is understood and accepted by the sales team. This is vital, as the representatives will be its main users. They’ll be using it daily, unlike managers, who use it for funnel review once a week.


The sales team is the driving force behind company growth. Without it, there’s no new income. However, sales management isn’t easy and most sales managers don’t have the necessary skills.

In the digital age, while the purchasing habits of potential clients are being transformed, salespeople don’t possess the level of skills to succeed in this new sales environment. Consequently, the forecasts aren’t reliable, and the objectives aren’t met.