It takes dedication to build a winning team

Let’s face it — every sales veteran has a story about “the one that got away.” We’ve all heard the stories: a tragic tale of personal investment in relationship building, a carefully crafted strategy, and countless presentations that end in a bitter defeat. In these scenarios, the salesperson is often likened to an athlete who loses the big game, with the sales leader as the head coach who must find a way to extract the lessons from a hard fought, but ultimately futile contest.

I’ve heard these sports analogies so many times that I began to wonder if any new insight could actually be gained from it. As a leader of a sales organization, I often find myself in the role of a fellow player rather than the head coach. I am often in the room when the game is rushing toward its conclusion, and I don’t have the luxury of standing safely on the sidelines with a clear view of the entire playing field. Quick reflexes are required to navigate the game in motion and I don’t think that I’ll ever get tired of the rush I get from being in the thick of the action.

Analyzing the Plays

But another component was missing from this sales/sports analogy that proved to be the key for me. Sure, I can look at what I do with every sale and make a comparison to a coach or a player, but what about the big deals that happen every day all around the world in industries that I am not immediately involved with? I follow those deals as well — as a fan.

I read the business section like a sports page, wringing insight from casual mentions of up-and-coming players, and filing away statistics for future use in a wide variety of potential game scenarios. I try to extrapolate meaning from deals that appear to be from a different game altogether — the unique rules that make soccer different from football are often similar to the cultural rules that need to be understood when entering into a contract negotiation in a new foreign market.

Go Deep

To truly play the long game, to develop a team of star players while still keeping yourself in top condition to suit up, you need to love the game. A true fan of the game is able to contextualize any single game with a Cliff Clavin-like attention to minutiae that pulls helpful insights from the vast history of the game, as well as the up-to-the-minute commentary of the games that are being played now.

If we are ready to look at our own role as a multi-faceted one that uses three different perspectives of the same action, then we can begin to craft a program that nurtures talent that will see themselves differently and will begin to play a more thoughtful game. Versatility, flexibility, strength and agility will develop in new and exciting ways as natural talent is put to use more creatively. A salesperson who never thought much about the coach’s role may find him or herself very interested in the program construction that led to the drafting of his teammates, leading to more team cohesion. Or, senior members of your team who are already taking on assistant coaching responsibilities, but find themselves becoming removed from the player’s action, may develop a new appreciation for the nuances of a particular winning streak and find that they are still very much fans of the game.

I use this triple-pronged attack as a way to stay fresh and engaged, to challenge myself and my team members to change hats often and take a new look at the same information. Playing the long game means crafting an approach where the “one that got away” is never a crippling setback, but rather a learning opportunity. The true fan weathers the storm of bad trades, injuries and even losing seasons by clinging to the belief that things will turn around. Top players and coaches do the same thing; they simply shake off the losses and focus on the next game. More wins and fewer losses, more spectacular catches and fewer injuries … that is how you know your program is working.