4 Unique Challenges Facing Sales Managers

26 Apr 23

What makes managing a sales team so difficult? Here are four unique challenges that sales managers face and resources to help you overcome them.

Being a sales manager is tough. They face unique challenges like hitting revenue targets, managing a diverse team, navigating internal politics, and adapting to a fast-paced, competitive environment. But by addressing these challenges head-on and adopting effective management styles, sales managers can help their teams thrive and succeed in the long run.

Research suggests that the average sales leader's tenure is less than two years, which is much shorter than the average tenure of most other management positions.

Let's dive in.

Why Are Sales Manager Challenges Unique?

Sales managers play a critical role in driving the success of an organization's sales efforts. But it comes with unique challenges that set them apart from other positions within the company.

Here are four reasons why sales manager challenges are so distinct:

#1 Revenue Target Pressure

Meeting ambitious revenue targets is a constant source of pressure for sales managers. They're held accountable for the performance of their sales team and are expected to deliver results consistently.

This unrelenting pressure is compounded by the reality that sales managers must continually adapt their strategies and tactics to meet evolving sales targets and customer expectations.

#2 Leadership and Management

Sales managers are responsible for recruiting, training, coaching, and mentoring sales team members to perform at their best. They must also foster a positive team culture, motivate and inspire their team, and provide ongoing feedback and performance evaluations.

Managing diverse sales teams can be particularly challenging, as sales managers need to understand and leverage each team member's unique strengths and weaknesses of each team member to optimize overall team performance.

#3 Internal Dynamics

Sales managers must communicate sales strategies, goals, and initiatives to other departments, manage competing priorities, and ensure cross-functional collaboration for successful outcomes.

It can be challenging as it requires effective communication, negotiation, and influencing skills to navigate internal politics and ensure smooth collaboration across different functions.

#4 Fast-Paced and Competitive Environment

The dynamic and competitive nature of sales adds another layer of complexity to the challenges faced by sales managers.

To stay ahead of the competition, sales managers must keep updated with the latest market trends, competitor activities, and customer preferences. They must be agile and adaptable, constantly tweaking their strategies and tactics to respond to changing market dynamics.

The Impact on Sales Team Performance

The challenges facing sales managers can significantly impact their sales team's performance.

For example, if sales managers need help setting clear expectations, their reps may not know what is expected of them, leading to poor performance.

Similarly, if sales managers need help managing their time, they may be unable to provide reps with the coaching and support they need to improve. It can lead to stagnant sales growth and a need for more development opportunities for reps.

4 Biggest Challenges Facing Sales Managers and How to Solve Them

Sales managers face several challenges that can impact the performance of their sales teams.

Addressing these challenges is essential for achieving sustainable behavior change and improving sales team performance.

Challenge #1: Revenue is a Company's Most Visible Metric

Few metrics in a company are as visible or as important as the revenue number.

A sales manager doesn't have the luxury of managing to a fuzzy metric or one they can explain away with qualitative excuses. Sales results are life or death, especially for public companies where billions of dollars of shareholder value can ride on a quarterly earnings announcement. Miss your number once, and you may have a problem; miss it twice, and you could be out of a job.

How to Solve It:

To overcome this challenge, sales managers must adopt a no-excuses management style emphasizing transparency and accountability.

Regularly review and analyze sales data to identify areas of improvement and take proactive measures to address performance gaps. Work closely with your finance and operations teams to ensure accurate and timely revenue forecasting.

Challenge #2: Coaching is Time-Consuming

According to industry research, sales managers who devote more than three hours of monthly coaching to each team member achieved 107% of their team quota. On the other hand, teams that received no coaching met only 82% of their quota.

Unfortunately, sales coaching, while necessary, is very time-consuming. Research suggests that B2B sales managers should spend 25%- 40% of their time coaching their team—on top of their other responsibilities.

How to Solve It:

Efficient time management is critical to overcoming this challenge. While there are many ways to coach a sales rep, the most effective sales coaching generally involves observing your sales reps on sales calls and giving coaching feedback. For more on sales coaching, see here.

This type of coaching is unique to sales, where most of the critical part of the job occurs during customer meetings.

Challenge #3: Sales Managers Need to Manage Specific Behaviors

Successful sales managers need to manage results ("How much did you sell?") together with underlying behaviors ("What did you do?") that produce those results.

The challenge is that there are many behaviors to manage: prospecting activities, meetings conducted, talk time, the number of new opportunities added to the pipeline, etc.

Since a typical sales manager manages a team of 8-10 reps, they have the daunting task of managing hundreds of behaviors across their team.

How to solve it:

An excellent first step in managing behaviors is to limit the number of sales behaviors you track and focus on those few that have the most impact on sales performance.

You should also track key sales metrics and establish a culture of accountability and transparency where sales reps understand the importance of these behaviors in achieving their sales goals.

Challenge #4: Hard to Hire Great Reps

In today's competitive hiring market, it's tough to hire for any role, but hiring great sales reps poses unique challenges for a manager.

According to Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, sales is the most context-specific activity in the value chain. For example, selling software is different from selling medical devices, selling to SMB customers is different from selling to the Enterprise, and selling in the US is different from selling in Europe. So, a rep's previous sales experience may not be a good predictor of future success in a different sales environment.

On the other hand, disciplines such as accounting, finance, and marketing are much more similar across companies and industries.

Research also supports a common hiring challenge experienced by most sales managers: the low correlation between a good interview and future sales results. However, candidates often perform better at selling themselves during the interview than later in the field after getting hired.

How to solve it:

Look for candidates with the core competencies and skills required for success in your sales environment rather than solely relying on their experience. Consider using competency-based interviewing techniques to assess a candidate's ability to handle real-world sales scenarios and challenges they will likely encounter in your industry or market.

Assessing a candidate's cultural fit with your organization's values and sales team dynamics is also essential. Conduct thorough reference checks and involve other key stakeholders in the hiring process, such as top-performing sales reps or team members, to gain additional insights.

Here is a good primer to help you hire sales stars and build a world-class sales team.


Sales managers face unique challenges that set them apart from other positions within a company.

These challenges include revenue target pressure, team leadership and management, internal dynamics and collaboration, and the fast-paced and competitive sales environment. They can all significantly impact sales teams' performance, leading to poor performance, stagnant sales growth, and a need for more development opportunities for sales reps.

To overcome these challenges, sales managers must adopt a no-excuses management style emphasizing transparency and accountability, practice efficient time management, and focus on managing specific behaviors through observation and coaching feedback.

An excellent first step is to acknowledge that your role as a sales manager is fundamentally different from any other management position and then understand why it's different. You should also consider a comprehensive training program designed specifically for sales managers.

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