Thinking about the future is probably second nature to you.
You’re forecasting revenue, projecting pipeline growth, and calculating key metrics. You’re keeping an eye on pending sales while looking ahead to the end of the month, the quarter, and the fiscal year.
In the midst of all that, when can you find time to contemplate the evolution of your own role? You probably barely have time to pose the questions, let alone figure out the answers.
This post has your back, with explanations for five of the most frequently asked questions about the state of sales management and where the role is headed.
5 questions about the future of sales management
- Are sales managers becoming extinct?
- Can you have a sales team without a sales manager?
- Is ‘sales manager’ a toxic title?
- Can an introvert be a good sales manager?
- Is sales management innate or can it be learned?
Are sales managers becoming extinct?
It’s a popular trope in business and sales—the death of this, the end of that. In this case, the extinction of sales management is overstated. Good sales managers, those who are invested in coaching, training, and empowering their sales team, are not likely to become obsolete any time soon.
Bad sales managers should go the way of the dinosaur, though. The kind who take credit for successes but avoid blame for setbacks, act like a bully, create conflict and unreasonable expectations, play politics, or get obsessed with metrics that don’t matter.
Sales managers may not be going extinct, but their role has changed and continues to evolve. It used to be that sales managers were in place to boost the performance of the members of the sales team who were struggling.
In that kind of role, sales managers were just retitled sales reps with a budget and the ability to make hiring and firing decisions. They sat in on calls to sell, not gain insight. They ignored the sales reps who were successful and micromanaged the rest, swooping in to close deals and take all the glory.
The new sales management paradigm is centred around coaching and developing the entire sales team. Today’s sales manager provides consistent resources and training. They have a solid sales playbook that everyone on their team is following. They’re looking for what works and reiterating it. That kind of sales manager will continue to thrive.
Can you have a sales team without a sales manager?
If sales managers ever end up going extinct, this seems to be the logical next question.
You might be expecting a ‘no’ here. However, in certain situations, a sales team can function without a proper sales manager.
Experts usually recommend that as soon as you have two or more salespeople you need someone to lead your sales team. That person doesn’t necessarily have to be a sales manager, though.
For some start-ups and smaller teams, the CEO or another company leader functions as the sales manager. So technically the company doesn’t have a standalone position with the ‘sales manager’ title, but someone is still playing a similar role and assuming the duties that a sales manager would.
This is how Proposify functioned in its early days. Co-founder and CEO Kyle Racki served as the company’s first sales employee—a BDR, account executive, and sales manager all in one. Instead of focusing solely on VC funding, his sales role got money coming in the door in the meantime. (Kyle goes in-depth about early-stage startup sales in an episode of his podcast, LTV with Kyle Racki.)
If a company has a sales team but lacks a traditional sales leadership role, other employees would need to step in to perform some of the tasks a sales manager would normally handle. For example, the human resources officer could look after recruiting and hiring of sales reps and other HR-related activities. Other functions could be outsourced, like having a third-party company look after sales rep onboarding and training.
This approach might raise more questions than it answers in the long-term, though. What about the relationships and the day-to-day management of the sales team? What about ongoing sales coaching and meetings? What about metrics and reporting? Under whose purview will these tasks and activities fall?
Any company considering operating a sales team without a manager would have a lot of work to do, upfront and ongoing, to make up for lacking this vital role.
Is ‘sales manager’ a toxic title?
Job titles can be fickle and titles for sales positions are notoriously so. They are inconsistent across companies and rarely describe the role effectively.
Because of these discrepancies, Sales Talent Agency found it was easier to group sales professionals by their actual job function than by title alone for their annual salary guide. For example, though they may share the same job title, some salespeople are prospectors only, while others are focused solely on closing deals. Many sales managers, VPs of sales, and sales directors have people reporting to them; others don’t.
For something so arbitrary, titles still carry weight. A customer might distrust a sales manager but trust a director of sales, even if the job description for both is the same.
So, why else would a company avoid the sales manager title? Well, both parts of that title have some negative connotations. Sales can be viewed as pushy, aggressive, and untrustworthy. Managers are seen as ineffective or just plain bad. Put those two together and it’s easy to see why some people might consider that title a turn-off.
The bottom line is to use what works for you and your company. There are no hard and fast rules. What might turn off one person could appeal to another.
Whether the message is coming from a general manager, director of sales, business development manager, or what-have-you, prospects should be looking at and more impressed by, say, the content of your cold email, not the title in the signature.
Can an introvert be a good sales manager?
The extroverted salesperson stereotype tends to be overstated. Introverts have innate tendencies that translate well to selling.
A good example is sales executive and author Michael Hannon. As an introverted kid with a stutter, sales was the last career path he thought he’d take. However, it’s where he’s found success.
Hannon points to his stutter as a starting point for developing empathy, which he later translated to working with prospects and his sales team. It also taught him the power of slowing down and thinking before rushing to speak.
Complex B2B sales or industries where networking, relationship-building, and repeat sales play a big role are perfect for introverted salespeople. They’re thoughtful and like to work from a plan instead of winging it or rushing forward impulsively. The job requires excellent listening and analytical skills, both things introverts are known to possess.
On the management side, the same principle applies. An extroverted sales manager might want to be involved in every single minute detail of their sales team’s process. This could devolve into micromanagement and burn-out. Introverts might be more okay with letting people do their own thing while they, as the manager, control their own controllables.
It’s more than okay to be introverted in sales, but you can’t be painfully shy or anti-social. In fact, many sales experts say that the ideal disposition for sales is an ambivert. This type of person has characteristics of both an introvert and an extrovert and can switch between as needed, something that would also be ideal in a sales manager.
Is sales management innate or can it be learned?
As with sales in general, there are some dispositions and personality traits that might make you more (or less) successful as a sales manager. That said, they might not be the same things that make someone a great sales rep.
Effective management requires people skills, a willingness to help others for the greater good, and the ability to look beyond yourself and bring out the best in other people. The role also needs patience, flexibility, and good communication skills. Some of this can be taught or honed. Other parts, like trustworthiness and a willingness to help others improve, might be more innate.
A driven, Type-A salesperson who thrives on the ‘thrill of the hunt’ might not be content as a manager. A successful salesperson will have a process that they repeat with smaller variations. A sales manager’s day-to-day will be different as they tackle coaching, reporting, recruiting and hiring, and other tasks.
Managing other people isn’t easy, no matter what department or industry you’re in. Each employee has different strengths, weaknesses, goals, and work styles so learning how to adapt to that takes time. Even for the most naturally talented managers among us, there will still be a learning curve.
Sales managers know better than most that change is inevitable. What are your thoughts on what sales leadership roles will look like in a few years’ time? Comment below or reach out to us on social media!