How to Manage a Sales Team: Setting Expectations

Finding exceptional sales talent is hard—and keeping those folks who drive revenue on board and engaged is even harder. 

A big part of managing a sales team is setting targets and establishing expectations. When your team has a clear sense of what’s expected of them, they can focus on doing their best work and closing sales. If you leave them to wonder about your expectations, they will end up spending their valuable time and energy trying to figure it out. 

Here are three areas where you should focus on setting clear expectations as you manage your sales team. Keep in mind that these expectations should go both ways—just as you have expectations for them, they should trust that you will uphold their expectations of you. 

1. Clear communication, coaching, and meetings cadence. 

Setting a clear cadence of (necessary) meetings, and establishing guidelines for expectations around communication will go a long way toward retaining your team. No one likes to be micromanaged, or to be pulled into a meeting that could have been an email. And your sales force definitely doesn’t want to wonder when you’ll get back to them about that sensitive email, or feel unsure about the expectations about checking email after hours. 

Right from the time that you onboard your sales team, set clear expectations around communication: what is your regular meeting schedule? What are the norms around email vs. Slack/instant messaging, etc.? What are the expectations around responding to emails/phone calls outside of business hours? 

It should be noted here that you have a responsibility to model the kind of behaviour you expect from your team. If you tell them they don’t need to answer emails on weekends, but yourself send out a deluge of info on Sundays, your team will follow your actions, not your words. Be on time for meetings, be thoughtful about sticking to the agenda, end on time as often as possible, and don’t (ever) schedule a meeting when an email would suffice.


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2. Clear expectations around compensation and activity.

In software sales, compensation plans can get pretty convoluted. In the recruitment cycle, we often talk about them in terms of base salary and OTE—but there are a lot of factors that impact attaining quota and getting to OTE. What are the accelerators? Is quota tied to selling a particular suite of products? When do commissions pay out? What does a typical ramp up process look like? 

Sales can also be unpredictable. You can work for months on a lead to have the deal fall apart for reasons beyond your control. You can also luck into a lead that’s primed and ready to close in a day or two. Because of this unpredictability, it’s smart to set clear expectations around both results and activity. 

What are the activities that typically lead to success? What are the targets for cold calls, demos scheduled, on site visits, follow-up calls/emails, etc. that lead to a healthy pipeline and hitting targets? Especially during your sales person’s first year, when they are getting to know your product and process and ramping up—what are the levels of activity you want to be seeing from them? 

Set these expectations clearly, and then stick to them. Will there be changes to a commission payment schedule? Communicate that before it will impact cash flow for your employees. Are you re carving territories or changing the way OTE is calculated? These shifts are often a (frustrating) reality for sales teams, but can also be opportunities to reset expectations with clarity and respect. 


3. Processes and tech—the tools your team needs. 

Your sales team should expect to have access to the tools they need to do their jobs. You want them to spend the bulk of their time actively selling—not wrestling with outdated technology or processes. Take a look at any sticking points within your sales cycle—are there areas where new tools or more clearly defined processes would help? 

You should set clear expectations around how your process works, and look to remove bottlenecks as often as you can. And your team should expect that you’ll take their needs seriously, that you’ll provide them with the tools they need, and that they can be comfortable raising issues. 

In addition to your tech stack, this includes access to internal resources—pre-sales consultants, subject matter experts, legal/compliance support, etc. In many organizations, these resources are limited—which makes it even more important to have clear processes in place for accessing them. How are requests for support prioritized? What are the timelines for receiving that support? Clarity around these areas will help your sales team effectively manage their time, and spend their time selling.


As the manager of a sales team, your goal should always be to create the conditions for your team to do their best work and close sales. By setting clear expectations—both what you expect from them and what they can expect from you—you can eliminate guesswork and uncertainty, and enable them to focus on selling.

Are you getting ready to grow your sales team? We've created a free checklist to help you refine your requirements, plan the interview process, and get aligned on competitive compensation. 

Click here to download your free checklist