Sales Coaching Lessons from the US Open
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Andy Murray winning this year’s US Open Tennis Tournament was not just one of the great sporting events in the world. Looking deeper, you can see how it’s a great metaphor for not only individual performance, but also the role that a good coach plays in achieving success. Let’s take a closer look at some lessons and applications Murray’s win offers you and your sales coaching.

Understanding the Success Measures

First, how is “success” determined? How do we know that we’re watching a great player—other than the commentator telling us?

Ask yourself: Who is the world’s best male tennis player at the moment? You likely said that it’s either Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Rafael Nadal. These three players have won 29 of the last 31 majors going back to the 2005 French Open.

Officially, the best player is Novak Djokovic. According to Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the international governing body of professional tennis, Djokovic is in fact 11.3 percent better than Roger, who is ranked #2.

The ATP uses a performance-based ranking system. Players earn points depending on how far they progress through each tournament. And not all tournaments are created equal. Some have more prize money and prestige, such as the 4 Grand Slam tournaments. For example, winning a Grand Slam final gets you 2000 points, but being defeated in the semi-final still gains you 720 points. There is, of course, more fine print to the points and rankings; and the huge array of statistics is astounding. Check out the ATP website ( ) if you want more detail.

At the end of the US Open, Djokovic was ranked #1 on 9910 points and Federer #2 on 8905 points.

So, is Djokovic really 11.3 percent better than Federer this year? Does Federer’s reputation (since 2003 he has consistently been ranked in the top 3 players) amount to anything?

Here are some more measures:  The year-to-date prize money for Djokovic is US$6.9M; for Federer, it’s US$6.3M. So maybe Djokovic is only a 9.5 percent better player than Federer?

Determining Meaningful Measures


To calculate or create a figure that suitably compares one player with another depends on what you want to measure and what is easiest to measure. One thing is for sure, it’s all open to debate.

For example, the ATP says there is a clear correlation between how well a tennis player performs during the points, games and sets they play, and winning the match. And, that correlation is good enough for them. Prize money is not a good enough measure to stand on its own.

To the ATP, though, it’s easier to measure an objective outcome like winning a match in a tournament than monitoring and measuring the inputs to the process (who had more aces, return of first serves, fewer unforced errors, and so on) as a way of determining “success.” And I expect that your company has a similar “outcome-based” system.

Applications for Sales Coaching

While the ATP system ranks players on how many matches they win, the player and his coach realize their focus needs to be on the points, games, sets, reducing unforced errors, returning serves, and so on. Yep, it’s all about playing IN the game; the face-to-face interactions!

They understand that focusing on these behavioral inputs means that the match will be won as a consequence.

The player and their coach see the connection between the various behavioral inputs and the gross outcome (winning a match/tournament) and develop a strategic plan to increase the chances of success. The plans focus on the player’s strengths and the individuals they are playing against. It’s a combined effort.

“Success” to them is defined as an accumulation of getting the inputs right. It’s not based solely on the outcome of winning matches, and then working backwards.Motivation comes from getting the specific input behaviors “right,” not a “try harder/you can do it” mentality or prize money carrot.

That really is the power of being a successful coach, whether it be in tennis or sales. You have the experience and expertise to understand what it takes to be a successful sales representative. You don’t focus on the outcome of the sales call and work backwards trying to improve performance next time. You focus on the real-time inputs (representative behavior and customer profile) and discuss strategies and plans to achieve some likely positive consequences.

After all, focusing on inputs and linking them to outcomes means you have a better chance of being an ace coach.

About the Author
Mark Wayland is an award-winning, Australian L&D consultant who works exclusively with sales managers and sales trainers. He is recognized in the field as an authority on influence-based sales management. Mark uses fundamental psychology principles and rhetoric, which have been proven successful by marketers, journalists, copywriters, and film producers. He specializes in translating these principles into practical, down-to-earth management programs that lift sales rep engagement and enhance sales performance. Mark has worked extensively with many Australian and international sales management and sales rep teams to use these proven influencing principles to drive their professional business and sales capability.
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