How to Become a Sales Manager - Education & Qualifications

Sales have always been an art, but sales management turns it into something of a science. Where a salesperson focuses on putting a product into a consumer’s hands, a sales manager drives an entire salesforce to meet strategic goals that grow the wider business. Whether working in a B2B or B2C environment, the role of a sales manager is a critically important one—and it requires both business fundamentals (finance and analytics) and strong leadership qualities (communication and management).

Sales managers oversee a company’s salesforce. On a macro level, they set sales goals, manage quotas, design sales plans, and align a team with a company’s broader strategic objectives. On a micro level, they hire, train, and mentor the sales team. They analyze sales data and experiment with new and agile sales schemes. To be a top sales manager requires one to marry the tried and true fundamentals of an old-school sales professional with the cutting-edge techniques and data-driven tactics of the modern business world.

There were over 536,390 sales manager positions in the U.S. in 2022 and the industry was expected to add nearly 22,500 new positions by 2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023). This is a job that handsomely rewards performance: the average salary (annual mean wage) for a sales manager is $150,530 per year (BLS May 2022). But competition is getting stiffer and employers are increasingly looking for sales managers with the right blend of experience, education, and keen management skills. To get a look at the recipe for becoming a top sales manager, check out our step-by-step guide below.

Personality Traits of Successful Sales Managers

Sales managers come in many different shapes and sizes. Their end-products may range from software to hardware to services. But throughout all this diversity, some key unifying themes emerge as the common personality traits of successful sales managers.

  • Communicative. This isn’t just selling a product but also motivating others to sell a product for you. Sales managers need robust communication skills to get their message across to their staff and to understand the unique needs of each staff member.
  • Mentally Agile. Successful sales managers don’t get stuck in a rut whether their team is overperforming or underperforming. They must be willing to experiment with new strategies or revert to old ones in a constant re-optimization.
  • Analytical. The 20th-century image of the suited salesman going into a business meeting armed with little more than common sense and gut feeling just isn’t competitive in a world of data-driven analytics. Today’s sales managers have all the bravado and confidence of their storied predecessors, but they supplement it with hard numbers and complex statistical analyses.
  • Goal-Oriented. The yardstick for sales managers hasn’t changed much over the years, and goal orientation is a key factor for success in this industry. But it’s not only about achieving strategic goals; it’s also about setting realistic goals for the salesforce that align with the company’s broader aims.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Sales Manager

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring sales managers need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Advantageous major choices include management; marketing; accounting; finance; economics; or statistics. Admissions requirements vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letters of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University has an online bachelor’s program in business administration that prepares graduates for managing business groups of all sizes. Students learn to forecast demand, negotiate, build long-term strategies, and analyze financial data.

Courses cover subjects such as mathematics for business analysis; communication in business; problem-solving and actionable analytics; organization and management leadership; and marketing and business performance. The program consists of 120 credits.

At the end of the program, graduates develop skills in key business opportunities such as conducting skillful negotiations, building strategies for the future, forecasting demand, purchasing services, and planning inventory. They can take up roles such as business analysts, customer service managers, employee training managers, general managers, human resources managers, sales managers, purchasing managers, and store managers, among many such roles.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $714 per credit

University of Illinois, Chicago

The University of Illinois, Chicago has an on-campus bachelor’s program in management that teaches graduates how to direct and motivate others. Its varied curriculum draws upon human resource management, strategic management, managerial logistics, and overall leadership. The faculty of the program includes experienced managers with real-world knowledge and experience.

Courses include organizational theory; leadership theories; strategic analysis and reporting; managerial consulting; managerial effectiveness through diversity; negotiation and conflict resolution; and structured problem-solving for consulting projects. The program is made up of 120 credits. Students in this program will be well-equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills for successfully leading and managing organizations and people.

Students gain essential skills in excelling and leading teams, negotiating conflict, and developing strategies to help a business succeed.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($1,828 to $5,485 per semester); out-of-state ($4,263 to $12,789 per semester)

Florida International University

Florida International University’s R. Kirk Landon Undergraduate School of Business offers a fully online bachelor of business administration degree with a concentration in management. The program offers a strong foundation in statistics, finance, marketing, management, and accounting. Students will learn to analyze and evaluate business challenges, improve efficiency and control costs, and make effective decisions in business scenarios.

For admission to the program, applicants must submit a completed online application, official SAT or ACT scores, official high school transcripts, and a $30 application fee. International applicants must submit official English language proficiency exam scores such as TOEFL or IELTS.

Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as organizational behavior; human resource management; executive skill development; happiness at work; international management; business ethics; entrepreneurship new business development; and strategic management, among others.

  • Location: University Park, FL
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-State ($228.81 per credit); out-of-state ($345.87 per credit)

Trine University

Trine University’s online bachelor of science in business administration program with a management major helps students develop managerial and leadership skills to ensure that their organization is headed the right way. Students in this ACBSP-accredited management program will develop the required skills and knowledge needed for leading organizations into the future. They will also earn competencies in core business areas such as accounting, marketing, finance, and operations.

Consisting of 120 credits, the program includes courses such as business analytics; risk management; human resource management; leadership; principles of project management; managerial finance; global strategic management; organizational behavior; and designing operations.

This asynchronous program allows students the flexibility, accessibility, and convenience of accessing the classes at whatever is best suited for them. Graduates will be prepared to hold leadership positions such as project manager or supervisor in small and large companies, industrial settings, not-for-profits, and family businesses.

Students will also have the option to pursue a combined degree program along with this bachelor’s program. They can combine it with an MBA or a master of science in a business analytics program and finish both degrees in just 48 months.

  • Location: Angola, IN
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $399 per credit

Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience (One to Five Years)

Sales management isn’t an entry-level role, and it’s extremely rare for an inexperienced college graduate to be hired for such a position. So after graduating from university, aspiring sales managers must gain some hands-on experience.

Employers generally seek out candidates with one to five years of work in sales. Often this period is extremely formative: on-the-job experience is some of the best education money can buy. Not only will aspiring sales managers get a feel for the day-to-day operations of a salesforce and what’s required to lead one, but they’ll also learn which market niche they feel most comfortable working in. Furthermore, some employers will subsidize an employee’s forays into graduate-level education.

Step Three: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, Two Years)

Graduate-level education isn’t a requirement for all sales managers, but it’s increasingly becoming the norm for those in top positions. A master’s of business administration (MBA) gives graduates a deep understanding of the business fundamentals and leadership skills that are necessary to motivate teams towards short-, mid-, and long-term operational targets.

Admissions requirements vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GMAT or GRE scores; work experience; letters of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business

Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business has an MBA program that can be completed entirely online. Students may choose from several concentrations such as analytics; brand management; business management for healthcare; corporate finance; entrepreneurship; investments; leading people and organizations; and operations and supply chain management. Designed for working professionals, this online MBA program seamlessly fits into their busy work schedules.

The program consists of 50 credits, helping students acquire relevant, real-world skills that can be applied to their desired industry. Relevant courses for sales managers include managing people and organizations; managing ethics in the workplace and marketplace; creating and sustaining customer markets; operations and supply chain management; managing the global enterprise; strategic decision-making in a changing environment; and market-focused strategy.

Admission requirements to the program include an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution of higher learning, a grade point average of 3.0, two years of work experience, a completed application form, a personal statement, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, and academic transcripts.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $900 per credit

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online MBA program that is both affordable and flexible. Students may choose from a total of 17 different concentrations allowing them to hone in on the skills most relevant to them. Some include business analytics, entrepreneurship, engineering management, healthcare management, leadership, project management, and sport management.

Made up of 30 credits, the program includes courses such as leading people and organizations; organizational strategy in a global environment; innovation and strategy for high-performance organizations; measuring success in an organization; optimizing brands; leading organizational change; and strategic opportunity management.

SHNU’s faculty includes specially trained instructors who will help students in developing their skills and enhance their academic success. They help students develop in-demand skills in complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility, people management, negotiation, emotional intelligence, and service orientation.

Applicants to the program must submit a completed graduate application form, transcript release form for any schools attended, and graduate attestation form, with undergraduate grade point average and conferral date. GRE or GMAT scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $637 per credit

Concordia University St. Paul

Concordia University, St. Paul’s online master of business administration program allows the flexibility for students to complete their studies without giving up their careers. Students can take classes completely online or in a hybrid format. Students will excel with practical and theoretical knowledge in strategic decision-making, communication, and business analytics. The program’s faculty includes expert professionals with years of relevant, real-world experience.

The program comprises 36 credits, including coursework in organizational leadership and development; integrated marketing communication; managerial research methods & design; global economics; strategic human resource management; the legal environment for managers; and operations and technology management.

To be eligible for admission, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, official transcripts, a completed online application, a personal statement, and proof of English language proficiency for international students. GMAT or GRE scores are not required for admission.

The program opens up several opportunities for graduates. They can take up roles such as marketing managers, human resources managers, entrepreneurs, location managers, operations managers, sales managers, and market research analysts, to name a few.

  • Location: St. Paul, MN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $625 per credit

University of Denver

University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business offers an online MBA preparing students to become market-ready leaders through a blend of management training, business foundations, and immersive learning experiences. They’ll learn to lead with purpose and vision, making them indispensable to their organization. Moreover, students in this program can choose from customized concentration options such as marketing; executive healthcare administration; finance; and executive leadership. Students can also travel to global and domestic industry destinations for two required in-person immersions.

The major admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college, a minimum of two years of full-time professional work experience, a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 2.5, a current resume, two essays, two recommendations, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for non-native English speakers. GMAT or GRE scores are optional.

Comprising 60 credits, the program includes courses such as strategic accounting for managers; business statistics; leading people and organizations; managerial finance; strategic management; leading with integrity; and business data and analytics.

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 21 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,383 per credit

Step Four: Consider Professional Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After earning their master’s degree, many sales managers seek professional certification to continue their education and demonstrate expertise. Offered through professional societies, these certifications are a peer-reviewed mark of distinction that can move one’s resume to the top of the stack and convince employers of one’s commitment to best practices.

The National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP) offers certification as a Certified Professional Sales Leader (CPSL). Designed for sales managers and other sales professionals eyeing top leadership positions, the CPSL builds on the strategic leadership process and incorporates team action’s emotional and psychological drivers. In a 45-day online training program, applicants learn to influence behavior and lead diverse teams toward strategic goals. Once completed, applicants will earn the CPSL designation. The program costs $895.

Sales & Marketing Executives International (SMEI) offers certification as a Certified Sales Executive (CSE). Designed for sales professionals either in or aspiring to a management role, this program consists of an online self-study course that covers the theoretical foundations and practical applications of leading a globally focused salesforce.

Upon completing the online course modules, applicants must pass a three-hour, 180-question exam to earn the CSE credential. The program costs $989 for professional members of SMEI. CSE holders must renew their certification annually by paying an annual fee of $150 and completing 20 hours of continuing education.

Helpful Resources for Sales Managers

Sales management is centered around relationships and networks. While each corporation sells a slightly different product to a different set of consumers, the general tactics and best practices of sales management are often universally applicable. To get a glimpse into the world of sales management and find out where it’s headed, check out some of the resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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