Cowboys Training Camp

Developing the Sales Athletes on Your Team

With every change in sporting season, I am struck by the level of effort professional sports teams dedicate to winning. And as I obsess about my favorite team (full disclosure, I am a long-suffering Dallas Cowboys fan), I wonder if this is the year that they will finally put strategy, talent, and execution together to deliver a championship. While the Cowboys regularly disappoint, I do take solace that some of my other favorite teams like the Georgia Bulldogs, Atlanta Braves, and Dallas Stars have won championships more recently.

But as I consider the effort these teams expend, I also wonder when selling will fully embrace the approach to managing development and performance that professional sports teams all seem to employ. As we have written here before, selling is unique among business occupations in that it is simultaneously a production and performance job. When it comes to the production side of that coin, businesses focus incredible energy to understand and predict what salespeople and teams will deliver in terms of revenue, customers, and profit. Nearly every sales performance review will cover past performance versus plan, current pipeline metrics, and forecast future results – some will even dive into specific accounts and opportunities in an effort to improve the chances of winning. Sports teams certainly do this as well when they consider metrics like plays, yards gained, turnovers, time of possession, and of course points scored and points allowed.

However, if you ever attend team meetings for sports franchises, especially planning meetings among the coaching staff, you will hear another conversation that is practically non-existent in sales reviews – talent assessments and development plans.

For example, let’s suppose the offensive coaching staff for your favorite NFL team is having their Tuesday morning meeting. To be sure, this meeting will include a review of the offensive metrics from the prior week. However, it will likely also include a review of player performance – in fact, each player will likely be graded not just on the basis of WHAT they did (their metrics), but also based on HOW they performed (their skill and behavior). These conversations will likely include an evaluation of the overall development of each player, including next steps to continue their progression toward their optimum performance.

While player development is an integral part of performance management in sports, it is horribly lacking in business … even in the corporate job most analogous to being a professional athlete – the sales position. And while considerable energy may be spent talking about metrics, accounts, and opportunities, unless and until player development becomes an essential part of sales performance conversations, our teams will underperform against their true potential (Please, not Cowboys jokes here).

So, what would a sales ops or sales performance review look like with player development integrated into the conversation? Well we wouldn’t stop talking about pipeline and production, but we would add the topic of player development to ensure managers are dedicating attention to improving the skill of their players and thereby enabling better execution. This would include both qualitative and quantitative items such as:

  • The manager’s assessment of the current proficiency of each person on the team, including top opportunities to improve and development progress

  • Review of coaching metrics such as the number of coaching sessions conducted by managers and the developmental focus for the team

  • Developmental assignments given and completed by the team

Like any performance profession, all else being equal, results will improve when players get better. While it’s troubling how few sales teams actually integrate any player development discussion into their operational cadence, it also represents a tremendous opportunity for organizations that make this shift early. Adding player development to your sales performance conversations can help you gain a sustainable competitive advantage that improves a range of performance metrics including:

  • Sales

  • Margins

  • Customer satisfaction

  • Sales team attrition

  • Forecast accuracy

Want help? You can begin your journey by downloading our Guide to Sales Coaching here. And stay tuned as we will soon release an updated version of our book, with a more complete guide to creating a high-performing sales organization. You can also schedule time to talk with us directly to learn more about how you can integrate player development into your existing sales cadence.

At Axiom Sales Kinetics we’ve spent thirty years helping sales teams coach, learn, and sell more effectively. We offer a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, our Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at


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