Bill Russell. Pete Rose. Kenny Dalglish.

These are three of the greatest legends and most accomplished performers in their respective sports of basketball, baseball and soccer. They are champions, record-holders and luminaries…but they all have one more thing in common:

They were all incredibly successful in the dual role of player-coach.

While the player-coach – a full-time player who also juggles the responsibility of coaching or managing the rest of the team – is now a relic of the past in professional sports, there is one other avenue where it still makes sense for organizations to employ a de facto player coach, and that’s in sales. In fact, because of the nature of the job, sales management lends itself even more aptly to such a role.

Here are 3 reasons why player-coaches make the best sales managers.

They can empathize with the reps they’re managing

Oftentimes, a new sales manager was likely promoted from a sales rep position. Not long ago, they were in the very same position as the reps they’re now managing – prospecting via cold calls, qualifying inbound leads and closing deals. The fact that they can empathize with and relate to their direct reports could be a massive asset in terms of sales management. This is one big reason why the player-coach worked so well in sports; gaining the trust of the locker room inner circle is something every coach must do.

The lines of trust and communication between a young sales rep and a recently promoted sales manager who still does many of the same activities become strengthened. With that strong relationship, the rep finds a confidant to go to for both work-related and -unrelated issues, someone they can count on for professional support and becomes more receptive to feedback, instruction and coaching. Which takes us to the next benefit of a player-coach.

They can provide much more impactful sales coaching

Simply put, the player-coach knows what works and, more importantly, is able to articulate and pass on these lessons. It is often said that the best way to learn something is to try and teach it, which puts the player-coach sales manager in a particularly unique position.

Because she is still actively working on and closing accounts, the player-coach sales manager is attuned to the demands and needs of their buyers, and how their selling process fits into these needs. Being on the frontlines, they can see and experience first-hand what works and what doesn’t, with the added benefit of also seeing it through the lens of an experienced rep and manager.

Finally, they know how best to impart those lessons, both because they are still a de facto “rep” themselves and because they were recently working arm-in-arm with the reps they’re now trying to coach. They understand unique learning styles and what types of lessons or workshops are better received than others. They know what they would want to get out of a pipeline review meeting as a rep, making it that much more useful to both parties.

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They can roll their sleeves up and help close deals

Finally, to differentiate themselves from more traditional manager-only sales managers, the biggest benefit of having a player-coach as a sales manager is that they can contribute tangibly to your bottom line! Perhaps they might not work their own accounts, or have their own quotas to hit, but the value that player-coach sales managers deliver in helping their charges close deals is invaluable.

This is especially true if your team of closers consists of mostly junior reps who don’t have a ton of experience. This lack of “been there done that” can hurt them when attempting to close tricky or more complicated opportunities. That’s where you can step in and either help bring in an opportunity sooner and more smoothly, or salvage it from being lost altogether.

For instance, if you’re a player-coach sales manager at a software company, some of the more unique technical configurations for certain customers might require you to hop on the call – alongside the main closing rep you’re managing – and finesse it along. Another key area where player-coaches really demonstrate their value is in negotiation; hard-line customers who might otherwise make mincemeat of your junior closers will have a tougher time out-negotiating an experienced player-coach like yourself.
The player-coach sales manager holds a unique position in sales organizations, offering the best of both worlds. He is able to be empathetic and deliver impactful sales coaching, while still getting on the phones to help bring deals across the finish line. Consider promoting your best reps to the position of player-coach sales manager to really get the best out of her, and the rest of your team.
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