Welcome to “The Pipeline” — a new weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
There are some qualities that you’re almost bound to find in every sales manager — things like people skills, ambition, and sales acumen are all central to earning the role in the first place.
But the best sales managers don’t stop there. They exhibit other key traits and tendencies that move the needle, pushing their management skills from good to great. So to help give new managers a frame of reference, I’ve identified six qualities that — in my experience — make for truly exceptional sales managers.
6 Sales Qualities the Best Sales Managers Possess
1. A Commitment to Personal Improvement
The best sales managers lead by example. If you want your reps to consistently apply themselves and commit to their professional development, you have to do that too — always be improving.
Complacency and effective sales management are mutually exclusive. As a manager, it’s on you to fight any inclination to stall on your existing responsibilities and commitment to growth. You have to want to be better and constantly deliver on that motivation.
Consistently seek out sales management learning opportunities. Make a conscious effort to better understand and approach the aspects of your job that extend beyond directly managing your team. No matter what you do, remain grounded, open, and ambitious when it comes to your ongoing professional development.
2. The Ability to Identify and Hire Quality Candidates
The sustained success of your team rests on the talent you bring in. The best sales manager in the world can only get so far with a rep who lacks the ambition, skills, or cultural fit to thrive and contribute to their team.
Onboarding and ultimately letting go of an ineffective hire is a massive drain on time, effort, capital, and resources. That makes sound hiring skills central to excelling as a sales manager.
Identifying and pursuing the right candidates is obviously easier said than done, and there’s no definitive blueprint for what the ideal rep for your sales org will look like. Still, you want to look out for key attributes — including coachability, intelligence, work ethic, curiosity, and relevant experience.
Work with sales leadership and consider tapping more seasoned sales managers for insight into what kind of candidate is most likely to thrive at your company — and refine the questions and processes you use to identify them.
Again, this process is way too complicated to reduce to a few paragraphs in a blog post, but if you want to succeed in sales management, you need to have it down.
3. A Willingness to Construct and Commit to a Sales Process
Keeping things consistent and cohesive is key when trying to run a productive sales team — doing so keeps the ship tight and your team’s collective effort more fluid and effective. Your team needs to be on the same page, so it helps to give them a solid framework to abide by.
That’s where a well-structured sales process comes into play. If you can establish, monitor, and facilitate an effective sequence for your reps to follow when conducting their sales efforts, you can make both your and their jobs easier.
There should always be some rhyme and reason to your team’s sales efforts — and the best managers know it’s on them to define and enforce what that will look like.
4. A Solid Understanding of Relevant KPIs
Success in sales only counts if you can prove it’s real. That’s why managers need to understand how both their and their teams’ efforts will be evaluated. You have to understand your KPIs — like average sales cycle length, average deal size, discovery-to-close rate, or any other metric that shows exactly how much of an impact your team is making.
You also have to know how those metrics will be reported. Being able to conduct, read, and act on your reporting are all essential to your ability to identify areas for improvement — for both you and your team.
In some cases, you might have to work with your managers to get a solid feel for this aspect of the job. Don’t be reluctant to touch base with them about the how and why behind the KPIs and reports you need to have a grip on.
No matter what it might take to get there, you have to know the ins and outs of the metrics used to measure your performance.
5. Objective, Fair Conflict Resolution Skills
This isn’t exactly shocking to point out, but people don’t always get along — and sales professionals are no exception. Conflict is natural and potentially productive in the workplace, and as a manager, it’s often on you to resolve disputes between your team members.
When confronted with those situations, the best sales managers know how to remain calm, impartial, and objective. Conflict doesn’t have to mean confrontation — and you have to know how to keep that kind of tension from boiling over into how your team functions.
Effective managers know how to hear every side without playing favorites and make sure that disputes get resolved constructively — minimizing friction, maintaining high morale, and ultimately making their teams run smoother.
6. Firm but Compassionate Communication and Feedback Skills
Coaching and offering feedback are two of the most important responsibilities that consistently fall on sales managers. It’s on them to provide the kind of personal insight that will get the most out of their reps.
Typically, delivering on those key responsibilities means leading with empathy and providing constructive guidance. You need to understand who your reps are. No two team members are built the same — they’re going to be receptive to different kinds of coaching.
If you can tactfully tailor your messages and feedback to accommodate your reps as individuals, you’ll put yourself in an excellent position to be the best sales manager you can be.
Now, this list isn’t a definitive, exhaustive guide that covers every quality great sales managers possess. There are plenty of other attributes that lend themselves to effective sales management.
That said, the behaviors and tendencies listed here are still incredibly valuable — and if you’re a sales manager, it’s in your best interest to add these components into your management repertoire if you haven’t already.