Turf manager turned sales rep: what’s it like?

SportsTurf magazine asked several SFMA veterans who went to
work for industry vendors after years as turf managers a few questions recently
and here what they said:

What were the main
factors in your decision to leave turf management for the vendor side?

Marcus Dean, CSFM,
Advanced Turf Solutions

My kids: Carter, Riley and Collin. My wife, Jill, she has
lived through the “sports turf manager spouse” lifestyle for almost
20 years. I was missing out on some of my children’s development. I got tired
of seeing what my kind of a weekend my family had via Facebook or Facetime or
text message. I have a saying: I was/am a better dad than I was/am a husband
(not to say that I am an excellent dad or perfect dad but that I did/doing a
way better job as a dad than as a husband). I was cheating my wife and robbing
her of the opportunity to have an excellent relationship with her husband plus
putting most of the parenting burden on her. Don’ worry folks, I have made some
strides but still have lots of room to grow in both roles! And to be clear,
just because you start spending more time at home, things automatically do not
fix themselves. It takes time for your family to get adjusted to your being at
home more and you to get adjusted to being around them more.

Patrick Coakley,
CSFM, DuraEdge Products

I think I finally realized what burnout really means. After
being in MiLB for as long as I have, Ripken Baseball added the dynamic of youth
tournament baseball and 8 other fields. A nice challenge and change. After 7 or
so years and some great progress, the energy and desire to take it to the next
level just left. Complacency and stagnation set in.  I don’t want to say I didn’t care, but the
urgency was not there. I started to feel like a hypocrite. Now I was preaching
ideals I couldn’t follow and it wasn’t fair to my employees, my employer and I
did not want to become a cancer in the organization. I knew it was time to go.
Better for my own health and better for the group of people I was working with.

Sales looks easy if
you’ve never done it, and it takes a certain type of person; why did you (and
your employer) think you would be successful?

Dean: I knew I
would be successful because of my experiences and my ability to relate. I have
worked in high school athletics through the NFL, spending most of my time in
NCAA Division 1 athletics. Just because I have taken care of “high
profile” fields doesn’t mean we didn’t have our own challenges that took
an army to overcome and mask. Poorly draining soils, uneven and inconsistent
grades, overuse, snow removal, and coaches that didn’t listen to your advice
are just a few examples. One of the greatest qualities a sports turf manager at
any level MUST HAVE is the ability to adapt, change plans, and figure out how
to get the job done given the present situation (regardless of what level you
are at). A lot of people think that because your fields were on TV that you had
perfect growing conditions and everyone listens to all the advice and knowledge
that gets passed on to the end users daily. 

I believe in myself and Advanced Turf Solutions! I put my
reputation with them for the last 10 years and their product line did not
disappoint. They were partners in our operation, and I look forward to
partnering with new sports turf managers.

One of the biggest misconceptions as a sports turf manager
is that we aren’t in the sales industry. The reality of the situation is that
we have sold ourselves to our current employer to get the job, we sell a game
plan to our staff each and every day, and you sell yourself to your coaches. We
sell ourselves each and every day in our actions and our words. Looking back, I
have had some good and bad sales days as sports turf manager, husband, father,
son, friend and neighbor. You have been selling yourself your whole life in
different forms and ways.

Coakley: Early in
my MiLB career I did sales. So I was under no delusion that it was easy. The
big difference is I am not selling fence signs and season tickets. I was lucky
enough to find a company that deals with solving problems with infield skin. I
have been doing that my whole professional life. As a Sports Turf Manager I am
a specialist, having done only baseball; I am a dirt guy through and through.
So I completely stumble into the opportunity with DuraEdge and the approach
they have fits my personality and background perfectly.

It is still a completely different lifestyle that takes time
to adjust to, but I feel I have reached a maturity level to handle the change
that I didn’t have earlier in my career. I know that because I tried it once
and it didn’t work! When you do sales, the immediate perception of your
expertise diminishes because now you are selling a product. People do not care
that you used to work for the “Local Big Time Team.” I suppose you have to be
old enough to learn how to keep your ego at the door.

What do you miss most
(if anything!) about not having your own fields to manage?

Comparing managing fields to sales is like comparing parenting to being an
uncle. When you are a parent you never stop worrying, never stop nursing,
always hovering. An uncle can just play around for a while and then walk away
and let the parent worry! I have concern for the fields I see and want everyone
I am in contact with to succeed. But I don’t jump out of bed at 2 am because I
had a dream it was raining. Or run into work sweating on Monday morning because
I dared not to go in to “see if everything is ok” on Sunday and was worried the
field was on fire.

So, it will sound cliché or maybe corny, but I miss the
people I worked with. Putting in an effort with others you grow to respect and
love is what I realize I miss the most. A sales position is pretty autonomous,
which most MiLB sports turf managers should be comfortable with. But sometimes
you find yourself “jonesing” for a tarp pull.

Dean: I miss the
staff that I worked so closely with daily: Tommy Davis, Dave Thomas, Chuck
Stivers, Josh Barnes, and Marcus Elswick. Those guys are my family, I spent
more time with them in the last 20 years that I did my own wife and kids. I
miss aerifying, spraying, and painting the most BUT I don’t miss dealing with
the rain, snow, or getting calls from various coaches regarding the weather. I
viewed Mother Nature and our schedules as my competition, now I am partnering
with our sports turf managers to succeed against their competition.
Occasionally, I miss reporting to the same place each day but getting to see
other facilities and fields is pretty good.

What advice might you
offer a colleague considering making a similar jump?

Coakley: Do some
very honest self-evaluation. In any job, you are always trying to improve. You
try to improve the playing surface, the culture, the company. To do that you
look weaknesses and how to change them. By default, you start to focus on
negatives. Pretty soon, all you see is the negative and you don’t see the
positive until you are gone. Take an honest look at what you have accomplished
and all the good things associated with your job. Then look at what you still
have to do to get the complex/field where you want it. Then ask yourself if you
have the energy and commitment left to do it. And that doesn’t mean giving up
your family or everything outside work to do it. Working 100 hours a week is
absurd and unnecessary, even in MiLB. You might realize you have it pretty
good. Otherwise, like me, you will know in your heart its time to go.

Dean: Don’t let
your work define you; take pride in what you do and give it the best effort
each day. We, individually, create our own stress. You leave one set of
stresses and find another set of stresses; it is all self created. I don’t have
to stress about how we are going to overcome this or that and get the fields
ready, but I do have work-related stress (again self created in my opinion, we
are who we are).  TRUST IN GOD, BELIEVE
IN YOURSELF, AND DARE TO DREAM. The “work” is sales is very different
than being a sports turf manager but it is still there. The work is just behind
the scenes in preparation and organization.