Sales Manager or Player Coach?

On a posting for a Sales Management Executives Networking Group, a question was posed: “Is the idea of a sales manager functioning as a player-coach a flawed strategy”?

There were hundreds of responses by sales management gurus with worldwide experience. The debate captured the pros and cons of having a sales manager also function as a salesperson simultaneously.

There were varying points of view especially revolving around the size of the sales force, with the argument that with a small sales team (a couple of salespeople) perhaps having a sales manager do both was a cost-effective tactic.

With this aside the overwhelming consensus was it is not a good long term strategy for the following reasons:

  • It sets up a conflict of interest for the sales manager
  • Role definition becomes complicated
  • Compensation is very problematic
  • It confuses the sales team
  • Accountability is questionable
  • The more significant issues of planning, training, tracking, and managing are sub-optimized

An interesting caveat suggested that many owners and management teams follow a “player-coach” approach because they genuinely don’t understand or appreciate the sales process and the need for structure and accountability in a sales organization.

To underscore this observation, the experts observed that in the small to medium size business sector, management doesn’t view Sales like other functional departments. They naturally have managers assigned to lead Operations, Accounting, IT, and HR without hesitation, but try to develop some sort of hybrid for Sales.

The experts speculate it is because Sales is not considered a department that can be adequately planned, managed, held accountable, or measured through a process like other departments.

Essentially Sales is viewed as an “art” form and cannot be managed in the traditional way.

Sales are the lifeblood of any organization, not having a specific person assigned and accountable for the entire process of strategic planning, training, tracking, and managing is a colossal mistake!

The upshot of the discussion was it merely doesn’t work in the majority of businesses other than very small startups or companies in their formative stages.

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