The game is down to the two-minute warning. The home team has the ball and trails by a few points. Time is running out and they have no chance of winning the game without the right strategy. All attempts to move the ball down the field have gained little yardage, so it’s coming down to the final play. The quarterback is fairly sure he knows what play is needed, but he must be certain before he throws the ball. He calls a time-out and runs to the sideline to talk with the coach. But there are no coaches. They have been tied up in meetings all day and couldn’t be on the sidelines to guide the team. The quarterback calls a Hail Mary play, closes his eyes, and . . .
The Hail Mary strategy actually does come out of football, and the scenario detailed above is somewhat accurate—with the exception of the part about the coaches.
We can draw a lot of similarities between a football game and a sales call. Both scenarios:
1. Include teams that come to win.
2. Are comprised of skilled professionals.
3. Have teams that rely upon strategies to win.
4. Consist of a winner and a loser.
5. Have seen luck or a Hail Mary used as a strategy.
When it comes to differences, though, there are two significant distinctions. Any guesses before you read further?
OK, if you said “money,” that’s technically correct, but it’s not what I was looking for.
The first difference is training and practice. In football, teams are always in training and always practicing, especially during the season. In sales, we typically only train someone when there’s a new skill to be learned. And in most cases, sales reps tend to practice with a real, live customers to perfect those skills.
Stephen Covey says that to learn a skill, we must practice it 17 to 21 times before we’re comfortable and natural using it. That means a seller is potentially burning through 17 to 21 clients to learn that skill.
The second difference pertains to coaching. In football, coaches are always guiding their players. In sales, many coaches are back at the office waiting for the rep to return with a signed contract. While statistics vary, experts agree that consistent sales coaching has been proven to have a positive impact on individual performance and engagement.
I am a huge advocate of encouraging managers who have salespeople as direct reports to change their title to “coach” or “coach manager.” Like football players, sellers need consistent coaching to improve their game to positively affect wins.
The sales team in any organization is the engine that runs a company. You can have the most amazing product or service in the market, but if your sales team can’t convince a buyer to buy, how long will a company survive on being amazing without customers?
Personally, I have mentored and been mentored by some of the greatest sales coaches in the world. Here are some of their best practices:
- Always put coaching activities in the budget, never compromise those dollars, and aim high.
- Train, practice, measure, adjust; repeat that process every week.
- Have a plan and a strategy to win mapped out before you engage with a customer.
- Spend 60 percent of each week coaching your team and 40 percent on other managerial needs.
- Never practice on a customer.
- Be a coach and a mentor first; be a manager second.
If your sales team trained and practiced with the rigor of a football team, how would that change your sales forecasting? Wins? Losses? Turnover? Revenue? Profitability?
Spending time every day on training, practicing, and coaching with your team can make a difference. What’s more, with so many forms of media available to use, it’s an easy task to complete that will pay huge dividends.
I am sure there are many other best practices and things managers do to coach their teams. Please share your experiences and thoughts about how to improve sales performance with your teams. I’ll be looking for your ideas.