The term “player-coach” comes from sports (we love a good sales/sports metaphor) and refers to a someone who is simultaneously a coach and a player on a given sports team. Some notable ones include Bill Russell for the Boston Celtics, Pete Rose for the Cincinnati Reds, and Lenny Wilkens for the Portland Trail Blazers. There’s a reason the list of notable player-coaches in professional sports is so short – it’s really difficult to work 2 vastly different jobs simultaneously.
So what does it mean for a Sales VP to be a “player-coach”? A Sales VP player-coach simultaneously carries his or her own individual quota in addition to that of the whole sales team. Player-coaches have two jobs, both with very high expectations.
This is actually a fairly common model for smaller teams with less money available to pay players and coaches/managers. Many small companies, particularly startups, want the Sales VP role to include selling to help balance the high cost of their salary and bonuses.
But oftentimes, companies find that the role is too time-demanding and compromises on quality of high-level work the Sales VP and put out.
Does the player-coach sales model really work? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Sales VPs carrying their own quota:
Motivates the sales team. When a sales team sees the Sales VP working in the trenches right along with them, they will be motivated to work harder and learn more. Reps will also be exposed to the VP’s expert selling skills, which means they will learn by example.
Increases customer insight. Sales team leaders who don’t regularly interact with prospects and learn about their pains, objectives, and personas may have a hard time building processes, programs, and goals around these prospects. Increased customer exposure leads to better high-level decision-making.
Takes time away from high-level thinking. A Sales VP’s primary job is to grow the sales pipeline, define key methodologies like the sales process, design a successful sales onboarding program, build sales reports for the CEO and Board, and so on. These jobs are already time-consuming, difficult, and require a lot of high-level thinking. But if a Sales VP is going 100mph at all times trying to do these duties and make their individual quota, then the first thing to go is that important time for high-level thinking. Their focus will be on producing, producing, producing – which can really hurt a critical part of their job: innovation.
Not a sustainable model. Even if a Sales VP finds a way to manage an individual quota for a quarter or two, he eventually will not be able to do his primary job well. Likely, his performance will suffer on one side or the other and he will have to stop playing both roles.
Risk of burnout. If he does decide to take on both player and coach roles, then he’ll be working such long hours that the risk of burnout is a serious consideration. As it is, the average tenure of a Sales VP is estimated at only 24-32 months. Sales VPs with double the average amount of work can burn out much quicker, leaving companies with extremely high turnover costs.
The player-coach model doesn’t work for the majority of companies except for startups, and only in very rare cases. Fledgling companies can (and sometimes have to) define their Sales VP role as player and coach until they hire more sales reps and make more money. But for companies that do have the funding to separate the two jobs, they should do so to avoid a serious compromise in their Sales VP’s quality of output.
What do you think about the player-coach model for Sales VPs? Do any of your have experience at your own company? Please share in the comments below!