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

SportsTurf magazine asked several STMA 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?

Coakley: 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.