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Where have all the Sales Leaders Gone?

The estimated reading time for this post is 6 minutes

Over the last several weeks, I’ve held discussions with founders, CMOs and business operators about enhancing their revenue operations teams and one thing has struck me as very odd.  There is no real sales leadership resident to the current business. 

I mean none: no managers, no trainers, no recruiters, no leaders.

Now to be fair, in many of these organizations, there are less than twenty team members and thus the CEO or COO acts the revenue and sales leader.  Unfortunately, these CEOs and COOs appear to be delegating crucial sales management and leadership roles like recruiting, training, and retention to others in the organization who have little or no experience in any of these tasks.

As a result, the sales leader (ie. CEO, Founder, CMO, COO etc.) never really get the performance that they’re seeking from their sales team and they’re routinely disappointed. And welcome to churnsville… insert salesperson 1, 2 and 3 out comes sales person 1, 2 and 3….

So you might be asking yourself: why are they acting as the sales leader in the first place?

It seems that in Startup land and other smaller organizations that the hiring of sales leadership is considered a luxury.  So instead we get sales leaders who are either inexperienced and learning on the job or those that are filling the role of player-coaches.

For small businesses and start-ups sales leadership is treated as a luxury so there is no sales leadership

What’s a Player-Coach?

Let me explain.

Up until the “modern era” of most professional sports, it was common for there to be one seasoned or more experienced player who was near the end of their career to be on the team as an active player that would also act as an assistant or full coach.  For example, the most recent player-coach on a professional team occurred when the Chicago Cubs signed Manny Ramirez, a hall of fame player, to their Triple-A affiliate in Iowa to both play and mentor some of the “big club’s” younger players – a la Kevin Costner’s “Crash Davis” in the 1988 classic Bull Durham.  While in Iowa, Manny got the chance to continue to play baseball as his passion and also help out the Cubs organization.

crash davis nuke laloosh bull durham

Sounds like a great idea, no?  You get an All-Star caliber player who’ll help some of the younger experienced members of your team, put some numbers on the board – and all for a price that’s usually below the cost of both (a coach and a leader).

Let’s examine what’s happened to the player-coach role in professional sports over the last generation. 

The last player-coach in professional sports before Manny was Craig Berube who served as a player-coach for the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms in the 2003-04 season. And before Craig, Pete Rose worked as a player-coach for his hometown Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1986.  So Craig was 10 years before Manny and almost 20 years after Pete.  BTW, the last reported NFL player-coach was when Dan Reeves suited up for the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1960s.

In professional sports the role of the coach has become so extensive and all-encompassing that coaches can no longer play the game and keep coaching at the highest level. Craig Berube understood this and that’s the main reason he quit playing midway through the 2004 AHL season so that he could focus on being behind be bench instead of on the ice. 

Sean McVay, the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Rams was just shy of 31 years of age when he lead his team to Superbowl 53 this past February. While he might have been the youngest coach to do so, there is plenty of precedent for the venerable NFL hiring coaches that are just a few years older than many of their players. In fact, John Gruden, Bill Cowher, Don Shula, Al Davis, John Madden, Mike Tomlin and many others all started their head coaching careers in their early 30s.

To date, there are no more player-coaches in professional sports.

Revenue Operations needs Sales Leaders

While leadership is needed throughout your revenue operations team, it’s most appropriate for the sales operations team. 

In order for sales leaders to be most effective and operating a high velocity sales attack they should not be selling to prospects or managing accounts, they should be teaching and training others to do so.

If you’re asking your senior sales professionals to “help out” or “mentor” the younger professionals then you’re doing both groups a disservice.

What you need is a professional sales leader.

As goes the leader, so goes the sales organization

Mike Weinberg, Sales Management Simplified

But you’ll tell me that your small business or start-up can’t afford one.

The good news is that you can rent sales leadership. 

There are plenty of experienced sales leadership professionals who are prepared to act as consultants and coaches to your team.  They’ll charge you a modest retainer or fee to gain access to their experience and skils, run events and keep your team accountable to their mission.  They might even have organizations that focus on helping sales teams grow and become exceptional (for example Jeb Blount runs and Grant Cardone runs

Three Crucial Roles for your Sales Leader

Just so that you know what to expect from you sales leader, here’s the 3 crucial tasks of Sales Leadership:


For a variety of reasons, sales personnel are constantly changing roles;  a sales leader needs to understand the nature of the talent market at all times.  By having an active and robust candidate pipeline, the sales leader is going to have clarity on the market for sales talent.  If you’re handing this task off to HR or anyone else, then you’re likely not going to achieve the results you’re seeking from the team members you receive.

Culture & Accountability

The sales leader is the primary influencer in the creation and maintenance of the culture of the sales team.  This starts with setting objectives for activities, outcomes and behaviours and continues with recruiting the right people into the right positions.    In addition, sales leaders will make their team accountable for their results through the use of team and individual coaching.


Through one-to-one and team meetings, sales leaders should be interacting with ales team members almost daily.  These weekly or bi-weekly meetings should focus on reviewing activities, results and challenges that your team and members face with the intention of creating incremental improvements. 

General team meetings should focus on learning about elements of the sales process, market and product and celebrating all victories (large and small). Individual meetings should focus on removing obstacles to growth, encouraging hearts and, sometimes, providing the team member with a good nudge.  

The result of this coaching is incremental growth that’s both immediate and extensive.  As in sailing, a small course corrections can be as effective as full breakdown and analysis of an impending opportunity or process. 

If a sales leader is not coaching their team every day, then they’re quickly sliding off into irrelevance.  And the market will punish irrelevance with stagnant results.

Channel your Inner Sales Leader

So if your small organization is not ready to rent or hire a sales leader, are you doomed?  No, sales leaders are not born, they’re made. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you, your CEO, Founder or another leader can take over this role, but to truly drive revenues to new heights, they’ll need to dedicate sales leadership as their primary responsibility, and they’ll have to read and study a lot. 

To this end, I’ve got a number of great resources in the books section of my site that I’m constantly updating here.

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