I have been reflecting on this cliché for a few days: good players (sales reps) don’t make good coaches (managers). There are a few exceptions to the rule in sports (Pete Rose comes to mind). But what about business?

Upon reflection, I believe that there are a few keys to success when someone goes through the pro’s and con’s and decides to become a sales manager:

·         Passion: To move into sales management, the passion must shift from the joy of being in sales and winning that deal to the joy of building a great team and making others successful. It is about putting in place an ecosystem that will make the team successful. Making others successful must be fulfilling, because very few managers win public sales rewards and the best sales reps make more than their managers.

·         Ability to let go: This is so hard. The ability to back away from the business, moving from player to coach and letting the team do it their way. We all know the impact of micromanagement on sales people.

I would hypothesize that those who return to sales after a stint in management have challenges with these two. They want the limelight back, they love being directly responsible for their own fate or they don’t want to be in the back working the system to make their team successful.

So, is the sports analogy relevant?

In sports, a large part of success is based on natural ability which declines over time due to physical changes. These player’s set their goals on being a great player. Coaching is a second place activity, a way for the player to hang on to the game a while longer when the body gives out. This may be why best sports coaches are not players. If someone starts out wanting to be a coach, it is not viewed as a consolation prize. It is the prize, it is their way of being in the game.

That is why I think the sports analogy is flawed.

I would suggest that a great sales rep can move from sales to management if that is what they want. There has to be a shift in passion and the rep must look at this change as the goal, the next exciting step, not as a consolation prize (i.e. They still want to be a rep). The danger arises when the stellar sales rep becomes a manager because it is ‘the right next career step’ instead of the change they want to make. It that scenario, they hold on to what they loved (being a player) and end up failing as a manager (evolving into a coach).

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