Player-Managers Probably Aren’t Helping the Team

The player-manager may have died off with Pete Rose, but the legacy is still strong in baseball, soccer, and basketball. The theory goes that your best players, as they reach the end of their superstar prime, can have an impact both on the field and the bench. Players like Rose and Bill Russell continue to get time in the game, but spend a majority of their effort coaching and organizing the rest of the team. It seems perfect to put those who did it best – in baseball or sales – in charge of coaching, right?

As it turns out, the player-manager is more often than not failing to make an impact.

If we look to sales, in most organizations, your managers will come from inside of the team. Former top performing reps on a career track are moved to management roles, with far more responsibilities and even less time to develop.

Your average manager might have 12 direct reports, with 2 high performers, 5 middle performers, 3 barely keeping up, and 2 new hires – and one of the top performers is threatening to quit. A vast majority of manager time isn’t spent improving the middle performers or triaging the others, but on rallying the team to the number and filling in gaps by selling themselves.

It’s no wonder that the exception – not the rule – sees the bulk of manager skills in selling, not in managing and coaching. Rarely do managers come from a background that isn’t a sales career trajectory, yet we expect that they can suddenly manage and develop a team. Just days before, they were being managed by the same role.

The proof is in the data – even best in class managers are reaching their reps only 10% of the time – 4 hours a week. Even in that 10%, half is spent on pipeline and account review, leaving just 2 hours on average per week for coaching. The realities continue to be harsh for sales – new hires are taking more than 10 months on average to ramp into productivity, while only 57% of reps are actually reaching quota. Those aren’t stats for this year, either – both are trends over the last 10 years. And at the same time, 90%+ of organizations are raising goals year over year.

What’s gone wrong?

The role of the manager in coaching should not be overlooked – few people can specifically know a rep’s behavior, make a treatment for issues, and know the pipeline by seller – but placing the responsibility for coaching only on the manager’s shoulders should be revisited. There will always be a place for the manager’s day-to-day insight into their sellers, but with strained priorities and business to close, the manager simply cannot be effective without radically changing their goals. The average sales manager simply does not have time to coach their reps.

This leads some top performers – or even qualified non-sellers – to avoid the role altogether. With the chance of success often riding on fate and a stiff pay cut, the best are simply moving to different selling opportunities, not looking to manage their peers. Tribal knowledge is simply lost to churn or independence.

If your team isn’t making plan, and your coaching bench is made up entirely of full time managers, it may be time to take a look at how much coaching your reps are actually getting. Without resources in place to enable, support, and continually train reps – outside of manager coaching alone – the bulk of your reps simply cannot get ahead.

Said best by CSO Insights: Are your 2.0 reps reporting into 1.0 managers?

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