In the AdTech world today, most Chief Revenue Officers of nimble organizations recognize the value of having managers to fill the role of “player-coach,” a term borrowed from the now-defunct sports model of having a full-time athlete also coach and/or manage the team.
Player-coaches carry their own list of accounts and have a sales quota to hit while simultaneously coaching a team of 3-6 sales reps to hit their goals. Essentially, they play a dual role of sales rep and manager.
While this setup is lean and often leads to higher overall sales, it’s important for Chief Revenue Officers to recognize that player-coaches may burn out twice as fast as managers who aren’t hustling to hit a certain number each quarter.For that reason, it’s crucial to establish ground rules and expectations. Without the proper preparation, the player-coach role can be ineffective and even divisive for the sales team.
Over the course of the past month, I’ve surveyed a number of player-coaches and Chief Revenue Officers to better understand the most effective way to build great sales teams with player-coaches at the helm.
From these conversations, five key steps became quite clear that you as a Chief Revenue Officer or SVP/VP of Sales should follow to identify a potential player-coach and then set them up for success…
Choose the right person.When you’re selecting a new player-coach, it’s really important to choose someone who has a great dynamic and rapport with the team. If you choose someone who’s cutthroat, for example, that’s likely to trigger unhealthy competition and separation among team members.Consider individuals who are well-liked, outgoing, and great communicators. Communication is the most important skill a leader in this role can possess, since they’ll be leading a team while also working hard to hit their own numbers.You can’t have someone who’s going to hole up in their office, working away and giving out orders until they eventually explode. Look for someone who communicates openly and is always looking out for the success and well being of the team as a whole.In addition, they need to be able to clearly communicate their struggles and needs to you.
Set up monthly and quarterly check-ins.As individuals who essentially fill two roles, it’s especially important for player-coaches to feel heard, supported, and valued. Since these leaders are often working double, it’s easy for them to become bitter and burned out if they don’t get the support they need.Set aside at least 15 minutes each month and an additional 30 minutes per quarter to simply discuss what’s working and what’s not working.Are they hitting their goals? How are they feeling in the role? Are they loving their busy schedule and thriving, or are they overworked?After you’ve discussed the positives and negatives at each juncture, set short- and long-term goals you both agree upon. Check in on them at your next meeting and adjust accordingly from there.
Help your player-coach find balance.Leading player-coaches to success, like many subtle nuances of selling, is more of an art than a science. Guide your player-coach to forego pressing individual needs when he or she recognizes that the team is in need of leadership and looking for answers.Player-coaches should be focused on team work, as the success of the department as a whole will always be more important than any one individual’s success.There will be other times when the sales team is driving conversations and revenue at a great pace. That’s an ideal time for the player-coach to focus on their individual contribution as a sales expert.During these times they should focus on setting a great example for the team by identifying new personal goals and honing in on business development.
Keep them in close touch with their sales reps, clients, and products.If misled, a player-coach could become overly focused on big-picture strategy and out of touch with the day-to-day sales rhythm.AdTech sales in 2017 is a tricky business. As noted Publicis visionary Rishad Tobaccowala likes to say, “These organizations are built on shifting sand.”Companies must have nimble business plans, since they often need to pivot quickly. In addition to having their own sales calls, it’s important to make sure that player-coaches are hopping on calls with their reports to guide conversations and help close deals. Bonus? This makes team leaders more keenly aware of pain points and potential pitfalls of the current product or service offerings.Without that close contact with customers, the player-coach may be unaware of critical – yet subtle – shifts in the market. That’s why it’s best for these key leaders to keep an ear to the ground and be in direct communication with important clients and prospects, preferably face-to-face.
Avoid burnout by setting clear, achievable goals with your player-coaches.Some player-coaches I interviewed felt that having a specific quarterly sales goal of their own helped provide their senior managers with rationale to justify their salary and bonuses.Since so many AdTech businesses today are super lean and prone to disruptions by board members and activist investors, it’s important to have a specific revenue number directly tied to the position.However, I also learned that it’s best if player-coach accounts are made up of less time-intensive clients. That way, these dual-role leaders have time to develop their coaching skills while also delivering revenue for their team.Bottom line? You can set your player-coach up for success by setting quarterly sales goals that are primarily achieved through less time-consuming business partnerships. For example, you may place them with long-term clients who already know and love the product or service.
By following these five steps, you’ll set your new player-coach up for incredible success. Do you use the player-coach model? Have you had success with it? Which of the five steps is most helpful?
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