Becoming a Sales Manager: Job Overview, Qualifications, and More

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Are you someone who thrives off competition and sales performance? Do you live for the chase and the pressure of meeting sales quotas? Are your communication skills one of your strongest assets?

If you answered yes to these questions, a career as a sales manager may be right for you. Succeeding in this line of work entails a keen ability to bring your A-game every day as a leader of a sales team. With an online Bachelor of Science in Management degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, you’ll not only better hone those skills but obtain the credentials you need to enter and thrive in this highly rewarding profession. Whether you seek to manage sales at a brick and mortar retail shop or lead the marketing department for a multinational corporation, a bachelor’s degree in business management from UAB can help you reach your aspirations.

Here is some basic information about what sales managers typically do on a day-to-day basis, how much they tend to earn, what employers look for in effective sales managers. and more.

Businesswoman and two sales managers interacting around a desktop computer

What Is A Sales Manager And What Do They Do?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sales managers oversee and direct sales teams. In other words, they serve as the primary point persons for setting and executing certain sales goals, assign sales territories, and help improve customer service. To better reach this latter aim, it may require coordinating training programs for staff so personnel can understand how to achieve lasting, authentic customer satisfaction. When executives analyze sales, they may be able to identify whether sales teams are succeeding.

In a similar vein, sales managers’ responsibilities may also involve using data to recognize what truly matters most to their customers, something that may not be immediately apparent. According to survey research from Gallup, while 67% of employees have direct contact with customers in one form or another, most don’t know for certain what their customers care about when it comes to their overall shopping experience. Sales managers may collaborate with leadership to determine how to glean more constructive feedback from customers.

Here are a few other duties that a sales manager typically performs while on the job, according to the BLS:

  • Develop actionable steps and plans to identify new customers or clients through various recruitment techniques, such as cold calling or email campaigns.
  • Prepare budgets and expenditures on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.
  • Evaluate sales opportunities and decide on when to apply certain discounts on merchandise.
  • Determine what products to advertise or promote to increase customer demand.
  • Make decisions on the duration of discount offers.

As we can see, a sales manager must be a jack of all trades. Whether their managing responsibility lies in sales between businesses (B2B) or directly to consumers (B2C), sales managers wear many different hats, often in a single work day.

How Do You Become A Sales Manager?

There are many different pathways to the role of sales manager. Frequently, it’s done by working up the ladder, starting out in a sales associate capacity — perhaps at a brick and mortar retailer — which often leads to more prestigious positions through hard work, persistence, and dedication.

In terms of education, sales managers usually have a bachelor’s degree, although it may not be necessary, according to the BLS. Similarly, sales managers may not need to specialize in a specific major, but ideal courses to take that can help them succeed include economics, accounting, finance, mathematics, statistics, and business law.

Perhaps the most important component of succeeding and achieving in this position is the ability to manage staff, sales goals, finances, or other aspects of running a business. In the online Bachelor of Science in Management program at UAB, several courses are focused on this area. Whether it’s Management Processes and Behavior in the Upper Level Core or Human Resource Management in the General Management Core, these three-credit courses are designed to help you master all things in the management realm.

Bottom line: While neither a bachelor’s degree nor a master’s degree is a prerequisite for becoming a sales manager, they may be able to give you an edge on others competing for the same job openings, as they speak to your dedication and capabilities.

Similarly, while working as a sales representative in some capacity can make for a smooth transition to the role of sales manager, related occupations that tend to translate well include purchasing agents, wholesale, and manufacturing settings, according to the BLS.

How Much In Salary Does A Sales Manager Stand To Earn?

Earnings can be wide ranging, especially in managerial positions, since this occupation is found in numerous sectors far beyond retail (e.g. marketing, manufacturing, finance and insurance, technical services, information technology, etc.). Another complicating factor about earnings is commissions, in which the amount of sales over a given month, quarter, or year affects salary. The more sold, the more earned. For the most part, sales managers are compensated both on an hourly basis and through commissions, getting a certain percentage of a given transaction.

Based on the most recent figures available from the BLS, sales managers make a median annual wage of $126,640. The dollar amount can be considerably higher or lower, largely depending on the industry, level of experience, or both. For example, the median annual wage for sales managers in retail runs at roughly $86,180. Yet in finance and insurance, the median is nearly $30,000 more than the overall median, at approximately $156,060.

Another variable that can affect how much money a sales manager makes in a year is where they work. For example, the annual mean wage in California is approximately $137,000 as of May 2019, according to the BLS. This figure may be influenced by the high cost of living in the Golden State compared to other parts of the country. In New York, the annual mean wage is just shy of $194,100.

In Kentucky, a state where the cost of living is more affordable than the West Coast, the annual median wage runs between $63,280 and $112,890, based on the same data.

From a perspective of which states sales managers earn the most, compensation levels are highest in New York ($194,090), Delaware ($177,560), New Jersey ($176,950), Virginia ($172,920), and Rhode Island ($171,240).

Work experience, job responsibilities, bonuses, and an organization’s performance can all affect what sales managers earn.

What Do Employers Look For In A Sales Manager?

While managers in some professions are entirely behind the scenes, having little interaction with people, that’s not the case with sales managers. Their business is people, especially in settings such as retail, marketing, and manufacturing. As such, they must be able to communicate effectively, especially in situations where they’re thrown a curve ball and lines of communication may be adversely affected.

A classic example is the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to the loss of life and shutdowns of national, state, and local economies. In an attempt to “flatten the curve,” businesses all around the country shut their doors, which forced retailers to restrategize and communicate plans to ensure worker safety and business continuity.

While most companies are now open again, sales managers had to maintain a clear line of communication — whether through email, video conferencing, or some other means — to make certain that their staff was aware of the next steps forward.

In some ways, sales managers achieved success on the messaging front, particularly in the retail segment. For instance, in May 2020, overall retail sales rose nearly 18% on a seasonally adjusted basis compared to the previous month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This was a major improvement from the 14.7% dip that occurred in April versus March.

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, attributed the recovery both to paying customers and to retailers’ success in terms of planning and shopping safety. Good ongoing communication is critical to planning.

“As those stores that remained open — our economic first responders — have shown, retailers have developed solutions that protect the safety of their customers and associates, and they are sharing those lessons to the benefit of store owners large and small in communities across the country.”

Whether they’re interacting with colleagues and delegating responsibilities or touching base with corporate to map out a plan of action, solid communication skills are critical to success as a sales manager.

Analytical Skills

What makes a customer “tick”? In other words, what draws them through the doors or inspires them to purchase a product or service? These are not easy answers and require a keen ability to analyze data, which may speak to what customers most want out of a shopping experience.

For example, an intelligent way to home in on buyer preferences is through surveys. Whether done online, by phone, mailers, or in-person, surveys provide feedback that can be used to inform business decisions.

While sales managers may not be responsible for putting surveys together, they may be required to interpret them so findings can be put into action. Being effective in analysis also requires strong communication skills so sales teams can discuss the findings of surveys and how to apply the results and deliver for paying customers.

Customer Service Skills

In customer-centric industries—such as retail, health care, finance, food and beverage, hospitality, and a host of others — there is no business without the paying customer. Ensuring their complete satisfaction is crucial to ongoing success and the maintenance or improvement of sales. If buyers don’t get what they want or their expectations are not met, they frequently won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere.

Sales managers must prioritize the customer in everything they do. This includes sales managers who work in a B2B capacity. According to Gallup research, emotional factors make up roughly 70% of the economic decisions that business leaders make. In other words, the products, services, and commodities they purchase or gravitate toward is influenced by how they feel about them.

It’s possible to gain better and more accurate understanding of the emotional attachment or sentiment of customers through analytics, according to Gallup Senior Economist Daniel Kahneman, author of the book Thinking Fast and Slow, a New York Times bestseller.

While determining the proper data analytics may be outside of the scope of a typical sales manager, they can gain insight and clarity on how to better serve customers by using analytics to improve business goals and performance.

As we can see, communication, customer service, and analytical skills often go hand in hand, one building on or involving the other.

Leadership Skills

Since sales managers oversee sales staff and sales representatives, they’re often looked to as leaders. Because much of their work involves planning, coordinating, developing ideas, and monitoring the activities of customers and colleagues, associates may turn to them for guidance on certain sales efforts or how campaigns are going if the person seeking answers is a supervisor or someone even higher up the chain of command.

Leadership skills can be acquired. In business situations that may be difficult or filled with frustration for staff, workers look to leaders for guidance, reassurance, and affirmation. Leadership qualities can also help salespeople feel more confident about the future, which sales managers may be able to provide by leveraging data that speaks to why there’s reason for optimism in seasons where customer traffic, memberships, or subscriptions may be down.

One’s ability to demonstrate leadership can ultimately be the difference between staff deciding to stay with a company or going elsewhere. According to a survey from global staffing firm Robert Half, nearly 50% of Americans have quit their jobs because of a manager they didn’t like or conflicted with.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, said these kinds of situations can frequently be avoided entirely through better communication.

“Many times open communication and training can help to resolve issues and strengthen the professional relationship between bosses and their direct reports,” McDonald explained.

If they’re not careful, managers may unwittingly contribute to a stressful work environment. According to a 2020 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 85% of workers are of the opinion that managers who are poorly trained are often responsible for bringing unnecessary amounts of anxiety into the workplace, leading to undue stress for everyone.

SHRM President and CEO Johnny Taylor said high-quality leadership hinges on relationship building, especially between managers and their associates.

Leadership is a core focus at the UAB Collat School of Business. Some of the curriculum found within the online Bachelor of Science in Management program discusses the importance of this quality and why it is needed in all lines of work. The class is titled Managing Through Leadership, part of the General Management Core. It’s also discussed in Business Foundations. Each is three credit hours, part of the 120 semester credit hours required to graduate.

Time Management Skills

Virtually every work-related position entails some time management, but this is especially true for sales managers. Budgets must be prepared by a certain date and sales goals achieved before seasons or quarterly earnings reports. To meet expectations, sales managers have to be strategic and methodical about what people to tap or assets to engage so tasks are completed and deadlines met. This may entail delegating authority, which also involves ongoing leadership from a perspective of identifying who works most effectively for a particular project or situation.

Ability To Speak On Behalf Of Their Team

While sales managers’ role on paper may largely be all about the numbers, they also speak on behalf of their associates. As such, they must be able to communicate the challenges workers may be faced with and what they entail. As noted by The Balance Careers, if associates are finding it personally challenging to reach a certain sales quota — which may or may not be unrealistic — a sales manager must be able to identify the issues their workers are encountering and then relay those to the appropriate higher-level manager. In essence, they must be able to “go to bat” for their team and advocate for them where appropriate.

Management — whether in sales, IT, or something else — isn’t for everyone. You can find out if it’s truly right for you by pursuing your online bachelor’s from the UAB Collat School of Business. It can give you the combination of soft, hard, and leadership skills that can take you far in whatever job you wind up pursuing. Learn more about this program and others by reaching out to your enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Reading:

Financial Manager: What is This Career Like?

What is Management Accounting?


The Balance Careers, 2019. How To Be a Successful Sales Manager?

Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019. Sales Managers

Robert Half, 2019. Half of Workers Have Quit Due to a Bad Boss

Gallup, 2020. Without Great Leadership, Even the Best Talent Can’t Win

Gallup, 2018. Why B2B Leaders Should Get in Touch With Their Feelings

Society for Human Resources Management, 2020. 84% of U.S. Workers Blame Bad Managers for Creating Unnecessary Stress