What’s the Difference Between Sales Managers and Sales Representatives?


Small business owners with one or two sales reps on their staff can often manage the challenges of bringing in new business and satisfying current customers. But when it’s time to grow your business, you need to understand the difference between sales managers and sales representatives. At some point, you’ll need a sales manager to run and coach your sales department. And when your company becomes large enough, you'll also want to consider hiring a sales executive.

What Sales Managers Teach Reps

Sales managers maintain responsibility for very different organizational functions than sales representatives. On a day-​to-​day basis, your sales representatives are prospecting for new clients. They may be moving good prospects through the sales funnel. And they could be touching base with existing customers to improve the chances of doing more business with them.

A sales manager will usually have experience in all the tasks a sales representative is asked to do. They understand the thrill of landing a big account, and they should be able to empathize when a great prospect walks away from what looked like a certain deal. If a sales rep is having a hard time understanding how to conduct a needs analysis on a prospect, the sales manager should help. Our Voice of the Sales Rep survey indicates that only 30% of reps get personalized coaching. Sales managers often have trouble determining what to coach their reps on. One way to get a clear understanding of a rep’s weaknesses and their motivations, is to ask them to take a sales skills assessment as part of their hiring process.

Coaching a sales rep and helping to improve their selling strategies and tactics means the manager may have to change their mindset. Most sales managers were promoted into their position after doing extremely well as a sales rep. Many of these formerly successful sales reps are still adrenaline-​fueled. They grow excited as a big deal is about to close. In some cases, they may step in and steal their rep’s glory. While the deal may have successfully closed, the manager has made a serious mistake. They taught the rep that they aren’t able to close a deal by themselves.

Managing Conflict

Sales managers also take on the role of building team loyalty. Some reps can focus on their job without worrying about what the person in the next office is doing. Other reps get sucked into the office drama. It might be gossip about who’s been given the best leads or a dispute about who’s to blame for the failed team effort to upsell a big account. Managers don’t have the luxury of avoiding this type of conflict. If your team members are bickering instead of getting their work done, it’s time to have the uncomfortable conversation. Yes, it might involve tears. But a good sales manager will meet with the feuding reps and negotiate a solution. Wise managers will also convince each rep in the dispute to be accountable for their actions.

Difference Between Sales Managers and Representatives

Steli Efti at blog​.close​.com reminds sales managers that the concept of being a boss is old-​school thinking. If you come into the role believing that your team exists to do your work, you have the wrong mindset. Today’s reps need help, training, coaching and emotional support to get their jobs done. If you don’t feel equipped to carry out these aspects of the job, consider signing up for more sales manager training. At that point, you should be asking the question all great sales managers should be obsessing about every day: “How can I help this team be the best they can be?”

Is It Time to Hire A Sales Executive?

While sales managers stay focused on helping their reps succeed, they're tracking day-​to-​day details. They know which rep is getting close to signing a deal. And tracking activity levels, especially the ones that get recorded in the CRM, is key. At some point, business owners need a longer term vision for the organization. As they become occupied with product development strategies, they may hire a sale executive. Creating this position will be critical for organizations that lack strategic sales talent in the C‑suite.

Most sales executives set annual sales goals with input from the sales managers and other senior level managers. Depending on the skill level of the sales executive, some organizations may require them to develop relationships with new prospects. In addition, sales executives may regularly analyze the performance of sales reps and may set variable compensation standards, such as incentives and bonuses. Sales executive may also serve as the individual who approves any discounts given to customers in order to close a deal.

Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

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Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.