Sales management is an organizational field that is devoted to the study and control of a company’s sales activities and the practical implementation of corporate sales practices. As such, it is an exceptionally important managerial function, contributing to both overall organizational growth and profit potential for any company. In fact, sales management is one of the major drivers behind many major corporations and even small businesses throughout the developed world. The field of sales management can be divided up into two main sub-disciplines, retail and service. Within each sub-discipline there exist different theoretical frameworks and a wide range of approaches to sales management. This article will provide an overview of these various theoretical approaches and their respective applicability to the field of sales management itself.

A number of different theories exist with regard to the subject of sales management, including the idea that sales managers are salespeople, dedicated to the firm’s sales objectives. Many sales managers are also involved with leadership, viewing themselves as coaches or consultants to senior sales managers. This group tends to reject outright the traditional disciplinary approaches to sales management, viewing it as an objective part of the firm, rather than a directive.

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In addition to looking at sales managers as coaches or consultants, other conceptualizations exist around the sales management process. One school of thought maintains that sales managers are salespeople themselves, conducting the same sorts of negotiations and selling as their counterparts. Under this view, however, the sales managers have an additional role, that of mentor. By encouraging their sales force to focus on developing their own talents and strengths, rather than out-sell their prospects, sales managers can increase the overall productive output from their team.

Another school of thought maintains that the real functions of the manager are not in guiding their sales team towards their own set goals but rather in coaching and mentoring them towards their own set goals. Under this school of thought, the manager has no job simply to direct their sales force, but rather plays an active role in their success. While the coach may guide their team in some areas, the real work is done by the team themselves. As such, the manager’s primary focus is not to hit sales targets, but to ensure that each individual salesperson develops and executes a strategy that leads to sales success and measurable business results.

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The third school of thought, and the one we are concerned with here, is that the actual function of the manager does not lie in the implementing of the sales management policies and guidelines, but rather in the development of individual salespeople. Under this school of thought, the true responsibility for sales management lies in the hands of the manager, not in the implementation of the policies laid out by the firm. The primary function of the manager should be to put together a compensation plan that rewards the best salespeople, while punishing those who fall short of expectations. Because this may require the full attention of the manager, who must be involved all the way from the beginning to the end in the hiring process, it can be difficult for them to set up an effective compensation plan. While there are many benefits to outsourcing the responsibility of creating the compensation plan, this method also restricts the manager’s personal flexibility and can stifle the entrepreneurial spirit that some people thrive on, and want to unleash within their organizations.

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The final school of thought that we will discuss, and which falls in the second camp, is that the primary function of the manager is not to direct their sales force, but rather to develop and mold the next generation of leaders. In this system, the manager’s main goal is not to motivate new recruits, but rather to help them find their own way up the corporate ladder. While this may sound like a cruel and unbecoming approach by some, if the company realizes the importance of helping each of their sales force to find their way up and become leaders, it makes sense to focus less on motivating and encouraging, and more on enabling. This may mean recruiting an executive coach to help the company figure out how to implement a compensation plan that truly benefits their sales force, without hampering their entrepreneurial drive.