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How Effective is a Player-Coach Sales Leader?

the internal struggle of the player coach

A player-coach in sales is someone who owns and sells to their accounts and is also responsible for leading their team. It is by far one of the hardest jobs out there and by far one of the most poorly executed ones. Here is why:

Why Hire a Player-Coach

A player-coach is a common request made by many organizations. They need someone to lead their team to provide coaching and accountability, but they want that leader to also pay for themselves by generating their own revenue - makes sense. But, what you really have to think about is the two different skill sets that go into one a player, and two a coach.

The Two Different Skill Sets

To be a good seller/player, you must be good at:

  • Prospecting
  • Generating interest
  • Discovery
  • Presenting your solutions
  • Negotiation and closing
  • Expanding accounts

To be a good sales leader/coach, you must be good at:

  • Hiring
  • Training
  • Holding accountability
  • Developing systems – sales process, compensation plans, etc.
  • Having difficult conversations
  • Communicating
  • Budgeting and forecasting

All of those skills for a sales leader are entirely different than a seller. Having strong selling skills is good because then they have credibility with the people on the team and can use those skills to look for coaching opportunities, but that isn’t enough to make them a good coach and leader. It’s hard to be good and effective at both.

What Motivates your Salesperson?

You also need to look at what motivates this person. A lot of the time, a good seller genuinely enjoys selling. They like the reward system, finding new accounts, hunting them, and selling to them. They love being in the spotlight. They want recognition. They like the commission when it closes.  But when you are a Sales leader, you don’t get all those accolades.  Instead, you have to live through other people. Sales Leaders get rewarded when someone else on the team does well.  Many sellers don’t like that.

So do you think having a player-coach gets you the best of both worlds? If you’re thinking yes, then you may be wrong more times than not based on our experience.  Every day there is an internal struggle for the player-coach to either a) work on their own accounts and close those deals or b) work on improving their team – which is super important.

Rewarding your Player-coach

It almost comes down to the dilemma of rewards – receives those rewards now as a seller when the deal closes or later as a coach when your team improves? In most instances, you’ll see the sales leader lean far one way or far the other way. Often time’s a player-coach will become all player and only coach when they absolutely must. 

Then in that instance, the CEO, Owner, or Executive is unhappy because the sales team is left in the dark.  Or, they become all coach and the CEO is frustrated because they are not producing revenue of their own.  It’s a no-win situation. 

Personal Touch from Pivotal Advisors

Gary Braun knows this battle all too well, “I was personally a player-coach at one time. There were a few big accounts that I wanted to go close, and I liked doing it, and every day I would work on those. Then every three days after working on these accounts, I would notice I hadn’t done anything out there with my team - that’s a problem.

So, after about 30 days, I gave away all my accounts. I distributed them all to my team. Here’s what I found - my team worked those accounts better than I did because I was trying to do half and half. My team even followed up better with them. Then when I spent more time with my team, they got better faster, and they produced far more.”

Company Size Matters

Some companies absolutely need to have a leader in place and in many cases, the CEO cannot play that role. The company is not big enough to justify the salary of a leader alone. So, what do you do? Start by asking yourself whether it’s more important to your company to have a sales leader to improve the team or a seller that can generate revenue.

If you lean towards a leader, you might still give them an account or two to work and generate some revenue, but not enough to distract from your primary need. Or, is it more important to have someone who’s going to generate revenue by selling. In this case, you might still give them some responsibility to help team members out with deals, but not the full responsibility of a sales leader that will distract them from selling.

If you want more information on why you should stop promoting your top salespeople read that in our blog "Sales Managers who are Super-Reps and not Sales Leaders."

Overall

You need to ask yourself which set of skills is more important for the company right now? You must be crystal clear on your expectations for that person’s role. They will morph one way or another as a player-coach, so let them morph the way you need them to.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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