3 Strategies Sales Managers Can Learn from Winning Sports-Approach

Results driven… team environment… high performance… sound familiar?

There are many similarities between sales and sports, especially team sports. While players with different kinds of capabilities and positions can create a balanced and winning sports team, the same synergy can be found in a sales team. However, if the members are not managed properly, it can also create tension, toxicity, and friction, following a downward spiral.

What can sales managers learn from sports? What can they do to ensure that every player is performing at the highest level and eventually take home the championship? This report will share with you how a winning sports-approach can tackle three common challenges that sales managers face today.

1. Develop a Winning Team Based on Both Culture and Performance

Undoubtedly, when it comes to team sports, winning cannot happen without teamwork. However, in a sales environment, unlike in sports, it’s much more common to see unhealthy competition.

“To create a winning team, it starts with the culture.” Jeff McFater, VP of Lids Sports Group wrote, “The key is to find players that are both high culture and high performance.” He shared a quadrant that helps identify the best players to recruit for a sports team.

The quadrant divides talents into four areas:

  • A players – high performance high culture
  • B players – low performance high culture
  • C players – high performance low culture
  • F players – low performance low culture

It’s not hard to figure out that a coach should do their best to keep A players on the team and remove F players. However, what are they supposed to do with B and C players?

“Most coaches might think that C players will boost the morale for the team because of their high performance; but in fact, they often create more friction and tension for the team, due to their low culture.” Jeff said.

According to Jeff, the best way to keep a sports team “tight” is to find high-cultured players. In the meantime, leverage coaching to train B players into A players as fast as possible. That’s the way to long-term stability and success.

In a sales team, the amount of harm that “C players” can cause is much bigger than in a sports team. The worst part is, since C players are not culturally aligned with the company, they would often jump to the next higher-paid opportunity – it even might be your competitor!

However, if a sales team is made up of mostly A players and B players (that are in training), it cultivates the culture of knowledge-sharing, mentoring, and a healthy reward system, which will lead to the best outcome.

2. Create Lasting Motivation for Each Team Member

A sports team gets all the attention during the playoff season, but most of the training is done during the off-season. How is it possible to keep players motivated during the long off-season without losing vision and drive?

Alex Davis, captain of Vancouver’s Furious George, mentioned goal setting as being the most effective way for his team to stay motivated.

“During playoffs, the goal is obvious – to win; but during off seasons, we set our own goals.” Alex said, “We set daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals, and work together to keep each other accountable. When we achieve our goals, we also don’t forget to celebrate, just like winning a game.”

The same principles can be applied to a sales team. Commissions and monetary rewards are important for salespeople, but setting and achieving goals meets a deeper level of satisfaction. This is especially true when the team publicly announces the goals and uses leaderboards to track each person’s performance. It triggers the significance and recognition of human psychology.

When team members achieve their goals, celebration also plays a big part in creating lasting motivation. The rewards don’t even have to be monetary.

Don Bulens, VP of Lotus/IBM, mentioned in an interview that his company had a Tiny Little Baby Award. Each month, the team would put a plastic doll on the desk of the best performing employee. It’s a fun and effective way to keep members motivated.

3. Continuous Coaching and Constant Improvement

Coaches of sports teams are more than leaders. They provide feedback on players’ performance, give personalized tips on how they can improve their skills, and ensure each player is growing into his or her full potential.

In a sales team, the emphasis on constant improvement often determines how far each team member can go in the long term. Coaching and training are also the path for a B player to become an A player.

A supportive and collaborative environment can also ensure that knowledge sharing can happen in the team environment. When each team member realizes that healthy competition can help drive everyone’s performance, they are willing to share their own best practices.

Sales managers can also leverage goal settings in a way where there is continuous improvement. Have the long-term vision and personal growth goal in mind, but also focus on incremental growth that is measurable in the short term.

Just like on a sports team, each player has a different position. Not all training are equally effective for every salesperson. That’s when individualized coaching brings out the best performing version of each member. Eventually, this can all lead to better team performance and higher sales revenue.

We understand that creating a winning sales team cannot be done overnight. Culture, motivation, and training are not the only ways that sports and sales crossroad. In fact, companies such as Elite Academy and Leadflow Solutions Inc. have seen incredible results from sport-approach sales training.

What other ways do you think managers in sales can learn from sports? Comment below; we’d love to hear from you.