Sales and Basketball
I love watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I sometimes find myself riveted to games in which I couldn’t tell you the city or state where one of the schools is located. (I’m still not sure where Gonzaga is and they seem to be in the bracket every year.) I’ll watch two teams playing a game in March that I would have clicked right on by in January. There is just something about the tournament’s “one-and-done” format that makes even games between #1 and #16 seeds compelling. But what can sales managers learn from basketball?
Beyond the games themselves, I find myself drawn to the personalities surrounding them: the announcers, analysts, sideline reporters (at least the female types), and especially the coaches. I like being able to hear what the coaches actually say to players during timeouts and in the locker room. Occasionally, television gives us a glimpse into the locker room and captures coaching at its very essence.
Rose’s Locker Room
Playing Oregon in the first round, BYU was down by eight points at the half. With cameras in the BYU locker room, coach Dave Rose told his team that they were letting New Mexico get easy penetration to the basket. He told his players they had to pick up the Oregon guards farther out from the basket in order to slow them down.
Dawkin’s Locker Room
Trailing by five against New Mexico, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins told his team that they were not setting ball screens that would enable the team’s better three-point shooters to get good looks at the basket. He told them to try to create more open three-point shots, a Stanford strength, through the use of screens.
Sales Managers’ Locker Room
“What if this was a sales team rather than a basketball team?” A team of sellers that was behind plan midway through the month and their manager has gathered them together to deliver the “half-time” speech. The sales manager may say, “We’re eight points behind plan month to date. We have to find more opportunities and close more sales between now and the end of the month. I need each of you to tell me what you are going to do between now and the 31st in order to get those sales.”
Contrasting these scenarios, the sales manager’s approach seems ridiculous. Yet in the sales community, meetings like that take place every month. Imagine if Johnny Dawkins had dealt with Stanford’s five-point deficit in the same manner? “Guys, we’re five points down halfway through the game. We have to make absolutely certain we score at least six points more than they do in the second half. I need each of you to tell me what you are going to do in the second half to score those points.”
Sales Managers Can’t Coach Results
Basketball coaches, good ones anyway, understand something about performance improvement that most sales managers do not: you can’t coach results. You can only coach behaviors that are designed to produce results. Rose and Dawkins had both identified behaviors that were causing their teams to underperform. The scoreboard was not the issue, and simply exhorting their teams to score more points would not help. They needed to change what their players were doing on the court or they would lose.
Whether coaching basketball players or salespeople, effective coaching is done the same way. Sales managers would do well to emulate their basketball counterparts. Through observation, we can uncover the selling behaviors that are causing a seller to underperform, and we can identify the root cause of the behavioral gap. Why is a seller exhibiting that behavior? Perhaps he lacks the requisite knowledge or is unable to execute a certain skill. Once the behavior gap and root causes are known, a manager can intervene as a coach and positively impact performance.
Next year, I think I’m going to change my behavior in filling out my bracket. I’m going to flip a coin. Or use my AXIOM Sales Kinetics Magic 8 Ball Forecasting Tool.