Great Sports Players Rarely Make Great Managers. Sales Enablement Could Help

Whatever your team sport of choice the question as to why so few great players make the ranks of great coaches has been debated by fans for generations. The answer in short is that being great at a sport doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to coach it. Yet, in sales, the expectation that top-ranking sales people will automatically become sales managers is taken as a given.

Command the locker room

There’s the argument that says that somebody who’s reached the highest level of their profession can command the respect of a locker room and share their experience of how to successfully get the job done. This school of logic cites soccer’s Zinedine Zidane, tennis’ Boris Becker, the NFL’s Vince Lombardi as examples, and for those of you who have World Cup fever, perhaps even England’s own Gareth Southgate . It’s the same school of thought that sees great sales executives promoted to team leaders or managers. As the examples above prove, the idea isn’t without merit.

I’ve seen countless examples of stellar sales execs…..taking the penalty [themselves] rather than trusting the team to get the job done.

Managers don’t take penalties

On the other hand, nobody was surprised that Magic Johnson’s spell as a coach for The Lakers was a short but dismal one. Why should we expect somebody to excel in a completely different role just because it’s in the same arena when the skillset is so different? As a sales leader and sales enablement consultant, I’ve seen countless examples of stellar sales execs fulfilling sales manager roles in the only way they know how: by stepping onto the field of play rather than managing it from the side-line. Their default is to sit-in, or take over the closing of deals rather than coaching their team on how run the process alone. It’s the soccer equivalent taking the penalty yourself rather than trusting your team to get the job done. Inevitably it leads to demotivated teams and exhausted managers and isn’t a sustainable model in either arena.

The answer is simple: sports and sales teams alike must give their top talent the training and support to grow into a manager role. Any organization serious about nurturing talent, retaining staff and realizing its full potential should follow this check-list:

Practice makes perfect

We all know that it’s the hours behind the scenes not just on the field of play that turns great athletes into sporting legends. If you want to enable your teams to be the best you’ve got to give them the time and space to grow. In both disciplines this might mean identifying rising stars early and exposing them to low level management opportunities such as mentoring graduates or apprentices. Giving them the space and freedom to nurture junior players/team members and supporting that practical exposure to management through self-paced learning modules of a more academic theory is a good combination.

Change the expectation

Old habits die hard. At Strategy to Revenue, when we recommend that at least 50% of their time is allocated to coaching their team, new sales managers are often incredulous. Their habitual need to make their number makes them reluctant to step away from the customer and focus on their team. Shadowing is a good way to set up good behaviors for new sales managers by demonstrating the success that others in their position are delivering by adopting the approach you advocate.

Demonstrate the value

Senior support is paramount. We used video in a recent global competitor positioning program to convey the strategic importance senior executives and key stakeholders put on the program. Video ensured a consistent message was delivered globally. Hearing the message direct from leaders, nobody could doubt the significance of the program for the business and participants were proud and eager to contribute to it.

Show don’t tell

If your company truly supports a coaching mentality it should offer a continuous program of learning and development, regardless of years in the role or seniority. Whether you’re a coach, a player or support staff you can always learn something new. What’s more, as your opponents and the environment you compete in changes, the ability to learn new skills and change behaviors is paramount. Demonstrate the importance and impact of a great coaching program by delivering one for your new managers and for those who’ve been in the game a long time. In this way, you’ll ensure your whole managerial team is equipped with the skills to coach their own teams, creating excellence throughout the sales function not just in youthful pockets.

Regardless of your discipline, performing to your full potential feels incredible. Strategy to revenue is dedicated to making the incredible a reality across businesses and job functions globally. So, with a season of sport ahead and another end of quarter looming, I’ll be looking at more cross-over lessons on performance management soon.

Mark Savinson is CEO at Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning sales enablement consultancy.

For more sports related insight, read the Accent blog ‘Are Your Sales Managers Coaching from the Locker Room

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