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Why sales teams don't win Championships

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

About 15 years ago a mentor of mine who told me a story about when they were at a major conference with their company. At the time, they were king of the cell phone business, raking in more devices sold that any other phone manufacturer. At the height of that success, they hired Phil Jackson, the head coach of the infamous Chicago Bulls that we all know from the 90s. He told me that Phil walked onto the stage in front of a room filled with hundreds of high paid, well experienced executives. Unknowingly to the audience, he starts his talk by saying something to the likes of, "You wanna know why all of us in the sports industry thank you all are a bunch of idiots?" My mentor said you could feel the air get sucked out of the room. Dead silence, and full attention on the stage.

If his goal was to get their attention he sure had it. Mr. Jackson went on to explain to the audience why he thought they were idiots, "You see I'm in the business of Championships. I hire the best of the best and pay them in kind. We train 95% of the time for 5% execution. When someone is tired, I rest them. When someone isn't performing we bench them. When someone is hurt we help them. Everything we do is laser focused on that championship. You see, you all act like you want to be champions but you don't do a single thing that it takes. You work your people 95% of the time and coach them 5%. When they are tired or not performing you fire them. You hire who's available instead of seeking out the best."

This went on for his allotted 30 minute speaking slot. Needless to say, it was eye opening. This story was told to be in my first sales training role over 14 years ago, back before Sales Enablement even existed. I've carried that story with me in everything that I've tried to do since then.

In sales, we talk all day about presidents clubs, the commission checks, the sales kick off parties at the end of a record setting year. Yet, when I look back on what we do to build a winning culture, how we enable, train, and treat our people, we don't do very much right. We keep jerks around who hurt the team but close the big deals, we skirt past lazy behavior as long as they are performing, and we always think of enabling our teams, training our teams as an afterthought. It's no surprise that most organizations don't invest in outside coaching or building an enablement team until they are already growing exponentially year after year.

There is so much to learn from sports that is absolutely applicable to our sales organizations. Take Football for instance. When a defensive player makes a big stop, most of the time they run right off of the field and take a minute to catch themselves. They practice 4 times a week and often will take a day off after a big win. Aaron Rodgers was asked once why he thought football was the greatest sport of all time.

"For one main reason, it is a true team sport and is damn near impossible for any one player to dominate an entire game. It is truly a sport where it requires 11 men on the field to do their job in order to be successful."

I argue that sales is the same. You could have one dominant seller who rakes in a majority of your revenue, yes, but I would ask you this, if one person is doing it, why aren't more? My argument is that sales SHOULD be a team sport. We should work as a team to complete the part of the task in each deal that we are best suited for. Working together to get to a close, and in turn get to a fantastic year worth celebrating.

The world is awake. In light of a pandemic, work from home policies changing, and remote functionality at its highest, our workforce is at greater risk than ever before. Our people who feel underutilized, underappreciated, or overworked, we leave us in a heartbeat. Many chase a larger paycheck only to find out it wasn't worth it, and their work life balance is nonexistent.

Now more than ever we need to invest in our teams. Rest them when they need it, let them participate in their own development, and invest with ever penny we can spare in their growth. We all know the famous phrase, people don't quit companies they quit managers. Well the same is true that people stay at companies that invest in them, and that make them feel valued as an individual.


Think for a minute about your favorite sports team, or athlete. Think about what their schedule and activities looks like. Think about what they do and go through to win the championship, super bowl, or trophy. Think about the weight rooms, nutritionists, equipment. The supporting staff to keep them in top shape and laser focused on their goal. Think about how they are treated and what they do for themselves in the offseason. Do they sit around or do they hire personal trainers and continue their work, even when the team is off.

Now, ask yourself this. What am I doing differently in my organization right now that shows I'm not after the championship, that I'm not after the coveted % YOY growth that would change the game for us. Now ask yourself. What can you control? What do you have the power to change right now? What could you change in 30 days? This Quarter? This year?

Greatness is out there for anyone daring enough to reach for it.

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