August 16, 2023

Are sales reps the new project managers?

15 min read
In today’s business world where technology, trends, and consumer behaviour continually shift, one factor remains constant: the indispensable role of salespeople. In the heart of every successful enterprise, sales professionals stand as the driving force that not only generates revenue but also nurtures customer relationships, shapes strategies, and fuels growth.

Consider Don Draper, arguably the most famous (and most referenced) fictional sales character. Mad Men’s Draper has an innate grasp of the consumer psyche, making him brilliant at what he does. Despite being a character set in the early 1960s business landscape, Draper is a character that offers today’s revenue teams a relatable story. Yet despite Draper’s many successes, he’s often portrayed as stressed, moody, and over-pressured. So why is Don Draper such a relatable figure for those working in revenue teams? Perhaps, simply put, it’s that the sales reps of today face similar challenges to Draper: ever increasing pressures and an unrelenting drive for success.

Recently, the role of a sales representative has changed again, going beyond simple introductions and booking demos, and venturing into product management-type responsibilities. Sales reps are evolving from being the bridge between businesses and their target audiences, to being something of a hybrid. Acting as a friend, advisor, product specialist, problem-solver, and pace-keeper, sales reps now have the power to shape the whole trajectory of their company’s success.

What are sales reps and how is their role changing?

For many who sit outside of the responsibilities of a revenue team, the line between the different sales roles can get a bit blurry. However, sales representatives play a distinct and vital role in the sales journey. It’s the role of a sales rep to engage with customers, recommend products or services, and persuade prospects to ultimately make purchases. Strong communication skills are essential as it falls to the sales rep to explain product features and benefits, understand customer preferences, and even to provide post-sales support.

These skilled professionals are essential for businesses aiming to achieve their sales objectives. Some of their daily responsibilities include:

  • Initiating contact with both existing and potential customers to demonstrate the value of the company's products or services, and maintaining effective communication throughout the sale process to ensure a seamless experience
  • Carrying out demos or presentations to prospects, demonstrating different product features and solutions
  • Using a deep knowledge and understanding of the product to address the prospect’s queries and concerns, recommending the best solutions relevant to each individual customer
  • Identifying new leads or areas for targeted outreach by using industry news and trends, sales triggers, intent data, and networking

Ultimately, it’s the role of a sales representative to contribute to their company's sales strategy by growing strong customer relationships and driving revenue growth. In fact, according to Salesforce’s ‘Great Sales Transformation’ study, “nearly 7 in 10 sales professionals say that maintaining a relationship with the customer is more important now to the sales process”.

However, with the constant development of new technologies, the role of a sales representative, and the sales process itself, are speeding up and changing. Gone are the days of the desktop phone and rolodex that used to be the sales rep's best friend. Now, with a choice of CRMs, engagement tools, and automation support widely available, the expectations and capabilities of sales teams are reshaping.

To adapt to this rapidly evolving technological landscape, sales representatives must embrace change and ensure they are responsive to all engagement to remain competitive. But technology delivers another challenge for salespeople too: buyers now have a range of ways to connect with companies, further keeping sales teams on their toes.

While inbound leads may seem like a promising prospecting opportunity, it demands a completely different approach to a sale reps’ usual outreach method. Unlike outbound campaigns that target researched and qualified buyers, responding to prospects who reach out to you with limited information requires a unique strategy. Research and admin become essential here as the sales rep gathers vital information about the prospect’s needs.

Back in yonder year, emphasis for a sales rep was on volume. Not any more. In this highly competitive market, the new focus is on value. The value a sales rep can offer to an existing client and qualified prospects, for whom your solution might actually hold value, is today’s focus. Rather than wasting time on low-quality and unlikely-to-convert leads, sales reps are now honing in on their target audience and going after ICP prospects, rather than the old spray-and-pray methods. Recognising those who are most likely to find value in your product not only increases the chances of converting the deal, but also means that you can use relevant data to ensure your outreach is really hitting home.

Project management in sales

Over recent months, the sales industry, and sales reps in particular, have seen a shift in the needs of their role. With sales cycles taking longer, due in part to companies being more diligent on spend and company structures becoming more complex – meaning more decision makers and more hoops to jump through – an extra pair of hands is needed to keep things moving forward. Sales reps are having to don a Project Manager’s hat and employ a different skillset to help buyers through the buying process. This new aspect of their role is focused more on planning, stakeholder management, and developing mutual action plans.

Sales reps are now having to view a deal or sale opportunity as a project. The process involves multiple stages, tasks, and stakeholders, and demands an increasing amount of time and attention to progress such deals. Sales reps are now taking on the typical project management skills and tasks of:

  • Strategic Planning: sales representatives are now tasked with crafting comprehensive plans for every sales opportunity, charting out the essential steps to guide prospects through the sales funnel. This strategic blueprint includes defining objectives, pinpointing the prospect company’s key decision makers, understanding customer requirements, and establishing a timeline to successfully seal the deal.
  • Task Management: within the sales process, sales representatives break down the workflow into distinct tasks and delegate responsibilities to relevant team members or departments. This approach guarantees that everyone knows their role and contributes to active participation, aligning all efforts to achieve the overall sales objective. This also involves aspects of timeline management as reps set deadlines and milestones for each task. Staying on-time can be the difference between deal and no deal for closing with some prospects.
  • Collaboration: this is a vital part of successful sales project management, requiring effective collaboration among team members, various departments, and stakeholders. Seamless sales processes hinge on clear communication and well-coordinated efforts, and sales reps now must act as a go-between, ensuring all parties are engaged and understand their individual tasks and responsibilities.
  • Risk Management: sales representatives must analyse potential risks that could impede the sales process and develop contingency strategies to tackle these obstacles. For example, a sales rep might plan for the sudden unavailability of a key decision maker, or for legal or compliance issues. By having an alternative strategy in place, sales reps can ensure buyer confidence and keep the deal on the right line. This proactive approach effectively mitigates potential issues to keep the deal moving forward.
  • Tracking: sales reps must keep thorough records and documentation of each deal, including customer interactions, communication history, and any relevant agreements or commitments. By reviewing these notes and progress updates, sales teams can adjust their strategies as needed. CRM software is often used to centralise such notes and manage this process more efficiently, and to keep momentum moving forwards.

As sales reps apply these project management principles to their existing opportunities, they can help streamline the sales processes, improve customer relationships, and increase their chances of closing the deal successfully. Project management in sales is especially valuable for handling complex sales cycles with multiple decision makers and stages, allowing sales teams to stay organised and focused on achieving their sales targets.

The problem of balancing sales and project management

Although sales reps who take on project management skills can put themselves ahead of the curve and can assist in improving deal cycles, there is a balancing act that must take place. Juggling multiple new responsibilities can be problematic due to several reasons:

  • Twice the tasks, half the time: with new responsibilities added to the day-to-day, there’s a need to prioritise on tasks and work as efficiently as possible. It’s inevitable that with more tasks to juggle, less time can be allotted to each task. Both sales and project management require dedicated time and attention, and trying to excel in both roles will lead to time constraints, potentially affecting the quality of work in one or both areas.

    There can also be further pressure around additional targets and deadlines. Sometimes project management responsibilities can result in conflicting priorities, leading to additional stress, which in turn puts the sale rep at a higher risk of burnout, lower job satisfaction, and impacted wellbeing.
  • Becoming a master of versatility: it may seem like a good thing to diversify your skillset, but it’s worth noting that sales and project management demand quite different skill sets. Being proficient in both areas requires extensive skill diversification, which on top of all your other tasks, can be challenging to achieve and maintain. In fact, dividing your attention between the two functions can lead to reduced focus on critical tasks, which can in turn result in missed opportunities, decreased client satisfaction, and even project failures.

    What's more, trying to keep both sets of skills up to date is time intensive, and can hinder the ability to hone skills into any one specialism. Without having dedicated time and interest on one particular area, any sales rep can in fact suffer as niche skills fall behind on industry practices.
  • Complex multitasking: managing projects requires clear and consistent communication with various stakeholders. Taking on extra communication responsibilities can make it difficult to maintain effective communication in other areas though, potentially causing misunderstandings with colleagues, other prospects, or causing time pressures on deadlines and missing update windows. Balancing both the role of sales rep and that of a project manager requires constant adaptation and often sees priorities shifting rapidly. Quick decision-making becomes a must, but it’s not always feasible when juggling so many other admin-heavy tasks.

    Managing a sales process is complex. Add in project managing as well, and it’s easy to see how the plate-spinning can become too much. Not everyone who works in sales is as agile as necessary for managing two such intensive roles, and as such customer expectations can also become impacted. The worst thing for a prospect is being left feeling out of the loop mid-cycle. Any prospect that becomes disillusioned, or feels neglected, is far more likely to lose engagement and drop off than one who is ushered through the process attentively, as per their expectation.
  • Risk of burnout: the combination of sales quotas and project deadlines can create an overwhelming workload, leading to stress and potential errors. The maths is obvious: twice the workload, but the same time to do it in? Either corners are going to be cut, or the sales rep is going to be working overtime to get it all done.

    The odd extra half an hour here and there won’t phase most sales reps – in fact, they’re probably already putting in the extra time every now and then. But managing twice the responsibilities won’t be achieved in a few extra hours a week. With the work-life balance swinging heavily in the direction of work, wellness is bound to take a down-turn, and with that, the sales rep will be looking at an increased likelihood of burnout.

Despite these major concerns, sales reps are increasingly reporting the addition of these project management tasks to their daily responsibilities. There are ways to address these challenges, and companies should consider providing proper training, project management or admin efficiency tools, and other resources to help sales reps manage both roles effectively. Software solutions like Selligence, that reduce hours of research and admin tasks, as well as integrating with CRMs such as Salesforce, will allow sales reps to work at their most efficient. Careful workload distribution and clear role expectations can also contribute to a more successful balance between the two sets of responsibilities.

Benefits of sales reps as Project Managers

Obviously, there are benefits to having a team of sales reps who also have project management skills. Recognising the real value in the duality of this role sheds light on how Project Managers can strengthen both their sales team and their wider company. Here are three of the most prevalent advantages you can expect:

  • Enhanced customer experience: sales reps who manage whole projects can provide more personalised attention, ensure clear communication, and can be proactive in resolving any issues. With a clearer and fuller understanding of where in the cycle a prospect is, sales reps can facilitate stronger customer relationships and increased satisfaction, while also nurturing trust with the prospect. This streamlined communication route also reduces the chances for miscommunication or misunderstanding. Ensuring your prospect sees your company as professional, efficient, personable, and knowledgeable is essential, and all of these factors are enhanced by a sales rep’s ability to also project manage.
  • Efficient processes: integrating sales and project management skills helps to streamline tasks, accelerate decision-making, and foster smoother collaboration, leading to swifter project completion and sales closure. With a single point of contact, prospects can maintain clear and thorough communication, while sales reps present a unified and consistent front throughout the sales cycle. With this also comes better time management skills, enhancing the sales rep’s ability to time-manage and juggle multiple responsibilities or more prospects.
  • Improved dedication and increased value: sales reps who double as project managers assume responsibility for the complete customer journey, presenting comprehensive solutions, nurturing accountability, and contributing heightened value to both clients and the business. This process ensures thorough engagement from the sales rep and allows them to be invested in the company’s deeper success, but also provides an almost tailor-made experience for the prospect, allowing them to benefit from even more value from the team and brand. Of course, for any sales rep in the job market, there's a hidden benefit of being able to offer project management skills, that will add to their own value proposition too. As Draper says: “You’re good. Get better”.

Of course, the overarching benefit – and aim of any sales rep – is the increase in revenue generation. Effective project management can lead to smoother sales processes, quicker conversions, and fewer delays and concerns, which ultimately contributes to increased revenue generation for the business.


In the dynamic landscape of today’s modern business world, the convergence of sales roles with project management responsibilities has emerged as a transformative strategy. As companies need increased agility, enhanced customer experiences, and streamlined processes, the dual role of sales reps as Project Managers offers a powerful solution. By embracing this synergy, businesses can unlock a new level of efficiency, adaptability, and customer-centricity.

Sales reps become the face of the brand, they’re in control of the sales journey, and can engage a prospect for the duration of this journey. Don Draper reflects this notion: “You are the product. You feel something. That's what sells." Draper’s ideology certainly isn’t lost on the sales reps of today – it’s often now in their hands as to whether a prospect will successfully close a deal or walk away feeling cold and neglected.

While challenges such as the increased pressure and responsibility on sales reps exist, the potential benefits of this evolution are undeniable. As the boundaries between sales and project management become increasingly indistinct, a path toward seamless integration and excellence is becoming more prevalent. The role of sales representatives is transcending; they’re not merely closing deals but are orchestrating complete end-to-end success stories. The question remains: are sales reps the new project managers? The resounding answer is that due to considerable competition, financial restraints, and evolving client expectations, sales reps are having to embrace this role shift, while redefining their own abilities to align for a brighter, more agile future.

Want to learn how Selligence can help improve your efficiencies, save you time, and create the space for you to continue developing your skillset? Get in touch for a demo of the Selligence platform now and start closing more deals.

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